The Best Movie Ever: Nicole Kidman

One of the finest actors of her generation, and not for nothing a bona fide movie star in the classical sense of the word, Nicole Kidman has been knocking our socks off for decades in films that either played to her strengths as a performer or, failing that, simply as the most beautiful woman in the room. Sometimes both, but those films are hard to find.

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Will her new film Before I Go To Sleep be one of the best Nicole Kidman movies ever? We’ll find out when it comes out on September 12th and… wait a second… when did Before I Go To Sleep get bumped back to October 31st?! We had this installment of Best Movie Ever prepared and everything. Sigh…

Well, we suppose it’s always a good time to celebrate a great actress, so join CraveOnline’s critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo as they present their picks for The Best Nicole Kidman Movie Ever, and make sure to vote for your own favorites at the bottom of the page. We’ll be back next week with an actually topic topic on Best Movie Ever.

Fred Topel:

This is actually a Bill Pullman movie in disguise, but back in 1993 both Kidman and Alec Baldwin were the big stars to put on the poster. Written by Aaron Sorkin (with co-story and co-screenwriting credits for Jonas McCord and Scott Frank respectively), this ballsy whodunnit blew my young cinephile mind, and I’ve watched it again recently. It still holds up.
Kidman and Pullman play Tracy and Andy, a couple who take in surgeon Jed (Alec Baldwin) to board in their extra room. When he operates on Tracy, it leaves her unable to have children, and this ruins her marriage to Andy. Malice was quite smartly advertised as a medical thriller, because that is an even bigger misdirect than the red herring of a killer on Andy’s college campus.
As Andy starts piecing together what really happened to Tracy, he meets an interesting character played by Anne Bancroft in what might be her best role in only one scene. Like a good mystery, each clue changes out interpretation of what came before it, and sure there is some good Sorkin speechifying. Baldwin’s “I am God” speech made it into the trailers. Kidman isn’t even so much a femme fatale as a seemingly simple, straightforward character. Characters like her make the mystery work, and I will say no more about Malice except that it’s the Best Nicole Kidman Movie Ever.

Witney Seibold:

For the longest time, I’ve been ambivalent about Nicole Kidman. Is she icy and unreadable, or warm and relatable? Is she the spunky young actress from BMX Bandits, or the unreadable bland damsel of Batman Forever? Is she an implacable Hollywood starlet who agrees to be in crap like Bewitched and the remake of The Stepford Wives, or is she willing to broaden her range with off-kilter performances in oblique art films like Birth and Fur? She has won an Academy Award, but it was for the misery porn flick The Hours, which is most certainly not her best performance. Her performances are so varied, and her film choices so hit-and-miss, it’s hard to get a handle on her character as an actress. I will say this: Kidman is – and I hate to compare her to Tom Cruise in these regards, but there you have it – an appealing screen presence, mostly a good actress, an attractive person, and always possessed of a strange distance. Kidman is, like Cruise, very good at appearing alone in a crowd. 

Kidman is at her best when she’s energetic; I care not for solemn and enigmatic Kidman (except in Birth). I typically like Kidman when she smiles and plays someone a little bit more broad. And by that criterion, I would say that Kidman’s best film is Gus Van Sant’s 1995 media satire To Die For. Staged like a prurient potboiler, and based vaguely on true events, To Die For is a colorful and wickedly subversive little murder tale about an empty blonde ditz named Suzanne Stone (Kidman) who conspires with her teenage lover to murder her husband. Suzanne Stone is a singular, appealing cinematic creation, coming across as darkly calculating, but also too stupid to be darkly calculating. She dreams of TV stardom, but can’t recognize that a local TV weather report is not high fame. She is essentially the dumbest and tackiest person outside of a John Waters film. And yet she is appealing and funny and fun to watch. Kidman has never been better, and the film itself is certainly underrated.

Brian Formo:

Nicole Kidman can do stuffiness like no other (The Portrait of a Lady, The Hours, The Others, Dogville, Birth) but I’ve always preferred Nicole Kidman when she takes a diabolically flirtatious role (Eyes Wide Shut, Stoker, The Paberboy, Moulin Rouge!). Through most of her early career she wasn’t allowed to seduce – maybe because she was married to Tom Cruise and execs thought she’d need to be wooed for audiences to believe any romance she became involved in (because if you’re married to #1 hunk, it’s gotta be a pretty great fuckin’ offer). But the first film that allowed Kidman to seduce, to use her hips, her lips, and her cashmere sweaters – Gus Van Sant’s To Die For – is the best Nicole Kidman movie ever

In To Die For she is the combination of everything she’s played: a Stepford wife, a visionary wordsmith we’ll study for centuries (“It’s nice to live in a country where life, liberty… and all the rest of it still stand for something”), a magnificent dancer and sexually open in public. In To Die For she’s swapping a restauranteur hubby (Matt Dillon) for a trailer park metalhead high school student (Joaquin Phoenix) – someone who won’t get in the way of her own career as a local weather-woman. 

Who Suzanne Stone Moretto (Kidman) is really seducing is an unseen audience. In the film, it’s a local television audience. They’re a leap-pad to something greater. In reality, Kidman is seducing a movie theater audience. And this hilarious and prophetic portrait of news cum reality (unreality) TV was a leap-pad to the adventurous roles that we’re accustomed to her having today.

William Bibbiani:

I’m not above admitting that I’ve had a crush on Nicole Kidman for as long as I can remember. I think it started with Far and Away, a movie which probably isn’t as good as I thought it was back in 1992 (I haven’t seen it since then), but which had a lot of love for her spunky, seemingly anachronistic strength and flaming red curls. She became something of an “it” actress in the 1990s, when it seemed like her every other film banked on Kidman’s ample sex appeal as a marketing ploy (Practical MagicBatman ForeverThe Peacemaker) to disguise the fact that she was usually pretty much slumming it.

The fact is, Nicole Kidman is one of those wonderful actors whose talent is sometimes outshined in the public eye by their physical beauty and celebrity. And to her credit, she has always used her successful mainstream blah-fests as a way to keep popping up in one impressive or at least ambitious indie film after another. Films that gave her ample opportunity to explore her subtle yet charismatic craft and occasionally even play off of her reductive public persona as “Mrs. Tom Cruise.” Let’s face it, she acted rings around her former husband in Eyes Wide Shut (and all of their other films together), and she seemed to be commenting on that kind of pent up frustration in To Die For, which I think stands tall as the best Nicole Kidman movie ever (though not without competition).

The plot has been well documented by my other Best Movie Ever contributors, but I feel as though they didn’t quite capture the trickiness of Kidman’s performance. It’s worth noting that aside from her narration, which plays like an audition tape (so I wouldn’t put much faith in it), we never see the film from her perspective. She usually has to work within the cracks of scenes about the men who leer at her. The film is about a woman with her own ambitions who becomes property of a man who only cares about his own career, and who uses what little fame she has to seduce the young and naive into placing her in the spotlight, personally and later in the public eye after “the deed is done.” It’s difficult to divorce To Die For, a slick and clever thriller even in a vacuum, from our awareness of Kidman’s real-life fame at the time, as an incredibly talented individual too often sidelined as the wife of the biggest actor in the world.

But Nicole Kidman (and certainly Gus Van Sant) used that persona as ammunition to turn To Die For into one of the better indictments of ambition and male possessiveness, and the way women are sometimes forced to – or perhaps, in this case, take great pleasure in – use those things to make their own mark. And what a mark she made. 

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