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Nicole Kidman’s Best Performances — IndieWire Critics Survey

As Nicole Kidman caps off a banner year with "The Killing of a Sacred Deer," our panel of critics picks the actress' finest moments.

Nicole Kidman Killing of a Sacred Deer

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”

Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: In honor of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” what is Nicole Kidman’s greatest performance?

Vadim Rizov (@VRizov), Filmmaker Magazine


I don’t know about “best” — I haven’t seen an embarrassing chunk of what are considered her most significant roles, and I’m weak on understanding acting — but the performance that sticks most in my mind (quite possibly because I saw it at impressionable high school age) is “Dogville.” Kidman is spookily withdrawn, like an observer alien in a human body dropped into a moral wasteland which she attempts to navigate with understanding and decorum until finally it’s just too much. As in “Birth,” she’s there but not there, stunned and withdrawn, rivetingly off from everyone else, and she carries the whole show for three hours in the most stripped-down of circumstances, a beating heart under the Brechtian distancing.

Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse) freelance for Nylon, the Guardian, Vulture


Wild to think that after this week, flatteringly comparing himself to Hitler is now no longer the worst thing Lars Von Trier’s ever done. The best thing he’s ever done was give Nicole Kidman “Dogville,” an endurance trial under which lesser actresses would have cracked. But all the elements instrumental to Kidman’s “sexy ice queen” persona playacted elsewhere get repurposed to more intense, dismaying means here: her piercing gaze becomes her last line of defense against a society methodically grinding her to dust, her romantic appeal being her ultimate undoing. Kidman shoulders all of it and forges onward in a performance less about bringing a character to life than navigating a series of mental and physical challenges. It’s acting as sport.

Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Freelance for Hello Beautiful, Birth.Movies.Death, Harper’s Bazaar, etc.

Nicole Kidman in The Others

“The Others”

“The Others.” Nicole Kidman has almost always played women who seem to have it together on the outside, but are completely coming undone on the inside. But none of have been more spellbinding to watch than when she played Grace Stewart. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I won’t spoil it here. But after discovering “the twist” after the first watch, it instantly made me go back to this movie over and over, especially to see her performance. It’s such a restrained portrayal, yet so terrifying and heartbreaking all at once. I love it.

Manuela Lazic (@manilazic), Freelance for Little White Lies

“The Portrait of a Lady”

Nicole Kidman has had a stellar career, but one performance that I believe deserves to be praised a lot more is her turn in “The Portrait of a Lady.” Jane Campion already loved Kidman then and both enthused Henry James’s story of manipulation and despair with such feeling, without ever getting sappy or ridicule. Kidman’s usual extra-sensitivity is highlighted to better make her character’s pain and uncertainty feel vivid and urgent for the spectator, but always with respect for this tortured heroine.

Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko), Pajiba/Nerdist/Riot Material

“The Beguiled”

My first thought was “Big Little Lies,” because Kidman was a velvet hammer in that role. Initially, soft, sweet and gorgeous, a Californian dream who all the other characters understandably envy. But as the darkness in that marriage is peeled back, Kidman reveals a tenacity, tenderness and brewing turmoil that’s riveting. But then I realized that’s just the last Kidman performance I watched. It’d be just as easy to claim “The Beguiled,” where her calm exterior cracks with want and regret, or “Rabbit Hole” where she is bitterness and grief embodied, or “Stoker” where she’s a striking character of resentment and sexual frustration. Looking over the past seven years, Kidman has become an actress who has employed her signature beauty and femininity into a pretty spectacle to subvert with emotions more often granted to leading men’s roles. She’s one of the most beautiful actresses in the world, yet on screen is every woman, now ever chipping away at the tired tropes of the girlfriend, the wife, the mother, presenting something deeper, darker, with a scent of blood. So what’s her best performance? It’s always the last one you watched, freshest in your mind, still stinging your heart.

Christy Lemire (@christylemire), RogerEbert.com, What the Flick?!

