We still can’t spot the difference between lapis and cerulean, but we do know a great Anne Hathaway performance when we see one.
For more than two decades, Hathaway, 39, has been a consistently welcome presence on the big and small screen, starring in Apple TV+’s wild “WeCrashed” series earlier this year. Her latest role is in James Gray’s autobiographical coming-of-age drama “Armageddon Time” (now in theaters nationwide), playing a 1980s Jewish housewife in New York opposite Jeremy Strong (HBO’s “Succession”), Anthony Hopkins and newcomer Banks Repeta.
Here’s how her performance in the film ranks among her other career-best turns:
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Almost no one comes out unscathed in Tom Hooper’s lifeless adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, which upon a recent re-watch, is somehow even more claustrophobic than you remember. Unlike many of her co-stars, Hathaway legitimately can sing, which every self-respecting “Ella Enchanted” fan has long known. And even if her performance as dying prostitute Fantine is at times overwrought, glimmers of pathos still shine through her tragic rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” shot in intrusively tight close-up.
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Hathaway is often the best part of mediocre movies (see: her inspired turn as a self-absorbed actress in “Ocean’s 8”). But “Serenity” is perhaps the finest example of how she can elevate laughably bad material, playing a bleach-fried Southern belle who seeks out her ex-husband (Matthew McConaughey) to kill her abusive new beau (Jason Clarke). Hathaway seems to be the only one in the cast who knows exactly what kind of film they’re making, dialing her performance up to an 11 as the pulpy, erotic thriller goes deliriously off the rails.
Hathaway won her hard-fought Oscar for 2012’s “Les Mis,” but we genuinely believe this was her more awards-worthy performance that year. No actress this century has been able to match Hathaway’s slinky, shifty take on small-time thief Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. As adept at throwing punches as she is at cracking one-liners, Hathaway masterfully switches between personas on a dime. (Her mere delivery of the word “oops” is still better than anything in a Marvel or DC movie since.)
Don’t let the treacly trailer fool you: “Armageddon Time” is as intelligent as it is challenging, with a sneakily powerful performance from Hathaway that avoids easy judgment. Playing the matter-of-fact Esther Graff, Hathaway warmly conveys tough love as she pushes her young son (Repeta) to dream bigger and succeed better than his parents. But she also stands by as racism and violent outbursts threaten to sever their close-knit family, and Hathaway hauntingly portrays Esther’s complicity.
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A year after “The Princess Diaries 2,” Hathaway proved her dramatic acting bona fides in Ang Lee’s gay cowboy romance, playing the wife of Jake Gyllenhaal’s starry eyed sheepherder. Hathaway makes the most of her limited screen time as Lureen, whose simmering denial about her husband’s sexuality always threatens to boil over. Her tearful, climactic phone call with Heath Ledger’s character is absolutely devastating.
Yes, Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are the obvious scene-stealers of this flawless fashion satire, about an aspiring journalist named Andy Sachs (Hathaway) who lands a sought-after magazine job under ice queen editor Miranda Priestly (Streep). But Hathaway is the glue that holds the movie together, expertly charting Andy’s journey from reluctant assistant to ruthless ladder climber. And her emotional later scenes with Streep are among the film’s very best, as Miranda fleetingly lets her guard down and Andy discovers an uneasy kindred spirit.
After a run of big-studio projects such as “Interstellar” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Hathaway got refreshingly weird in this low-budget sci-fi comedy, about a flailing writer who unwittingly controls a Godzilla-like monster whenever she’s drunk. Even when the film’s bold swings into darker territory don’t always land, Hathaway brings surprising depth to a character stuck in arrested development. She also has a blast with the movie’s physical comedy and pitch-black humor, exuding effortless charm in her scenes with Jason Sudeikis as a fellow layabout.
The Jonathan Demme drama is about one screaming match away from careening into tragedy porn, as a recovering addict named Kym (Hathaway) gets a temporary leave from rehab to attend the wedding of her older sister (Rosemarie DeWitt). But what ultimately saves the film is Hathaway’s remarkable restraint in conveying Kym’s deep pain and remorse over an unimaginable family tragedy. It’s a fiery yet fragile performance that netted Hathaway her well-deserved first Oscar nomination for best actress.
“Princess Diaries” is responsible for introducing most of the world to Hathaway, and 20 years later, the Disney comedy remains as endlessly watchable and quotable as ever. That’s thanks in large part to Hathaway’s winning turn as Mia Thermopolis, a gawky teenager who discovers that her estranged grandmother (Julie Andrews) is actually the queen of a small country. Hathaway hilariously portrays the growing pains of trying to learn royal etiquette while navigating dreamy boys and high-school bullies. But she also beautifully captures Mia’s transformation from a frustrated girl to a mature young woman, as Mia gracefully accepts her duty as a future princess without losing sight of who she is.
“The Intern” is not only a sorely underrated gem in Nancy Meyers’ stellar filmography, but it’s also a wonderful encapsulation of everything Hathaway does best. The cozy comedy follows a widower named Ben (Robert De Niro) who lands a position at a booming fashion startup as part of their senior internship program. Hathaway plays Jules, the company’s eager-to-please founder who knows she’s in over her head, but fears being seen as weak or incompetent in the rarified space of female CEOs.
Hathaway is achingly vulnerable and captivating, as Jules and Ben gradually open up and find comfort in each others’ friendship. But the film also works on a brilliantly meta level, coming on the heels of the so-called “Hathahate” that spewed from the internet following the actress’ exceedingly earnest Oscar campaign for “Les Mis.”
Jules is frequently perceived as being too ambitious and overbearing by those around her – criticisms that have similarly been lobbed at Hathaway through the years. The movie thoughtfully examines workplace double standards, as well as the pressures on women to be more passive than passionate. For Hathaway, it’s the perfect marriage of an actress and character, and a gentle reminder of just how extraordinary she can be.