Remember Jen Lindley? Major Dawson’s Creek fans will, as she was a lead character for all six seasons of the heartthrob teen drama. To any non-fans, as you can probably guess – since this is the introduction to a person-specific list—this is the character that introduced Michelle Williams to many people (those who weren’t familiar with her child performances, anyways).
Fifteen years after the final season, it might be safe to say that there is no similar career that is comparable. No one has gone from a teen TV star to one of the best performers of one’s generation like Michelle Williams. Even in her not-so good works, Williams is usually a (or the) focal point that makes the whole trip worthwhile.
Well, the question we have today is: are all of her films worth the effort? The answer is, of course, “no”, but the majority of them have something interesting to take away. The best Michelle Williams films, though, are heartbreaking, spine-tingling, and world shattering. You can tell that Williams at least picks interesting projects almost all of the time. As a celebration of this exciting and unique performer, here is a ranking of every Michelle Williams film from worst to best.
I don’t want to be too harsh on a film that contains a young performance, but even Williams herself hates Timemaster. Her and many cast and crew members have called the final James Glickenhaus film “Timewaster” in relation to their embarrassment attached to this science fiction clunker. Was this alien disaster vital for Williams career? Not really. It didn’t introduce her to any new connections or establish her in any way.
Looking at the eye roll inducing plot the parents of a young boy have been abducted by aliens, oh gee), the awful balance in tone (if this is meant to be satirical, why is it only a goofy concoction?) and more, Timemaster is best to be left alone (especially if those within it agree).
There’s nothing fun about a thriller that aims to feel smart but instead feels unbelievably sloppy (if not a chore). Deception does no such thing when it comes to convincing you that the miss-matching plot points are actually more complex than they are. With so many stars (Williams, Hugh Jackman, Ewan McGregor, Maggie Q), you’d think there would be something a little bit more to this mysterious world involving sex clubs and twists of fate. Nope. It’s all sheen but no substance. Moving on.
37. A Hole in One
When it comes to A Whole in One, in short, we can say: it isn’t. In large, I can suppose that the attempt to tackle mental illnesses in different capacities (post-traumatic stress disorder, physical brain damage, and savage grievances) is noble, especially in 2004 (the new millennium has been somewhat of a new dialogue when it comes to mental health).
However, with many comparisons to David Lynch by critics (and not in a flattering way), a super heavy handed approach to these discussions, and an absence of authenticity underneath all of the efforts, A Hole in One feels more like a lecture that tries way too hard.
Here are one of the numerous cases of films that are worth at least attempting for Williams’ work within it but simply nothing more. Incendiary attempts to tackle something profound with its guilt-striking plot (an adulterous wife suffers the deaths of her husband and son from a terror attack that occurred during one of her outings), but it’s interesting blueprints never get fully realized.
Without the proper fleshing of characters, and the focus on catching a fleeting sensation from within a complex issue (without, you know, tackling the complex issue head on), Incendiary is a calamity that is only tolerable due to Williams’ complete and utter commitment.
One of the rare cases on this list where Michelle Williams really isn’t anywhere near to being a focal point (it’s Paul Sorvino’s film to boot). Perfume is the star-studded, unfocused take on the reconciliations of a designer with fatal cancer.
The focuses are on stunning the audience with familiar faces, visuals and glamour, but the film’s attempt at a story are like the main character Lorenzo’s pleas to be heard: halfhearted. Perfume is a kind of pretentious, where the ambitions to bowl you over have been forgotten in time, since it tries in all of the wrong places.
34. Prozac Nation
This one looks so good on paper, but alas it isn’t quite. We have an autobiographical take on the life of Elizabeth Wurtzel (an established journalist and author). Christina Ricci plays Wurtzel with her best efforts (during a standout moment in Ricci’s acting career, nonetheless).
We have Williams (similarly doing her best to break out into better film fare), and Jessica Lange (acting royalty). The film doesn’t do a good job of turning Wurtzel’s woes into real, tangible situations, and instead Prozac Nation, unfortunately, feels like an hour-and-a-half self-pity party. Too bad.
33. I Feel Pretty
Amy Schumer just hasn’t had a good run lately. After many accusations of joke theft, the brunt end of the unforgiving right wingers, and other backlashes, things have gone downhill for her since the reasonably funny Trainwreck. I Feel Pretty could have been a great film to have in a post-Me Too time period (plus it features powerful no nonsense actresses like Williams and her real life bestie Busy Philipps).
Nonetheless, I Feel Pretty falls under conventional phoned-in humour (this is particularly conflicting when there are jokes that target how some people look when the moral is to feel good about ones’ self). A noble idea damned by bad execution, particularly in the writing department.
Venom just came out, too! Well, I don’t even know what to say about this one. It hasn’t truly digested for me yet, either. What I do know is that it is quite a mess, and it all depends on how you can stomach these kinds of clusterfuck films. If eyeball-singeing editing during the climactic scenes is ironically amusing, you’re in luck!
If a film never comfortably being a specific tone is your kind of party, dive right on in! Tom Hardy is committed (always is), and so is Michelle Williams (again, always is). The difference is Williams isn’t the titular character. Venom tries to be The Dark Knight, Deadpool, Suicide Squad, and The Avengers all in one, and it’s baffling. At least it broke an October box office record, I guess.
31. The Hottest State
Williams, again, isn’t quite the star of this entry, but William is (played by Mark Webber). It’s interesting to see what actor Ethan Hawke can do when he flexes his filmmaking muscles and takes a stab at directing and writing.
One such case is The Hottest State, which is actually based on the same novel also written by Hawke himself (ten years earlier, though). There’s music, romance, and family drama, and clearly Hawke had his best intentions. Sometimes novels just don’t adapt well to the screen, even if the work is done by the author himself. The chemistry between characters doesn’t sizzle, and sadly stale.
