Emily Watson’s 10 Best Movies

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  01 Sep 2015 

Starting with her breakout performance in 1996’s Breaking the Waves, Emily Watson has assembled a truly impressive filmography over the years — and with her latest effort, Little Boy, we decided there was no time like the present to take an appreciative look back at some of its brightest critical highlights.

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10 The Water Horse
imdb
rating

6.5

The Water Horse (2007)

Adventure, Fantasy, Family

Emily Watson has more than her share of harrowing dramas in her filmography, but with 2007’s The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, she proved she also has a pretty good knack for picking a heartwarming family-friendly script. Adapted from Dick King-Smith’s children’s novel of the same name, Water Horse uses a modern-day conversation in a Scottish bar as the framing device for a gently mystical trip back in time to the ’40s, when a boy (Alex Etel) stumbles upon a mysterious egg on the shores of Loch Ness and… Well, you can probably see where this is heading, but director Jay Russell’s sensitive depiction of the book (from Robert Nelson Jacobs’ screenplay) and the work of a fine cast (including Watson as Etel’s mother) still add up to rousing, heartwarming fun for viewers of all ages. According to Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “The film is what family entertainment ought to be, but so rarely is: a ripping good adventure, a parable about childhood and maturity, and a romp.”

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A lonely boy discovers a mysterious egg that hatches a sea creature of Scottish legend.

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Alex Etel as Angus MacMorrow   Emily Watson as Anne MacMorrow   Ben Chaplin as Lewis Mowbray   David Morrissey as Captain Thomas Hamilton   Priyanka Xi as Kirstie MacMorrow   Craig Hall as Charlie MacMorrow   Craig Halls as Charlie MacMorrow   Erroll Shand as Lt. Wormsley   Geraldine Brophy as Gracie   Joel Tobeck as Sgnt. Walker   Bruce Allpress as Jock McGowan   Eddie Campbell as Hughie   Peter Corrigan as Jimmy's Buddy #1   Carl Dixon as Gunner Corbin   Nathan Christopher Haase as Male Tourist   Ian Harcourt as Jimmy McGarry   Rex Hurst as Jimmy's Buddy #2   Megan Katherine as Female Tourist   William Johnson as Clyde   Elliot Lawless as Beach Kid  

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9 War Horse
imdb
rating

7.2

War Horse (2011)

Drama, War

Name a movie War Horse, and you’re essentially signifying that your entire human cast is playing second fiddle to its equine lead — but in Steven Spielberg’s 2011 adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, those human stars are still pretty spectacular. Exactly the sort of beautifully filmed period drama you’d expect given its behind-the-scenes pedigree and Christmas Day release date, War Horse follows the astonishing WWI adventures of a Bay Thoroughbred named Joey, as well as the equally stirring tale of his young trainer (Jeremy Irvine) and his family (Watson and Peter Mullan). While some critics dismissed the results as glossy awards bait, it proved sufficiently moving for the majority; as Steven Rea wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “War Horse is sugary, to be sure — but it is sugar cut with cannon fire and barbed wire and the horrors of war.”

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Follows a young man named Albert and his horse, Joey, and how their bond is broken when Joey is sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War One. Despite being too young to enlist, Albert heads to France to save his friend.

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Tom Hiddleston as Capt. James Nicholls   Benedict Cumberbatch as Maj. Jamie Stewart   Toby Kebbell as Geordie Soldier   Emily Watson as Rose Narracott   Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott   Patrick Kennedy as Lt. Charlier Waverly   David Thewlis as Lyons   Peter Mullan as Ted Narracott   David Kross as Pvt. Günther Schröder   Nicolas Bro as Friedrich   David Dencik as Base Camp Officer   Eddie Marsan as Sgt. Fry  

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8 Punch-Drunk Love
imdb
rating

7.3

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Comedy, Drama, Romance

Playing the yin to Adam Sandler’s yang can often be a rather thankless task, as has been ably demonstrated by a list of thespians that includes Salma Hayek, Marisa Tomei, and Jennifer Aniston, but in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, Watson brought the best out of him, anchoring Anderson’s warped, tender drama with a quiet soulfulness that underscored an arguably career-best performance from Sandler. As a pair of wounded hearts timidly connecting between halting overtures punctuated by bursts of Anderson-style chaos, the duo brought two of the writer-director’s most deeply relatable characters vividly to life. “It’s wacky. It’s unpredictable,” wrote Susan Stark for the Detroit News. “It’s sure to give pause to Sandler fans and, smaller in number but every bit as dedicated, to Watson admirers too.”

