One of the year’s best films, “Sicario” continues to post gains in both box office revenue and awards buzz, especially for its lead, Emily Blunt. We’ve been fans of Blunt for a while here, following her from her early days in British indies through her Hollywood breakthrough in “The Devil Wears Prada” and her rise from solid supporter to bonafide leading lady. After her Georgia Film Critics Award nomination for “Looper,” Blunt really started making some moves. Recent roles in films like “Edge of Tomorrow” and “Sicario” have us officially proclaiming—Emily Blunt has gone next level on us.
We know you love her too, so we put our heads together and came up with a list of the ten best Emily Blunt performances to date. Did your favorites make the cut?
“Wild Target” is not a great film; I doubt it made any top ten lists back in 2010 when it was first released. But it is a film that I find to be so sweet and so full of flair and style and humor that even as I write this I feel the urge to go home and pop in the DVD. Emily Blunt is captivating (though, to be fair, I think that’s a word that could accurately describe every one of her performances), and in “Wild Target,” she’s an absolute scene-stealer. Though the film can be described as clunky or ill-paced (and quite fairly, I might add), the delight that Blunt and Bill Nighy bring to their performances is worth any oversights or missteps that may have been made. She’s sly and whimsical and so, so effortless; it’s fantastic.
9. NORAH LORKOWSKI in “Sunshine Cleaning”
“Sunshine Cleaning” could’ve merely been a recycled 90 minutes chock full of archetypes and gags all building towards a grand sentimental finale. It’s not. It does follow a similar structure and Alan Arkin does provide a spot-on impersonation of his previous roles. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt ground the film with sincerity and truth, while dancing around cliché, as Rose and Norah; sisters who adopted their father’s terrible luck and failure to follow through. Critics deemed “Sunshine Cleaning” a dark comedy due to Rose and Norah’s exploits as a biohazard removal and crime scene clean-up team, but their occupation of cleaning the remnants of death provide the lightest fare of the film. It’s life that gets dark and messy, but Rose and Norah attempt to clean that up a little as well.
8. THE BAKER’S WIFE in “Into the Woods”
In her Golden Globe-nominated role as the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods,” Emily Blunt adds yet another skill to her already varied portfolio—singing. Although she doesn’t come from a musical background, Blunt more than holds her own among her more musically-trained co-stars, breathing life into Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning score. Blunt brilliantly adds both heart and humor to her character and manages to keep her relatable, despite the inherent theatrical nature of the film.
7. VIOLET BARNES in “The Five-Year Engagement”
A self-professed ‘comedy about the journey between popping the question and tying the knot,’ this seemingly fresh, secretly formulaic rom-com is synonymous with the short phrase ‘Judd Apatow’ (who produced but didn’t direct this time). Luckily, Blunt’s performance is seemingly formulaic but secretly fresh. Rarely is the female lead opposite the Jason Segels of the world a PhD, and Blunt’s effervescent wit and humility balance the otherwise canned storyline with natural sparks of success and of failure. What I liked about her is how likable she was; replace her with Katherine Heigl or Anne Hathaway, and you may choose not to wrangle the emotional roller coaster for ninety minutes—let alone five years.
6. QUEEN VICTORIA in “The Young Victoria”
Coming to us during an era saturated with English period pieces, “The Young Victoria” still managed to grace us with quite a few things: a mainstream introduction to Québécois filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée (who has since directed “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild”), excellent art design and makeup, Oscar-winning costumes by Sandy Powell, and Emily Blunt’s first toplining role in a prestige film. This movie is very different from the more histrionic “Elizabeth” films that starred Cate Blanchett, but Victoria was a very different queen in a very different time. Some complained of the film’s talkiness or lack of excitement, but no one had anything negative to say about Blunt. “The Young Victoria” shone as her brightest spotlight yet, and while the film’s nature didn’t allow for a ton of scenery-chewing, we definitely saw that Blunt was ready for the big leagues.
