10 Best Cate Blanchett Movies
10 Best Cate Blanchett Movies: Arguably, no other leading lady has done a more praiseworthy job of choosing projects in the modern era as Cate Blanchett. Since gaining international recognition with Elizabeth (1998), the Australian actress has proven she can express any accent, any nationality, and any emotion – even when the material is weak, her performance is often still a success, and she’s usually working with an interesting director.
Her most iconic role is as the ethereal Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings (2001-03) and Hobbit trilogies (2012-14), but she has also played deftly realized characters in more fringe projects. Some of these include a dual role where she played both herself and a fictional cousin in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes (2003); a character that summons the aura of Marlene Dietrich in Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German (2006); and a sinister CIA operative with a Wicked Witch sensibility in Joe Wright’s Hanna (2011).
It’s also notable she has made brief appearances in not one but two Terrence Malick films – Knight of Cups (2015) and Song to Song (2017) – despite the increasingly under-estimated director’s waning reputation. Unlike certain other actors we could name, Blanchett’s eclectic filmography indicates she’s intrigued by not just the challenges of the role but also by who is working behind the camera.
10. Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Notes on a Scandal was publicized at the time as a tasteful prestige picture, but it’d be more accurate to describe it as a lurid melodrama for English curtain-twitchers. Judi Dench narrates as the embittered schoolteacher Barbara Covett whose obsessive diary entries reveal her fascination with the new art teacher Sheba Hart (Blanchett). There’s an undercurrent of homoeroticism in Barbara’s befriending of Sheba, and the elder teacher’s clingy and manipulative impulses are amplified when she discovers Sheba’s secret relationship with a 15-year-old student in a sordid plot that could be torn from the headlines of a local gossip rag.
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Blanchett adopts a British accent and conveys a diaphanous presence as the oblivious teacher who’s easily manipulated by her peers. But as good as she is, Notes on a Scandal is Dench’s movie. She humanizes her typecast image as a stuffy battle-ax and alternates between pitiful and monstrous while Blanchett has a mostly reactive role for a good portion of the film. The frenzied denouement is a highlight for both stars, though, as Barbara sinks deeper into her delusions and Sheba campily regresses to a childlike state with mascara smeared over her face and shrieking hysterically when encircled by vulturous tabloid journalists.
9. Little Fish (2005)
A performance that can be considered one of Blanchett’s most raw but also most internalized. In Rowan Woods’ Australian independent drama, she plays former heroin addict Tracy Heart, who aims to stay clean and start her own business. But whereas other films may show their protagonist backsliding into their old drug habits, Little Fish is less concerned with addiction than with how the former user deals with their co-dependents – here, depicted by the detoxifying family friend Lionel (an almost unrecognizable Hugo Weaving), her ex-boyfriend Jonny (Danny Nguyen) and drug dealing brother Ray (Martin Henderson); all of whom can hinder Tracy from re-establishing herself.
Blanchett’s characters are often defined by their gestures or accents but there’s little room for such expressivity here, as Tracy responds to her mounting stress by suppressing her discomfort inwards. She has a weariness that makes her appear firm yet vulnerable, particularly when juxtaposed with Nguyen’s breezy confidence and Weaving’s liveliness. Scenes that could be played more pointedly – witnessing a family row, receiving an unexpected phone call from a former lover, even a romantic rekindling – are done so with restraint, until the bubbling emotions upsurge later on, such as when Tracy is refused a bank loan. By the final act, Tracy’s getting enmeshed in a drug deal gone wrong feels all but inevitable. Her performance in Little Fish gives her a spot in our list of best Cate Blanchett Movies.
8. Truth (2015)
Blanchett commands attention from her first appearance as Mary Mapes in Truth. Although Mapes is seeking a lawyer’s counsel, she nevertheless strides into his office and presents herself as a steely and professional woman who’s making the best of a worsening situation with a sardonic sense of humor. A series of flashbacks fill us in: she was the TV producer behind the 2004 ’60 Minutes’ report into how George W Bush dodged his duties at the National Guard during the Vietnam war. CBS airs the show, but ensuing controversy involving unreliable sources, unverifiable documents, online activists, and political pressure have now put the journalist’s career at risk.
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As in James Vanderbilt’s previous screenplay for David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007), there is a density of names, dates, and historical facts that threaten to overwhelm the narrative and give the actors little to do except spout exposition. But Blanchett brings to life what could have been an under-developed role in a fervent portrayal which channels Faye Dunaway in Network (1976) at her most forceful and sharp-tongued, even as Mapes’ world begins falling apart. Truth may be a bit too congratulatory in tone for a film that’s ultimately about journalistic failure, but Blanchett’s turbo-charged turn is essential for anyone who’s a fan of strong female characters who burn up the screen.