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A beleaguered small-business owner gets a harmonium and embarks on a romantic journey with a mysterious woman.

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Adam Sandler as Barry Egan   Emily Watson as Lena Leonard   Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dean Trumbell   Luis Guzmán as Lance   Mary Lynn Rajskub as Elizabeth   Robert Smigel as Walter the Dentist   Jason Andrews as Operator Carter   Don McManus as Plastic   David Schrempf as Customer #1   Seann Conway as Customer #2   Rico Bueno as Rico   Hazel Mailloux as Rhonda   Karen Kilgariff as Anna   Julie Hermelin as Kathleen   Salvador Curiel as Sal   Jorge Barahona as Jorge   Ernesto Quintero as Ernesto   Julius Steuer as Mechanic   Lisa Spector as Susan   Nicole Gelbard as Nicole   Mia Weinberg as Gilda   Karen Hermelin as Anna   Larry Ring as Steve / Brother-in-Law   Kerry Gelbard as Richard / Brother-in-Law   Ashley Clark as Phone Sex Sister  

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7 The Theory of Everything
imdb
rating

7.7

The Theory of Everything (2014)

Drama, Romance

James Marsh’s biopic of renowned scientist Stephen Hawking earned mountains of acclaim, most of it for Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-winning work in the starring role, but Redmayne had plenty of company in terms of outstanding acting talent, including Felicity Jones (also Oscar-nominated) as Hawking’s wife Jane, David Thewlis as one of Hawking’s professors, and Watson as Jane’s mother. The result was a production that matched its largely positive reviews with the kind of box office befitting a tastefully mounted tale of real-life courage in the face of enormous adversity; as Claudia Puig wrote for USA Today, “Marsh takes a complicated persona and reveals a range of dimensions. The result is an engaging biopic that is often quite moving.”

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A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.

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6 The Boxer
imdb
rating

7.1

The Boxer (1997)

Drama, Romance

Most boxing movies use the battle inside the ring as a sort of mirror or metaphor for conflicts the protagonists are forced to deal with during everyday life, and Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer is an example of this cinematic formula writ large: Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis) returns to his old neighborhood after serving a lengthy prison sentence for charges stemming from his IRA membership, only to find his old stomping grounds gutted by financial and emotional malaise. His efforts to find redemption by reopening the community gym — and his continual torch-carrying for a married ex-girlfriend (Watson) — are cause for hope even as they ratchet up the tension for a grueling final act. “Day-Lewis has the ability to make the will to nonviolence look positively volcanic,” wrote an admiring Carrie Rickey for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “and Watson, with her 200-watt incandescence, makes longing look radiant.”

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Nineteen-year-old Danny Flynn is imprisoned for his involvement with the I.R.A. in Belfast. He leaves behind his family and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Maggie Hamill. Fourteen years later, Danny is released from prison and returns to his old working class neighborhood to resume his life as a boxer.

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Danny Flynn   Emily Watson as Maggie   Lorraine Pilkington as Bride   Niall Shanahan as Groom   John Wall as Priest (as Father John Wall)   Maria McDermottroe as Betty  

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5 Belle
imdb
rating

7.4

Belle (2014)

Drama

The remarkable real-life story behind a well-known 1779 painting inspired screenwriter Misan Sagay to pen the script for Belle, a handsomely mounted historical drama that ended up becoming one of the more widely acclaimed films of 2014 — and served as a coming-out party for its magnetic star, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She plays the titular character, a woman born into slavery but raised as a British noblewoman, whose story plays out against the backdrop of a pivotal time for British law and societal mores, and while the movie definitively rests on Mbatha-Raw’s performance, she’s ably aided and abetted by a stellar supporting cast that included Watson, Tom Wilkinson, and Miranda Richardson. “It’s smartly acted, handsome, and well-crafted in a way that’ll make it irresistible to the Merchant-Ivory/Masterpiece Theater set,” wrote NPR’s Bob Mondello. “Think pride, with a whole lot of prejudice.”

