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Julianne Moore

A late starter, she went on to win the Best Actress Oscar in 2015. Nicholas Barber picks her best work

Nicholas Barber | March/April 2015

1993 SHORT CUTS, MARIAN WYMAN
Well, that’s one way to get noticed. Julianne Moore was born in 1960, as Julie Smith, but her big break didn’t come until Robert Altman cast her in “Short Cuts”. And even then, her dreamy painter didn’t stand out from the starry crowd for over two and a quarter hours. Then came that speech: a furious confession, delivered while undressed from the waist down. Afterwards, Moore was known for being fearless, superb at dialogue, and capable of hurricane-force emotional outbursts. And, often, half-naked.

1997 BOOGIE NIGHTS, AMBER WAVES
Moore’s characters tend to be so comfortable with sex and nudity that James Bond would blush in their presence. Her matter-of-factness has never been more sensational than in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”. When Moore’s porn star, Amber Waves, is instructing Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler on the ins-and-outs of their imminent sex scene, she is hilariously reassuring and gentle. You don’t stop laughing until you realise why Amber is being so tender: she sees Dirk as a surrogate son.

1999 MAGNOLIA, LINDA PARTRIDGE
Moore is Hollywood’s undisputed sovereign of sobbing. There is a YouTube supercut, “Julianne Moore loves to cry”, in which she crumples into tears in 20 films, her lips wrenched back from her teeth as if being pulled by invisible hands. “Magnolia” (Paul Thomas Anderson again) is one such film. Moore’s pill-popping trophy wife melts down magnificently, roaring at her lawyer and a pair of officious pharmacists with the ferocity of a wounded animal.

2001 HANNIBAL, CLARICE STARLING
When Jodie Foster turned down “Hannibal”, she denied us a long-awaited “Silence of the Lambs” cast reunion, but Moore too made Clarice Starling her own, proving in the process that she could carry a mainstream blockbuster. Her Starling is an eagle. Almost as poised and confident as Dr Lecter, she keeps her movements smooth and her gaze steady, even when her dress is missing half of its front and her dinner companion is missing half of his skull.

2002 FAR FROM HEAVEN, CATHY WHITAKER
In 2002, Moore was a 1950s desperate housewife in two acclaimed dramas. One was Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours”, the other Todd Haynes’s “Far from Heaven”, a gorgeous homage to Douglas Sirk’s hyper-coloured melodramas. While it’s clearly a pastiche, there is nothing arch about its anti-prejudice message. Moore has to embody this balancing act. Floating around her immaculate house, her head tilted and her voice lilting, her character is very nearly a caricature of a Fifties home-maker. But her anguish is red-raw.

2009 A SINGLE MAN, CHARLEY
Screw-ups are a Moore speciality. She may come across as one of Hollywood’s most unstarry stars, but she is unbeatable at playing elegantly wasted addicts: once-glamorous queen bees, now dripping with self-pity, subsisting on cocaine and gin, losing touch with their children, but just about keeping their dignity and eyeliner intact. In Tom Ford’s beautifully tailored “A Single Man”, she is a heartbreaking English example of the type. Even as she propositions her gay best friend (Colin Firth), she is several cocktails away from believing that he will acquiesce.

2012 GAME CHANGE, SARAH PALIN
Moore has joined the “Hunger Games” franchise as a conniving would-be tyrant, and some might say she practised for the role in “Game Change”, a controversial HBO movie about Sarah Palin’s 60 days on the campaign trail in 2008. Despite portraying Palin as a mentally unstable incompetent, the film sympathises with her, and Moore’s performance is no Tina Fey-style lampoon. She has Palin’s glazed perkiness and strangulated tones, but she also has more warmth and self-doubt than you are likely to find in the former governor’s own media appearances.

2014 STILL ALICE, DR ALICE HOWLAND
There are, they say, no Hollywood roles for women over 40. But Moore is 54, and we could easily fill a Visual CV just with her films from the past decade –“The Kids Are All Right”, “What Maisie Knew” and now “Maps to the Stars”. As I type, she is the hottest of favourites for the Best Actress Oscar, partly because she has so many nominations (five), partly because this role is pure awards bait – a linguistics professor stricken with early-onset Alzheimer’s (the irony!). “Still Alice” turns out to be a flat disease-of-the-week movie, but Moore’s gradual cognitive clouding is agonisingly credible. So, there is a third reason why she may have an Oscar by the time you read this. She deserves it.

Still Alice opens in Britain March 6th

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