Nicole Kidman is among the most gifted actresses of her generation, blessed with the talents of a character actor and looks of a movie star. It might have been easy to miss her talent as an actress if one did not look beyond the beauty, if she did not take risks and pull us close to her. The first time I really appreciated Kidman was as a moll in Billy Bathgate (1992), a book I adored, a film I loathed with the exception of Kidman who though rough around the edges was often luminous.
Four years later she won a Golden Globe, raves from critics and was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her superb work in To Die For (1995) a pitch performance black comedy with Kidman as a Cherry sociopath graduating to murder. She became a major movie star through the nineties, one half of the most powerful couple in the business as Mrs. Tom Cruise, struggling to hold onto her own identity in the Cruise vortex. It ended in 1999, after the brutally long shoot of Kubrick last film Eyes Wide Shut (199). The parting was shocking because no one saw it coming, one day they were smiling, the next Cruise, not Kidman, had filed for divorce.
She seemed liberated, free in her art and we got great from her as she forged a career as one of the most daring and consistently interesting actresses in film. Elizabeth Taylor proved many years ago great beauties could act, and Kidman, like so many others followed that golden path.
Kidman has never looked back, she has her Oscar, several other nominations and is well liked in Hollywood, things Cruise cannot lay claim too. She transcended the divorce, channelled her pain into art, and became one of the best at work. Lead or supporting it is all about character with her, and that is what makes special.
Without further ado, here is the list of top Nicole Kidman movies, selected from her impressive filmography. You can watch some of these best Nicole Kidman movies on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.
12. Lion (2012)
‘Lion’ is a film that tugs your heart-strings like few films do. Based on a true story, ‘Lion’ is about a five-year-old Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family. Kidman plays a mother who adopts Saroo. In a role that required her to be sensitive and strong at the same time, Kidman is brilliant.
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11. The Beguiled (2017)
In what could, and should be an Oscar nominated performance, Kidman is coldly calculating as the Head Mistress of a girls school during the Civil War, which rages just miles from them. Into their midst comes a wounded Confederate soldier who she takes in, bandages his wounds, feeds him and allows him to heal. She will of course discover he is a wolf in a hen house, but she is fearless and prepared to do whatever it takes to keep her charges safe. Her line “bring the axe” is terrifying. Just outstanding.
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10. The Paper Boy (2012)
A tough film filled with repellant people, Kidman portraying one of them, a groupie for a vicious, purely evil man serving time for murder. Kidman is brilliant as traitor trash, the sort of woman who uses her body like a credit card, to get whatever she wants. That she falls for a cruel red neck killer is not the real issue, that would be that she is totally prepared to humiliate herself for him at every turn. That behaviour gives every indication as just how broken and damaged she truly is. John Cusack steals every scene he is in as the killer, but strangely our eyes never leave Kidman, as here she is sex, incarnate, and knows it. They both deserved nods for Oscars in the supporting categories.
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9. Fur (2006)
Portraying famous photographer Diane Arbus, Kidman is quietly spectacular as she becomes fascinated with her neighbor, portrayed beautifully by Robert Downey Jr., a man covered entirely in thick hair. She photographs him, seeing his pain, capturing his aching loneliness in her work, and slowly falling for him. It is a strange film, anchored by the fine work of Kidman and Downey Jr., who have a lovely chemistry with each other.
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8. To Die For (1995)
As the chipper, happy psychopath who graduates to sociopath and murderer along the way, Kidman is brilliant in this oh so black comedy. Portraying a vicious fame seeker, she manages a job at a small TV station in the town in which she lives. But she seeks more, begging for the chance to do an investigative piece that could land her on national TV, and thereby gain, fame. She seduces a teenager into killing her husband, all the while with a cheery dismeanor and apparent blissful ignorance. Under the direction of Gus Van Sant, she was picture perfect, and with this, she had arrived.
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7. The Hours (2001)
Yes she won her Academy Award for her performance as the mentally ill Virginia Woolf in this film, but truth be told there were better performances that year, and her twenty minutes of screen time amounted to a supporting role. She is outstanding, bringing a profound sadness to the role that was unexpected, going deeper than anyone really expected. Wearing a false nose, her appearance seems at first artificial, but she finds the soul of the character and brings that to us. Truthfully she did not need the false nose, she nailed the haunted Woolf with her eyes and body language.