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BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral. Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield and his wife, Belle's lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar's son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield's role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle   Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield   Miranda Richardson as Lady Ashford   Matthew Goode as Captain Sir John Lindsay   Sarah Gadon as Elizabeth   Sam Reid as John Davinier   Emily Watson as Lady Mansfield   Tom Felton as James Ashford   Penelope Wilton as Lady Mary Murray   James Norton as Oliver Ashford  

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4 Gosford Park
imdb
rating

7.3

Gosford Park (2001)

Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Before we had Downton Abbey, director Robert Altman gave us Gosford Park — a period British mystery brought to life by a veritable who’s who of U.K. acting talent that included Watson (nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Actress) along with Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, and Stephen Fry, among many others. While Altman’s foray into Agatha Christie territory may have caught some viewers off guard, few critics were complaining after the credits rolled; as Peter Rainer wrote for New York Magazine, “Altman is a supreme artist-joker, and the jest this time is that the most American of film directors has given us a finely wrought British whodunit with the emotional layering of a first-rate novel.”

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Multiple storylined drama set in 1932, showing the lives of upstairs guest and downstairs servants at a party in a country house in England.

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Helen Mirren as Mrs. Wilson   Clive Owen as Robert Parks   Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham   Geraldine Somerville as Louisa Stockbridge   Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello   Kristin Scott Thomas as Sylvia McCordle   Michael Gambon as William McCordle   Kelly Macdonald as Mary Maceachran   Eileen Atkins as Mrs. Croft   Emily Watson as Elsie   Alan Bates as Jennings   Richard E. Grant as George   Ryan Phillippe as Henry Denton   Trent Ford as Jeremy Blond   Stephen Fry as Inspector Thompson   Charles Dance as Lord Raymond Stockbridge   Camilla Rutherford as Isobel McCordle   Bob Balaban as Morris Weissman   James Wilby as Freddie Nesbitt   Natasha Wightman as Lavinia Meredith   Claudie Blakley as Mabel Nesbitt   Derek Jacobi as Probert  

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3 Breaking the Waves
imdb
rating

7.9

Breaking the Waves (1996)

Drama, Romance

Watson received her first Academy Award nomination for Breaking the Waves, which also happened to be her first film role — not a bad outcome for a part that would have gone to Helena Bonham Carter if Carter hadn’t dropped out at the last minute. While Watson was virtually unknown before Waves was released, director Lars von Trier obviously saw something in her, and after this harrowing drama about a woman whose marriage to an oilman (Stellan Skarsgård) takes some increasingly dark turns arrived in theaters, von Trier’s reasons for plucking his leading lady from obscurity were readily apparent. “Not many movies like this get made, because not many filmmakers are so bold, angry and defiant. Like many truly spiritual films, it will offend the Pharisees,” wrote Roger Ebert. “Here we have a story that forces us to take sides, to ask what really is right and wrong in a universe that seems harsh and indifferent.”

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Breaking the Waves is Lars von Tier’s intimate story of love, loss, faith, and tragedy. Filmed in the Dogma 95 style; a woman tries to keep a relationship with her husband during hard times. The scenic imagery and excellent performances create a powerful film.

