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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Frances McDormand

Frances McDormand has established herself as a leading figure in the film industry, with many claiming that she is the one of the best living acting talents today. The recipient of some of the most prestigious accolades in existence, McDormand has continued to deliver powerful performances in recent years while simultaneously building a formidable filmography.

Born in Illinois, McDormand studied dramatic arts in college and later completed her graduate studies at the Yale School of Drama. Her acting career began in the ’80s and she started garnering a lot of critical attention after her iconic debut performance in Blood Simple which was the directorial debut of the Coen brothers as well.

Since then, McDormand has worked with some of the most prominent filmmakers – ranging from Robert Altman to Wes Anderson. Her collaborations with the Coen brothers continue to form a major part of her oeuvre, having worked with them on many of their projects in all kinds of major and minor parts.

Frances McDormand’s six definitive films:

Blood Simple (Coen brothers, 1984)

Blood Simple remains a remarkable achievement for various reasons; not only is it one of the greatest directorial debuts of all time but it also shaped the landscape of American independent cinema in a way that few other films have managed to achieve.

A highly stylised neo-noir which presented a unique vision within the familiar frameworks of crime and mystery, Blood Simple also provided McDormand with the platform to launch her career and she did not waste the opportunity by delivering a stellar debut performance.

Mississippi Burning (Alan Parker, 1988)

Alan Parker’s 1988 historical crime thriller Mississippi Burning is a fascinating exploration of the ugliness in America, revolving around an investigation about missing civil rights workers which faces backlash from racist community members.

While the film stars Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as FBI agents involved in the investigation, Frances McDormand featured in a supporting role as Mrs. Pell and she ended up earning an Academy Award nomination for her work.

Fargo (Coen brothers, 1996)

Probably the most famous effort by the Coen brothers as well as McDormand, Fargo is an American masterpiece. It explores the violent underbelly of the country, contextualised within the frameworks of comedy and horror.

McDormand is simply brilliant as Marge Gunderson, a pregnant police chief who embarks on a dark and dangerous road while trying to unearth more about crimes in her area. Due to her unparalleled work on Fargo, McDormand received the Best Actress Award at the Oscars.

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)

A modern coming-of-age gem by Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom is a magical cinematic experience involving two lonely kids who decide to try and survive on their own instead of being captive in their oppressive environments.

In Moonrise Kingdom, McDormand plays the role of the mother of one of those kids – Mrs. Bishop – whose existence has become terribly empty. One of Wes Anderson’s finest works, this film is an essential watch for all kinds of film fans.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017)

Martin McDonagh’s 2017 film was one of the most acclaimed works of that Awards season, starring McDormand as a distraught woman who tries to draw public attention towards her daughter’s rape and murder case which was never solved.

A gripping crime drama which showcased McDormand’s dramatic strengths better than most films, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a powerful story about a grieving mother who fights for justice in an indifferent and cold world.

Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)

Another acclaimed gem in McDormand’s filmography, Nomadland is a fascinating film where she plays the role of a widow who decides to renounce her attachments and live as a nomad by buying a van and travelling around the country.

Featuring a powerful performance by McDormand, Nomadland was definitely an impressive film by Chloé Zhao who gained further recognition for this film. McDormand also added to her legacy by securing another Best Actress win at the Oscars.