Total Recall

Definitive Kate Winslet Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we look back at the films that helped define the Triple 9 star's career.

by | February 24, 2016 | Comments

One of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed actors of her generation, Kate Winslet has been in movies that have collectively grossed more than a billion dollars and she’s three-fourths of the way to an EGOT — and although this weekend’s Triple 9 won’t get her any closer to that hallowed achievement, it offers us the perfect occasion to take a fond look back at some of the brightest critical highlights in a filmography full of them. It’s time for Total Recall!

Heavenly Creatures (1994) 92%

Director Peter Jackson’s impressively violent early work might have made him a natural fit for a movie about the grisly true-life tale of two teenage girls (played by Winslet and Melanie Lynskey) whose obsessive relationship leads to a shocking act of brutality — but few of his fans could have been prepared for Heavenly Creatures, an absorbing, assured film that blended elements of drama, science fiction, and romance while drawing beautifully compelling performances from its leads. Ultimately nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the Academy Awards, Creatures vaulted Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh to international acclaim, jump-started Winslet’s film career, and wowed critics like David Rooney of Variety, who wrote that it “Combines original vision, a drop-dead command of the medium and a successful marriage between a dazzling, kinetic techno-show and a complex, credible portrait of the out-of-control relationship between the crime’s two schoolgirl perpetrators.”

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Sense and Sensibility (1995) 98%

Jane Austen’s books have inspired countless films, but with 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, director Ang Lee proved there was still cinematic gold yet to be spun from her stories. Working from an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also starred as the noble Elinor Dashwood), this adaptation offered a faithful representation of Austen’s 1811 novel about the financial and romantic aftershocks that reverberate through a landed British family after their patriarch passes away. Bolstered by an excellent ensemble cast that also included Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, Sensibility resonated with Jeanne Aufmuth of the Palo Alto Weekly, who echoed the sentiments of the vast majority of her peers when she asked, “Enduring love, heartbreak, undying passion and bitter betrayal. What more could you ask from Jane Austen, and for that matter, from a film?”

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Jude (1996) 81%

Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure got the big-screen treatment with this 1996 adaptation courtesy of director Michael Winterbottom, who cast Winslet and Christopher Eccleston as the tormented couple at the heart of the story. The tale of 19th-century cousins who attempt to build a life for themselves in spite of many cruel obstacles imposed by class, culture, and religion, Jude is decidedly dark stuff, with a final act that packs a gut-punch even by the standards of Victorian-era arthouse pictures. If watching it isn’t exactly easy, it was well worth the effort according to most critics — including James Berardinelli of ReelViews, who wrote, “This is a film of tremendous scope and emotional depth that uncovers the soul of a novel and brings it to life on the screen.”

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Hamlet (1996) 95%

Try adapting Hamlet for the screen after all these years, and you’d better bring something special to the table — and to his credit, that’s exactly what writer/director/star Kenneth Branagh did with his 1996 take on the classic Shakespeare play, leaving no dramatic stone unturned in a sprawling four-hour epic boasting the acting talents of an equally hefty cast that included Winslet, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Charlton Heston…you get the idea. Although they’d seen it adapted countless times before, critics couldn’t help but be impressed by Branagh’s Hamlet; as James Berardinelli wrote for ReelViews, “I have seen dozens of versions of this play (either on screen or on stage), and none has ever held me in such a grip of awe.”

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Titanic (1997) 89%

Take one of the most infamous seafaring disasters in history and overlay it with a tragic love story between two beautiful people, and what do you have? Titanic, otherwise known as the blockbuster that sent millions of moviegoers fumbling for their Kleenex while Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio fought for their lives aboard the titular capsizing ocean liner. It wasn’t the first Titanic film — or even the first one named Titanic — but James Cameron’s iceberg-bound romance certainly struck a chord with audiences, setting sail to the tune of more than $1.8 billion in worldwide grosses. And it’s a good thing, too: at $200 million, it set a new record for the most expensive film ever made, causing many an ulcer on the Fox executive board (and ultimately earning Cameron a hefty chunk of money through his percentage of the profits). And oh by the way, while audiences were filing into the 194-minute Titanic in droves, critics were lining up to give it praise — including Newsweek’s David Ansen, who called it “big, bold, touchingly uncynical filmmaking.”

