These performances by Tilda Swinton don’t just prove she deserves more than just one Oscar, but also that she’s one of the best actors of our time.
What makes a good performer excellent? Some would say their ability to convey emotions to the viewer. Others would say their chameleonic nature, while some would argue it is their ability to detach themselves from their personality to embrace other characters'. Of course, a general consensus would be that it's all of the above and something very hard to find.
In one of the most profitable industries in almost a century and a half, very few have managed to achieve the ultimate title of great performers. Now, though the easiest way to measure it would be their victories at one of the most prestigious award shows, the Academy Awards, in many cases, these amazing performers are often overlooked to prioritize business.
Our protagonist today definitely falls into this category. Constantly praised by the critics, loved by the audience, and clearly overlooked by the Academy, there’s no one quite like the great Tilda Swinton. If you don’t think so, or if you only know her for her iconic roles in mainstream films like The Chronicles of Narnia or Dr. Strange, here are Tilda Swinton’s very best performances, which definitely deserved at least an Oscar nod.
10. Michael Clayton (2007)
Dir. Tony Gilroy
This is actually the only nomination and victory Swinton has received by the Academy in over thirty years of her acting career, and though the movie is good, it’s certainly not her best. Here she plays Karen Crowder, the general counsel of a big corporation that has deliberately created a dangerous product. She’s perhaps one of Swinton’s scariest villains, mainly because she’s knowingly malicious and doesn’t care about hurting others to achieve her goals.
9. A Bigger Splash (2015)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
As one of her many collaborations with the Italian director, in this film, Swinton plays a famous rockstar who, after a difficult surgery on her vocal cords, decides to rest and get away from the world on a Mediterranean island. Her tranquility gets interrupted when an old “friend” appears with his alleged daughter and plenty of crazy plans that won’t just jeopardize her post-surgery recovery, but also her relationship and peace of mind. Though the remake isn’t that much of a plot, it’s Swinton’s performance and how she’s capable of transmitting so much in silence what makes it epic.
8. Suspiria (2018)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Also by Guadagnino, in this movie that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, Swinton plays three different roles. The first one is Madame Blanc, the mysterious and obscure director of a famous dance academy. Then, there’s Dr. Josef Klemperer (who was allegedly played by a real psychoanalyst by the name of Lutz Ebersdorf; of course, it was all a stunt), a psychotherapist investigating the academy. And last but not least, Mother Helena Markos, leader of the coven, hidden by the academy. The movie is a remake of Dario Argento’s famous trilogy, and Swinton really helps to give the remake the eerie and dark vibe of the originals.
7. I Am Love (2009)
Dir. Luca Guadagnino
As part of Guadagnino’s “Desire” trilogy (including the already mentioned A Bigger Splash and the moving Call Me By Your Name), this one tells the story of a bourgeois family in Italy whose interests become affected when the individuals start getting carried away by their passions, especially those that Emma, head of the family, discovers after meeting a very unconventional chef.
6. Snowpiercer (2013)
Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Really committed to the characterization of makeup that took hours to get done, Swinton gives life to Minister Mason, the monstrous and maniacal leader of a new dystopian society created after global warming has almost annihilated the entire human race. Though the character is a lot to take you, can tell it’s one of those characters she feels most comfortable in: unexpected and strange.
5. Orlando (1992)
Dir. Sally Potter
Loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s famous homonymous novel, it tells the story of an androgynous nobleman to whom, just before dying, Queen Elizabeth promises an important amount of land and all sorts of riches, under the condition that he agrees to a strange plea: that he must not “fade, wither, nor grow old.” Suddenly, he transforms into a woman living centuries later. The problem is that now he’s facing some legal lawsuits claiming he had always been a woman and thus the will is not valid. As one of Swinton's first hits, it’s also one of her best films, which also helped her embrace that androgynous persona we all love and admire.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Dir. Jim Jarmusch
This now cult vampire movie is also some of her most comfortable types of plots and characters. Eve is an old vampire who has basically outlived everything she loves but the love she feels for her husband. Unlike other vampires in the film and even in the popular imagination, Eve is a peaceful vampire who tries her best to appeal to her primal and violent vampire instincts. It’s all about desire, impulses, and long and intense love.
3. We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011)
Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Probably one of her most famous movies, and one of the most acclaimed performances of her entire career, the movie, based on the novel of the same name, tells the story of a mother and her troubled son. With both Ezra Miller’s scary and really disturbing performance with Swinton’s extremely moving touch, the movie becomes very powerful and anxious story of love and fear.
2. Edward II (1991)
Dir. Derek Jarman
As one of her first successful movies, in this adaptation of Christopher Marlow’s play, Swinton plays Queen Isabella, the tired spouse of King Edward’s romance and relationship with his lover Piers Gaveston. This movie is considered to be crucial to the development of the New Queer Cinema movement of the late eighties and early nineties.
1. Julia (2008)
Dir. Erick Zonca
Last but not least, what we think is Tilda Swinton’s best movie so far. This is the story of Julia, an alcoholic who’s clearly lost control of her life and doesn’t accept the fact that she’s lost basically everything worth living. One day, when she realizes she’s near bankruptcy, she agrees to work for a woman she met at AA, who wants to kidnap her son from his wealthy grandfather. More than just an action police film, it becomes a very deep character study that only a great actress like Swinton could bring to life.
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