Total Recall

Total Recall: Amy Adams' Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Leap Year star.

by | January 6, 2010 | Comments

Amy Adams

Ten years ago, the only people that knew who Amy Adams was were either members of her family or folks who spent too much time reading the Drop Dead Gorgeous credits. Today? She’s one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars, with a pair of Oscar nominations under her belt and a growing reputation for enlivening even the most pedestrian fare. If you’ve ever seen one of Adams’ movies, the reasons for her speedy ascent should be obvious: With dramatic chops, sharp comic timing, and looks that work equally well for character roles and glamorous leads, she’s a casting director’s dream. And if you haven’t seen any of her films, don’t fret — with her latest, the romantic comedy Leap Year, reaching theaters this weekend, we thought now would be a great time to look back on her filmography, Total Recall style!


10. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Poor Hilary Swank. She slaved over her labor-of-love Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia, only to find her carefully considered portrayal of the iconic pilot overshadowed by a decidedly less serious Amelia. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian isn’t anyone’s idea of a critical darling, but it beats Amelia‘s 21 percent — and critics almost unanimously agreed that the best thing about Smithsonian‘s ungainly second helping of magically animated museum exhibits was Amy Adams as the thrillseeking sidekick who helps Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) defeat the army of Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria). As Christian Toto of What Would Toto Watch? wrote in his mostly negative review, “The best, and possibly only, reason to watch Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is the enchanting Amy Adams.”


9. Sunshine Cleaning

If you’re going to film a quirky indie comedy about a cheerleader-turned-hardworking single mom who decides to clean crime scenes for a living so she can send her son to private school, you could hardly find a better person for the role than Amy Adams. And while critics carped that the Christine Jeffs-directed Sunshine Cleaning was ultimately a little too burdened down with quirky indie cliches to achieve its full potential, they had nothing but kind words to say about Adams (as well as Emily Blunt, who played her not-so-sunny sister). Time Out’s David Jenkins reflected the opinions of many of his peers when he wrote, “Jeffs makes a good fist of the direction and Blunt proves that she can do comedy, but it’s Adams’s comforting, charismatic central turn which really gives the film its lift.”


8. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

For a year after getting her first big break in Catch Me If You Can, Adams remained unemployed, which might help explain why, after her critically hailed work in Junebug, she didn’t wait for another script with heavy arthouse appeal; instead, she opted for a trio of projects with a more, um, populist bent. The less said about The Ex and Underdog the better, but with 2006’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Adams received her first real opportunity to display her talent for daffy comedy — and do it opposite the king of the doofus, Will Ferrell, in the movie that Nick Schager of Lessons of Darkness described as “an astute cultural satire masquerading as an infectiously stupid-silly lark — or, perhaps, it’s the other way around.”


7. Julie & Julia

Two biopics in one, Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia interwove the tales of culinary legend Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and author Julie Powell (Adams), tracing Child’s early career alongside Powell’s decision to launch a blog dedicated to her attempt to spend a year cooking every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Inviting direct comparison to Meryl Streep isn’t something most young actresses would be comfortable doing — and in fact, most critics did single out Streep’s performance, although that had more to do with Child’s famously winsome disposition than any flaws in Adams’ work. As David Edwards of the UK’s Daily Mirror wrote, “While both actresses deserve credit, it’s Streep who dominates and deserves to be put in contention for her third Oscar. Deftly playing the dotty masterchef — complete with a brilliantly squawking laugh — it’s an amusing but respectful imitation.”


6. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

It might have languished in various stages of development for almost 70 years, but once Winifred Watson’s novel finally arrived in theaters, it proved to be worth the wait, if for no other reason than to provide a charmingly frothy showcase for its two stars. Frances McDormand stars as the titular Miss Pettigrew, an unsuccessful nanny who, realizing she’s about to be fired by her temp agency, snags an assignment meant for another employee — and thus finds herself in the wild and wonderful world of rising starlet Delysia Lafosse (Adams). It’s a role that calls for an actress with enough bubbly charm to make you believe she can not only inspire the love of three very different men, but change the world of a profoundly disillusioned woman in a single day — and Adams pulled it off, as attested by critics like Margaret Pomeranz of At the Movies, who wrote, “This delicious froth of an entertainment could have creaked all over the place and at times you feel it does, but Amy Adams is just magic, she lifts every role she takes on to absolutely delightful heights.”


