Best Actress of the Decade, Entry No. 29: Michelle Williams

To celebrate the last decade 2010-2019 we are counting down the best actresses and discussing some of their most notable and memorable performances of the decade. With the help of Film Twitter, the ITOL team have selected 30 actresses. Here’s Morgan Robert’s piece on Michelle Williams and her best performances of the decade.

By Morgan Roberts

Michelle Williams has been producing stellar work since the late 90s as her turn on “Dawson’s Creek” as Jen Linley.  In the 2010s, Williams has worked tirelessly, in a number of indie darling films which cemented her as a master of her craft, and has peppered in some larger budget projects to support her small budget grind.  Here is a look at just a handful of performances Williams gave us last decade that demonstrated her innate talent.

“Blue Valentine” (2010)

Williams was half of a powerhouse duo in the indie darling starring opposite Ryan Gosling.  The pair play a couple through their highs and lows. We see their budding romance and the devolution of this marriage.  Williams commands as Cindy, giving this complex young woman a depth and understanding through her compassion for the character.  There is a scene, in particular, where Cindy contemplates terminating a pregnancy that highlights the empathy Williams gave to her character.  She gives Cindy both strength and vulnerability has she navigates this big decision. And brings those juxtaposing qualities in every scene.

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Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine (2010)

“Meek’s Cutoff” (2010)

In her second collaboration with director Kelly Reichardt, this film follows an ill-fated party of settlers making their way on the Oregon trail.  I particularly like this film and performance because Williams uses few words to express so much. It is a film centered on tensions as they slowly but surely begin to boil over.  Williams balances the frustrations of a traveler being led astray and the trudge-forward mentality of a pioneer, allowing the character to teeter into both territories, at times having them exist simultaneously.

In the 2010s, Williams has worked tirelessly, in a number of indie darling films which cemented her as a master of her craft, and has peppered in some larger budget projects to support her small budget grind.

my week
Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn (2011)

“My Week with Marilyn” (2011)

Williams plays the iconic Marilyn Monroe.  The public has its perception of Monroe. A dumb blonde bombshell who tragically died young and maybe had an affair with a president.  Williams took the well-worn view of Monroe and played wholeheartedly against it. She gave us the sad Monroe, the one desperate to love and to be loved.  She gave us the Monroe who was unsure of herself, down on herself. She gave us the Monroe who tried so hard due to her fear of failing. She gave us the Monroe before she would become Marilyn Monroe.  Williams reclaimed Marilyn for generations to come and gave her a depth and life generally ignored by the masses.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013)

Taking on the famous role of Glinda the Good Witch, Williams gives us a fun, devoted performance.  She kept all of the qualities that those who grew up watching “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) loved in Glinda, but added layers to the Good Witch.  She is not a huge part of the film, but she brings her natural charm and electrifying stillness (I know, oxymoron, but she does that – she really does that.)

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Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea (2016) © 2016 Amazon Studios

“Manchester By the Sea” (2016)

I only saw this movie because Williams was going to be in it.  Truly. Only reason. It was a long film to suffer through but her performance was captivating.  Her part is criminally small but she does amazing work. She plays who could be seen as a simple, ordinary woman, but gives the grief she later feels endless layers.

Williams took the well-worn view of Monroe and played wholeheartedly against it…Williams reclaimed Marilyn for generations to come and gave her a depth and life generally ignored by the masses.

“I Feel Pretty” (2018)

Not a film that is extraordinary but Williams’ performance is truly remarkable.  Williams plays the granddaughter and heiress to a beauty line. Williams effects a very particular and peculiar voice that is honestly a real choice.  But it is that choice that takes this seemingly simple character to the next level. The character is insecure about how she sounds and how she feels unheard.  It is a rom-com about learning to love yourself, and Williams takes great care in playing the comedy while giving a common problem for some women a platform. If anything, “I Feel Pretty” demonstrates that we need Williams doing more comedies.

“Fosse/Verdon” (2019)

Once again, Williams steps into the shoes of a real-life person, this time, tackling legendary stage and screen actress Gwen Verdon, who was wife and muse to choreographer Bob Fosse.  Williams once again gives voice to a woman who was easily dismissed by others. But this time, the dismissal is due to the man who controlled much of her life and career for almost two decades.  Williams truly transforms into Verdon throughout the years, giving Verdon strength, intelligence, naivety, stubbornness, and vision. Williams won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Miniseries for the part and rightfully so.

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Michelle Williams in Fosse/Verdon (2019)

Williams continues to shine as an actress in film, on television, and on stage.  Here is to the next decade of incredible performances ahead.

Let us know your favourite Michelle Williams performance in the comments below.

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