1. Greta in “High Art”
Clarkson’s breakthrough role was as Greta, the heroin-addicted girlfriend to Ally Sheedy’s renowned photographer. Clarkson takes this supporting role and turns it into pure magic. Her Greta is like Marlene Dietrich stuck in a Warhol Factory film, and she steals every scene she’s in. She even steals the preview, as seen here.
2. Sarah O’Connor in “Six Feet Under”
Though Clarkson is best known for her big-screen roles, one of her best was on the small screen, as the artistic, emotional Aunt Sarah on Alan Ball’s “Six Feet Under.” Sarah was one of the highlights of the groundbreaking show, and you can see why in this fabulous, drunken scene where she declares, “Everything happens for a reason. What a crock. You say there’s a reason George fucking Bush got re-elected.” Clarkson nails the show’s darkly comedic tone, but also rips your heart out when she says, “Shit goes wrong because there’s evil in the world like me.”
3. Olivia in “The Station Agent”
As Olivia, an artist dealing with the death of her young son, Clarkson created one of her most memorable roles in this indie gem. Here, she gives Peter Dinklage a piece of her mind, in a scene that proves how well-deserved her National Board of Review and National Society of Film Critics awards were.
4. Juliette Grant in “Cairo Time”
Clarkson is often cast in supporting roles. In “Cairo Time,” she earns lady lady status as a married magazine editor who finds herself falling in love with both a new man and a new city. Her luminous performance, reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn’s iconic tour de force in “Summertime,” makes one long for all the romantic leads she should be playing.
5. Eleanor Fine in “Far From Heaven”
Although Julianne Moore is the center core of Todd Haynes’ moving homage to Douglas Sirk, Clarkson delivers the kind of supporting role she can be counted on for as Cathy’s concerned best friend. Clarkson brings heart and soul to the stylized film, finding the substance within the style.
6. Vera in “Dogville”
Director Lars Von Trier is known for putting his actresses through hell and back. Bjork famously said she would never act again after making her first film with the controversial director. But the results are often worth it, as evidenced in this harrowing, brilliant scene in which Clarkson does what one might think impossible: she makes Nicole Kidman cry.
7. Joy Burns in “Pieces of April”
Clarkson earned well-deserved Oscar, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations for her role in this Thanksgiving film. As a mother struggling with breast cancer, Clarkson delivers both heart and the humor. She also proves to have a special knack for bringing out the best in Tom Cruise’s loves (Katie Holmes in “Pieces of April,” Nicole Kidman in “Dogville” and Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Christina Barcelona”). If Mimi Rogers ever wants to stage a comeback, she knows who her costar should be.
8. Dagmar Berman in “Lars and the Real Girl”
A movie that asks the audience to sympathize with a man who falls in love with a blow-up doll demands the finest of actors, and this movie has them in spades. As the doctor who treats Bianca the blow-up doll, Clarkson brings profound empathy to the absurd premise.
9. Melinda Moores in “The Green Mile”
You probably wouldn’t know it given the wide range of roles she’s played and accents she’s perfected, but Clarkson is a Louisiana native, and she channels her roots in her heartbreaking performance in “The Green Mile.”
10. Rosemary in “Easy A”
While Clarkson excels at the kinds of serious dramatic roles that should’ve won her an Oscar (or three) by now, she is equally adept at broad comedy, as evidenced by her hilarious role in “Easy A” as Emma Stone’s delightfully eccentric mother. Leave it to Clarkson to sell a line like, “We love you no matter what the sexual orientation of your opposite-sex sex partner.”
Given Clarkson’s breadth of work, we had to omit a painfully long list of roles and films from this list. So you tell us: what’s your favorite Patricia Clarkson role?
Tom Dolby is the writer and co-director of “Last Weekend” (which stars Patricia Clarkson), in theaters, VOD, and iTunes on August 29 from Sundance Selects. Abdi Nazemian is a screenwriter, novelist, and creative executive at Water’s End Productions—and a dedicated fan of all things Patricia Clarkson. Find out more at www.LastWeekendFilm.com.