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Marisa Tomei's Best Movie Performances

Marisa Tomei is one of the best working actresses in Hollywood, even if it took the world a fair amount of time to realize it. The two-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner has earned her place amongst the greats, continuously using her stellar acting chops and magnetic screen presence to elevate the films in which she has appeared. From standout performances in movies like "My Cousin Vinny," "The Wrestler," "Unhook the Stars," and "In the Bedroom," to smaller parts in films like "The Ides of March" and "The Paper," Tomei is one of those actors that proves that no role is too small to make your mark.

Tomei first gained some notoriety in television, appearing in 12 episodes of the daytime soap opera "As the World Turns" and a couple years later, in the first season of the "The Cosby Show" spinoff "A Different World." And though she had a few film appearances under her belt before 1992 – in films such as "The Flamingo Kid," "Playing for Keeps," and "Oscar" – it was that year's "My Cousin Vinny" that truly launched the actress to fame (and the Academy Award podium). Her work weathered some ups and downs from there, but Tomei has consistently kept working over the course of her career, which has spanned close to four decades now. Here are Marisa Tomei's best movie performances, in chronological order.

My Cousin Vinny

No list of Marisa Tomei roles could ever be complete without her iconic turn as Mona Lisa Vito in the 1992 hit "My Cousin Vinny," for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. In the film, personal injury lawyer Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) travels from New York to the South to defend two college students accused of murder. Tomei plays his loudmouth, flashy, surprisingly smart Brooklynite girlfriend. Tomei's Oscar win was somewhat of a surprise (and Tomei was targeted by a rather cruel rumor that it was an error because of this, per Snopes), as she had not received a ton of awards attention prior.

Critics were vocal about praising Tomei's performance. The Hollywood Reporter called it "wonderful," and The Washington Post declared "Tomei crackles and pops all over the screen." The legendary Roger Ebert was not a fan of the film, but praised Tomei and Pesci nonetheless. And writing for The Seattle Times, movie critic Michael Upchurch wrote, "As for Tomei, her brassy brand of comedy is a delight, especially when she starts talking automobile engines. 'My Cousin Vinny' is her vehicle — and she knows how to drive it."

Untamed Heart

Marisa Tomei was very active in the early 1990s, starring not only in "My Cousin Vinny," but also "Oscar," "Chaplin," and "Equinox." In 1993, she also took on a leading role in "Untamed Heart," which is the next entry on our list. The film focuses on Caroline (Tomei), a diner waitress and beauty school student who falls in love with a kindhearted dishwasher (played by Christian Slater) that rescues her from an assault. Their romance proves to be ill-fated, as Slater's character deteriorates due to a fatal heart defect.

"Untamed Heart" received mixed reviews from critics, though there was praise for the performance (from Tomei and Slater, as well as co-star Rosie Perez). "The perfs prove so earnest the movie largely works on its own terms, particularly for those looking for a traditional 'good cry," Variety said in its review, while also noting the "corn" factor. Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert said that Tomei was "winning and warm" in the role, and the Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten maintained that she "proves herself kept adept here at dramatic roles" after her "My Cousin Vinny" success.

The Paper

"The Paper" was a 1994 dramedy about tabloid editor Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton), running through 24 hours of his life at work and home. Specifically, the movie focuses on the impact that the intense work and long hours is having on Henry's domestic life, and Marisa Tomei plays his pregnant wife Martha, a fellow reporter who is on maternity leave and fed up with Henry's lack of attentiveness. Her role is minor, but in a large ensemble that includes Glenn Close, Randy Quaid, Robert Duvall, and more, Tomei more than holds her own amongst the heavyweights.

While there are not a ton of reviews out there, the critics were generally kind to the film as a whole. Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars, and The Washington Post wrote that,"Keaton is winningly hyper, and he's nicely foiled by Tomei and Close." And in his Rolling Stone review, noted critic Peter Travers maintained that Tomei was "ever-entrancing" in her role as the put-upon wife.

