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The 10 best films starring Kathy Bates

“A heart can only discover what it really wants with experience.” – Kathy Bates

Kathy Bates, a legendary actress with a penchant for playing a diverse selection of roles, is one of the greatest and most hard-working talents in Hollywood who made a name for herself with sheer hard work and meticulous rehearsals. A believer of practising umpteen number of times, this perfectionist veteran is indeed remarkable and had to undergo her fair share of struggles and obstacles to get to the zenith of her career.

Bates once said, “I went from years of honing my craft to sudden recognition. It was quite a life-changer”. From battling serious health issues to struggling with her image, bates never got the opportunity to be an A-list star due to the inherent prejudices in the toxic industry yet via perseverance and performance, waltzed her way to the top.

Kathy Bates is not a method actor. She likes being well prepared for her role via umpteen rehearsals. “I was never an ingenue. I’ve always just been a character actor,” confessed Bates. “When I was younger, it was a real problem, because I was never pretty enough. It was hard, not just for the lack of work, but because you have to face up to how people are looking at you.”

When asked how she selects roles, Bates confided, “I look for a role that hopefully, I feel empathy with and that I can understand and love, but also that has that challenge for me to play – a different kind of role, a different type of character, a different time period.”

This Oscar-winning actress is also the recipient of two Emmys, two Golden Globes and two SAGs amidst various other awards and accolades. Having worked a lot of odd jobs while trying to pursue an acting career when she first started out, she received minor roles in films before making a name for herself on the stage, winning a Tony Award nomination for her role in the play, night, Mother.

Bates’ chilling performance as the twisted Annie Wilkes in Rob Reiner’s 1990 film Misery won her the first-ever Academy Award as well as served as her breakthrough in Hollywood where her brilliance amassed massive acclaim. Ever since that moment, she has been seen in various roles, small and leads, in well-acclaimed films. Bates, irrespective of the stature of her role, has a dominant personality which makes her shine amidst the ensemble cast, helping her establish and assert her voice and talent. 

On her 73rd birthday today, let us take a look at some of her best films over the last few decades: 

Kathy Bates’ 10 best films:

10. Primary Colors (Mike Nichols, 1998)

After the roman a clef regarding Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential run surfaced under the alias of Anonymous, it caused a huge uproar. The film is adapted from that book and follows the journey of a young and gifted man named Henry Burton entrusted with the duty of overseeing the presidential campaign run by the Arkansas Governor, Jack Stanton. Burton is a mute spectator to the vastly changing political landscape where Stanton’s ‘wandering eye’ results in various problems and his possible doom along with Stanton’s rocky marriage and disagreements with not only his highly ambitious wife Susan but also his advisor. 

Having based his performance on the behaviour of various Presidents, especially Bill Clinton, John Travolta earned the notorious nickname of being a Clintonian. Kathy Bates played the character of the tough and volatile Libby Holden who was a friend of the Stantons and was entrusted with the duties of delving deeper into the serious allegations made against Jack Stanton as it could potentially ruin his character. When Bates realises how flawed the system actually is, the atmosphere adds to the momentous revelation in the film. Providing a deeper insight into the political landscape, the film helped Bates win a SAG award for her impressive work. 

“I am a gay lesbian woman! I do not mythologise the male sexual organ!”

9. Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood, 2019)

Based on a true story, the film follows the journey of Richard Jewell, a security guard who symbols upon a bomb during the 1996 Summer Olympics being hosted in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. After he alerts the authorities and helps them evacuate the premises, managing to save countless lives, he is hailed as a hero. However, Jewell’s life soon becomes nightmarish when he is alleged as a prime suspect and gets involved in an unforgettable and sensational investigation. 

This underrated thrilling film is a testament to Eastwood’s admirable filmmaking skills. The intense plot narrative weaves the sad reality and injustice that prevails in the American system. With a brilliant cast, including Sam Rockwell and Kathy Bates, the film is captivating from start to finish. As Richard Jewell’s mother, Bobi, Bates gives an astonishing and heart-rending conference, especially in the trial scene as well as the press conference which shows how polarising the actress can be, even in smaller roles. 

“My son is a hero. I think the FBI knows that by now. If they do not intend to charge my son, please tell us; please tell the world. Mr. President, please clear my son’s name.”

8. Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008) 

April and Frank Wheeler’s seemingly perfect and happy marital relationship is crumbling on the inside. They have different expectations and purposes that puts a strain on their marriage. They try desperately to salvage the last remnants and escape the dreadful doldrum of life when an unexpected tragedy sends them spiralling. 

11 years after their magical chemistry in James Cameron’s Titanic, DiCaprio and Winslet reunited for Mendes’ emotionally charged film that pulses with raw and realistic issues of dysfunctional marriages as well as its relation to the American Dream. Bates plays the role of Helen Givings, the Wheelers’ middle-class, opinionated realtor whose son John is deemed mentally unstable. Bates, who had starred with the duo previously in Titanic as well, delivers a nuanced performance in her small role as the perpetrator of societal prejudices and oppression who is ruthless enough to alienate her son as well as suddenly turn against her old friends as soon as the scandal comes to light.

“Oh, I was very fond of the Wheelers. They were a bit whimsical for my taste. A bit neurotic. I never stressed it, but, they were often very trying people to deal with, in many ways.”

7. About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)

After he retires from his lifelong job of being an insurance salesman, Warren Schmidt is disillusioned with his life and decides to foster a Tanzanian child named Ndugu. With a dysfunctional family where his wife, who is later revealed to have had an affair, is distant and his daughter is set to marry a man of whom Schmidt disapproves and desperately tries to persuade her otherwise. Soon, Schmidt embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he travels to Denver and meets his daughter’s mother-in-law, the spirited Roberta and soon finds himself at the unexpected crossroads of life. 

In this hilarious and moving character study, the wonderful performances of Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates form the crux of the film. While both received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations, Nicholson went on to win the latter. Bates, who played Roberta Hertzel, the eccentric and quirky divorced mother of Nicholson’s daughter, Jeannie’s fiance, attempts to make a pass at the older man while sitting in the hot tub. Regarding her nude scene, Bates was apprehensive and said, “There were kind of negotiations about what I will show, what I won’t show, you know all this stuff back and forth. And I think we got to a place where I felt comfortable and Payne got what he wanted. And I had a couple of cocktails before I did it, you know, just to relax and then I jumped in the pool.”

“People used to think it was strange ‘cause I breast-fed him till he was almost five, but I say, hunh, just look at the results!”

6. A Home of Our Own (Tony Bill, 1993)

After Frances Lacey gets fired for defending herself against a man who gropes her, she decides that Los Angeles is not a conducive place for her to build her home and raise her children. With her limited supplies and her children in tow, she drives won without a destination until they arrive at Idaho and build a happy home. However, they lose everything in a fire and are about to give up when the townsfolk arrive and help them rebuild their dreams, rendering hope to the “Lacey tribe”. 

Bates portrays the fiercely independent Frances Lacey who does not want to be indebted to anyone. She works hard to make her presence worthwhile and never loses hope despite all the obstacles in her life. The film is a tear-jerker as one sees the Lacey tribe growing closer amidst all odds and trying to find a home for themselves. The characters are flawed yet moving which makes the film a must-watch. 

“I’ve heard that the greenback dollar isn’t the only way to get things done in this great country of ours.”

5. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011)

In this fantasy drama, young couple Gil and Inez travel to Paris as a part of Inez’s parents’ business trip. Struggling with his first novel, Gil falls in love with the beauty and charm of Paris and wants to move there after marriage, but the realistic Inez does not condone his romantic visions. Gil takes a midnight stroll and soon finds himself the ultimate inspiration to start writing. He finds himself transported back to 1920s Paris every midnight, meeting his favourite artists, musicians and writers and soon finds himself being drawn away from Inez towards the beautiful heart of the city. 

Woody Allen, who has a penchant for New York and its setting, portrays Paris in a hauntingly beautiful light which shall make the viewers share Gil’s sentimental vision of moving to the city of romance, the blend of romance and reality made it so very delectable; Allen said that he was “interested only in this romantic tale, and anything that contributed to it that was fairytale was right for me. I didn’t want to get into it. I only wanted to get into what bore down on his (Owen Wilson’s) relationship with Marion.” Owe Wilson and Rachel McAdams are joined by the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and more who play the roles of Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali and more. 

