Total Recall

Nicole Kidman's 10 Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Railway Man star.

by | April 10, 2014 | Comments

Nicole Kidman
Paul Hogan may have looked tougher in an Akubra hat, but he wasn’t the only Aussie export making waves in Hollywood during the 1980s — the land Down Under also gave us Nicole Kidman, who parlayed her attention-getting turn in Dead Calm into a critically acclaimed and commercially successful career that’s seen her move from blockbusters to indies and back again while hauling in a mantel full of awards that includes Golden Globes, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an Oscar. This weekend, Kidman stars opposite Colin Firth in The Railway Man, and we’re celebrating with a fond look back at her best-reviewed releases. It’s time for Total Recall!

Matt Atchity breaks down this week’s list.


10. Dogville

Inspired by his belief that “evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right,” writer-director Lars von Trier kicked off his “Land of Opportunities” trilogy with the harrowing Dogville, starring Kidman as a mysterious woman who, while fleeing from mobsters for unknown reasons, ends up being taken in by the residents of a small Colorado town. Of course, this being a von Trier film, her refuge comes with strings attached, and before long, her situation in Dogville is even worse than the one she escaped. Although its dour outlook and bare-bones staging annoyed some critics (the New Yorker’s David Denby dismissed it as “avant-gardism for idiots”), for its fans, even the movie’s flaws were worth watching. “Dogville is in no way a standard film and likely won’t appeal to many,” admitted the Detroit News’ Tom Long. “But Von Trier is so inventive, so outlandish and so filled with energy he has to at least be admired.”


9. Cold Mountain

A lengthy period drama with war in the background, romance in the air, an incredible cast on the screen, and a bestselling novel as its inspiration, Cold Mountain is one of those prestige pictures that practically dares critics not to anoint it with Oscar frontrunner status during the holiday season — and indeed, it did go on to net seven Academy Award nominations, with Renee Zellweger taking home Best Supporting Actress. For anyone not in the mood for a two-and-a-half-hour weepie about a wounded Confederate soldier (Jude Law) struggling to make his way back to his lady fair (Kidman), Mountain proves as steep going as its title would indicate, but it isn’t without its charm; as A.O. Scott wrote for the New York Times, “As they might have said in the old days, this sweeping historical romance is one heck of a classy picture — which is both its great virtue and its limitation.”


8. Moulin Rouge!

Few directors besides Baz Luhrmann would have the audacity to attempt an anachronism-addled period musical in 2001 — and perhaps only Luhrmann could have delivered something as garish, uneven, and ultimately compelling as Moulin Rouge!, starring Kidman and Ewan McGregor as the singin’, dancin’, star-crossed 19th century lovers whose affair unfolds on and off the stage (and to the strains of a soundtrack that includes songs by Nirvana, Madonna, the Beatles, and Queen). Kidman picked up her second Best Actress nomination for her work here, and the film itself went on to gross nearly $180 million worldwide, offering appreciative audiences what Total Film’s Andrew Lowry called “An honest, heartfelt paean to good old-fashioned love that’s audacious in its wide-eyed passion, innocent love of fun and sheer showmanship.”


7. Eyes Wide Shut

A kinky, sexually explicit drama starring what was then one of Hollywood’s most prominent married couples, Eyes Wide Shut would have been overshadowed by its behind-the-scenes story even under the best of circumstances. When director Stanley Kubrick passed away shortly after finishing the film, Shut was doomed to be a curiosity for cinematic rubberneckers, and in the short term, its critical and commercial reception didn’t really live up to the years of hype that preceded its release. Still, this dark tale of emotional estrangement and sexual compulsion has its defenders, and seen in the right light, it offers what Variety’s Todd McCarthy called “A riveting, thematically probing, richly atmospheric and just occasionally troublesome work, a deeply inquisitive consideration of the extent of trust and mutual knowledge possible between a man and a woman.”