5. EMILY CHARLTON in “The Devil Wears Prada”
Sure, Meryl steals the show, but the fact that Blunt’s performance even holds a candle to the Devil herself says a lot about her comedic chops. Her character (also named Emily) is selfish, rude and conniving but Blunt is able to keep her grounded and likeable. Her timing is pitch perfect and her eye rolls are top notch. “The Devil Wears Prada” is a fun movie to revisit for several reasons, but especially for Blunt’s hysterical performance and to remind you of her incredible range as an actress.
4. IRIS in “Your Sister’s Sister”
Emily Blunt’s performance in Lynn Shelton’s sophomore feature “Your Sister’s Sister” is as soft-edged and rosy and warm as Rosemary DeWitt’s character is angular and piercing and raw. It’s a film that’s only as good as the characters that occupy the space within it. You can’t talk about one without the other because their performances are so ribboned together. Which, now seems as good a time as any to mention how lovely and charming Mark Duplass is. This film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well had it been cast any other way; the performances are so compelling and nuanced and honest. Each actor urges and trusts the other to raise the bar. “Your Sister’s Sister” is a film that’s aimless while also somehow poignant; it doles out blushing intimacy and squirmy discomfort in equal measure. Blunt is natural and honest, qualities mirrored in her two co-stars. All three leads share a chemistry that is sparky and sincere, and they so effortlessly create a world that is convincing and wholly enveloping.
3. SERGEANT RITA VRATASKI in “Edge of Tomorrow”
Based on a Japanese novel called “All You Need is Kill,” Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” faced many overdone genre hurdles—alien invasion, dystopia, near future, time loop. Tom Cruise, ever the maverick, plays a new character in his repertoire—a coward—and has never been better. While “Edge of Tomorrow” is driven by Cruise’s Major William Cage, its not until Emily Blunt’s Sergeant Rita Rose Vrataski shows up that the film surges with maximum voltage. Credited with the most alien kills, Blunt plays the colloquial ‘Full Metal Bitch,’ a wartime icon who wields a sharpened helicopter blade as her weapon of choice. After recognizing Cage’s ability to anticipate the moves of the enemy during battle, Vrataski utters the ever important words, ‘come find me when you wake up’—and he does, every day after he wakes from death. What a challenge it must have been to play the same scene over and over again, but as different days in your life, with different idiosyncrasies to master. Blunt and Cruise are nothing short of incredible in these roles, and if it wasn’t for the film’s spectacular sci-fi nature, that might have translated into real awards traction for the pair. Blunt doesn’t just play tough-as-nails. By taking roles like this and knocking them out of the park, she proves that she is most assuredly as strong as they come.
2. SARA in “Looper”
“Looper” has an effortless swagger. Standing as the most successful realization of the too-often-tried-and-failed boggle that is time travel, it channels its strength from Rian Johnson’s sharp pen, keen eye, and fluent understanding of what makes the human heart pump harder. Its visceral, unsuspecting strength roars to life the action film that time forgot, and it does so with the fluid and unique stylings of thick cigar smoke. Without actors that mimic those descriptors, however, it could have easily been a gaudy and heartless affair, but with Emily Blunt standing tall—shotgun in hand—at the forefront of this story, it doesn’t come close to either. Critical to the success of this film is her ability to capture the audience’s belief that Sara’s strength, built from a myriad of missteps and completely human flaws, can and will harness forces far greater than she, creating a divergence in time. Not only do you never doubt her, you want to be her; I’m hard-pressed to imagine another actress that could have hand-delivered that to Johnson without a shred of disbelief. To call such a performance stunning, would be to undersell it by about a million.
1. KATE MACER in “Sicario”
There are many elements that make “Sicario” great (namely Roger Deakins’s cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score), but the film would not be what it is without Emily Blunt’s remarkable performance as idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer. Her depiction of Kate’s slow awakening to the moral ambiguity surrounding the war on drugs demonstrates Blunt’s range; she is strong, vulnerable and everything in between. Her impressive range is not even the highlight of her performance, it’s the authenticity of it. Blunt is believable throughout; subtle and compelling in her execution. Her work in “Sicario” is already getting critics and moviegoers alike talking about her first-rate (and possibly award-winning) performance, and deservedly so.