“We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

4. Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)

Based on the legendary tragic event of one of the greatest ships in the world succumbing to a freak iceberg hit, Cameron’s iconic 1997 film had a historic award sweep at the Oscars, notoriously not even winning a nomination for the wonderful performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio starred as Jack Dawson, a poor ruffian who boards the Titanic on her first-ever voyage and encounters the aristocratic Rose, played by Kate Winslet, and is smitten by her. As their forbidden romance blooms, the ship hits the iceberg and meets its fateful ending. As the lovers try to grapple with the tragedy and hold on to each other for one last time, Celine Dion’s harrowingly beautiful voice in form of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ evokes a sense of melancholy and hopelessness in the film. 

While Cameron created a lot of fictional characters to heighten the effect of the story, including those of Rose and Jack, Kathy Bates starred as Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown who was a part of the nouveau riche with her vulgar and eccentric self. She was seen as a kind woman who was also called “the unsinkable Molly Brown” by historians as she single-handedly commandeered one of the lifeboats carrying the survivors from this devastating shipwreck. Bates was fierce as Brown as she fought with the crewmen to go back to the wreck and collect the survivors, much to the chagrin of the rest, determined to save those who were alive. 

“We have lots more room! I say we go back.”

3. Fried Green Tomatoes (Jon Avnet, 1991)

Based on Fannie Flagg’s novel, the film sees a depressed middle-aged housewife, Evelyn Couch, befriending the extroverted elderly Ninny Threadgoode in a nursing home where the two quickly strike up an unlikely friendship. Ninny tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, an inspirational woman in 1920s Alabama who threw caution to the wind and lived life on her own terms. Evelyn is inspired by these tales and soon tries to be more assertive and opinionated in her own life while continuing to nurture her lovely friendship with Ninny.  

In his directorial debut, Avnet paints an unlikely friendship while dealing with various societal prejudices. Well-received by the LGBTQ+ community for its portrayal of lesbianism as well as due to the feminist overtones, Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy are incredible in their own way and stand out in their respective roles. Bates apparently loved the script and was more than happy to work with Tandy. It is cathartic to watch Bates’character grow from a timid and forlorn housewife to a more assertive and independent character who is no longer bogged down and intimidated by her marriage.  

“I can’t even look at my own vagina.”

2. Dolores Claiborne (Taylor Hackford, 1995)

Based on Stephen King’s eponymous 1992 novel where the author created the titular character with Kathy Bates in mind, the film revolves around the titular Dolores Claiborne who works as a full-time caregiver to a wealthy widow despite the low wages and general oppressive atmosphere at the latter’s house. She does it to be able to fund her daughter’s education but soon gets caught up in the latter’s murder and becomes an alleged suspect. With her shady past surrounding her husband’s death where nobody believed her, including her daughter, Dolores and Selena soon have a hard time dealing with each other and the ghosts of the past. 

Often identified as a Gothic romance, the character of Dolores Claiborne was supposedly Bates’ favourite role of her career as she got to “play a character” who was vastly different from her. It combines heavyweight issues such as domestic abuse, sexual abuse, alcoholism, repression and more while the violent wounds of the past ooze hurt and malice. Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh both received Academy Award nominations with their splendid performances helping in increasing the overall psychological tension of the film. Bates renders unimaginable depth and a general aura of unsettling strength to the character which was most definitely one of the most demanding roles of her career.

“It’s a depressingly masculine world we live in, Dolores.”  

1. Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990) 

Best-selling novelist Paul Sheldon gets involved in a car crash that leaves him gravely injured. After being rescued by former nurse Anne Wilkes who claims to be his greatest fan and takes him back to her remote cabin for Sheldon to recover, Paul soon realises that things can go awry really quickly. On discovering the fate of one of her favourite characters in his book, Annie, drugs cripple him and put him through unimaginable torture. 

Bates played the role of Annie, the angry, controlling, violent and mentally unstable woman whose twisted fantasies nearly cost James Caan’s Paul Sheldon his life. Considered as one of the best Stephen King adaptations to date, the film was both engaging and frightening, with the entire cinematic experience being heightened by Cann and Bates’ wonderful performance. Caan and Bates, however, did not quite get along on stage due to their different acting methods that included the latter believing in lots of practice rehearsals as opposed to the former. Reiner even asked Bates to use this frustration to her advantage and channel it via her character. And boy, she did! Bates had won her first-ever Academy Award for this role, becoming the first woman to achieve this fiat by enacting in a horror thriller and impressed King so much with her brilliance that he wrote two other roles for her. 

“I’m your number one fan. There’s nothing to worry about. You’re going to be just fine. I will take good care of you. I’m your number one fan.”

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