Cate Blanchett has come a long way in a short period of time. One of the actresses to gain momentum in the 2000’s and rise quickly to critical praise, she has become an actress that everyone has seen in at least one movie. It was probably Lord of the Rings, but in no way does that tiny part reveal to us the extraordinary skill this woman posseses. She garnered much of her fame for playing Queen Elizabeth, and became the first person ever to win an Oscar for playing an Oscar-winning actress (Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator.) She selects roles that will take her somewhere new, and by extention she takes us with her. Whether she is a school teacher drawn into an affair with one of her students or Bob Dylan, Blanchett never hesitates to go to places other performers would stumble.
I’m Not There
Say what you will about gender roles in movies, but when Todd Haynes selected Blanchett to play the most important version of Bob Dylan in his already risky biopic, nobody took him seriously. Then people saw the movie, and no matter if they thought it was an indulgent trip or a visionary work of art, they did not deny the power and skill Blanchett exudes here. Fans of Dylan will do a double-take when they see her strut on stage and go electric or give an infuriatingly vague press conference. So perfectly does she capture the essence of Dylan in this time period that you can call her performance definitive. Haynes wasn’t being gimmicky when he picked a woman to play Dylan. He was simply picking the best person for the job.
In an Oscar-winning portrayal, Blanchett tackles the role of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Katherine Hepburn. She perfectly captures the “Hello dahling,” accent and nervous spit-fire and quick wit of her speech as well as her confused personality. Aviator may have been shut out of the Best Picture that year, but it got what it deserved in Blanchett’s performance. It goes above the call of duty and ends up stealing part of the show.
Long before Helen Mirran gave us the modern day Queen Elizabeth, we got a definitive portrait of her ancestor from Cate Blanchett. She shows us how heavy the crown lies in this period drama that, thanks to her, goes beyond melodrama. Even when she takes the crown there is a plot against her life, and she fends off opposition from both other nations as well as within her own castle walls virtually the entire movie. Betrayal in love makes her vow chastity, thus earning her the nickname “The Virgin Queen.” Blanchett spits fire from beyond those elegant layers of clothing. She’s been nominated for playing this character twice, both here and in the melodramatic sequel. Both times she ascends the throne like an actress born to play royalty. You’ll love her even when you don’t love the movie.
Notes on a Scandal
Blanchett and Judi Dench duke it out in this juicy literary adaptation about a bitter veteran teacher creepily taking to the new art instructor. Both of these acting giants dig into the fantastic script, leaving nothing but bare bones. Blanchett is wonderful as the art teacher, who begins having an affair with one of her students. Though you still condemn the action, she will make you see this woman’s life, and you won’t help but sympathize, especially when Dench’s character blackmails her into being “friends.” It’s a creepy movie with no easy answers, and you won’t mind at all thanks to the cast.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
One of the key films in the special effects advancement in the 2000’s, David Fincher’s film about a life lived in reverse benefits from a terrific performance from Blanchett. Though she didn’t get nearly the attention nor the screen time she deserved, her beautifully nuanced portrait of a woman who loves a man who becomes younger will haunt you. As the film nears its end, Blanchett finally gets her on-screen dues as she walks away with the movie. Brad Pitt may have gotten the Oscar nomination, but she got the tears.
Other Notable Performances: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Babel, The Good German, Robin Hood