7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Wes Anderson has a stable set of regulars who feature in most of his films, but he’s sadly worked with Blanchett only once thus far. The oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), and his mission to hunt down and kill a ‘jaguar shark’, is the main focus of Anderson’s ensemble comedy where each character has at least one moment to shine. Blanchett stars as Jane Winslett-Richardson, another no-nonsense reporter but one that’s very different from Mary Mapes of Truth, as she utilizes her subtle comic screen presence to illustrate a personality that’s like a mix between Lois Lane and Jane Goodall.
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She’s a bundle of eccentricities, as with all Anderson characters, whose persnickety gestures and formal speaking style are dry and understated enough to not feel too quirky – even in a scene as preposterous as the one where she reads Proust’s In Search of Lost Time aloud to her unborn child. Jane’s high-strung nature and impatience with Zissou are a delight (and a light relief from Zissou’s more toxic neuroticism) but so is her quiet jadedness. When Zissou asks her, “Are you going to put in a good description of the command center I’ve set up down here?” the camera pans over to Jane, who replies with an insolent shrug; a touch of nonverbal comedy as hilarious as anything else in the cinema of Wes Anderson. Here is our #7 in the list of best Cate Blanchett Movies.
6. Carol (2015)
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’s near-impassive faces mask their romantic yearnings for each other in Carol, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt (1952). The love affair between shy shopgirl Therese (Mara) and the older Carol Aird (Blanchett) develops slowly as the pervasive homophobia that engulfed the era prevents the characters from sharing their feelings until well into the second half of the book. Todd Haynes, whose clinical touch and fascination with surfaces were displayed in Far from Heaven (2002) and I’m Not There (2007), is a befitting illustrator of this tension between maintaining public decorum and suppression of private desire. Under Haynes’ direction, seeing Carol and Therese get together feel like intrusions of privacy, as they’re both filmed from an affair, positioned off-center and with window frames bisecting the view like prison cell bars.
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Carol is a refined, patrician creature who wafts through dinner parties and lavish shops with the confidence of someone who appears to have it all. Just as Haynes is meticulous in recreating the fashion and ambiance of mid-century New York, Carol is acutely aware of the need to conform to societal norms as any misstep could potentially lead to her ostracism. Carol’s elegant frailty cloaks her distress, and the facade begins to show some cracks in the film’s final scenes: when she reunites with Therese after months of no contact, she invites her estranged lover back into her life again with a whispered affirmation of love which trembles with regret and desperate longing. At #6 in Best Cate Blanchett Movies, Carol is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
5. Elizabeth (1998)
To portray Queen Elizabeth I and make her feel fresh and exciting is always a challenge, but in Shekhar Kapur’s stylized biopic about the Virgin Queen’s tumultuous early reign, Blanchett exceeds expectations in what became her breakthrough role – albeit with a screenplay that makes many dramatic licenses. Kapur’s historical drama may be set in the sixteenth century, but it narratively resembles a modern gangster movie: as Elizabeth ascends to the throne, she finds herself at odds with members of her court who conspire against her and will take any means necessary to restore Catholicism in England.
Blanchett humanizes England’s historic icon of frugality and political caution with a shrewdness that’s sometimes muted by a recurring look of uncertainty when advised by her deceitful peers, and by her girlish glee in her dalliances with the man she can’t have, Lord Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). Like Al Pacino’s character in The Godfather (1972), the sensitive lamb maneuvers her way through palace intrigue, avoids assassination attempts, and seamlessly hardens into a calculating and imperious leader. At #5 in the list of best Cate Blanchett Movies, Elizabeth is available for streaming on Netflix.
4. Manifesto (2015)
One of the most audacious films Blanchett has ever been involved in wasn’t originally a film at all. Gallery artist Julian Rosefeldt created Manifesto as a multi-screen video installation, whereby viewers would watch Blanchett play 13 different characters on different screens, each one reciting extracts from the most pivotal art manifestos of the last 200 years. Rosefeldt then turned it into a 94-minute feature, which is just as engrossing as any narrative film thanks to its consistent visual style, careful editing, and, of course, its lead actor’s ever-dazzling versatility.
Amongst Blanchett’s most memorable characters include: a homeless, bearded Scotsman who angrily shouts a Situationist call to arms into a desolate, post-industrial landscape; a TV broadcaster who delivers Elaine Sturtevant quotes with Fox News-style rising inflections; a widow who tearfully addresses funeral attendees with Dada aphorisms; and a conservative American mother who recites Claes Oldenburg’s 1961 manifesto in the form of a grace prayer, while her yawning children just want to start eating their dinner. The best and funniest scene is one dedicated to film manifestos, in which Blanchett plays a teacher who instructs adherence to von Trier’s and Vinterberg’s Dogme 95 rules to a class of dutiful schoolchildren.
