best film: Melancholia from enfant terrible Lars von Trier takes the top prize over Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Suicides take third and fourth place in the category respectively. Dunst gives the best performance in three of these top four films. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, she is part of the talented ensemble (including Mark Ruffalo and the perfectly creepy Elijah Wood) backing up leads Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Melancholia is a massive masterpiece. There may not be a better opening eight minutes in cinema history than the way von Trier starts his 2011 film. The film begins with a slow-motion montage of cinematic paintings accompanied by Wagner’s excerpts from Tristan and Isolde. Included in the montage are the Last Year at Marienbad-like lawn with sundial shot, the three characters with the moon, sun, and melancholia, the shots of earth and melancholia in space, Kirsten Dunst laying in the water in her dress, the falling black horse… simply sublime cinema art. These are not just jaw-dropping random images—they are all connected to the narrative. Melancholia will be forever paired with two other 2011 films: Terrence Malick’s similarly ambitious The Tree of Life and Bela Tarr’s own apocalyptic vision, The Turin Horse.
best performance: Melancholia is another case of Cannes (best female actor winner here) triumphing over the Academy Awards (Dunst was not even nominated in 2011 somehow). Dunst is dazzling, unhinged and otherworldly. Her vacant, trapped vessel in Marie Antoinette is not far behind. Say what you will about von Trier, but between Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Bjork in Dancer in the Dark and Dunst here- he certainly has a history of directing some of the best roles for female actors. These are all tortured muses who give revelatory performances. Dunst’s Justine character is perhaps the most complex of the three performances from von Trier masterpieces mentioned. Justine is not a victim and sacrificial lamb like Breaking the Waves’ Bess or Bjork’s Selma in Dancer in the Dark. It does not appear von Trier is just after just sympathy for Justine. She suffers being bipolar (this is an oversimplification)—and on her wedding night is abandoned by everyone close to her: her husband, mother, father and sister. The planet is in many ways a metaphor for her illness (as she has ominous looks to the heavens)—and she seems to gain strength from it (bathing in the glow of the planet while laying nude on a rock in a gorgeous frame just after Gainsbourg’s stroll at the 85 min mark).
stylistic innovations/traits: Dunst is another strong performer who has credits in the archives far before she reached the age of adulthood. Her breakout came at just the age of twelve (12) in 1994 as a sort of living vampire doll with curls Claudia in Interview with a Vampire. In this role she proves herself worthy alongside the likes of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. In her career she has had some droughts where it seemed unlikely she would ever be considered for a list like this- but it is impossible to argue with the top of her resume. Dunst may not have the range of a Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchett, but neither of those great actresses have a performance in a masterpiece like Dunst in Melancholia.
directors worked with: Sofia Coppola (3) – and Dunst’s and Sofia’s work together has been truly special. One archiveable film a piece with Brian De Palma, Neil Jordan, Barry Levinson, Sam Raimi, Lars von Trier, Joe Nichols and Jane Campion.
top five performances:
- Marie Antoinette
- The Virgin Suicides
- The Power of the Dog
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
|1990- The Bonfire of the Vanities
|1994- Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
|1994- Little Women
|1997- Wag the Dog
|1999- The Virgin Suicides
|2004- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
|2004- Spider Man 2
|2006- Marie Antoinette
|2016- Midnight Special
|2017- The Beguiled
|2021- The Power of the Dog