Though awards season is completely up in the air right now, that hasn’t stopped anyone from getting together actors and critics for roundtables on films both past and present. In that spirit, we present a look at 10 exceptional performances from women around the world that don’t get the recognition they deserve. Read on, and may you discover a new favorite or two.
For a textbook example of how to steal a film, look no further than the riotous, highly quotable performance by veteran character actress Lupe Ontiveros as she gets pulled into the highly dysfunctional relationship between the title characters, childhood friends reconnecting under deeply unhealthy circumstances. Every single frame featuring Ontiveros is a joy to behold, especially when the film turns into a meta stage version of itself that she helps coach into existence.
Claudine (1974) (YouTube)
The recently departed Diahann Carroll was an extraordinarily versatile talent who earned Tony and Golden Globe Awards and appeared in multiple classic Hollywood musicals. But for some reason — perhaps it’s her stint on TV’s beloved and trashy “Dynasty” — she never seems to turn up when people talk about major American actresses. In this outstanding romantic comedy with a conscience, Carroll plays a Harlem mom who finds a new man in her life, James Earl Jones, as they both grapple with income inequality and working with a deck stacked against them.
You’d be forgiven for being distracted by Jeremy Irons’ remarkable dual performance in this sorta-fact-based study of twin gynecologists who go down a very self-destructive rabbit hole. However, the secret beating heart at the center of this David Cronenberg classic is the delicately shaded potent turn by the great Geneviève Bujold as the actress/patient whose emotional involvement comes between them. Keep an eye on her in every scene; there isn’t a single misstep here.
Dreamgirls (2006) (iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube)
Using the word “underrated” to describe this adaptation of the hit stage musical might seem odd considering Jennifer Hudson walked off with an Oscar. It may seem even odder to apply that word to anything involving Beyoncé. However, that’s exactly the case in “Dreamgirls,” as the pop legend was overshadowed for a performance that was far more reactive and subtle than she was credited for at the time. On repeated viewings, the beautiful, intuitive work she put into this film becomes much clearer as she deftly crafts a character pushed into the spotlight by her marketability among the girl group that provided her first springboard to success.
The House of Yes (1997) (Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu)
A brilliant secret weapon among indie character actors, Parker Posey has elevated every film she’s appeared in from Christopher Guest mockumentaries to “Josie and the Pussycats.” However, this dark comedy lets Posey take center stage as a Jackie Onassis-obsessed young woman who turns a Thanksgiving family visit into a night of revelations and major surprises.
Les Girls (1957) (iTunes, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube)
Though it never pops up in lists of great MGM musicals, this bubbly George Cukor production — featuring songs by Cole Porter — is a great way to meet the dynamic English comedic actresses Kay Kendall, who tragically passed away at the age of 32 a mere two years after this movie was released. Her chemistry with co-star Gene Kelly is infectious; she manages to not only light up the screen but also does a mean Jerry Mouse impression.
Before taking the Oscars by storm with “Parasite,” writer/director Bong Joon-ho had already established himself as a major filmmaker providing showcases for a wide range of actors. Case in point: This mesmerizing crime thriller with beloved veteran South Korean actress Kim Hye-ja, who turns in a powerhouse performance as a widow forced to take drastic measures to clear the name of her son when he’s accused of murder.
Supercop (1992) (Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime)
Though promoted as a Jackie Chan vehicle, this jaw-dropping Hong Kong action classic is just as much a showcase for the remarkable Michelle Yeoh, one of the greatest modern action stars. Here, she’s cast as a Chinese cop who has to work alongside Chan, her Hong Kong counterpart, to put a stop to a drug tycoon’s operations. The film also serves as a backdrop for ingenious stunts and some wry commentary on the tension over Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China at the end of the ’90s.
Relic (2020) (iTunes, Vudu)
This haunting take on dementia, filtered through the lens of a supernatural horror film, offers a trio of terrific performances from Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote, as three generations of a family are pulled into a nightmare when the grandmother exhibits signs of severe mental deterioration. However, I’ve got to single out Mortimer for anchoring the film with a brittle, complex performance that pays dividends in the unforgettable final scene.
Something for Everyone (1970) (YouTube)
Though barely remembered today, this twisted comedy from Broadway impresario Harold Prince is a unique and frequently outrageous tale about a social climber working his way up through a troubled European family. The always reliable Angela Lansbury steals the show as the self-obsessed countess whose penchant for fashion magazines keeps her from realizing the viper hiding within her family’s nest.