Since her breakout role in the teen drama series Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003) Michelle Williams has impressed with an array of memorable performances. She has been nominated for four Academy Awards for her performances in Brokeback Mountain (2005), Blue Valentine (2010), My Week with Marilyn (2011) and Manchester by the Sea (2016) and she won the Golden Globe for her performance as Marilyn Monroe.
Following Sir Ridley Scott replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World (2017) less than two months before the film’s release , the reshoots have now become infamous for more than one reason.
It was reported that Williams was paid less than $1,000 for the reshoots compared to Mark Wahlberg’s $1.5 million. She even scored a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Gail in the film, unlike Wahlberg. This news resulted in Wahlberg donating his salary for the reshoots to the Time’s Up fund in Michelle Williams’ name.
In response to this news, this list showcases Williams’ range as an actress and how her performances are often guaranteed to be exceptional. With an array of exciting future projects lined up, including a Janis Joplin biopic and Leos Carax’s musical drama Annette (2018), audiences have many more performances to look forward to.
10. The Station Agent (2003)
In a small yet memorable role in Tom McCarthy’s critically acclaimed comedy drama The Station Agent, Michelle Williams establishes herself as an actress who picks interesting roles right at the beginning of her career.
The Station Agent introduced the world to Peter Dinklage in his role as the lonely Finbar McBride. After the death of his friend and boss, Finbar moves to an abandoned Train Depot in New Jersey which was left to him in his friend’s will. He feels isolated due to his dwarfism and has gone through most of his life avoiding human interaction.
However, Finbar makes friends with two of his neighbours, played by Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale, who also face problems of their own. The three friends spend time together and find much needed comfort in one another’s company.
Michelle Williams makes a brief appearance in the film as Emily, a young, pregnant woman who works at the local library. She befriends Finbar after he tries to defend her against her boyfriend and the two spend the night together at the train depot, sleeping at opposite ends of the sofa.
The film is a charming, endearing and well-written study of human interaction and friendship. Williams’ chemistry with Dinklage in their roles is one of the memorable aspects of The Station Agent. This is a delightful and heart-warming independent film which is guaranteed to make you smile, unlike many of the other more heartbreaking films on this list.
9. Certain Women (2016)
In her third and most recent collaboration with director Kelly Reichardt, Michelle Williams stars in Certain Women. Based on a collection of short stories by Maile Meloy, the film follows the three intersecting lives of Montana women in three distinctly separate acts. The film also stars Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart in stories which are all quiet and subtle while at the same time being powerfully and undeniably feminist.
In the second act of the film Williams plays Gina, a regular woman who is trying to build a new home with her husband. The viewer is given minimal context and this story acts as a brief look into an everyday instance of the female experience. They go to visit an elderly man to ask if they can buy his sandstone from him.
Gina is confronted with outdated sexism as the man only talks to her husband and acts as if she were not there. He does not consider Gina as part of the negotiation and Williams’ conveys Gina’s silent yet palpable anger at being ignored exquisitely.
Like many of Williams’ films, her role in Certain Women is plagued by marital conflict. Reichardt’s films are always carefully considered and Gina’s story in Certain Women is no different. The viewer is informed subtly in the first act that Gina’s husband is cheating on her, and that this is therefore a marriage in crisis, yet no more context is given.
This is a quiet and certainly not her most startling performance, yet Williams’ still packs a punch with the looks Gina gives the men around her.
8. Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
Michelle Williams’ second collaboration with Reichardt is Meek’s Cutoff: an unconventional Western which subverts the traditionally male dominated lens of the genre by focusing on the women in the film.
Based on a true story, Meek’s Cutoff follows six settlers (three married couples) and their guide who are lost while travelling on the vast Oregon Trail in 1845. They are running out of food and water and their guide Stephen Meek, played by Bruce Greenwood, won’t admit how off-course and lost they really are. The intimidating open landscape of Oregon provides an unsettling backdrop for the story to unfold.
Meek’s Cutoff is a unique depiction of the Western genre in that Reichardt focuses on the women on this journey. It is Williams’ character Emily Tetherow who makes the decision to help and protect the Native American they capture, played by Ron Rondeaux, who helps them to find a water source in return.
Reichardt focuses the camera on the wives as the husbands discuss the decision making as there inferiority means they are unable to participate. Williams’ plays Emily as reserved and quiet at first, hidden away like the other women behind their large and restrictive bonnets. She then finds her voice and stands up to her husband, revealing herself to be a powerful force.
With a sensational supporting cast which includes Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson, Meek’s Cutoff is a film which expertly explores and destabilises traditional gender and power dynamics through Emily standing up to her husband and asserting herself. Meek’s Cutoff is another excellent example of a film from Michelle Williams’ filmography where women showcase their agency.
7. Take This Waltz (2011)
Written, produced and directed by Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz is another film in Michelle Williams’ filmography which explores the female experience.
Williams’ plays Margot who appears to be happy in her marriage to Lou, played by Seth Rogen, when she meets Daniel, played by Luke Kirby, on a plane during a business trip. Daniel happens to live on the same road as the married couple and Margot’s unhappiness within her marriage and her instant attraction to Daniel results in an affair beginning.
In a role which could have been a clichéd exploration of a woman being dissatisfied with her marriage and deciding to have an affair, Williams’ brings depth to the role. The female gaze from director Sarah Polley ensures this film is explored from Margot’s point of view and Williams’ explores Margot’s uncertainties in her decisions.
In the extremely powerful and memorable final scene, Margot is on a ride at an amusement park she had been on earlier with Luke. She is alone and the camera focuses on her enjoying the ride, but then the final shot of her face is extremely powerful as her reaction could mean a multitude of different things. This is a melancholy ending which doesn’t give the viewer an easy answer as to whether Margot is happy with the decisions she has made. This final shot is one of the reasons why this is a performance and a film which stays with you.
This is a compelling performance from Williams in a low-key and subtle drama which contains a powerful depiction of one woman’s desire for something more.
6. All the Money in the World (2017)
Michelle Williams’ performance as Gail Harris, the former daughter in law of J. Paul Getty and the mother of the kidnapped John Paul Getty III, seems to have been overshadowed by Christopher Plummer’s performance which was filmed only a month prior to release in reshoots following the sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey.
However, Williams’ Golden Globe nominated performance as a mother fighting to find her son and persuade her villainous father in law to pay his ransom is a performance worthy of attention. In an interview with The Telegraph, it was reported that Sir Ridley Scott had said that All the Money in the World “wouldn’t have gone out” without the Spacey scenes being recast. One of the reasons why he fought for the film to still be released was due to Williams’ awards-worthy performance.
In Rome in 1973, John Paul Getty III is kidnapped. He is the grandson of J. Paul Getty who, at the time, was the richest man who had ever lived. Gail gets a phone call from the ‘Ndrangheta, the organised crime Mafia group, who demand a ransom of $17 million to release him. She doesn’t have the money so she turns to her former father in law J. Paul Getty. He famously refuses to pay the ransom and what follows is her fight for her son.
The film itself is suspenseful, if a little too formulaic, and Williams’ performance shines. Her scenes with Christopher Plummer are some of the best in the film as J. Paul Getty’s cold and calculated persona goes up against Gail’s fiery determination. All the Money in the World is another instance in Williams’ film career where she plays a woman going up against powerful men, and eventually winning.