Michelle Monaghan’s Five Favorite Female Performances

Fort Bliss Movie ReviewMichelle Monaghan has shown her versatility in a wide variety of films over the years, from comedies like "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" and "Made of Honor" to dramas like "Gone Baby Gone" and "North Country" to sci-fi thrillers like "Source Code" and "Eagle Eye."

But she's been at her best when she's had the opportunity to play complicated, flawed and sometimes unlikable women, as she has as the star of the indie drama "Trucker" and in her recent turn as Woody Harrelson's frustrated wife on HBO's "True Detective." In her latest film, "Fort Bliss" -- which opened Friday in limited release and on video on demand -- Monaghan stars as an Army medic who returns from Afghanistan and struggles to reconnect with the 5-year-old son who barely remembers her. While the character can be emotionally closed-off and makes some questionable decisions, Monaghan always keeps her strong and grounded and conveys the sense that she's trying to do the right thing.

So it makes sense that, when asked to pick five favorite female performances, Monaghan also chose actresses who played complicated, flawed and sometimes unlikable women. (Full disclosure: She’s a friend and fellow school mom, although I first met her a few years ago when I interviewed her on stage at Ebertfest after a screening of “Trucker.”)  Here are her choices, in no particular order and in her own words — with thanks from me for taking the time to do it.

Gena Rowlands in "A Woman Under the Influence" (1974): My favorite actress of all time. I don't know if I've ever seen a performance so raw. She cuts me to the core. A role perfectly embodied with such truth. And from someone who lives right next door. What I live for.

Frances McDormand in "Fargo" (1996): I appreciate her comedic physicality in this role. It is so subtle and simple and specific. The way Fran tilts her chin, moves her eyeballs, blinks....I think it's brilliant character work.

Elizabeth Taylor in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966): Range, range and more range! This woman can do it all - and in one scene! It's the most powerful, riveting and bold performance I think I have ever seen. She is an inspiration and example of what it truly means to be "in the moment."

Meryl Streep in "The Bridges of Madison County" (1995): Impossible to choose just one from this goddess but this film is near and dear to my heart as it was shot in Iowa. I love how delicate her performance is. She radiates warmth and longing and desire. I feel everything she feels and that final scene breaks me every time. It's such a poignantly beautiful and heart-wrenching performance.

Every actress in "Steel Magnolias" (1989): This was one of the first movies I ever really emotionally responded to. Upon reflecting on it, I think it may have been my first indication that a career in acting was in my future. My cousins and I would always re-enact these scenes and I would always play Sally Field. I love that all these powerhouse actresses are in one movie. I adore the cemetery scene.

2 Comments on “Michelle Monaghan’s Five Favorite Female Performances

  1.  by  JozieLee

    Michelle Monaghan is so right about the greatness of the women who influenced her. All exceptional actresses, stunning roles.

    Gena Rowlands. She’s always so compelling to watch. She’s believable. She draws me into the story. Makes me afraid for her when she’s fragile (The Notebook), and happy when she’s having a blast (Once Around). Another actress who worked with Rowlands knocks me out – Marisa Tomei. They played opposite each other in a small movie called Unhook the Stars, written and directed by Rowland’s son Nick Cassevetes. Caught it on Netflix one afternoon. Surprising how much depth each actress brought to the story. Kept me on the edge of my seat. Their “friendship” could have gone in any direction.

    Frances McDormand. My second favorite performance, Moonrise Kingdom. She and Bruce Willis. LOL.

    Elizabeth Taylor. A young friend once told me, “I had no idea she was a real actress until I saw her in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.” At the time my friend only knew Taylor from the White Diamond commercials. She enjoyed discovering Giant, Butterflies 8, Cleopatra and so many more of Taylor’s remarkable performances.

    Meryl Streep. Madison County. The first time I ever noticed how beautiful she is. In that film she came across as feverishly unsettled – you could almost feel the flush of her cheeks, and the passion even while pouring a glass of lemonade. Great performance. I also loved her in Doubt (the also remarkable Viola Davis was nominated for an Oscar in 2012. Streep won that year for her stirring portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady.)

    Steel Magnolias (1989). What a powerhouse of sisterhood. Ushered in films like Joy Luck Club (1993), Clueless (1995), How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Tortilla Soup (2001), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002), Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005, 2008), Beauty Shop (2005), Pretty Little Liars (TV 2010). And so many more I must have missed.

    •  by  john lawler

      I only hope Ms. Monaghan might have seen Susan Hayward’s astonishing performance in “I Want To Live” during her formative years. I sense a certain symmetry in these fine actress’s best work.