30. The United States of Leland
Another nice experiment that just fails is The United States of Leland. With one hell of a cast (Williams, Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle, the now-tainted Kevin Spacey) and a strong premise (the results of a heinous murder, involving the criminal and the affected loved ones), we should have had a powerful film here.
Instead, too much emphasis is spent on trying to make the murderer seem misunderstood, rather than placing his human qualities inside of the bigger picture’s puzzle. There is time spent with those that were hurt by this crime (Williams plays a sister of the murdered disabled boy), but the care just isn’t there.
29. The Hawk is Dying
The Hawk is Dying is a bit harmless, but boy is it dull. Williams plays Betty, the pot-friendly foil to the lead character George (played by Paul Giamatti). George’s existential crises culminate in the shape of a red tailed hawk. His efforts mirror his own sanity, as the world renders him crazy aside from Betty. He’s just a once-free bird, now contained, that has to be freed once more.
See, the intentions are there. It’s just slow, an effort, and a little full of itself. When it comes to self-reflections between a human and nature (or wildlife), you can certainly do much worse than this one, I guess.
28. The Baxter
Screwball comedies don’t really exist anymore, and it’s a shame. The Baxter isn’t an example as to why they can’t survive anymore, even though it isn’t really the best example on earth. Still, checking out an oddball circling down the drains of a hectic society is always in good fun, and The Baxter is far from the worst offender. It’s also nice to see Williams play off her charming and quirky side and not flare off her dramatic chops.
This is the passion project of comedian Michael Showalter (who directed, wrote, and stars in the film), and there’s never a wrong time to bring back a forgotten film style. Even though it’s too formulaic and stiff in its absurdities, The Baxter is an attempt.
27. Imaginary Heroes
Yet another film with some sort of sense to its nature that loses its steam through improper handling, but Imaginary Heroes is far from the worst example on this list (clearly, if we’re not in the bottom ten anymore).
A suicide shakes up a household, and we see the results in the powerful cast: mother Sigourney Weaver, father Jeff Daniels, sister Michelle Williams and brother Emile Hirsch. Instead of allowing this perfect cast handle all of the work, the film feels an incessant need to tip toe and walk through all of the turmoil with you. It feels a bit strained, but its performing blitzes cannot be completely ignored.
26. A Thousand Acres
Michelle Williams plays a small part as Pammy in this grandiose family drama stuffed to the brim with acting royalty: Jessica Lange (again), Michelle Pfeiffer, Jason Robards, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Colin Firth, and many more. This is a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear (originally told in this way by Jane Smiley in her novel), so there is a hell of a lot of promise here.
That’s also the problem in a nutshell: there is a hell of a lot. A Thousand Acres will either feel like a strong take on the Shakespeare tragedy, or it’ll feel like a different work of his: much ado about nothing. The melodrama may overtake its foundations for you if it doesn’t wow you.
25. The Greatest Showman
The world is transfixed by its music, its charm and its message of acceptance in the world. While I understand that including the actualities of P. T. Barnum’s exploitation-heavy and toxic nature would ruin the emotional roller coaster this musical had going for it, brushing most of it under a rug really feels like a disservice as well.
Maybe I am a party pooper, but the “fun” here feels like Barnum himself was trying to sell me the pitch of his circus. I get the heart is there, but it definitely didn’t resonate with me. Yes, even Michelle Williams as Barnum’s heart and soul wasn’t enough. At its best, The Greatest Showman is a flashy, stunning wonder to take in aesthetically.
One of Williams’ earliest performances is replicating a young version of Natasha Hentsridge (I see it) in the science fiction body horror Species. The film fringes on the lines of satirical pornography with its premise of an alien aiming to spread her species on Earth by seducing partners.
So many people here try their best, including Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Madsen, but that might make the unintentional humour even better. Even when you don’t like Species ironically, there’s a certain level of gall that it has even trying to present itself to you, and that’s a little admirable.
Williams plays Ellen: a surgeon wife and mother in this Swedish film about New York. We see their housemaid – a Filipino woman longing for home—come in between the various family members of this well-intentioned drama.
This take on the effects of globalization was made in the wake of films that tackle the topic a little bit better, but Mammoth does its best. Mammoth is the appropriate title, because it tries a little too much. With mixed messages on family dynamics and the subtlety of being hit by a bus, Mammoth will definitely affect you in some sort of way.
22. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
Halloween H20 was made twenty years after the very first film, and we are now twenty one years since this very film was made (how time flies). At the time, H20 seemed like a great Halloween sequel compared to some of the other clunkers out there (and other awful horror sequels being spewed out in the ‘90s), but it still had its problems (scares over substance, for instance).
Now, it has aged a little poorly, but it only adds to the film’s charm. With silly gore, an insanely short run time (under an hour and a half, even), and a hilariously weird cameo by Janet Leigh (obviously the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis, who is the star heroine of Halloween), it might be hard to adore Halloween H20, but it’s far too “’90’s-slasher-film” to hate.
21. Oz the Great and Powerful
We see the titular Oz in The Wizard of Oz as a liar and a coward once his lack of any powers is unveiled. This noble attempt at creating some sort of purpose for the character – known as Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful – isn’t a solution for people that hoped for something more from the mysterious “wizard” of the beloved Hollywood classic.
It is far too safe (even for a Raimi film), and the big three witches (Williams as Glinda, Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Rachel Weisz as Evanora) are somewhat wasted despite their star potential (and their ability to carry the film along). However, Oz is a stunning film to witness, and its slight magic does sugar coat the bigger problems underneath.