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Monday, September 12, 2011

Cate Blanchett in the Flesh

A few weeks ago, I had the joy of seeing a true movie star, and one of my favorite actresses, live an on stage: Cate Blanchett. Besides being a fairly prolific actress, she also is the co-director (with her husband) of the Sydney Theater Company, which brought their production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya here to DC's Kennedy Center. It was, quite simply, astonishing. I love Chekhov, and this is my favorite of his plays. The whole cast was also incredible. Besides Cate, the cast included Hugo Weaving (from The Matrix and various other creepy roles) and, in a small role, Jacki Weaver, who was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar in last year's Animal Kingdom.

But I'll focus on Cate. From the moment she walks out, it's clear she is a true star. She plays Yelena, a ravishing beauty who charms several of the men in the play, and she certainly fits the part. Watching her on stage, she had a certain charisma that I've only seen in a few actors. She has such a deep sense of her character's motivation that every gesture and inflection she made felt exactly right. And, I'll admit it, I'm still a bit starstruck. I've seen a few recognizable stars in person, and to me it's like a little magic from the screen coming to real life.

So, in honor of Cate, here are my 5 favorite film performances by her.

1.) Elizabeth (1998). While she made a couple movies before this, this was certainly her breakout role. And how. As Queen Elizabeth, the then 29-year-old Blanchett commanded the screen in a turn where she was truly transformed to young woman in love to powerful queen. I thought Gwyneth Paltrow was wonderful in Shakespeare in Love, but I'll still say Blanchett was robbed in losing out on the Oscar. I've avoided the sequel (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), which I heard was overwrought, perhaps so that I can cherish this performance.

2.) The Aviator (2004). One of my favorite actresses playing one of my other favorite actresses (Katharine Hepburn). Yes, please. The Aviator was an engaging and beautifully made movie, but Blanchett's performance was so good that you missed it when she was out of the movie for long streches.

3.) I'm Not There (2007). In Todd Haynes' artsy, fascinating fantasia on the life and persona of Bob Dylan, Blanchett plays "Jude" (but really, Bob Dylan). Dylan as female is perhaps the most eye-catching of the 6 portrayals of Dylan, but also the most riveting.

4.) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Blanchett had a small role in this movie, but is was memorable. As a socialite who falls in love with the murderous Ripley (Matt Damon), Blanchett brings a  mix of sophistication and vulnerability to her scenes.

5.) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). I liked, but didn't love, this movie. That said, for a movie that was showered with Oscar nominations, I was surprised that Blanchett was passed over for a nomination. She brought a lot of humanity to a film that sometimes didn't know how to find a consistent tone between whimsy and realism.