Tilda Swinton is one of those actresses who always can shine, even if the film is bad. She does it with big roles and little ones, always leaving her mark of flamboyance.
Having her ancestry divided in Scottish, Northern Irish and English roots, Swinton always used her multiple origins to develop a taste for very marked and unforgettable characters, bringing a certain gusto for the unique and bizarre elements of fiction in general and acting in particular. Since taking her first steps as a multifaceted performer, Swinton showed in recent years that’s she’s more than an amazing actress, she’s also a very gifted artist.
Very present in Derek Jarman’s films during her early acting days, Swinton quickly became one of cinema’s most outstanding women, performing often as a man and always freeing up wide from other actresses.
Later she was also involved in fashion, performed live with the rock legend and multifaceted artist Patti Smith, and even created her own film festival in her hometown, calling it The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams. The film festival was a very successful project indeed, lined as “a purely cinephile, glamour-free community event” with a very eclectic vibe.
Swinton is one of the most outstanding actresses working today, maintaining her very unique style and working on a dictum of always turning her roles into something special. On this list, you can taste the “crème de la crème” of her career, checking the 10 best features offered by an artist that still has a great deal to give to cinema.
10. The War Zone (1999)
“The War Zone” was the impressive actor-to-filmmaker transition of Tim Roth that never had, until today, a new chapter. The film, reminiscent of “Breaking the Waves” by Lars Von Trier, is a dark drama that appeals straight to the heart and has a kind of a timeless vibe, an area where Swinton is like a fish in water.
Still an unknown in the industry, Swinton offered a quite proficient maternal performance, showing some versatility if we compare this role with her earlier ones, such as “Female Perversions” or “Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon”.
Swinton often steals the show in her films, and while that doesn’t happen here, she still offers a solid performance with her limited time on screen. If “The War Zone” is a find, Swinton’s role was an exercise of prospection for those who didn’t knew her yet in 1999.
While some films on this list aren’t that good but have great performances by Swinton, this one is a big surprise with a satisfactory performance by the British performers. It’s good to remember that what is an “okay” Swinton performance can be an awesome performance for other actresses.
9. Young Adam (2003)
We all know many examples of film projects that fall on a premise of “making a mountain out of a molehill” and it’s exactly on that shelf where “Young Adam” should be inserted. David Mackenzie bet all the chips on a story stripped of ornamentations and delivered straight to the bone, but in the end only the actors save the day. Swinton and Ewan McGregor form an exquisite double – I risk saying a very underestimated one – and they are the nuclear tension point of “Young Adam”.
I used to say that when films use Adam or Eve as a title or the names of characters, it’s always to establish a kind of parallelism with biblical stories and in “Young Adam” that happens as well. Guided by spasms of temptation, and reminiscent of the Tree of Knowledge story, the film collects many of the attributes of the womanizer “Alfie” (starring Michael Caine), adding dark and explicit elements and showing no barriers.
“Young Adam” loses some strength because the plot seems a little plastic, but this remains one of the 10 most charismatic and praised, whilst underrated, efforts Swinton ever performed.
8. Orlando (1992)
Based on a Virginia Woolf novel, “Orlando” was, after a reasonable number of collaborations with Derek Jarman, the breakthrough film for Swinton and a demonstration of what she could bring in more ambitious works.
The film tells the story of a young nobleman who strangely stays forever young, and his adventures through different centuries. Filling a male role (something Swinton did more than once) showed certain lightness in the way she perspires talent in unusual roles.
The production and narrative made this film divergent in terms of opinion, but the critics were rendered to it and to Swinton’s performance, who was a complete stranger in the world of cinema. “Orlando” was mostly noticed in costume design categories (it was nominated for two Oscars) and, being the older film on the list, presents Swinton as she is today: sumptuous, extravagant, artful, many times with a touch of bizarre, and empowered with a nothing-to-lose attitude.
7. The Deep End (2001)
After “The War Zone”, Swinton continued her training in maternal roles and surprised many with the progress she made as an actress. More matured, the British actress is the only valuable reason to see “The Deep End”; the film promises too much and doesn’t deliver, it doesn’t add anything new in terms of plot, and has a lot of incongruities. Nevertheless, Swinton doesn’t let the audience go, carrying all the expenses of the story with a delicious, intense and thrilling performance.
Swinton’s portrayal of a frustrated housewife is simply brilliant. The film deals with a timeless societal issue: when parents struggle to accept children’s true self. Sustained in some very different premises, “The Deep End” has some similarities with Swinton’s other roles and has an also suitable finale for “We Need to Talk about Kevin”; a conclusion more consentaneous to the masses, family-directed, and less controversial than the original.
All said, this is the kind of film that is worth watching just because of a single performance.
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Jim Jarmusch stands for directing as Swinton does for acting. The flamboyant filmmaker is strongly connected with non-commercial features – “Paterson” comes out this year – much like Swinton, so a combination between both occurred naturally.
Jarmusch brings to the table a rawhide romance mixed with lots of bizarre references, where Swinton, Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska contribute sharply to the party. With all the rubbish produced about vampires in recent years, “Only Lovers Left Alive” along with “Let the Right One In” or “What We Do in the Shadows” was a breath of fresh air for vampire theme aficionados.
The cast performs amazingly, but Swinton shines more, maybe because she is in her natural habitat: an artful picture with an artful director. The concept of a depressed vampire musician isn’t quite new (“Queen of the Damned” is a little like that), but “Only Lovers Left Alive” works as the perfect combination between the director’s laconic style and the substance that has to exist in great romance stories.