5. Doubt

Adams received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own stage play — and she was in good company, too: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis rounded out the quartet of Doubt stars earning Oscar nods, and Shanley himself was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. (They all came away empty-handed, but it’s being nominated that counts, right?) The role of Sister James was uniquely suited for Adams, taking advantage of her gift for portraying idealistic innocence while also giving her a chance to go toe-to-toe with Hoffman and Streep. A not-insignificant contingent of critics dismissed Doubt as excessively talky Oscar bait, but the majority echoed the sentiments of Total Film’s Neil Smith, who saw through its flaws: “Though Shanley’s first film as director since 1990 flop Joe Versus The Volcano never strays far from its theatrical origins, his unfussy direction and compelling script provide a perfect platform for his talented cast.”


4. Charlie Wilson’s War

A biopic about a Congressman’s efforts to increase American support for Afghan freedom fighters during the 1980s? Sounds like awfully dry stuff, but in the hands of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, director Mike Nichols, and a cast toplined by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War became something of an acidic tragicomedy — and a $119 million worldwide hit. Adams appears here as Bonnie Bach, a fictional composite of the real Charlie Wilson’s two top administrative aides; it’s sort of a thankless role, one that calls for little more than standing back and letting Hanks do his thing, but Adams continued her tradition of taking every opportunity to shine, holding her own against her far more famous co-star. “The story of Charlie Wilson’s War makes an engaging and amusing film,” wrote Emily S. Mendel of, concluding, “Aaron Sorkin’s script is literate, intelligent, well-written, fast-paced and full of clever and cynical one-liners.”


3. Junebug

By 2005, Amy Adams had scored roles in a number of mainstream productions, including Serving Sara and The Wedding Date — but it wasn’t until she starred in a tiny $1 million indie film that people really understood what she could do. As the pregnant chatterbox Ashley Johnsten, Adams took what was technically a supporting part and walked away with Junebug, earning an Academy Award nomination in the process. Urban Cinefile described it as “an arthouse Meet the Parents,” and that isn’t an entirely inaccurate assessment of a story about a newlywed wife (Embeth Davidtz) meeting her husband’s family for the first time. Instead of a sweaty Ben Stiller, though, you get Adams — who is, in the words of CinePassion’s Fernando F. Croce, “simply magical, guileless and throbbing, sunniness fraught with desperation.”


2. Enchanted

On the surface, Enchanted is sort of silly — a self-parody from a studio whose trademark films have already been parodied to death. What makes it work, though, is just how darn smart the parody is — well, that and Amy Adams’ relentlessly charming performance as Giselle, the Disney princess whose journey from Andalasia to New York City moves the plot. Adams excels at playing characters with sunny dispositions, and Giselle was a perfect fit, even giving Adams the chance to wrap her lovely singing voice around some wonderfully tongue-in-cheek songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. A $340 million-plus hit that netted Adams a passel of award nominations, Enchanted also earned loud applause from critics like Mark Pfeiffer of Reel Times, who wrote that it “bubbles over with good cheer, due in large part to Adams for the wide-eyed optimism and innocence she brings to her irony-free performance.”


1. Catch Me If You Can

Prior to Catch Me If You Can, Amy Adams’ filmography had been restricted to small parts in films like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Psycho Beach Party; her closest brush with fame came when she stepped into the Sarah Michelle Gellar role in Fox’s aborted Cruel Intentions spinoff, Manchester Prep. It only takes one prestigious project to turn a career around, though, and scoring a plum gig with a director as well-known as Steven Spielberg never hurts. Spielberg certainly thought Adams was destined for bigger things after her appearance as Brenda Strong, the candy striper who catches the eye of legendary teen con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) — and he was right, although it took a few years for the rest of the world to catch up. Even if it didn’t translate to immediate success, working on Catch Me If You Can gave Adams an early opportunity to work with some of Hollywood’s finest; as Matthew Turner of ViewLondon noted, “Spielberg being Spielberg, he’s surrounded himself with the best that money can buy, from the superb cast to the characteristically superb score by John Williams, and the result is his most purely enjoyable film in ages.”

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

1. Catch Me If You Can — 94%
2. Enchanted — 90%
3. Doubt — 90%
4. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day — 90%
5. Charlie Wilson’s War — 88%
6. Junebug — 88%
7. Julie & Julia — 87%
8. Sunshine Cleaning — 85%
9. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby — 73%
10. Standing Still — 60%

Take a look through Adams’ complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Leap Year.

Finally, here are Adams’ scenes from her big screen debut, Drop Dead Gorgeous: