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Amy Adams' Best Movie And TV Performances To Date

Amy Adams is considered to be one of the best actors working today, and she has six Oscar nominations as proof. The Italian-born actress (an army brat, her family settled in Colorado when she was eight) got her start in 1999 with a supporting role in the comedy "Drop Dead Gorgeous," but really took off with a notable supporting role in 2002's "Catch Me If You Can," opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.

In 2005 Adams appeared in what would be her breakout lead performance, in Phil Morrison's "Junebug," for which she would receive her first Oscar nom. Since then, she has gone on to become one of Hollywood's top leading ladies, tackling genres from drama to romantic comedy to sci-fi and fantasy, as well as a diverse slate of characters including famed real-life painter Margaret Keane, Dick Cheney's wife Lynne, Lois Lane and, of course, the sweet-singing Giselle in "Enchanted."

With over 60 credits to her name in barely 20 years, Adams has had a prolific career. With her talent, it can be difficult to pin down which of these credits can be considered her very best performances. But looking back, some have lingered longer than others and seem likely to continue standing the test of time. With that in mind, here are the very best of Adams' performances, on either TV or in film, to date.

"The Master" (2012)

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, "The Master" followed Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran struggling with his trauma from serving in the navy during World War II who got pulled into a religious movement by its charming leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). In a role that earned Adams her fourth Oscar nomination, she was cast as Peggy Dodd, the troubled-yet-resilient wife to Lancaster.

At first appearing to be a straightforward compliant wife to her cult leader husband, Peggy proved to be much more layered than the viewer might have initially expected. The Hollywood Reporter said in its review: "Adams at first appears restricted by the subordinate status of obedient wife who dutifully sits on the sidelines. But she notices everything and always steps in ... with crucial contributions when she needs to. Adams underplays it all to strong effect."

NPR also noted this complexity — and made a bold declaration about Adams's portrayal of it. "For worse rather than better, nobody understands Dodd better than his wife, a steely china doll who panders to his furtive sexuality while using it to dominate him," wrote critic Ella Taylor in 2012. "If Amy Adams doesn't clear Best Supporting Actress for her chillingly proto-fascist turn, there's no justice in Hollywood." 

As we now know, Adams did not win the Oscar — and is, in fact, still waiting for one. Despite the many nominations, her supporters and film observers alike have begun a groundswell, insisting that she needs to get some gold on her mantel, stat.

"Big Eyes" (2014)

Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (the team behind "Man on the Moon") and directed by Tim Burton, "Big Eyes" took on the real-life story of painter Margaret Keane (Adams), whose work went mis-credited for years as her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) took the credit.

It's never easy depicting a real life person on screen — either it seems like an over-the-top impression or the actor's depiction is so good it's Oscar-worthy (and the Academy sure does love a good biopic). Adams' work here didn't quite earn her the Oscar (although she did win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy), but it was far greater than some second-rate impression.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote in its 2014 review: "Adams' first-rate performance illuminates both the reticent and creatively compulsive sides of Keane's personality, although no one may ever know where it all came from and why she basically painted the same picture over and over again for years."  

Variety argued that Adams' performance brought a sense of understanding to the elusive painter: "Adams manages to supply the film with a compelling center, showing Margaret's tireless painting to be at once a concession to Walter's demands, a vital creative outlet and an eloquent act of defiance."

"American Hustle" (2013)

"American Hustle," directed by David O. Russell, centered on con-artists Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Adams). After being caught by an FBI agent played by Bradley Cooper, the characters were forced to work undercover in a sting operation targeted at New Jersey's mayor, Carmine Polito (played by Jeremy Renner).

As an ensemble film, there was a whole lot of talent going around between the key players. But Adams, as a sly con-artist, held her own amongst the array of stars. The New Yorker wrote of her performance: "Amy Adams has played nice ('Junebug,' 'Doubt'), and she has played hard ('The Master'); this movie allows her to pull the two together, and she's remarkably vivid in scene after scene."

The flick gave way to Adams' fifth Oscar nomination — and first for a leading role. From Sydney's introduction at the beginning of the film (and beginning of the sting), during which she's pretending to be the British Lady Edith, to the surprisingly happy ending, she did exactly that: lead.

"Junebug" (2005)

Adams' breakout role was in this 2005 Phil Morrison film, following a Chicago-based art dealer named Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), who is convinced by her husband George (Alessandro Nivola) to visit his family in North Carolina on their way to meet a Southern-based client. Right away, Madeleine finds herself clashing with George's family — but finds a friend in his very pregnant sister-in-law Ashley (Adams).

Some critics praised this film more than others (it has a solid 80 Metascore on Metacritic), but the one thing they all seemed to agree on was Adams' memorable performance. The Boston Globe declared in its review: "Adams is the reason to see ”Junebug,' period, full stop." Meanwhile, Slant Magazine praised her "incredible range of emotions."

While it may not have the same boldness as some of the other performances on this list, "Junebug" is worth tracking down, if only to watch the film that announced a new rising talent in Hollywood.

"Sharp Objects" (2018)

Adams isn't known for her television work, although she did do early guest spots on "The Office" and "King of the Hill." It wasn't until she was a star and signed on to headline the 2018 HBO miniseries "Sharp Objects" that Adams really had a chance to shine on the small screen. 

In the psychological thriller based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, Adams played crime reporter Camille Preaker, an alcoholic recently released from a psychiatric hospital for self-harming. Assigned to cover the murder of a young girl, Camille must return to her hometown, battle old demons — and overcome an overbearing mother (Patricia Clarkson) while struggling to do her job.

"Sharp Objects" did just about everything right — the story was intriguing, the tone pitch-perfect and the mystery reveal a true surprise. Several name actors got their chance to shine, but it was Adams who singlehandedly drove the plot forward and kept the audience engaged.

The Guardian summed up such praise in its review: "Adams is even better than we've seen her before, giving us an absolutely mesmerizing portrait of a woman ground down from within by what she has suffered and with no energy left even to hope for salvation."

"The Fighter" (2010)

Marking Adams' first collaboration with David O. Russell (and Christian Bale), "The Fighter" told the brutal true tale of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward, played in the film by Mark Wahlberg. 

Set in working-class Lowell, Massachusetts, the film depicted Ward's boxing career and family life, intertwined to an unhealthy degree that included half-brother/trainer Dicky (Bale) and mother/manager Alice (Melissa Leo). One key scene took place after an intense fight in which Micky not only lost the match but almost his life — in it, he decided to sever business ties with his family at the advice of his girlfriend Charlene (Adams).

Earning an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actress, Adams more than held her own amongst the ensemble cast. RealTalk Movie Reviews wrote that each member of the cast, Adams included, "deliver knockout performances."

Yet, despite the praise for all actors across the board, there was something about Adams' performance that made Charlene one of the most memorable aspects of the film. The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "The most luminous personality in the film belongs to Adams' Charlene. She too is a woman who takes charge but she does it through strength of character and love."

Ultimately, Adams once again did not win the Oscar. But she did inspire Heidi Gardner's brilliant "Every Boxer's Girlfriend" character on "Saturday Night Live," which just might be a bigger tribute.

"Enchanted" (2007)

One of the earliest performances on this list, Adams' turn in "Enchanted" proved that the actress was meant to be a leading lady. 

Written by Bill Kelly and directed by Kevin Lima, "Enchanted" followed Princess Giselle (Adams), who lived in a fairy tale land and fell for Prince Edward (James Marsden). Since Edward's mother Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) didn't want to give up the title of queen, the move earned Giselle banishment from the kingdom to modern day Manhattan. Completely lost in this new foreign land, Giselle was aided by divorce attorney Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and the duo began falling in love — until Edward appeared in Manhattan as well, determined to save her.

The movie was charming and sweet, just as one would expect from a Disney princess story, and the real-world element added a refreshing twist to classic princess tropes. But it was Adams in the leading role that really gave the film its majesty. "Like the Cinderella figure she plays in Disney's Enchanted, Amy Adams spreads a contagion of delight," Joe Morgenstern wrote in his Wall Street Journal review. "The movie is great fun, but she's enchanting."

"Above all, Amy Adams, who, in the role of a would-be princess, finds true momentum, not just sappiness, in the farce of innocence," agreed The New Yorker in its review.

"Doubt" (2008)

A year after "Enchanted," Adams took on a film with a very different tone with "Doubt." 

Set in 1964 in the Bronx, the film cast Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a conservative nun and principal of a Catholic school. When an abusive relationship was suspected between the school's first Black student Donald (Joseph Foster) and a progressive priest named Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Aloysius became determined to find the truth. Adams was cast as Sister James, a naive new teacher who plays a key role in Aloysius first suspecting Flynn of abusive behavior.

Still early in her career, Adams was just beginning to make real impressions with audiences at the time that "Doubt" was released. Although the central tension of the film is between Streep's Aloysius and Hoffman's Flynn, it was Adams' performance that held its own against those titans of cinema, acting as a significant stepping stone in her career.

Slant Magazine called Adams "perfect as the young, trusting Sister James," while The Independent Critic declared her a "stellar choice."

"Nocturnal Animals" (2016)

Written and directed by Tom Ford, this little-seen film follows Susan Morrow (Adams), a successful art gallery owner whose seemingly perfect life was interrupted after receiving a manuscript written by her estranged ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). While reading the manuscript, Susan found herself forced to confront her past, including the demise of her marriage.

Looking back now, there are many compelling elements to the film — from the gorgeous cinematography to the meta storyline with multiple narrative threads at work — and the performances are absolutely one of the most notable. In terms of Adams' performance specifically, The Hollywood Reporter believed that hers proved to be the "compelling center." 

"She fully inhabits every flicker of Susan's complex emotional responses, right through to the quiet gut-punch of the final scene, in which Edward's payback becomes complete," the THR review read. Meanwhile, the Seattle Times remarked that it was "uncanny" that Adams had the ability to make the viewer care about a character who, at her surface, was "shallow" and cold.

Those who have seen "Nocturnal Animals" know that the ending is both gut-wrenching and satisfying — as is Adams' performance as Susan.

"Her" (2013)

Set in Los Angeles in the near future, and focused on a lonely writer played by Joaquin Phoenix, Spike Jonze's "Her" blew minds by depicting a new operating system with an artificially intelligent virtual assistant who came across like a sexy Alexa.

Finding himself deeply connected with the assistant "Samantha" (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), Phoenix's character began a full-fledged relationship. Adams was cast as Amy, a friend and confidant of Phoenix's character.

In terms of acting in "Her," the film was mostly a showcase for Phoenix, as well as Johansson's vocal skills. Yet Adams, who by this point had proven herself capable of leading a film, shone in a handful of scenes as a minor character in the grand scheme of the story.

Even with her limited screen time, Adams managed to strike a chord with viewers. The Independent wrote that she encompassed "strange melancholy, quiet yearning, a kind of bittersweet malaise. [The film] grants Adams the most un-showy part ... yet one that she fills with blissful humanity. Here she is soft, slightly wounded, and yet nervously hopeful about things to come."

"Arrival" (2016)

Of course, no list of great Amy Adams performances would be complete without this Denis Villeneuve film, which followed her linguistics professor Louise Banks  — recruited to make contact with extraterrestrial visitors after 12 mysterious spaceships touch down in various places around Earth.

The cinematography of "Arrival" was stunning, as was the captivating storyline — and at the center of it all was Adams, grounding the story and driving it forward. RogerEbert.com wrote: "Adams imbues Louise with a quiet, effective emotional undercurrent that's essential to the film's success." Meanwhile, Flick Feast — amongst others — called her turn as Louise Banks a "career-defining role" for the actress.

In their piece lamenting Adams' Oscar snub, Variety summed up Adams' stellar work in the film, writing: "She brought a wide-eyed enthusiasm combined with realism and gravitas to scenes where she was literally acting against nothing ... When called upon to save humanity, there are few actresses that can live up to the task. Adams pulled it off with intelligence and heart."

Will Amy Adams ever win that elusive Oscar? The good news is that, until she does, we'll probably keep getting amazing performances like those listed above.