Total Recall

Definitive Naomi Watts Performances

In this week's Total Recall, we look back at the roles that helped define the Demolition's star's career.

by | April 6, 2016 | Comments

Naomi Watts‘ appearance in this weekend’s Demolition expands an eclectic filmography that’s seen her going from indie dramas to big-budget blockbusters and back again. In honor of this latest venture to the big screen, we decided to take a look back at some of her best-reviewed films and gather up a list of definitive Naomi Watts performances. It’s time for Total Recall!


Mother and Child (2009) 78%

Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia Barcha followed his Sixth Sense-ish thriller Passengers with this quiet character study, which traces the impact of adoption through the stories of three women (played by Watts, Annette Bening, and Kerry Washington) and their families. Add in an ensemble supporting cast that included Jimmy Smits, Amy Brenneman, and Samuel L. Jackson and you’ve got a tremendously talented group of stars whose subtle work helped critics look past Mother and Child’s occasionally bumpy script. “The film reminds us that character, not plot, is what binds us to a story,” observed Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Cutting between scenes of each in her unique environment, the movie tantalizes us.”

Watch Trailer


Fair Game (2010) 79%

Frequent co-stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn reunited for their third production with 2010’s Fair Game, a dramatization of the so-called “Plamegate” affair — a 2003 incident that saw CIA agent Valerie Plame resigning from the agency after her identity was outed by a journalist writing for the Washington Post. Feeling Plame’s exposure was politically motivated retribution for comments made by her husband Joseph C. Wilson, an ambassador who’d been openly critical of the current administration, the two cooperated with a special investigator’s grand jury investigation — and then pursued civil action against those they held responsible. A tough story to tell without seeming like you have an axe to grind, but according to most critics, director Doug Liman and his stars did a bang-up job. “The blind-siding of Valerie Plame wasn’t fair and wasn’t a game,” wrote Joe Williams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “but this cinematic outcome is a touchdown for true patriots.”

Watch Trailer


21 Grams (2003) 81%

One of several collaborations between Watts and Alejandro González Iñárritu, 21 Grams certainly isn’t the happiest film on this list, but it wrings some outstanding performances (not to mention plenty of tears) out of an outstanding cast. Using a handful of seemingly disparate plot threads, Iñárritu plunged viewers into the darkness pooling out of a tragedy unintentionally wrought by an ex-con (Benicio del Toro) whose irrevocable mistake has a profound impact on a dying math professor (Sean Penn) and a woman with a complicated past (Naomi Watts) — all of which are drawn irrevocably together by the final act. Watts and del Toro both earned Oscar nominations for their work, and neither could be accused of holding anything back; as Moira MacDonald wrote for the Seattle Times, “Watching it is a wrenching experience; the usual layers of distance between actors and audience are stripped away, and we not only watch their anguish, but become part of it.”

Watch Trailer


The Impossible (2012) 81%

Set out to make a movie about one of the more horrific tragedies in recent memory, and you’ve got your work cut out for you — like any good dramatist, you have to make real-life events cinema-worthy without dishonoring the people who actually experienced them, but with the added pressure of large-scale death and destruction hanging over your film. By most accounts, Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible did a noble enough job of representing the Indian Ocean tsunami that wreaked havoc on Boxing Day of 2004, and while some critics resented the way it focused on one white family of tourists (led by Watts and Ewan McGregor) at the expense of the people who actually lived in the region, and others dismissed the whole thing as manipulative Oscar bait, most writers found it (ahem) impossible not to be moved. Calling it “An intense and compelling family melodrama,” Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir argued that it “sets a new standard for disaster cinema.”

Watch Trailer


Mulholland Dr. (2001) 84%

It resists synopsis and analysis in characteristically Lynchian fashion, but whatever it may or may not actually be about, Mulholland Drive opens a dark window into the twilight fringes of Hollywood inhabited by an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) who arrives in Los Angeles and discovers an amnesiac woman (Laura Harring) living in her aunt’s apartment. As for the film itself, well, critics have been puzzling over its surreal imagery, nonlinear plot, and jumbled narrative since Mulholland arrived in theaters — but whether or not you can figure out what it all means, argued the New York Observer’s Andrew Sarris, it’s “One of the very few movies in which the pieces not only add up to much more than the whole, but also supersede it with a series of (for the most part) fascinating fragments.”

Watch Trailer


King Kong (2005) 84%

It takes a lot of guts to step into a role that’s already been made famous by another actor, so even if her work in Peter Jackson’s King Kong had been downright awful, Watts would have deserved major points simply for agreeing to try and assume the part of the simian-bewitching Ann Darrow from the legendary Fay Wray. Happily for all concerned, the 21st century Kong — while perhaps unnecessary — managed to graft modern effects onto a timeless tale without putting too big of a dent in the iconic original’s charm. “Monstrous. Monumental. Magnificent,” wrote Tom Long for the Detroit News. “Use any term you want, there’s no denying the power, genius and spectacle of King Kong, which is certainly the biggest movie of the year and possibly the biggest movie ever made.”