3. The Aviator (2004)
Martin Scorsese’s biopic about the eccentric business magnate Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) is beset with the usual problems often found in the genre: mainly, it tries to pack in too much. We watch Hughes over many different stages of his life – including, but not limited to, his filmmaking days in the 1920s and ‘30s, and the construction of the ‘Spruce Goose’ flying boat in the 1940s, as well as his worsening obsessive-compulsive disorder – but there’s little insight about what made the aviation pioneer tick. But the film is still worth seeing for what Blanchett does in the role of Hughes’ most glamorous of Hollywood paramours, Katherine Hepburn.
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Cate as Kate is the movie’s wellspring of joy, as funny and as wondrous as the star she imitates so impeccably. When Hughes and Hepburn get to know each other over a game of golf, we hear Blanchett using that chatty voice and see her twirling her golf club as she saunters down the green, brilliantly capturing the larger-than-life star’s brazen charm without slipping into caricature. She’s so good, the film gets less interesting after she disappears. After Hepburn dumps him, Hughes starts seeing other women, including an emotionally colder Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) who can only pale in comparison. Whether it’s factually accurate or not, The Aviator suggests it was only when he was with Katherine Hepburn that Howard Hughes was truly happy. Her performance in Scorsese’s film wins the 3rd spot in our list of best Cate Blanchett Movies.
2. I’m Not There (2007)
Todd Haynes’ deconstruction of the biopic is ultimately more successful than Scorsese’s film as it understands the genre’s inability to reduce something as irreducible as one person’s life for an easily digestible narrative form. It could be a film about anyone, but is there a celebrity whose public image has been so amorphous and so erratic over so many years than Bob Dylan? It’s why Haynes casts six different actors to represent Dylan’s ceaseless re-stylings: Ben Whishaw is Arthur Rimbaud, Dylan’s favorite poet; Marcus Carl Franklin is a preteen freighthopper who wants to be Woody Guthrie; Christian Bale is Jack Rollins, a protest folksinger; Heath Ledger is the actor who plays Rollins in a film within a film; Richard Gere is reclusive Western outlaw Billy the Kid; and then there’s Blanchett playing Jude Quinn, a folk star who’s gone electric (i.e. the coolest of all Dylan personas).
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It’s unclear why an actress had to play Quinn when everyone perceives him as male (to represent Dylan’s sexual ambiguity, perhaps?) but it doesn’t matter as Blanchett more closely resembles the real-life Dylan than any of her male co-stars. Her whiny voice and haughty mannerisms are so unerring, it’s almost like re-watching the real Dylan swagger his way through D.A. Pennebaker’s classic rockumentary Don’t Look Back (1967). Just as Haynes won’t try to pin down the essence of Bob Dylan, Jude Quinn refuses to open up either as an enigmatic lyricist or as a human being to the press, opting instead to petulantly laugh off their questions and succumb to drug-induced daydreams. Embodying the most notorious traits of mix-Sixties Dylan, Blanchett’s rendering is at turns hilarious, dynamic, streetwise, and obnoxious in all the best ways.
1. Blue Jasmine (2013)
In perhaps the most intense Woody Allen film since Husbands and Wives (1992), Blanchett’s portrayal of a character whose life lurches from being a pampered wife to a penniless, nervous mess is as engrossing as it is excruciating. The prolific writer-director would often borrow ideas from the likes of Bergman and Fellini; here, the source of inspiration is Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. (1947) There’s a lot of Blanche DuBois in Jasmine Francis – both of them are wealthy dreamers and forced to take refuge with their working-class sisters – but in Allen and Blanchett’s hands, the genteel Southern belle from Williams’ play is turned into a vain Manhattan socialite who shoots piercing glares toward those she deems inferior.
Although Jasmine is more intense than Blanche, she is just as obsessive in cultivating her self-image as Williams’ character, and the attraction of Allen’s film is in how she deals with her loss of financial status. From the way she reminisces about how she met her first husband to the way she spouts endless lies to secure a second one, it’s clear her self-delusion will be her undoing. Blanchett’s agitated performance – where one rattled off anecdote can include several mood swings, vacillating from wistfulness to blithe indifference to simmering anger and back again – is one of her most protean and encapsulates the character’s fitful, fractured sense of self. Blue Jasmine takes the top spot in the list of best Cate Blanchett movies and it is available for streaming on Netflix.