best film:  This is a very strong category for Emily Watson. Breaking the Waves from Danish enfant terrible auteur Lars von Trier certainly looms as one of the art form’s truly great films, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love gives Watson two sure-fire top 100 of all-time films. Breaking the Waves relies more heavily on Watson. And as far as top twenty-five (25) films of all-time – the only film in this class that leans on their female lead actor as much or more-  is Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc.



sliding doors here: apparently Helena Bonham Carter passed on playing Bess McNeill at the last minute leaving the door open for a 29-year old Watson to make her debut and give one of the best performances of all-time. Just a few years later,  it would be Watson who would pass on Amelie from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who apparently wrote the lead role for Watson).



best performance:   Breaking the Waves here and it is not close. Like Falconetti’s towering performance, this film is littered with close-ups that highlight the performance. Watson’s Bess McNeill has everything. She is the victim, she is a co-conspirator, she is a touch mad (or seems a such for much of the film) or painfully devout depending on the perspective. She has these remarkable scenes of dialogue with herself (or God). Watson gives an uncanny performance… and oh yeah… this is all in her debut.



stylistic innovations/traits:  As mentioned above Breaking the Waves makes for a herculean debut. It would be easy to say that Watson never really lived up to her talent after that debut- but what actor could?  Plus,  Paul Thomas Anderson and the role in Punch-Drunk Love came along just after the turn of the millennium and that second big role and performance changed Waton’s story. Watson excels at playing characters that are a little off. Gosford Park is a nice resume pad, and she gets to trade barbs and hold her own with the great Daniel Day-Lewis in The Boxer.  Still, Watson is not on this list at all if it is not for Breaking the Waves– and that is okay. Few actors get a chance at Bess McNeill. Bess is up there with Joan of Arc herself, Jake LaMotta and Daniel Plainview- being this good in a masterpiece of this caliber rarely happens in cinema history.



The odd duck looking for love- whether it is as Bess McNeill or pink-clad Lena opposite of blue-shaded Adam Sandler’s Barry in Punch-Drunk Love pictured here. The entire film is a dichotomy—formal point/counterpoint— the rage (car crash, breaking sliding glass door, beating up bathroom) and the adoration (Watson’s character and color, the harmonium, the Chaplin dance).



directors worked with:   Nobody more than once but we have Robert Altman, Lars von Trier, Paul Thomas Anderson, Joe Wright, Charlie Kaufman and Jim Sheridan here.



Watson as the maid Elsie in Altman’s superior ensemble murder mystery



top five performances:

  1. Breaking the Waves
  2. Punch-Drunk Love
  3. Gosford Park
  4. The Boxer
  5. Synecdoche, New York




archiveable films

1996- Breaking the Waves
1997- The Boxer
2001- Gosford Park
2002- Punch-Drunk Love
2005- The Proposition
2008- Synecdoche, New York
2012- Anna Karenina
2014- The Theory of Everything