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10 best film performances of Renee Zellweger

With two Oscars, two BAFTAs, four Golden Globes and four SAGs to her name as well as various other awards and accolades and countless nominations, the incredibly talented Renee Zellweger turns 51. This Texas-based actress, who has a knack for playing unconventional roles in films, has built up an uncompromising career for stellar roles in movies such as Miss Potter, Bridget Jones’ Diary and more. In them, she had to master the British accent, much to the chagrin of the actress. However, unlike other actors, she avoided the ridicule and earned unbridled praise for her honest efforts. Wowing the audience with her performances in films like Cold Mountain, for which she won the Oscar, she came back to bag her second Award for Best Actress for her phenomenal portrayal of the late Judy Garland in the 2019 flick Judy. 

Born in 1969, Zellweger learned to support herself from a young age after her father lost his job and her family struggled financially. She also began bagging small commercials as well as minuscule roles in various rookie indie films to hone her craft. Later, she was recognised by the audience after playing the role of Dorothy Boyd, the love interest of Tim Cruise in Jerry Maguire, before delivering her breakthrough performances subsequently in One True Thing, Nurse Betty, winning high praise for her honesty and emotive nature. With her role as Bridget Jones alongside Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, Zellweger became a worldwide phenomenon and continued showcasing her talent and acting prowess in various films, earning well-deserved praise and acclaim. 

Determined and hard-working, Zellweger has always brought out the absolute best in her roles, often achieving the impossible. She is dedicated and has even trained herself as a singer for her role as Judy Garland. As this stunning and versatile performer who is a vision of beauty and elegance turns 51 today, we take a look at her 10 best film performances that illuminate her highly rewarding career.  

Renee Zellweger’s 10 best films

10. Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe, 1996)

Jerry Maguire lives a life of luxury and comfort as a successful sports agent where he is blessed with the best clients, immense respect as well as a beautiful fiancee. One night he has a moral epiphany and begins questioning his purpose in the world which leads him to get fired. He decides to test out his new philosophy by becoming an independent agent dedicated to one single athletic client Rod Tidwell, joined by his former colleague Dorothy Boyd. he tries to build his own empire but faces various hardships which show him the harsh realities of life. 

Alongside a talented cast comprising Cuba Golding Jr. and Tom Cruise, Zewellger portrays the character of Dorothy Boyd. she has actually auditioned for the role thrice. She often spoke about how nervous she was to meet Tom Crusie and managed hard to keep a straight face and “not throw up” before having to kiss him for the audition. Tom Cruise and Zewellger were asked to refer to Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy to understand the palpable chemistry that the director demanded from them. 

“You had me at ‘hello’.”

9. White Oleander (Peter Kominsky, 2002) 

Astrid and her mother live in California; her mother suffers from a borderline personality disorder and has an incredible creative genius in art and poetry. Their somewhat peaceful lives are disrupted when Barry Kolker walks into their lives and Ingrid falls in love with him yet gets heartbroken. She murders Barry with a poison extracted from hr favourite flower and the white oleander. Astrid navigates through life on her own and keeps in touch with her mother; Ingrid relays strength to her daughter and helps her survive amidst trying times. 

Zellweger plays Claire Richards, a former actress and a woman with self-esteem, under whose foster care Astrid is placed after Ingrid is sent to prison. Claire and Astrid bond well and Claire soon starts feeling better. However, on meeting Ingrid, the latter is jealous of Claire’s well-being and torments her by milking her confidence issues and questioning her husband’s fidelity. This causes Claire to be depressed and spiral uncontrollably till she commits suicide, devastating Astrid. 

“Take my advice and stay away from broken people.”

8. Cinderella Man (Ron Howard, 2005)

The story is set during the Great Depression where a washed-up boxer named James Braddock – AKA the Cinderella Man – became a sporting legend quite surprisingly. Impoverished and ravaged by the economic downfall, his career is seemingly over and he struggles to support his family. Driven by duty, love and immense support from his wife, he makes the impossible come true by returning to the ring and winning, becoming a near-myth of a common man turned fighter. He keeps living his proletariat dream and fighting to make things easier for him and his family. 

Zellweger portrayed the role of James’ uber-supportive wife, Mae. She was approached by Crowe and was excited to portray the role due to its significance to the story despite the limited screen time. Russell Crowe as James and Paul Giamatti as Joe Gould are showstoppers and rightfully received nominations to awards and accolades. 

“Every time you get hit feels like I’m getting hit too.”

7. Miss Potter (Chris Noonan, 2006)

The film is a biographical story about the life of the famous author of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter. Beatrix lives with her snobbish, bourgeoise parents in 1902 London. She has a knack for drawing animal figures and making up stories involving them but her parents do not recognise her genius. Instead, her mother is bent upon making her get married to an eligible bachelor. Soon Beatrix’s work impresses a rookie publisher who publishes her work and the film traces her journey through life as she struggles to find success and happiness while juggling her love interests as well as her judgemental mother. 