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Emily Watson as Bess McNeill   Stellan Skarsgård as Jan Nyman   Katrin Cartlidge as Dodo McNeill   Jean-Marc Barr as Terry   Adrian Rawlins as Dr. Richardson   Jonathan Hackett as Priest   Sandra Voe as Mother   Udo Kier as Sadistic Sailor   Mikkel Gaup as Pits   Roef Ragas as Pim   Robert Robertson as Chairman   Phil McCall as Grandfather   Desmond Reilly as An Elder   Sarah Gudgeon as Sybilla   Finlay Welsh as Coroner   David Gallacher as Glasgow Doctor   Ray Jeffries as Man on Bus   Owen Kavanagh as Man at Lighthouse   Bob Docherty as Man on Boat   David Bateson as Young Sailor  

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2 Hilary and Jackie
imdb
rating

7.4

Hilary and Jackie (1998)

Drama, Music

Hollywood loves a good “troubled genius” biopic, and 1998’s Hilary and Jackie definitely fits the bill. Starring Watson and Rachel Griffiths as the real-life du Pre sisters, whose ultimately rather tragic story provided wrenching (albeit reportedly semi-fictional) grist for Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay, it offered its leading ladies excellent opportunities to prove their dramatic mettle, and they delivered in spades: both Watson and Griffiths earned Academy Award nominations for their work in director Anand Tucker’s wrenching drama. Of course, this isn’t exactly light watching, and if you aren’t in the mood for a movie whose arc includes dreams deferred, mental illness, and death, then Hilary and Jackie probably isn’t for you — but for those receptive to its thorny charms, it delivers an experience that the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Margaret McGurk called “as exhilarating, passionate and profound as the music it celebrates.”

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The tragic story of world-renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pré, as told from the point of view of her sister, flautist Hilary du Pré-Finzi.

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Emily Watson as Jackie Du Pré   Rachel Griffiths as Hilary Du Pré   James Frain as Daniel Barenboim   David Morrissey as Kiffer Finzi   Charles Dance as Derek Du Pré   Celia Imrie as Iris Du Pré   Rupert Penry-Jones as Piers Du Pré   Bill Paterson as Cello Teacher  

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1 The Proposition
imdb
rating

7.5

The Proposition (2005)

Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Thriller, Western

We turn to John Hillcoat movies for nail-bitingly grim depictions of the dust-caked evil that lurks within the dark heart of human nature, and 2005’s The Proposition does not disappoint: Starring Guy Pearce as the nominal “nice guy” in a savage family of thugs whose reign of terror in the Australian outback has triggered a crusade for justice from an officer of the law (Ray Winstone), it starts with Pearce’s character being told he must murder one of his brothers in order to save another, and only gets darker from there. The Proposition‘s stellar pedigree includes a hard-hitting screenplay from Nick Cave and an outstanding supporting cast rounded out by Danny Huston, John Hurt, and — as Winstone’s increasingly imperiled wife — Watson, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress of the Year by the London Film Critics’ Association; critics elsewhere were just as vociferous in their acclaim, with Eleanor Ringel Gillespie of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution speaking for many of her peers when she wrote, “The movie gets at something primal in the pit of your stomach, something that speaks of loyalty and betrayal, of men’s souls — or the lack thereof.”

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Set in the Australian outback in the 1880s, the movie follows the series of events following the horrific rape and murder of the Hopkins family, allegedly committed by the infamous Burns brothers gang. Captain Morris Stanley captures Charlie Burns and gives him 9 days to kill his older dangerous psychopathic brother, or else they'll hang his younger mentally slow brother on Christmas Day.

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Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns   Ray Winstone as Captain Morris Stanley   Emily Watson as Martha Stanley   David Wenham as Eden Fletcher   John Hurt as Jellon Lamb   Richard Wilson as Mike Burns   Noah Taylor as Brian O'Leary   Jeremy Madrona as Asian Prostitute   Jae Mamuyac as Asian Prostitute   Mick Roughan as Mad Jack Bradshaw   Shane Watt as John Gordon   Robert Morgan as Sergeant Lawrence   David Gulpilil as Jacko   Bryan Probets as Officer Dunn   Oliver Ackland as Patrick Hopkins   Danny Huston as Arthur Burns   David Vallon as Tom Cox   Daniel Parker as Henry Clark  

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