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Whether she’s front-and-center as the star of a film or playing a juicy supporting part, Cate Blanchett is always fascinating to watch, with her astounding versatility and transfixing, chameleon-like features.
This week, Blanchett plays a villainous CIA operative on the hunt for a teenage killing machine in “Hanna.” The Australian actress works a Texas drawl that drips with menace, but she’s also quite adept at running in Prada heels. So we took on the daunting task of selecting five — and only five — of her best performances:
— “The Aviator” (2004): Blanchett won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s tormented Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s spectacle of a biopic. She’s a complete joy to watch. Blanchett isn’t doing a dead-on impression, and she shouldn’t be, but she definitely embodies the actress’ spirit. Just seeing her stride across a golf course and hearing her ask Hughes in that hard New England accent whether he likes the the-a-tah — because she just loves the the-a-tah — is a total hoot.
— “I’m Not There” (2007): Writer-director Todd Haynes took an ambitious approach to the often-cliched musical biography genre by casting six different actors to play Bob Dylan. But the boldest choice of all was in selecting Blanchett as one of them. This may sound gimmicky but she’s riveting to watch: lanky, androgynous, jittery, evasive and combative. She’s repeatedly shown she can immerse herself in any role — why not have her play Dylan? You quickly forget you’re watching a woman playing a man; she’s so good, she makes you wish she’d been playing the singer throughout the entire film.
— “Coffee and Cigarettes” (2003): Jim Jarmusch’s film features 11 black-and-white vignettes in which various actors and musicians play versions of themselves while chatting over the titular coffee and cigarettes. But Blanchett stars alone in one of the most subtly poignant segments. She plays herself, staying at an upscale hotel for a movie junket, and she also plays a cousin who arrives for a quick hello and reveals that she’s bitterly jealous of Blanchett’s success. Each character is fully realized and distinct from the other, yet the melding of both performances is seamless.
— “The Gift” (2000): Sam Raimi’s supernatural thriller oozes Southern gothic atmosphere, and its strong cast led by Blanchett elevates it beyond its B-movie origins. She stars as a widow raising three young sons in a small Georgia town who makes money by performing psychic readings. She sarcastically dismisses this “gift,” but her visions are crucial to solving the disappearance of a young woman. Blanchett’s naturalism is mesmerizing; she manages to be grounded and yet otherworldly. She’d been nominated for a best-actress Oscar a year earlier for “Elizabeth,” but she can actually be more compelling in a less showy role like this.
— “Notes on a Scandal” (2006): Blanchett and Judi Dench are both so exceedingly skilled, you could just turn on the camera and let them go to work; both women received Oscar nominations for the film. Their scenes together percolate with tension, with Dench as a lonely teacher who manipulates Blanchett as the school’s new art instructor. It’s a classier version of “Single White Female,” but Blanchett finds subtlety in the role as a woman filled with insecurity who makes one bad choice after another. An affair with a teenage student is only the beginning.