Only You

Also in 1994, Marisa Tomei starred in the romantic comedy "Only You," once again appearing alongside Robert Downey Jr., with whom she co-starred in "Chaplin" two years earlier. The movie is set in Italy, where Tomei's character Faith Corvatch flies to search for a man with the name she is convinced belongs to her soulmate. It's schlocky and cutesy and predictable, but as a rom-com, "Only You" works. Tomei and Downey Jr. have good chemistry, and the plot is complicated enough to hold the movie together — though it does pale in comparison next to Norman Jewison's most famous romantic comedy, "Moonstruck."

Variety's Todd McCarthy had mostly positive things to say about Tomei's performance, writing "Cast at least partly for her Audrey Hepburn gamin quality, Tomei comes on a little strong for some tastes, but her enthusiasm and ordinary-gal quality will get most viewers rooting for her." Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars and praised the film for its breeziness and charm. "I hope Marisa Tomei understands it is a compliment when I say that in 'Only You' she has some of Doris Day's sunny warmth," he wrote in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Unhook the Stars

Marisa Tomei starred in two movies in 1995 — "Four Rooms" and "The Perez Family" — neither of which were as good as her memorable guest stint on "Seinfeld" that same year. But 1996 is when she turned in another truly remarkable performance, appearing as Monica Warren in "Unhook the Stars" opposite Gena Rowlands. Tomei received a nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role from the Screen Actors Guild for her portrayal of Monica, a foul-mouthed mom who recently kicked out an abusive husband and who must ask her neighbor Mildred (Rowlands) to help watch her son.

"She has that rare chameleon-like trait that flows unassisted from our greatest actors and actresses: she never plays a part, she becomes it, body and soul," wrote the Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov. "It's an amazing ability, completely a joy to watch, and never more so than here. In a film positively packed with bravura, heartfelt performances, Tomei tops them all." Despite that SAG nomination, most other reviews focused much more on Rowlands than Tomei. Still, when she was mentioned, it was always in a positive fashion. "Tomei is perfectly cast as a sexy, decent, uneducated woman determined to give her son a better life than she has had," said Variety's critic in their review.

Slums of Beverly Hills

"Slums of Beverly Hills" was a tiny movie that grossed only $5.5 million, and showed in only 253 theatres, per Box Office Mojo. Still, the movie has an 81% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes, and Marisa Tomei is great in the flick. She plays Rita Abramowitz, daughter of the wealthy Mickey, who supports his brother's nomadic, wayward family in this zany comedy. Rita has recently fled rehab, is staying with her uncle's family while (sort of) attending nursing school and is being babysat by her teenage cousin Vivian (Natasha Lyonne).

"Tomei hasn't been this good in years," wrote CNN's reviewer Paul Tatara. "There's an underlying level of sadness to her performance that somehow never manages to get mawkish." Variety also wrote a positive review, in which the reviewer commented that Tomei was "spunky and sexy" but also "more subdued than she usually is." For her work in "Slums of Beverly Hills," Tomei was nominated for an American Comedy Award (for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture) and a Teen Choice Award (for Funniest Scene, alongside Lyonne).

What Women Want

The late nineties were not the strongest time of Marisa Tomei's career — she was not necessarily in a slump, but she also was not booking a lot of leading lady roles in big blockbusters. After "Slums of Beverly Hills," her next film did not come out until 2000, and of the five roles she portrayed in 2000, it was her minor appearance in "What Women Want" that was the standout. In the Mel Gibson comedy, advertising executive Nick Marshall (Gibson) begins to hear the inner thoughts of every female he encounters. This includes Tomei, who plays an aspiring actress who works at a coffee shop and is a love interest for Nick.

