Amy Adams’ curious trajectory in Hollywood is proof that you never really know which work will provide you with the breakthrough you seek. Adams was actually born in Italy to American parents – raised by a Mormon family in Castle Rock, Colorado, this beautiful redhead sang in a choir and found her passion at a local dance company as an aspiring ballerina.
Her small parts in local productions of musicals got the attention of a theatre director, and when she pulled a muscle in an accident, preventing her from pursuing a career in dancing, she auditioned for her first on-screen part: 1999’s Drop Dead Gorgeous. Three years later, when she landed a role in Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, she thought she had it made, but it would be another role that really put her on the map – the young, loud-mouthed pregnant girl in indie darling Junebug (2005).
It marked the first of five Oscar nods, and the beginning of a truly remarkable career. With her latest film Arrival hits US theaters this weekend, how about electing our 10 favorite performances? Let’s do it:
10. Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)
Southern belle Brenda Strong was the breakout part that was never meant to be for Adams. Though Catch Me If You Can was a big success for Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and even Christopher Walker, who got an Oscar nod for his role, Adams went largely unnoticed in the part of one of the girls con-man Frank (DiCaprio) deceits. That’s quite a shame, actually, since Adams delivers a charming, focused and well-built performance, not unlike the ones she would later be known for.
In the film, Brenda is probably one of Frank’s few true love affairs, and he eventually considers settling down with her, before things go sideways. Seeing Adams onscreen as the character, it’s easy to understand why.
9. Julie & Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009)
This wonderful little gem of a movie was the last project of writer/director Nora Ephron before her death, in 2012. In Julie & Julia, Adams plays a daring cook and blogger named Julie Powell, who challenged herself to make every recipe in Julia Child’s first cookbook in a particularly troubled year of her life. Meryl Streep got her umpteenth Oscar nod for her captivating work as Child, but Adams’ part is the true anchor of the film.
While no stranger to anchoring light dramedies and playing adorable personas with a mission, Adams steps up her game as she navigates Ephron’s script and Powell’s journey of self-discovery throughout the year. It’s a pleasure to take that journey on Adams’ company, and that’s more than it could be said of most actresses.
8. Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007)
Disney princess Giselle was Adams’ big mainstream breakout, arriving a few years after her “prestige” breakout in Junebug. This savvy, pointed and yet loving satire of Disney fairytales casts Adams as a wide-eyed princess sent directly from her animated fairytale world to modern live-action New York City by an evil queen (Susan Sarandon). There, she has to adapt to a few things of modern life while falling in love with a lawyer (Patrick Dempsey), despite the prince (James Marsden) waiting for her back home.
Adams fresh-faced ingénue energy fits the part like a glove, she’s absolutely game for the silliest parts of the script and lends a whiff of gravitas to the romantic and dramatic moments. A delight to watch, Enchanted works thanks mostly to its star.
7. The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010)
Adams’ underestimated versatility is well in display in David O. Russell’s The Fighter, in which she plays Charlene Fleming, the foul-mouthed love of Micky Ward’s (Mark Wahlberg) life.
We meet her as an attractive bartender Micky has a thing for, and as him and his brother Dicky (Christian Bale) navigate not only a complicated career on the boxing ring but involvement with drugs and crime, Charlene becomes a foundation for Micky to build his life and his stability in midst of his family’s craziness.
O. Russell’s gift for intense characters provokes Adams into a more instinctive performance, and as she maintains a firm grasp of Charlene throughout this heated journey, it’s not hard to point out she’s probably the highlight of the film along with Christian Bale’s performance as Dicky.
6. Big Eyes (Tim Burton, 2014)
Margaret Keane’s story, no matter what you think of her paintings, is one worth telling. A young single mother trying to make it on her own with her unique style of artwork falls in love and marries a gregarious ladies’ man and fellow artist who starts selling her paintings as his own.
Tim Burton’s Big Eyes not only portrays that con with the proper amount of outrage, it follows Margaret as she starts her lifelong journey of reclaiming her name and her artwork – a superior script helps Big Eyes become one of the best Burton films in years, and Adams’ work as Keane is no small feat either.
The character’s arc is expertly portrayed by the actress, in one of her most focused and nuanced performances. It’s an arc that journeys towards maturity, resilience and pride. Opposite Christoph Waltz typically debonair performance, Adams’ work is a breath of fresh air.