10 Best Frances McDormand Movies
While she might only have two Oscars — the second of which she won for her performance in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — actress Frances McDormand has an incredibly stacked filmography. After making quite a debut in the Coen Brothers’ first feature film Blood Simple., McDormand continued to make an impression on audiences for decades to come. She’d go on to marry one of those brothers, Joel, and star in many more films of theirs. With over forty feature films to her name, McDormand has plenty of spectacular roles to her name. The Coen Brothers, Nicole Holofcener, Wes Anderson, Nancy Meyers, Cameron Crowe — she’s gotten the chance to work with all these filmmakers and more. There’s no doubt that the actress is one of the most prolific and important in the business (and she’s got the resumé to show for it).
The movie that first earned her an Academy Award, Fargo is perhaps the greatest showcase for McDormand’s talents so far. Written and directed by the Coens in the mid-90s, McDormand stars as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant police chief of Fargo, North Dakota. William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi give great performances in the film, but McDormand is truly transcendent in this.
Technically a miniseries but screened as one complete work on many different occasions, HBO’s Olive Kitteridge is totally and completely made for McDormand. She plays the titular character, a middle school math teacher, but the project is so much more than that. It’s a close and intimate look at Kitteridge’s marriage, spanning a period of 25 years, touching on the ups and downs of the couple and their relationships with their close friends and family.
McDormand’s first Wes Anderson movie, Moonrise Kingdom boasts one of the greatest ensemble casts of indie movie darlings ever. McDormand joins the likes of Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and more in this charming story about two twelve-year-olds in the mid-60s who fall in love and decide to run away from their small New England town. She might not be the star, but she certainly steals the show whenever she’s on screen.
Burn After Reading
While she often receives a role in whatever the Coens are working on, she doesn’t always score the leading part. Like Fargo, Burn After Reading is a great instance of McDormand getting plenty of time to shine. The movie’s hilarious, and it proves to be more relevant today than it was back in 2008 when it was released — its confounding story about a bunch of oddballs tangled up in Russian interference, leaked information, and espionage feels straight out of the present day instead of a decade-plus ago.
Based on the stories of Raymond Carver and directed by the great Robert Altman, Short Cuts tells all kinds of loosely-connected stories with an all-star cast and a lengthy runtime. McDormand plays one of 22 leading roles, but she (and everyone else) ultimately gets a chance to show off her talent on-screen. Altman’s movies are something to behold, as is McDormand.
The debut feature from the Coens and McDormand’s first role in a feature film, Blood Simple. is a great look at the futures of both the filmmakers and the star. They all get to prove themselves to be much greater than low budgets and small releases — it honestly feels more like a big studio production and less like a debut feature for the three of them. Blood Simple. is great, and it’d be much less great without McDormand in it.
One of Cameron Crowe’s only universally praised films, Almost Famous stars McDormand alongside Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson. He’s a controversial filmmaker — not for his subject matter, but for his iffy style of filmmaking — but this movie is undoubtedly full of heart and soul. Perhaps it’s because the work is semi-autobiographical, or perhaps it’s because McDormand is good enough to elevate something that would be so-so without her.
Another early work from the Coens, Raising Arizona is a delightfully cartoonish movie starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter (and McDormand, of course). Cage and Hunter get the leading roles here and they do great jobs with them, but McDormand delivers yet another memorable supporting role in the film. She obviously appreciates the Coens if she married one of them, but there’s no denying their films would all take significant blows if not for her inclusion in them.
The Man Who Wasn’t There
A throwback to the slow-burning noir films of yesteryear (as well as the B movies that filled so many theaters in the mid-20th century), The Man Who Wasn’t There is a self-aware and haunting portrait of a lonely barber and the strange goings-on in his small town. McDormand plays the barber’s former wife who leaves him for her boss. She really has a great time with her role in this film, playing along nicely with Billy Bob Thornton and James Gandolfini in one of the 2000s’ greatest neo-noirs.
A strange and unconventional police drama released the same year as Fargo, Lone Star sees Frances McDormand playing a woman named Bunny. Matthew McConaughey and Chris Cooper might be the stars of the show, but again: no one does a supporting role like McDormand, and Lone Star is clearly no exception. The film takes its time, slowly and surely developing its engrossing story, and McDormand plays her part with nuance and grace.
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