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Iris (2001) 79%

Acting opportunities don’t come much meatier than Iris, a dramatization of literary critic and writer Jim Bayley’s memoirs about his life with novelist Iris Murdoch — and director Richard Eyre lined up a cast more than willing to make the most of it. Both Winslet, who stars as Murdoch as a younger woman, and Judi Dench, who portrays the author in her later years, earned Academy Award nominations for their work — as did Jim Broadbent, who played the elder Bayley. “It’s not only that Murdoch and Bayley had just that kind of kinship over the span of a 40-plus year marriage,” marveled Kenneth Turan for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s that the actors manage an identically close and intimate relationship both to each other and to the characters they play.”

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) 93%

It would take a special kind of heartbreak to make a person want to completely purge their memories of a former love — and it’s very much to Winslet’s credit that she managed to convincingly embody just that sort of tempestuous, bewitchingly unobtainable affection in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Starring opposite Jim Carrey, Winslet played one-half of a star-crossed couple whose agonizing ups and downs lead them to seek out a groundbreaking therapy that will rid them of their pain…and that’s when things get really weird. A mindbending, critically beloved love story as well as one of the most eye-catching films of the early aughts, Sunshine finds director Michel Gondry (working from a script by Charlie Kaufman) riddling the drama with stunning visual effects that, depending on what you want out of the movie, either deepen its metaphorical layers of meaning or are simply really cool to look at. It’s admittedly too strange and/or chilly to appeal to everyone, but at its heart, the movie lives up to Mariko McDonald of Film Threat’s assessment of it as “fresh, heartfelt and ultimately heartbreaking in its honest portrayal of a modern relationship.”

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Finding Neverland (2004) 83%

Sticklers for accuracy bristled at the liberties it took with J.M. Barrie’s life story, but Finding Neverland was still good enough for audiences — who made it a $100 million-plus hit — and the Academy, which bestowed Johnny Depp with a Best Actor nomination for his work as the playwright and Peter Pan author. Neverland finds Barrie nursing his wounds after the failure of his most recent play, befriending a widow (Kate Winslet) and her young boys, and taking inspiration from their unorthodox friendship — even as helps cost him his own marriage and puts him at odds with the boys’ grandmother (Julie Christie). “Plenty of narrative liberties have been taken,” admitted Jason Blake of the Sydney Morning Herald, but argued that “It doesn’t matter a jot. At heart, this isn’t a biography anyway, it’s an ode to the power of the imagination.”

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Little Children (2006) 80%

Winslet earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in Little Children, a harrowing ensemble drama that explores how outside events can nudge even the most well-worn domestic orbits wobbling off their axis. With writer/director Todd Field at the helm, this adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel looks at a suburban community whose beautiful facade masks untold conflicts — and whose carefully calibrated order is disrupted by the arrival of a registered sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley). It’s the kind of yarn that’s been spun countless times over the last few decades, but many critics still took fresh pleasure from this particular telling — including J.R. Jones, whose Chicago Reader review argued, “the characters are drawn with such compassion their follies become our own and their desires seem as vast as the night sky.”

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Steve Jobs (2015) 85%

By the time Steve Jobs premiered in 2015, audiences had already seen a number of films about the Apple co-founder, both documentary (Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, released earlier in the year) and narrative (2013’s Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher). This Steve Jobs needed something special, in other words, to overcome the familiarity of its subject; fortunately, it boasted several unique ingredients, including direction from Danny Boyle, a script from Aaron Sorkin, and a cast that included Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Winslet as Apple marketing exec Joanna Hoffman. All that talent still didn’t do much to move the needle with a moviegoing public that might have been pretty Jobsed out at that point, but it had the desired effect with critics who applauded Steve Jobs as the definitive Steve Jobs biopic. As Bob Mondello argued for NPR, “The film feels so electric while you’re watching, it’s hard to believe that after two hours, it doesn’t even get to the iPod, let alone the iPhone.”

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