Tomei is a riot as Lola — in particular, in an unforgettable sex scene that has Nick reading her thoughts throughout the act — though she gets unfortunately dumped due to the internal monologue Nick hears. The role even earned Tomei a nod for Best Support Actress — Musical or Comedy at the Satellite Awards. Variety said that "Tomei shoots off some amusingly unpredictable sparks as a woman who finds Nick uniquely probing."

In the Bedroom

"In the Bedroom" marked Marisa Tomei's return to the awards circuit in a major way, and it also quieted those awful (mythical) rumors surrounding her one Oscar win. Tomei was not only nominated for the second time at the Academy Awards for her work in "In the Bedroom," but she also earned nominations for the Golden Globe Awards, Critics Choice Movie Awards, and Satellite Awards, amongst others. She also won Best Supporting Actress honors from both the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association and the Southeastern Film Critics Association.

Tomei plays Natalie Strout in the film, a divorced woman who falls in love with a much younger man, who is then killed by her violent ex. "In the Bedroom" has a whopping 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, and much attention was paid to the performances from Tomei and co-stars Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. Roger Ebert said that, "every performance has perfect tone," in his Chicago Sun-Times review, and Variety's Todd McCarthy wrote that "Tomei is winning in what is surely her most naturalistic and unaffected performance."

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Marisa Tomei stayed busy after "In the Bedroom," though a few of the movies she made were clunkers, such as culturally offensive "The Guru" and "Anger Management," which did well at the box office but was far from a critics darling. "Alfie" and "Factotum" were decent, but she was not given the chance to properly shine again until "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" in 2007. The complex crime thriller focused on Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a white-collar criminal planning to flee the country due to circumstances that are going to reveal his criminal activities. Tomei plays Andy's wife Gina, who is having an affair with his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke), a man under his brother's thumb who helps him with a scheme to find the funds for him to escape to Brazil.

"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" was the final film from famed director Sidney Lumet, and it popped up on many critics list of best films for 2007. Though the role is small, Tomei stands out her for both her strong performance, and because she is one of the few women in the ensemble film. "Leave it to Lumet to cast the under-used, under-appreciated and always good Marisa Tomei as the sexpot sleeping with both brothers," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle's critic Mike LaSalle. "It's a daring part – she spends a lot of time naked, in a role with uncharacteristically harsh edges – but she and Lumet turn it into the kind of showcase that can make casting directors expand their notion of a 'Marisa Tomei role.'"

The Wrestler

Tomei's work in 2008's "The Wrestler" is some of her career best, and it put her back on the awards circuit. She cleaned up with Best Support Actress awards from critics groups, including the film critic societies for Detroit, San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Florida, and Oklahoma. She also received an Academy Award nomination (her career third), a British Academy of Film and Television Awards nomination, a Broadcast Film Critics Award nomination, and a Golden Globe Awards nomination. She did not win any of the larger awards, though she was certainly worthy of them. And with 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie is one of Tomei's best reviewed films.

The film was about a washed-up wrestler named Randy "The Ram" Ramzinski (played by a fantastic Mickey Rourke), struggling to hold onto his minor fame as he works part-time at a grocery store and navigates a messy relationship with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). Tomei plays Cassidy (a.k.a. Pam), a beautiful but hardened stripper that Randy befriends at a strip club he frequents. "Marisa Tomei takes what might have been a cliche and turns it into something complex and dignified. Underneath this dancer's practiced exterior lies a world of sophisticated reactions, thoughts and pains she has learned to keep to herself," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle's Mike LaSalle. "Tomei simply does not allow herself to be upstaged by her own nudity, and that's a tribute to the actress' investment and to the clarity and specificity of her acting."


Despite its 80% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, not all audiences thought "Cyrus" was a great film, what with the much lower score of 53%. Nonetheless, Marisa Tomei shines in the movie as a single mom named Molly Fawcett, whose adult son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) becomes a crux in her budding relationship with the recently divorced John Kilpatrick (John C. Reilly). Molly and Cyrus have an overly co-dependent relationship, which causes Cyrus to become overprotective and defensively sabotage the romance.