6. The Hours

Streep! Kidman! Julianne Moore! The Hours arrived on screens loaded for bear with heaps of acting talent, including a supporting cast that boasted Ed Harris, Toni Collette, and Claire Danes. Toss in a script inspired by the Pulitzer-winning source novel from Michael Cunningham, and you’ve got a movie ready-made for awards season — one that lived up to its pedigree, too, with nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) and a Best Actress win for Kidman. A thoughtful, era-jumping drama about women whose lives are linked by Virgina Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, it made for an exceedingly unlikely $100 million hit, but as Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, “A viewer can forget about Woolf, not care a fig about Cunningham, and just bathe — soak, more like — in the voluptuous sadnesses of Mss. Woolf, Brown, and Vaughan, delineated with such refinement by Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep.”


5. Dead Calm

Fresh off winning an Australian Film Institute Best Actress Award for her work in 1988’s Emerald City, Kidman landed her breakout role in director Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm. Starring Kidman and Sam Neill as a married couple coping with the death of their young daughter by setting sail on an ocean voyage in their yacht, and Billy Zane as the mysterious stranger whose call for help bears deadly consequences, Calm used the 1963 Charles Williams novel of the same name as inspiration for a tightly constructed — and painfully tense — thriller marked by stellar performances from its talented cast. The end result was what Time Out’s Nigel Floyd deemed “A classic piece of pared-down genre film-making … lent extra depth by an emotional subtext stressing Kidman’s transition from dependent wife to resourceful individual.”


4. The Others

Twist endings were very much in vogue in the years following The Sixth Sense‘s smash success, and The Others has a doozy — but rather than a Shyamalan-inspired creepfest, this period chiller is simply a well-constructed ghost story in its own right. Starring Kidman (who won a Golden Globe for her performance) as a woman living with her two children in the British countryside after World War II, The Others works patiently, raising its dramatic stakes with icy precision while throwing in enough jolts to draw the viewer in — and keep the audience thoroughly on edge. It’s all driven by Kidman’s committed performance, which Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times lauded by writing, “Kidman has thrown herself into her role as if it were Lady Macbeth on the London stage, with formidable results.”


3. Rabbit Hole

There may not be many occasions when you’re in the mood to watch a husband and wife struggling to deal with the life-unraveling pain of a horrible tragedy, but on those occasions, you could do a lot worse than John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole. Starring Kidman and Eckhart as the aforementioned couple, and bolstered by supporting turns from Dianne Wiest, Sandra Oh, and a young Miles Teller, Hole can be an uncomfortable watch, but all those tears are wrung out for a purpose; as Tom Long wrote for the Detroit News, “As heavy, stressful, relentlessly sad dramas go, this one goes quite well.”


2. To Die For

Kidman won a Golden Globe for her gleefully nasty portrayal of a lethally fame-hungry femme fatale in To Die For, which highlighted a darker side of her screen persona while rescuing director Gus Van Sant from falling into career purgatory after Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Kidman stars here as Suzanne Stone, a New Hampshire woman whose dreams of TV stardom are thwarted by the fact that, in her mind, she’s been trapped far from the bright lights and big city by her dullard of a husband (Matt Dillon). Things start to change after she crosses paths with a trio of equally stardom-obsessed kids (Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, and Alison Folland), inspiring her to solve her spousal problems once and for all. “If you’ve hitherto failed to respond to the laid-back oddball appeal of Van Sant’s movies, fear not,” decreed Geoff Andrew for Time Out. “This is a sharp, consistently funny blend of black comedy and satire on the deleterious effects of television.”


1. Flirting

After enjoying the international spotlight with Dead Calm and Days of Thunder, Kidman returned to Australia for Flirting, writer-director John Duigan’s follow-up to his acclaimed The Year My Voice Broke. An Australian Film Institute Best Film Award winner, Flirting found Kidman working among an ensemble cast packed with future stars, including Thandie Newton, Naomi Watts, and Noah Taylor. 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’ tale — 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.”

In case you were wondering, here are Kidman’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Moulin Rouge! — 90%
2. Dogville — 90%
3. The Hours — 85%
4. The Others — 77%
5. Cold Mountain — 77%
6. Flirting — 76%
7. My Life — 75%
8. Practical Magic — 73%
9. Eyes Wide Shut — 73%
10. Rabbit Hole — 72%

Take a look through Kidman’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Railway Man.

Finally, here’s Kidman putting in a plug for the Nintendo DS: