In “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” Cate plays Jane Winslett-Richardson, a pregnant British reporter. Her quiet charm makes her extremely likeable and amidst a crowded ensemble cast, she effortlessly forms a memorable character and grounds this somewhat absurd tale.
Still very much a hot commodity a couple of years after her arrival on the American scene as both an acting powerhouse and a movie star in her own right, “Bandits” helped diversify Cate’s portfolio alongside her other 2001 roles in “Charlotte Gray,” “The Shipping News” and of course, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” Perhaps her most ostensibly comedic role to date—her awesome, masked cameo in “Hot Fuzz” notwithstanding—her performance as Kate Wheeler in “Bandits” literally steals the entire film from her leading men, Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thorton. An actress so well put-together in real life sure knows how to operate as a woman on the brink in front of the camera. Completely aware of her mental instability, Wheeler finds a strange solace in life as an accomplice to a pair of renowned bank robbers. You’ll have plenty of fun watching Cate the entire time, but seeing her rock out to “I Need a Hero” while wearing gloves and waving a large kitchen knife never gets old.
8. PHILIPPA in “Heaven”
With Tom Tykwer directing a screenplay from Krzysztof Kieślowski, “Heaven” gave Cate plenty to chew on. “Heaven” is both hauntingly romantic and quietly fanciful in equal measure. Cate stars as Philippa, a woman who is responsible for four deaths after a failed attempt to kill the leader of the drug cartel in Torino with a bomb. Although the film did not make a splash commercially, it still remains held in high esteem thanks to the conviction Cate brings to the table.
7. DAISY FULLER in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Just about every thing in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was recognized by the Academy, excepting Cate Blanchett. Sure, the performance isn’t ground-breaking, nor does she have many ‘Oscar clip’ moments, but Cate portrays her character, Daisy, with such grace and subtlety, its absurd not to see this as one of her best. She believably embodies Daisy from when she’s a 17 year-old ballet dancer, all the way to her dying breath as an elderly woman. She is able to show us a fully realized and sympathetically conflicted character at every point in Daisy’s life. The scene in which a young Daisy attempts to seduce an older Benjamin with her ballet moves—and newly realized sexuality—is completely mesmerizing. The timid Benjamin Button can’t help but be transfixed over her beauty amidst the foggy New York backdrop. Pair this scene with any in which Daisy is a bed-ridden old woman, and Cate’s range becomes undeniable.
6. VERONICA GUERIN in “Veronica Guerin”
As a film, “Veronica Guerin” has plenty of problems. Director Joel Schumacher allows a good story to steep too long in melodrama, diminishing the returns for what is a powerful true tale of an Irish journalist who took on Dublin’s drug lords and was killed for it. Plenty of good exists here, though—namely the musical contributions of Sinead O’Connor and Harry Gregson-Williams and, of course, the titular performance by Ms. Blanchett. Thankfully, Cate does not allow the complexities of this historical figure to get lost, delivering a vigorous turn as a woman of action and determination. It is pretty easy to see past the film’s shallow texture and admire the dedication Cate poured into a devastating subject.
5. QUEEN ELIZABETH I in “Elizabeth” & “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”
Arguably one of her most iconic roles, Cate delivers once again in “Elizabeth.” Spanning over a large chunk of her life, we see her transform into the Queen Elizabeth I that is so well known today. As she becomes more hardened and weighted down by her responsibilities as the Queen, Cate is absolutely terrific. The Queen’s inner strength is apparent and constant. She has a heavy intimidation that sets her above the cast around her. The film gained Cate her first Oscar nomination and marked her as one of today’s finest actresses.
4. SHEBA HART in “Notes on a Scandal”
With a revered British acting icon like Judi Dench planted firmly in the lead role, a sharply adapted screenplay by Patrick Marber and a chilling, assertively string-heavy score by Philip Glass, “Notes on a Scandal” has plenty working in its favor. It is not until you consider the combination of Dench and her acting partner, Cate Blanchett, that you recognize the film’s true capstone. With several complex relationships slithering their way in and out of the picture, the outrageous chemistry between our two leads renders nearly everything else trivial. Cate is every bit as much a hurricane here as Judi, and thankfully both received their fare share of recognition. To this day, when someone asks me for examples of great acting, I immediately point them in the direction of “Notes on a Scandal.”
Cate portrays Hepburn with just the right amount of animated exaggeration. She plays up the movie star’s love of life and endless sense of joy. There’s a fine line between performance and impersonation, but Cate adds just the right amount of humanity into the character and keeps it from ever seeming inauthentic. The conversations between Hepburn and Hughes on the golf course are particularly amusing, showing off her confident coolness. This is a magnificent performance.
2. JUDE QUINN (BOB DYLAN) in “I’m Not There”
Earning as many points as our No. 1 selection but with a lower average ranking, Cate’s role in “I’m Not There” is undeniably her most peculiar. Millions of her devoted fans were miffed in early 2008 when Cate lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to “Michael Clayton” star Tilda Swinton. A double nominee that year (also nominated for Best Actress in “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), Cate was seemingly a shoo-in to take home her second trophy, but her androgynous role as Bob Dylan composite character Jude Quinn—and the film as a whole—proved to be too abstruse for the masses to really take a shine to. Regardless of awards injustice, Cate’s performance as a representation of mid-1960s Dylan is compelling for its rhythm and intricacy before even being considered for how unnervingly accurate a portrayal it is. Cate is one of six actors to play versions of Dylan in the film, but she manages to lift her portion to much higher altitudes.
1. JASMINE FRANCIS in “Blue Jasmine”
Cate Blanchett seems to know something that other actors haven’t figured out yet. She is working on an entirely different level, and she is beyond brilliant in “Blue Jasmine.” She brings life to a despicable character and through every horrible decision and painful choice of words, Cate allows us to feel sympathy for Jasmine. Her impeccable comedic timing adds a great deal to this tragically hilarious role. She’s condescending, selfish, and egotistic while also being vulnerably sad. Not only does Cate give one of the best performances in recent memory, she reminds us of what a real actor is capable of and raises the bar in every way. We’ll be hearing a lot about this performance come Oscar season.