Critic's Picks: Michelle Pfeiffer's 10 Best Performances

6:00 AM 7/6/2018

by Stephen Dalton

From period garb to the Catwoman suit, musicals to mafia films, THR film critic Stephen Dalton ranks the actress’ finest turns as ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ hits theaters.

'Scarface'
'Scarface'
  1. 10
    10

    Scarface (1983)

    'Scarface'
    'Scarface'
    Courtesy of Photofest

    The magnetically still center of an operatically lurid melodrama, Pfeiffer was still a relative unknown when she landed a plum co-starring role opposite Al Pacino in Brian De Palma’s ultraviolent cult gangster thriller. As the glittering trophy wife of Pacino’s explosively ambitious Miami cocaine baron, Pfeiffer exudes Melania-like levels of dead-eyed, soul-numbed, caged-bird beauty.

  2. 9
    10

    Hairspray (2007)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Marrying her singing, dancing and clowning skills to glorious effect, Pfeiffer gives one of her finest comic turns as pushy stage mom Velma Von Tussle in this smash hit screen version of the Broadway musical update of the uber-kitsch John Waters classic. A straight-faced masterclass in vampy camp, with just a hint of Debbie Harry, who originated the role.

  3. 8
    10

    Mother! (2017)

    Screengrab/Paramount Pictures

    Pfeiffer gives world-class “resting bitch face” in Darren Aronofksy’s daring, divisive and deranged allegory. It may only be a secondary role to Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence, but she is both hilarious and electrifying as Woman, a Machiavellian monster who alternates between grieving mother and back-stabbing, acid-tongued, Janus-faced houseguest from Hell.

  4. 7
    10

    The Age of Innocence (1993)

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    Playing a free-spirited European countess suffering the slings and arrows of a scandalous divorce in 1870s Manhattan, Pfeiffer is the emotional heart of Martin Scorsese’s lavish literary love triangle. Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder co-star, but it is Pfeiffer’s tightly calibrated depiction of repressed lust and bodice-ripping desire that powers the drama.

  5. 6
    10

    Love Field (1992)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Pfeiffer displays an increasing mastery of accents and subtle command of audience sympathy in Jonathan Kaplan’s heart-tugging retro-drama. She plays Lurene Hallett, a blousy platinum-blonde Dallas beautician whose eyes are opened to racial injustice following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Despite the film’s troubled launch and lukewarm reception, Pfeiffer’s big-hearted star performance earned her an Oscar nomination.

  6. 5
    10

    White Oleander (2002)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Cast against type in director Peter Kosminsky’s classy all-star adaptation of Janet Fitch’s Oprah-endorsed best-seller, Pfeiffer takes a rare detour into ice-hearted villainy as Ingrid Magnusson, a poisonous narcissist and abusive mother to Alison Lohman’s long-suffering heroine. Her fierce performance lends humanity to a deeply unsympathetic character, diabolical and manipulative but damaged inside.

  7. 4
    10

    Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Pfeiffer pulls off the tough job of playing the most virtuous, virginal character in this bracingly cynical depiction of sex and power games among the pre-Revolutionary French aristocracy. She won her first Oscar nomination for her brittle, nervy performance as Madame de Tourvel, whose seduction by John Malkovich’s callous womanizer Valmont was mirrored in a real-life affair.

  8. 3
    10

    Batman Returns (1992)

    'Batman Returns'
    'Batman Returns'
    Photofest

    Replacing a pregnant Annette Bening, Pfeiffer shows her flair for dark comedy as a hissing, whip-cracking, mentally unbalanced Catwoman in director Tim Burton’s second Gotham City caper. The plot makes little sense but Pfeiffer’s kinetic dominatrix energy brings a welcome frisson of sex-dungeon glamour to Burton’s gallery of brooding, dysfunctional, alienated loners.

  9. 2
    10

    Married to the Mob (1988)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Years before The Sopranos, the late Jonathan Demme nailed the backstage soap opera of underworld crime families with this breezy screwball comedy. Sporting a heavy Brooklyn accent and a curly brunette wig, Pfeiffer virtually disappears inside her starring role as brassy Long Island mafia widow Angela de Marco, a career-making transformation that earned her a Golden Globe nod.

  10. 1
    10

    The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989)

    Courtesy of Photofest

    Channeling the slinky, sexy, sultry spirit of vintage Hollywood screen queens like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth, Pfeiffer proves her impressive musical chops in writer-director Steve Kloves’ charmingly bittersweet rom-com. She plays Susie Diamond, a seasoned nightclub singer recruited to spice up an ailing cabaret jazz duo, played by Jeff and Beau Bridges. Pfeiffer won a Golden Globe plus an Oscar nomination.

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