On Sunday, Frances McDormand took home her second Academy Award, winning best actress in a leading role for Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand plays the foul-mouthed Mildred Hayes, who finds a novel way to stir the local law enforcement into action over her daughter’s unsolved rape and murder.
The Oscar trophy will have to find space on a crowded mantelpiece. McDormand is one of the few performers to have won what is known as the “Triple Crown of Acting” – top acting trophies in the Academy Awards, the Emmy Awards and the Tony Awards.
McDormand started her acting career in theatre and made her film debut with Blood Simple (1984), the first feature by director brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. McDormand, who is married to Joel Coen, has worked on many films with the duo, including Fargo (1996) and Burn After Reading (2008). Her expansive filmography includes more than 40 feature films and 10 television roles, as well as several theatre credits. Here is a pick of her five best performances.
Missisipi Burning (1988)
McDormand got her first Oscar nomination in the supporting actress category for her performance in Alan Parker’s crime thriller, which was loosely based on the 1864 murders of three civil rights activists by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The movie is centred on two Federal Bureau of Investigation officers who investigate the disappearance of three activists leading a voter registration drive for African Americans in a racially divided town. McDormand played Mrs Pell, the wife of a racist deputy sheriff who betrays her husband and reveals to the FBI agents that the activists had been murdered, a transgression for which she is brutally beaten by her husband. McDormand’s role was hailed as the moral core of the movie.
McDormand’s got her first Academy Award for her performance as police chief Marge Gunderson in the Coen brothers’s crime drama Fargo. The film traces the consequences of a kidnapping gone wrong, when what was meant to be a bloodless crime ends up resulting in a trail of blood. McDormand’s performance as a heavily pregnant and mild-mannered police officer who knows how to be taken seriously while always staying polite, won all-round acclaim.
Almost Famous (2000)
McDormand was also nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in Cameron Crowe’s acclaimed Almost Famous. Elaine Miller (McDormand) is an overbearing mother who bans rock ‘n’ roll in her house, driving away her elder daughter with her controlling ways. Her son, William Miller (Billy Crudup), aspires to be a rock music journalist and also leaves the nest to chase his dreams. McDormand imparts empathy to a harsh character, making it hard not to like Elaine even if we don’t always agree with her ways.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
In Bharat Nalluri’s comedy, McDormand plays an out-of-luck governess in 1939 London who, in the quest for a job, lands at the doorstep of a wealthy singer and actress (Amy Adams). Delysia Lafosse, who wants to climb her way to the top of show business, needs a social secretary and McDormand’s Guinevere Pettigrew hardly seems like the right fit. But a makeover and a short while later, Guinevere is swept into the ways of high society and has a series of exciting experiences that her previous employments could not have offered her. A rare departure for the actress known for her complex roles in somewhat dark films, the comic caper sees McDormand shine as a shabby governess who taps into her adventurous side.
Olive Kitteridge (2014)
McDormand plays the titular role in the four-hour HBO miniseries adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 novel of the same name. McDormand’s Olive is a strict school teacher in a small coastal town in Maine, whose scathing and brusque demeanour alienates all those around her, including her family. Her cold and often cruel exterior masks an ultimately compassionate interior and a woman struggling with depression and an inability to connect with the world. McDormand’s masterful handling of a layered character won her an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, while the show too swept all top awards for that year.
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