Many of the big movie critics enjoyed the film, and they praised Tomei's genuine performance and tender chemistry with Reilly. Though the Austin Chronicle maintained that her talents were "wasted," which they dubbed "a serious crime against cinema," famed critic Roger Ebert felt that Tomei had "the trickiest role." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called Tomei "irresistible," and Rolling Stone's renowned critic Peter Travers said the acting "could not be better" and that Tomei portrayed her character "with an irresistible blend of humor, heart and hotness."

The Lincoln Lawyer

Marisa Tomei had four movies released in 2011, with "The Lincoln Lawyer" being the second. In the movie, she plays Maggie McPherson, a district attorney and the ex-wife of Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey), a criminal defense attorney who does his work from the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln town car. It is one of McConaughey's defining roles (he now does Lincoln ads, after all), and Collider has even claimed that the film launched a "McConaissance." For Tomei, it is not career defining so much as a stellar performance in a small role in a good (but not great) movie.

Many reviews called out the supporting cast — including a named Tomei — for being some variation of great, including Newsday ("terrific"), the Chicago Reader ("excellent"), and USA Today ("top-flight"). The late Roger Ebert, in particular, had quite sweet things to say about Tomei. "When Tomei walks into a movie, it's like the Queen came into the room. I want to stand up," he wrote. "I know why Lady Gaga wants Marisa to play her in a biopic. It's not because they look like sisters. It's because every woman, and many men, would love to have a smile like Marisa Tomei's." That said, many — like The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt -– considered Tomei "brutally underused," knowing all of the tools in her chockfull toolbox.

The Ides of March

The political drama "The Ides of March" – which also came out in 2011 — is another example of Marisa Tomei taking a rather small role and making the most of it. Here she appears as Ida Horowicz, a shady New York Times reporter who leverages anonymous information she receives to attempt to blackmail a young campaign manager (played by Ryan Gosling) into give her a big scoop. Tomei is one cog in the well-acted wheel that contains a cast of fantastic thespians including George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, and Jeffrey Wright.

Though she is not the lead, Tomei garnered some praise as part of the supporting cast — often in the form of a list of actors who did good work. However, a few reviews for "The Ides of March" — which were quite positive overall — did single out her portrayal. For example, The Wrap said, "Marisa Tomei feels completely convincing as a New York Times reporter constantly angling for a story," and The Hollywood Reporter wrote that "Marisa Tomei's crafty Times reporter is delightfully smart and underhanded." It should also be noted that Tomei was similarly great in "Crazy, Stupid, Love," one of her other films that year.

The King of Staten Island

It is not that Marisa Tomei did not do good work between 2011 and 2020, it is simply that our list has a finite number of spots, and she is such a prolific actress that we had to make some hard choices. Nevertheless, the decade had her taking on everything from playing Aunt May in the "Spider-Man" movies to a memorable guest stint on the television drama "Empire." It is her part in 2020's "The King of Staten Island," however, that closes out our list. Tomei played Margie Carlin in the Judd Apatow film, which stars Pete Davidson in a semi-autobiographical role. Like Davidson, his character Scott Carlin lost his firefighter father as a youngster, is from Staten Island, and has many medical issues, for starters.

Scott is a dropout who lives at home with his mother (Tomei's Margie) and sister, and who develops a major chip on his shoulder when Margie starts dating firefighter Ray (Bill Burr). Though the movie is very much a Davidson vehicle, Tomei shines in her role as a put-upon mom who has not fully moved on from her loss. The Hollywood Reporter's review claimed that "Tomei is a particular joy as a woman who sees the limitations of the men around her very clearly, and indulges them until she doesn't," and The New Yorker said "Not since Barbara Stanwyck has an actress blended zest and pathos into such expressive chords." Even Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson that Tomei "should be the star of the movie" — and in our eyes, she is.