best film:  David Lynch moved his nightmare vision from suburbia (Blue Velvet) to Hollywood to create one of finest films of the 21st century in Mulholland Drive. Since Mulholland Drive is one of the finest films of the 21st century, this gives Naomi Watts (who is brilliant in the lead) a leg up on just about every actor of her generation (and younger). Birdman from Alejandro G. Iñárritu certainly deserves some consideration here as well but at the end of the day, Watts’ best film is Mulholland Drive.



Watts carved out her place in film history in her breakout performance in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001).


best performance:   In Mulholland Drive Watts plays the dual role of the naïve Betty Elms and her doppelgänger Diane Selwyn. Watts is given plenty of room for her character to transform. First, she plays a sort of detective investigating the background of the mysterious Rita/ Camilla Rhodes (Laura Harring). Watts plays jealousy and eventually a sort of madness. She even gets the famous audition scene (how can one watch Emma Stone’s miraculous scene in La La Land and not think of Watts in Mulholland?). Lynch gave Watts such a great role- and Watts knocks it out of the park. Watts’ plays Cristina Peck in 21 Grams and she is fantastic here, too- and there is a transformation in that role as well but again like the category above,  it does not take long to figure out the answer to the question of Watts’ best performance.



stylistic innovations/traits:  The depth of filmography (thus far- Watts is not one yet necessarily) does not compare with some of her peers (good friend Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett) but it seems increasingly unlikely that her peers will be given the chance to match Watts’ high-water mark in Mulholland Drive. Watts was a bit of a late bloomer. She is deep support in 1991’s Flirting (Kidman front and center there) and then she kicked around supporting roles and some television work for about a decade. At the age of thirty-three (33) in 2001 she finally got her break in Lynch’s Mulholland. From there, Watts did most of her damage in this seven year stretch from 2001 to 2007 (four of her best five performances). She is getting choice roles from the likes of a white hot Peter Jackson, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and David Cronenberg during this period.


Watts as Anna opposite Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. Cronenberg’s film marked  a cap to a run for Watts from 2001 to 2007 where Watts appeared in seven archiveable films in seven years- and gave one of the best performances of the year twice.



directors worked with:   Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2) and then one film a piece in the archives with David Lynch of course, David O. Russell, Peter Jackson, David Cronenberg and Noah Baumbach.



Lynch is Watts’ key collaborator (even with one film), but the work with Iñárritu is next as these two films are Watts’ second best performance and second best film. Watts as Cristina Peck in 21 Grams here.



top five performances:

  1. Mulholland Drive
  2. 21 Grams
  3. Eastern Promises
  4. The Impossible
  5. King Kong



archiveable films

1991- Flirting
2001- Mulholland Drive
2003- 21 Grams
2004- I Heart Huckabees
2004- The Assassination of Richard Nixon
2004- We Don’t Live Here Anymore
2005- King Kong
2007- Eastern Promises
2012- The Impossible
2014- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2014- While We’re Young
2018- Vice
2019- Luce