Nicole Kidman: 10 essential films

On her 53rd birthday, we celebrate some of the highlights from the luminous career of Nicole Kidman.

20 June 2017

By Neil Mitchell

Birth (2004)

Born in Honolulu, Australian/American star Nicole Kidman has rarely been out of the showbiz spotlight since she secured her first screen credit with a minor role in the Australian fashion industry-set TV movie Skin Deep in 1983. A graceful, intelligent actor with a broader emotional and tonal range than she is often given credit for, Kidman would go on to establish herself as one of the highest paid stars of her generation.

It’s not all been high points, however: the collapse of her marriage to Hollywood golden boy Tom Cruise, accusations of aloofness from the media and her appearances in some less than stellar films (The Invasion, I’m looking at you) have provided their own respective off-screen and on-screen challenges down the years.

Fast forward to 2017, though, and Kidman appears to be in the rudest of health, both personally and professionally. Roles in both small-scale indies such as Strangerland (2015) and in hotly anticipated productions such as Jane Campion’s forthcoming TV mini-series Top of the Lake: China Girl have shown Kidman still has the appetite for dramatically interesting roles.

BMX Bandits (1983)

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

BMX Bandits (1983)

1983 was a big year for the then 16-year-old Kidman, with supporting turns in three Australian films as well as a starring role in Brian Trenchard-Smith’s knockabout crime caper BMX Bandits. As Judy, one of a trio of bike riding teens who bring down a gang of bank robbers, Kidman is the fresh-faced, energetic heart of Trenchard-Smith’s action-packed family adventure. Proving her a natural in front of the camera, BMX Bandits was the first memorable step of Kidman’s career.

Bangkok Hilton (TV, 1989)

Director: Ken Cameron

Bangkok Hilton (1989)

At the end of the 1980s, Kidman appeared in two productions that would seal her status as a rising star: Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm and Ken Cameron’s three-part TV mini-series Bangkok Hilton. In the lead role of Katrina Stanton, Kidman headed an impressive cast that included Denholm Elliott, Hugo Weaving and Judy Morris in a gripping, life-or-death tale of wrongful imprisonment, betrayal and familial love. Kidman carries off Katrina’s journey, from isolated heiress to worldly-wise prison escapee, with aplomb in this well-regarded small-screen drama.

Dead Calm (1989)

Director: Phillip Noyce

Dead Calm (1989)

International stardom beckoned for Kidman after her performance as Rae Ingram in Phillip Noyce’s taut adaptation of Charles Williams’ 1963 novel Dead Calm. A tense, claustrophobic psychological thriller set aboard a yacht on the Pacific, Dead Calm is, for much of its running time, a two-header between Kidman’s endangered Rae and Billy Zane’s psychotic captor Hughie. Kidman, still only 22 at the time, showed real commitment and drive in fulfilling a demanding role that was heavy on physical action and emotional acting.

To Die For (1995)

Director: Gus Van Sant

To Die For (1995)

Kidman deservedly won the best actress award at the 1996 Golden Globes for her mesmerising portrayal of Suzanne Stone-Maretto, the Machiavellian, murderous and media-obsessed local TV weather girl in Gus Van Sant’s critically praised black comedy To Die For. An irresistible mix of steely determination, charming naivety and, eventually, cold-hearted ruthlessness, Kidman’s Stone-Maretto is a riveting encapsulation of the lengths some people will go to for fame in the multimedia age. Kidman has rarely, if ever, been on better form.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

As difficult as it was to stand out amid the wild, kaleidoscopic visual stylings of Baz Luhrmann’s jukebox musical Moulin Rouge!, Kidman managed to do just that as star courtesan and cabaret actress Satine. Cast alongside Ewan McGregor (as English writer and poet Christian), Kidman dazzled in a romantic, pop-culture-laden tale high on energy, passion and audaciously choreographed sequences. Kidman would break a rib during a physically demanding shoot, before being nominated for best actress at the 2002 Academy Awards for her efforts.

Birthday Girl (2001)

Director: Jez Butterworth

Birthday Girl (2001)

After high-profile roles in Moulin Rouge! and The Others (2001), as well as an equally high-profile divorce from Tom Cruise, Kidman finished 2001 by starring in the altogether lower-key British romantic comedy thriller Birthday Girl. A fine example of Kidman’s penchant for eclectic projects, Jez Butterworth’s undervalued movie saw Kidman cast as the chic and mysterious Russian mail order bride ‘Nadia’. By turns enigmatic, devious, tragic and seductive, Kidman effortlessly shone in a role often overlooked when discussing her career.

The Hours (2002)

Director: Stephen Daldry

The Hours (2002)

Always one to fully inhabit a character, Kidman both literally and metaphorically disappeared into the role of doomed modernist writer Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s 1998 novel The Hours. With her own facial features buried under prosthetic makeup so as to recreate Woolf’s distinct features, Kidman proceeded to convincingly convey the passionate talent and emotional turmoil that consumed and eventually drove Woolf to commit suicide. A multi-award-winning production, The Hours saw Kidman claim the 2003 Academy Award for best actress.

Dogville (2003)

Director: Lars von Trier

Dogville (2003)

After her award-winning turn in The Hours, Kidman delivered an equally commanding performance as Grace Margaret Mulligan in Lars von Trier’s Dogville. A near three-hour, minimalist, arthouse drama, von Trier’s innovative self-penned tale saw Kidman’s central protagonist seek shelter from the mob in the small American town of Dogville. Leading an ensemble cast that included the likes of Lauren Bacall, James Caan and Ben Gazzara, Kidman drew praise for her turn in this challenging, Brechtian parable, the stylistic approach of which irked as many as it impressed.

Birth (2004)

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Birth (2004)

In accepting the lead role of Anna in Jonathan Glazer’s ominous tale of reincarnation and eternal love, Kidman committed to a project that would attract controversy and split critics and audiences alike. An austere, intelligent drama with metaphysical leanings, Birth controversially included scenes in which Kidman and her 10-year-old co-star, Cameron Bright, kissed and shared a bathtub – both integral sequences in the narrative’s trajectory. As with Dogville, Birth may have had its vehement detractors, but Kidman’s emotionally nuanced performance deservedly drew rich critical praise.

The Paperboy (2012)

Director: Lee Daniels

The Paperboy (2012)

It’s fair to say that Lee Daniel’s earthy and critically divisive drama The Paperboy afforded Kidman the opportunity to indulge her wilder side. As Charlotte Bless, Kidman famously got to urinate on Zac Efron’s Jack Jansen to alleviate a jellyfish sting, as well as take part in a highly inappropriate, public bout of dirty talk with John Cusack’s convicted murderer Hillary Van Wetter. Kidman’s award-nominated turn was a beautiful rebuttal of the media-led image of the actor being somehow cold or aloof.

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