“To Die For”

I realize it’s an obvious choice, but I’m going with “To Die For.” It was an early indication of her interest in going to dark, challenging places, which she’d later explore further in films like “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Dogville,” and “Birth.” I love the balancing act she pulls off here: As self-styled weathercaster Suzanne Stone, she’s all polish and ambition on the surface. Her propulsive forward momentum is an awesome thing to behold. But as her hidden scheming side simmers and eventually boils over, she becomes positively terrifying. The way Kidman manages both sides of her character’s personality at once — and totally believes in herself at all times, without introspection or remorse — is chilling. Plus, it’s just a blast of a performance to watch.

Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail/Film Festival Today

“Rabbit Hole”

Where to start? I have not yet seen “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (we in the hinterland look with envy at the earlier release dates in the Big Apple), but Ms. Kidman has so frequently turned in fine – frequently exceptional – performances, that it might prove more fun to point out the bad ones (starting with 2007’s “The Golden Compass”). I hated her in “Dogville” (2003), but that is more because I loathe the entirety of that film with a passion (it marked my sudden realization that von Trier has nothing to say, and says it loudly). Some of my favorite performances of Kidman’s include “Dead Calm” (1989), “To Die For” (1995), “Rabbit Hole” (2010), “The Paperboy” (2012), “Stoker” (2013) and this year’s “The Beguiled” (even though the film, itself, left me a bit cold). But perhaps her absolute top, for me, is in “The Others” (2001). In this excellent, beautiful gothic horror film from Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar, Kidman carries the spooky weight of the narrative on her deceptively slim shoulders. As a mother of two children struggling to keep her sanity while ghosts invade her towering mansion of a home, simultaneously pining for a husband away at war, Kidman delivers a mesmerizing turn that is both heartfelt and heartbreaking. She was nominated for a Golden Globe, and it was well deserved, especially since popular genres like this often escape the notice of awards organizations. She owns the movie, and though Amenábar deserves his share of the credit – as do the other actors – it is Kidman who raises the film to the level of fine art.

Christian Blauvelt (@Ctblauvelt), BBC Culture

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Australian actress Nicole Kidman in a scene from the movie "Moulin Rouge" which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the movie in Beverly Hills 12 February, 2002. The 74th Annual Academy Awards will be held in Hollywood on 24 March. (Photo credit should read SUE ADLER/AFP/Getty Images)

“Moulin Rouge!”

AFP/Getty Images

Nicole Kidman is a treasure, not just because of the range of her work, or her continual desire to work with auteur after auteur, but because of the commitment and intellectual seriousness she brings to her roles. Only the word “fearless” can properly describe her work in “To Die For,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Dogville,” “Birth.” But she’s also a master at bringing contradictory emotions and moods together in a performance, and, even more precisely, in a single moment of a performance. That’s why I have to award top honors in her filmography to her performance as Satine in “Moulin Rouge!”, which is structured as the tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, and certainly does have its share of melancholy and despair (her Satine certainly captures the horror that can follow a woman whose life is to be put on display), but is also so joyous and outright silly. “Ah, poetry. Yes, this is what I want – naughty words!” Who else could sell a line like that?

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

Eyes Wide Shut

“Eyes Wide Shut”

The brilliance of Kidman’s stoned, drawling performance in “Eyes Wide Shut” was not always so widely appreciated, but time has been kind to her elusive turn, which seductively embodies the film’s suggestion that marriage makes deception necessity for both parties. Whether slinking around in a lavish evening gown, getting baked in her undies while ambushing her husband about an age-old fantasy, or simply sitting at the kitchen table and waiting for him to come home, Kidman does an inimitable job of complicating idea of “the perfect couple,” making Bill and Alice Harford both more and less perfect than they appear. Not for nothing, but she gets the last word on Stanley Kubrick’s career, and she delivers it with a glorious sense of finality.

Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), The Guardian, Vanity Fair


I love the part in “Australia” when a kangaroo jumps in the jeep and she squeals and shrieks and Hugh Jackman says “Oi, Princess, don’t be afraid o’ old Willie here! He’s a right proper mate!” and then the kangaroo licks Hugh’s face. Man, that’s a great time. But the best movie she was ever in was “Stoker.” It may not be her toughest acting role – it’s not “Dogville,” which she really put her back into – but she’s perfect in it, inasmuch as it is a perfect film, so everyone is perfect in it, even if no one is behaving like a human being. Runner-up to “Portrait of a Lady,” which people were very mixed on at the time, but I liked a great deal.

Question: What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “The Florida Project”


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