10 Best Jennifer Jason Leigh Roles
From 80s starlet to 21st century indie darling, Jennifer Jason Leigh has enjoyed an incredibly successful career for almost the entire time she’s been active. After scoring the female lead in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in 1982, the actress has never stopped moving her way up in the world. Thank goodness for that, too — she’s a joy to behold in practically any role. Maybe it’s because she was married to indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach from 2005 to 2013, but Leigh’s transition to the world of independent and unconventional film was one of the best decisions she could have made. Most of her best performances came out of this period of time post-2005. Whether it’s a classic from the 20th century or something less-known from the 21st, Jennifer Jason Leigh has an eclectic and impressive filmography that she has worked hard to curate.
Twin Peaks: The Return
Jennifer Jason Leigh might not be someone’s first choice for the Twin Peaks universe, but she certainly makes for a welcome addition. David Lynch’s 2017 continuation of the story that began on his cult classic television show and was deepened with his 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me sees Jennifer Jason Leigh playing a Midwestern contract killer who, alongside her husband (played by Tim Roth) pick off quite a few fringe characters throughout the series. She’s hilarious and, alongside Roth, she loves Wendy’s.
A limited series that aired on Showtime, Patrick Melrose stars Benedict Cumberbatch but gives Leigh plenty to do in a supporting role. It’s based on a series of novels, so it naturally tracks its titular character from his 20s well into adulthood. It’s a tough and often hilarious look at the life of a man who endured a traumatic childhood and miserable adulthood, and Leigh is perfectly cast as his mother Eleanor (even though she’s only 14 years older than Cumberbatch in real life).
Synecdoche, New York
The mind of Charlie Kaufman can be a troubling and uncomfortable place to be. This is something that Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character comes face-to-face within his 2008 film Synecdoche, New York. She plays the best friend to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character’s wife in the movie, but she has plenty more to do than the supporting role would suggest. She’s great here, which is probably why Kaufman cast her in one of the leading roles in his 2015 film that appears later on in the list.
From visionary director Alex Garland comes Annihilation, a rare female-driven science fiction film that twists and turns through time and space. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh alongside Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, and Tessa Thompson, Annihilation sees a group of women enter a quarantined land called The Shimmer from which no one has returned. It’s creepy and thrilling, fitting in nicely with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s many eclectic performances.
The Safdie brothers are some of the most interesting new voices in American independent filmmaking. Naturally admiring the work of Jennifer Jason Leigh, the two managed to secure her a role in their film Good Time. The movie follows two brothers who get caught up in a robbery-gone-wrong, with Leigh playing an important role in the whole ordeal. It’s an incredibly tense film, and Leigh absolutely nails her significant part in the story.
The Hateful Eight
As somewhat of an icon of the 80s and 90s, it only makes sense that Jennifer Jason Leigh eventually managed to link up with Quentin Tarantino. She’s essential to the director’s 2015 film The Hateful Eight, playing a fugitive among a group of crazed strangers stuck in a snowstorm in the wake of the Civil War. Here’s hoping she gets to be in at least one more of the filmmaker’s projects — she might not have much time, though, seeing as the director has been threatening to retire soon.
Robert Altman is one of few directors who has managed to balance an insane amount of characters and storylines without things feeling crowded or busy. Short Cuts is one such example, which sees Jennifer Jason Leigh playing a woman named Lois Kaiser. She’s one of 22 main characters, but she never gets lost in the mix. It’s really a sight to see.
After her winning performance in Synecdoche, New York, Leigh earned herself a leading role in Kaufman’s stop-motion animated feature Anomalisa. It’s a heavy movie that deals with the oftentimes overwhelming and miserable toll that monotony takes on our daily lives, with Leigh playing a woman that an author falls for while on a book tour. It’s a unique film, but Leigh absolutely shines.
Road to Perdition
Sam Mendes is famous for his James Bond films, but his second feature Road to Perdition is arguably more impressive than anything he’s done for the 007 universe. Jennifer Jason Leigh stars alongside Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, and Ciarán Hinds, proving herself able to compete with the best of them in one of the only leading female roles the film has to offer. She’s an interesting choice for the part, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role.
The Hudsucker Proxy
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy is one of the finest examples of the actress’s ability to do a great job with comedic roles. She’s your stereotypical fast-talking journalist, a character she cleverly plays with a tongue-in-cheek twist. Not to mention, she’s stellar alongside Tim Robbins.