Glenn Close is often considered to be one of the greatest American actresses of her generation. Not just on film, but also on television (three Emmy wins) and on stage (three Tony wins). In fact, she was more recently known on television, but Close got a great movie role again with “The Wife,” so it seems appropriate to celebrate her amazing body of work and her impressive range.
Before we start, honorable mentions should be given to some of her amazing cameos (“Hook,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”) and almost the rest of her filmography as she’s consistently great in no matter what she does.
The list is made of her theatrical releases, so her amazing performances in films like “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” “In the Gloaming” and “Serving in Silence” will not appear on our list. Even making the top 15 is hard enough, considering how she’s always great, but here we go.
15. The Natural
Hailed as one of the best baseball films ever made and met with strong critical acclaim when it was initially released, “The Natural” has since been turned into a classic. Based on Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel of the same name, the film stars Robert Redford as someone unknown with a “natural” talent, who comes out of nowhere and becomes a legend.
Close plays his childhood sweetheart. She’s some kind of angelic figure who just appears in the movie from time to time and redeems our character. In fact, the movie plays out as if our main character is between the forces of good and evil, and Close is what represents the good. Even though it’s a less remarkable work if you compare it to Close’s other Oscar nominations, still she manages to steal the show.
In particular, the scene where they first reunited at one of his games is particularly a standout. Her performance in “The Natural” stands a great testament to her impeccable screen presence. The film itself is slightly sentimental and those who don’t like old-fashioned entertainment may find it even bit dated, but it’s still a well-made classic from director Barry Levinson when he was somewhat at his peak.
Close has to do more Shakespeare on screen because the result is delicious to watch. Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation was not necessarily critically acclaimed; its reception was mostly mixed, though Close is often singled out as one of the highlights of the film. The film is not as complex as the play, but since Glenn plays Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, she gives her so much complexity and depth than what’s on the script.
In Close’s hands, she is an absolutely real character with both positive and negative traits. She’s a worried mother who shows sincerity to Hamlet, and then she’s also a lustful lover. The “closet” scene is probably a particular highlight to showcase her talents. One would wish she had more screen time, but then again, it’s impressive enough to do much with limited screen time.
The film itself is better than its reputation; it has some great set design, a mostly strong cast, and a great score from Ennio Morricone. Mel Gibson is also much better than you’d expect him to be in this kind of role.
13. Nine Lives
An example of hyperlink cinema, “Nine Lives” relates nine short, loosely intertwined tales with nine different women at their cores. It’s rather an effective film with a terrific cast all around and some insightful glances into the lives of the characters. It’s an elegant film and while not all stories are equally great, they’re involving enough due to the cast.
Close’s segments holds a mother-daughter relationship at its center in which Dakota Fanning plays her daughter and she holds her own against Close admirably. It’s the last segment and a beautiful way to end the film.
It’s probably the sweetest and lightest segment of the mostly dramatic feature. She discusses her life with her daughter while visiting a cemetery, and she realizes how much she needs the little girl’s loving comfort. As with all episodes, this one also offers a glimmer of hope and Close is just heartbreaking.
12. The Big Chill
Since its release, so many films similar to this one have been made that it now rarely comes off as original. Sometimes considered to be one of the best “friends uniting” films, “The Big Chill” was nominated for three Oscars including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress for Close. The movie is about seven former college friends gathering for a weekend reunion after the funeral of another of their college friends.
The film is about connecting and it’s a distinctive for having such a dramatic nature. They keep making high school reunion films, but rarely do any of them have a dramatic tone. The cast is terrific. Not your typical showy performances, but full of great nuances. It’s a great task to stand out in such a great cast.
Considering she also won a Tony and was nominated for Emmy in the same year, she became first actress to score all three major acting award nominations in a single calendar year. That’s something that sounds almost more impressive than winning an EGOT. Close is humble about being singled out, though. In an interview, she claimed it’s all because “crying-in-the-shower” scene. Oh, and it should be noted: the film has one of the best soundtracks ever.
11. Jagged Edge
The well-crafted ‘80s courtroom thriller “Jagged Edge” is something that would please the fans of the genre. It has everything you want from your courtroom mystery -the “did he or did he not?” theme in particular. The story is not too remarkable, but the direction here is effective enough that you find yourself in Close’s place; you never get too sure about what you think of Jeff Bridges’ character.
It also avoids being silly or over-the-top, so it comes off as much better crafted and as a more serious film than other films of its era with similar plotlines. Of course, that’s also because of the great acting going on. Both leads manage to give more layers to their characters. The chemistry works effectively between them.
It may very well be director Richard Marquand’s second best thriller right after “Eye of the Needle.” John Barry’s theme also adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film. According to recent news, it’s getting its own remake. Who knows, maybe we’ll see Close making a cameo in the new version.
10. Reversal of Fortune
One of the courtroom scandals of the century, “Reversal of Fortune” is responsible for Jeremy Irons finally earning a well-deserved Oscar for his incredible portrayal of oil executive Claus Von Bülow, who has both a charming and sinister presence; you never get too sure about what he’s really thinking or whether or not he’s a murderer. Close plays his wife, Sunny, who lies brain-dead, and also narrates the film while her husband is accused of her attempted murder. Claus denies it and the film goes on.
The ambiguity of it all is what makes the film stronger than it would be if it was just about revelations. Close doesn’t only narrate the film, but she also appears in flashback scenes – and you’d wonder how she didn’t get a Supporting Actress nomination for this. She’s simply captivating at portraying her character’s vulnerability and selfishness. It may be a mostly Irons show, but Close does what she always does: steals the show, even in a limited screen time.
9. The Paper
Taking place during a 24-hour period, “The Paper” is a fascinating portrayal of the reporters of a fictional tabloid magazine called New York Sun and especially its metro editor Henry (the great Michael Keaton). The movie deals with his professional and personal life. Close plays his nemesis and also the managing editor.
It’s one of those ensemble films featuring Close where the whole cast is great – Keaton, Randy Quaid, the legendary Robert Duvall, the always reliable Marisa Tomei, and of course, Close. She also provides some of the film’s comedic moments as well (“I have a cigarette and go to sleep.”).
And as mentioned in “Hamlet,” here’s another performance where Close gives her character a complexity in a way that you don’t despise her and yet you don’t like her either. You’re not too sure what to feel about her in general.
“The Paper” is a film/performance that deserves more recognition than it got and is one of the better films about journalism. One would wish Keaton’s “Spotlight” success would bring this more attention again. Pity that it didn’t happen.