Watch Trailer


While We're Young (2014) 83%

It would be hard to argue that there’s a shortage of indie dramedies about ennui-riddled upper middle-class New York Caucasians, but that doesn’t mean their stories can’t be effectively told by the right director with the right script. Case in point: While We’re Young, in which Watts and Ben Stiller co-star as spouses whose repressed misgivings about their lives are stirred up when they make the acquaintance of a younger couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who seem to have the spark they fear they’ve lost along the way. “If you’ve been wishing you could see a good Woody Allen comedy again, you should check out Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s Liam Lacey, saying it “sees the 45-year-old director moving in on Allen’s territory — the Manhattan comedy of manners.”

Watch Trailer


Eastern Promises (2007) 89%

Two years after mixing equal parts “bloody” and “thought-provoking” to create A History of Violence, David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen reunited for Eastern Promises, an equally hard-hitting drama about a driver for the Russian mafia. Promises‘ plot is set in motion after a midwife (Watts) delivers a baby whose teenage mother dies in childbirth; after a clue in the girl’s belongings leads to a Russian mob boss, things quickly start to get pretty gnarly for all concerned, including an infamous fight scene taking place in a steam room. “If you don’t mind bloodshed and are drawn to taut thrillers with fascinating characters portrayed skillfully,” wrote Claudia Puig for USA Today, “Eastern Promises is just the ticket.”

Watch Trailer


Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) 91%

Michael Keaton received most of the attention for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman, and deservedly so — aside from the impressive level of visual craft that went into preserving the illusion that the movie took place in a single shot, its primary asset is its star, particularly for viewers who missed Keaton during his long absence from leading roles. That said, Iñárritu assembled a stellar cast all the way around for the project, including Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan, and Naomi Watts. Whether you’re a Birdman fan or you agree with the backlash, this look at the emotional travails of a washed-up actor trying to prove his dramatic mettle with a stage play is eminently well acted by a top-to-bottom talented ensemble. “Birdman, more than most, seems a film that deserves a second viewing,” wrote Jocelyn Novecek for the Associated Press. “Not only to admire the work of Keaton and his co-stars, but to delve into its many layers.”

Watch Trailer


Flirting (1990) 96%

Writer-director John Duigan may have felt like he landed a casting coup when he signed Nicole Kidman for Flirting, but the rising Australian star — then enjoying a growing international profile thanks to her work in Dead Calm and Days of Thunder — was only part of a stellar ensemble cast packed with future household names, including Watts and Thandie Newton. Although its storyline follows the same rough contours as many other coming-of-age dramas, those performances — and the skill with which Duigan told his characters’ stories — left many critics reeling. “Flirting is one of those rare movies with characters I cared about intensely,” enthused Roger Ebert. “I didn’t simply observe them on the screen, I got involved in their decisions and hoped they made the right ones.”