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6. The Others (2001)
Horror genre is never considered a hunting ground for actors, but Nicole Kidman’s turn as cold, uptight mother Grace, in one of the best horror thrillers of all time, is exceptional to say the least. From her classic Catholic outfits to her controlled but brittle demeanor, everything she does in the film is done with a precise pitch perfection. In this superior ghost story with a wicked twist, Kidman is a mother and wife awaiting the return of her husband from the front in World War II. Living in a massive house with her two children, they believe the home to be haunted. They have no idea just how haunted it is and by who. Kidman is fragile regality in the picture, her final realization of what she is shattering. She won the Oscar for The Hours (2002) this same year, but could have just as easily been nominated for this. I doubt anyone would have complained.
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5. Rabbit Hole (2010)
A dark, bleak film about a couple struggling to survive the death of their toddler, killed accidentally in the street in front of their home by a passing car. Haunted and numb by the loss, Kidman is superb, striking up a strange friendship with the equally devastated teenager, Miles Teller, who was driving the car. They provide healing for each other, as well as an escape from their grief in his art. Their scenes together ring of a dark and unforgiving truth, though they manage to find forgiveness. Tough going but worth every minute as the film explores that despite terrible things happening, life does go on. Kidman pushes her acting boundaries in a performance that resonates long after the end credits have rolled. It’s cold, it’s distant, and at times even haunting, but at the end of it, it’s just heart-breaking.
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4. Moulin Rouge (2001)
As Santine, the beautiful prostitute showgirl, Kidman gives a big, brilliant movie star performance using her immense sex appeal to its full advantage. Who knew she could sing? The tragic story of two star crossed lovers in Paris as it was evolving, artists, dancers, singers, writers and poets creating within the city and in the massive Night club known as the Moulin Rouge. Santine is the prize the men seek, without knowing her secret, that she is dying. It is a courageous performance, sometimes over the top, sometimes annoying but further proof she had arrived as a major acting force.
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3. Dogville (2003)
Like most Von Trier films, the film has a protagonist thrown in a world with no sense of morality and where nothing but evil and brutality thrive. Trier uses a theatrical set design to depict the life of a woman who, after escaping from a gang of mobsters, arrive in a small village called Dogville. Von Trier’s approach is excessively dramatic and in-your-face but is way too affecting on a psychological and emotional level. This is a sorry world of no hope, no goodness and no warmth but only cold realities. And no matter how hard you try and look away, it comes back to haunt you and that is the kind of power an auteur like Von Trier possesses. Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of the fragile, vulnerable Maria is so stunningly well done that even in make-believe world of the film, it never feels theatrical. The performance, in which her character endures rape and inhuman treatment, is so raw and authentic that you will feel her pain in your bones. A brave performance in a brave film.
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2. Birth (2004)
Nicole’s one of best performances of her career comes in a vastly underrated film called ‘Birth’, where she plays a woman caught in a maze of questions, believability and an “undying” love. Kidman plays a 30-ish woman about to remarry several years after the death of her first husband. Into her world comes a boy in his pre-teens who claims to be the reincarnation of her dead husband. Initially she scoffs, then is afraid, and then believes him because of what he knows, which is apparently everything about them as a couple and her as a person. Kidman adds so many layers to this performance that you can’t imagine anyone else who could have brought such emotional depth to the character. And there’s one astonishing sustained shot of her face at the opera, when her mind and heart are battling a world of conflicting questions and realizations about a young boy who had just professed that he’s her re-born dead husband . It’s one of the greatest close-up shots in all of cinema. The range of emotions she goes through in this picture is vast, and some scenes could have drawn snickers (she and the child naked in a bathtub!) but so devoted is she to the character and story, it comes off as melancholy and deeply sad.
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1. Cold Mountain (2003)
This film shows the staggering power of love, of being apart from the one you love, of doing anything to get back to them, better than any film ever made. Maybe so, the Civil War epic is masterful. Kidman is Ada, an entitled young woman completely unprepared for her life after her father dies and war tears apart the south. Everything has always been done for her, now she is facing having to survive and she is terrified. Her love has gone off to war, and into her life wanders a rough young woman who has spent her life surviving, without a shred of love. They bond, they become best friends, the love story within the film could just as easily be about the two of them. As she writes him letters, little does she know he has heeded her words and is comfortable no home to her. Kidman is magnificent as a pampered young lady who becomes a fierce warrior through the film, able to fend for herself, to feed her family and those she loves.
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