Watch Trailer

Tag Cloud

fast and furious TCA Winter 2020 talk show mockumentary young adult HBO comiccon scene in color film series DirecTV wonder woman Mary Tyler Moore canceled TV shows Infographic ABC Signature superman South by Southwest Film Festival technology LGBTQ TCA Awards Tarantino children's TV biography WGN APB trophy mission: impossible venice Geeked Week Biopics 2020 Nominations slasher Opinion comic book movie screenings First Look 2019 Character Guide independent kong Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Certified Fresh New York Comic Con slashers japanese Prime Video 71st Emmy Awards Alien A&E Kids & Family Musical Quiz AMC Plus BBC America Spectrum Originals Song of Ice and Fire doctor who NBC crime Logo trailers 4/20 ABC Family rotten movies we love The Walt Disney Company Winter TV Epix Trivia Watching Series GoT Holiday Toys superhero Nickelodeon IFC Western Elton John child's play nbcuniversal Extras Black Mirror TCA 2017 rom-coms blaxploitation Native die hard casting dexter all-time FX on Hulu political drama discovery Calendar adaptation Image Comics sequels Television Academy 20th Century Fox Countdown spain hollywood cancelled TV shows FX hidden camera game of thrones justice league Star Wars Celebration Fargo YouTube Red comics cults scorecard American Society of Cinematographers Marvel Studios spy thriller Disney Channel Food Network Showtime universal monsters spanish language medical drama Red Carpet Dark Horse Comics book versus BET Awards vampires MGM new york Hulu docuseries Hear Us Out elevated horror OneApp vs. Black History Month TV Land ViacomCBS 2017 Sundance biopic Comic Book Premiere Dates Sundance Now renewed TV shows sopranos 2016 Best and Worst twilight serial killer popular james bond razzies Comedy Central gangster Anna Paquin MSNBC streaming movies Sneak Peek Mystery robots Amazon Studios boxing hispanic heritage month screen actors guild japan spider-man deadpool Chilling Adventures of Sabrina FXX telelvision indie Podcast live event zero dark thirty golden globes south america 94th Oscars cooking Adult Swim LGBT ratings VOD dragons 2018 cinemax finale criterion HBO Max olympics TV renewals nature richard e. Grant PlayStation Universal Grammys YouTube legend The CW Trophy Talk directors Travel Channel Best Director Wes Anderson kids concert Bravo series Disney movies MCU Funimation ABC lord of the rings Photos MTV CMT latino hispanic cancelled television Teen Universal Pictures Academy Awards cops war Oscar italian DGA women Sundance TV Rom-Com First Reviews Disney streaming service ESPN satire Paramount Network Emmy Nominations psycho SDCC sports king arthur Tokyo Olympics toy story genre thriller Hallmark Creative Arts Emmys Super Bowl streaming DC streaming service Interview know your critic monster movies BET science fiction Rocky DC Comics Sony Pictures 73rd Emmy Awards toronto crime thriller black comedy Pacific Islander docudrama miniseries theme song Music Paramount E3 kaiju broadcast 99% Awards Tour mutant french Marvel Television witnail video on demand posters Pirates Baby Yoda franchise Captain marvel Acorn TV BBC One anime Apple TV+ The Witch heist movie TCA 90s Oscars WarnerMedia Best Picture DC Universe Martial Arts Arrowverse Turner Classic Movies National Geographic unscripted Classic Film Writers Guild of America dreamworks Amazon Prime Superheroes streamig Marvel 72 Emmy Awards Warner Bros. Stephen King summer TV preview hist Mary poppins Paramount Plus dogs Ellie Kemper Syfy Ovation festivals USA Network australia 007 Tags: Comedy reboot TV binge RT21 rt labs Pop RT History TBS Disney+ Disney Plus Mindy Kaling Holidays Women's History Month jamie lee curtis historical drama YA Cosplay a nightmare on elm street IFC Films television mcc facebook scene in color series rotten Reality Competition adventure Comedy singing competition interviews spinoff Set visit jurassic park Hollywood Foreign Press Association archives 93rd Oscars sequel CNN stoner San Diego Comic-Con CW Seed police drama GIFs TV movies ID book adaptation Lifetime Thanksgiving game show Brie Larson period drama Endgame Animation Tomatazos Shondaland aliens quibi spider-verse Tubi summer preview Rocketman Discovery Channel comic films Pop TV 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards documentary indiana jones target scene in color Film Crackle The Purge Nat Geo X-Men feel good politics free movies ITV Pride Month SundanceTV The Academy VH1 Emmys NBA CBS Year in Review SXSW Action TLC scary best Masterpiece romance Rock news reviews joker scary movies travel remakes boxoffice video 2015 obituary debate leaderboard Britbox PaleyFest Netflix Christmas movies name the review TruTV golden globe awards new star wars movies The Walking Dead space crime drama Best Actor adenture Lucasfilm Sony what to watch Spring TV Marathons CBS All Access Esquire Indigenous IMDb TV romantic comedy E! movie AMC cartoon zombie canceled Avengers diversity prank Fox News Comic-Con@Home 2021 History Spike Horror El Rey Heroines Pixar Vudu critics royal family aapi Amazon Prime Video Cartoon Network cancelled TV series animated anthology dark spanish Video Games Best Actress Shudder transformers target Trailer Exclusive Video Star Trek 24 frames documentaries suspense Film Festival The Arrangement President TV One Disney Plus dramedy cats green book Drama sag awards strong female leads christmas movies Paramount Pictures sitcom parents Columbia Pictures Freeform true crime worst new zealand zombies high school Lionsgate obi wan Instagram Live dc Peacock 21st Century Fox Amazon psychological thriller emmy awards football YouTube Premium Christmas critic resources king kong Pet Sematary Hallmark Christmas movies comic books Apple tv talk Netflix Neflix laika Lifetime Christmas movies marvel cinematic universe Valentine's Day werewolf composers Mary Poppins Returns Tumblr teaser crossover marvel comics Starz supernatural revenge Schedule classics ghosts Musicals TCM 79th Golden Globes Awards live action action-comedy blockbusters halloween tv fresh Binge Guide blockbuster rt archives SXSW 2022 Broadway GLAAD art house VICE comic book movies PBS disaster international Country TNT asian-american cancelled HBO Go Walt Disney Pictures award winner OWN Awards Chernobyl BAFTA worst movies saw scene in color halloween Focus Features Star Wars Comics on TV HFPA 45 Television Critics Association nfl festival breaking bad Legendary Crunchyroll basketball batman Summer harry potter foreign Polls and Games 2021 rt labs critics edition summer TV mob Mudbound Fantasy godzilla BBC NYCC Family based on movie Reality USA stop motion Apple TV Plus black Sci-Fi social media Cannes Ghostbusters chucky cars Election pirates of the caribbean Winners Fall TV natural history stand-up comedy Fox Searchlight Superheroe FOX Turner dceu See It Skip It TIFF A24 Box Office 1990s comedies