Zellweger earned her well-deserved Golden Globe nomination for playing this idiosyncratic sinister with honesty and raw emotions and helps retain the sweet innocence even during the brief moments of sadness and melancholy. To prepare for her role, she read actual letters that were exchanged between Beatrice and her lover and found it quite difficult to adjust to the British accent as it was remarkably different from the one she mastered during her Bridget Jones days. She starred opposite Ewan McGregor with whom she was last seen in Down With Love and the pair had always been Noonan’s first choice.

“Stories don’t always end where their authors intended. But there is joy in following them, wherever they take us.”

6. Nurse Betty (Neil LaBute, 2000) 

Although her husband is a good-for-nothing car salesman when Kansas City waitress and wannabe nurse, Betty, sees him getting murdered, she is shocked beyond means. Becoming exceedingly delusional, she suddenly becomes convinced that she is the ex-fiancee of her favourite soap opera idol and goes to L.A. to find him at a hospital where he is employed as a cardiologist. Unbeknownst to her, she drives off with her husband’s car that has drugs stored in the trunk and is soon pursued by his murderers. 

Zellweger won the Golden Globe for her wonderful performance. She is “as mad as a bag of baboons”.  Also, it is more than worth noting that Morgan Freeman and Zellweger are brilliant together on-screen. 

“My friend says if you were any more handsome it would be a crime. It’s a shame you’re such an asshole.”

5. One True Thing (Carl Franklin, 1998)

Ellen gulden is a New York magazine employee whose fast-paced life causes her to stay quite distant. She idealises her father for his fruitful career but bears disdain for her mother who has resorted to domesticated life. However, when her mother Kate is said to have cancer, Ellen, on being persuaded by her father, comes back to take care of her mother and is surprised by her personal ignorance of her mother’s dedication and perseverance. As Kate inches towards death, Ellen learns to love and appreciate her mother even more.

Meryl Streep is extraordinarily natural as the withering Kate and Renee Zellweger do absolute justice to her role as the initially disdainful daughter who gradually comes to love and appreciate her mother. A film that tugs at the heartstrings, the characters are honest and flawed as well as idiosyncratic. The ending is especially poignant as the father-daughter duo come to appreciate the woman for her grace and resplendence and for being there for them despite all the obstacles that stood in her way. 

“It’s only in going uphill that you realize you’re headed downhill.”

4. Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghela, 2003) 

Based on Charles Frazier’s eponymous novel, the film is set in the era of the Civil War and documents themes of friendship and romance, both of which are destroyed by the war on the Oikos as well as the polis. Documenting the horrors of the war and the plight of those working in it as well as the pining souls left behind at home, the film is a poignant tale of desire, faith, hope as well as redemption. Inman is a wounded soldier who undertakes a perilous journey homeward bound to reunite with his lover Ada. 

While the story focuses on Jude Law and Nicole Kidman’s relationship, it also showcases the beautiful friendship that evolves between Kidman’s Ada and Zewellger’s Ruby; the latter is a war survivor ad becomes Ada’s best friend as they recount experiences to one another. Profound, the film paints a terrifying portrait of the war that happens in the backdrop as well as the countless souls ravaged by it. Her brilliant portrayal of Ruby won her the Best Supporting Actress Award – worth all the gallons of coffee she was consuming to keep herself going. 

 “Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war ‘a cloud over the land’ but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say ‘Shit, it’s rainin’!’”

3. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Sharon Maguire, 2001)

A loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the film revolves around a young woman named Bridget who is caught between her affections for two men namely Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver, that she recounts in her diary. Her hot boss Daniel is a womaniser and she catches him red-handed cheating on her while Darcy is engaged to a haughty colleague of his yet clearly harbours secret feelings for Bridget. Standing at crossroads, Bridget Jones needs to find the man of her dreams as time is running out. 

Despite a two-year search for the perfect Bridget, the producers narrowed in on Zewellger as she bright “enormous character and conviction to the part” as she had a very rare gift of being “able to straddle comedy and emotion”. Zewellger, who has the extraordinaire to fit into the role of her characters effortlessly, got a job at London book publishers as a trainee to gain experience. She perfected her south-eastern English and her accent, unlike other American actors and actresses, was not ridiculed. 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”

2. Chicago (Rob Marshall, 2002)

Roxie Hart murders her deceiving boyfriend while Velma Kelly kills her infidel husband and sisters. When the two murderesses are taken to prison, they fight for popularity and attention, trying to win against one another. Their fame also helps them stay away from the gallows and the women try their level best to be the centre of attraction. As a musical, it brings to light various scandals involving celebrities as well as the longstanding corruption in Chicago and the celebrities’ desperate attempts to stay relevant. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger play Velma and Roxie respectively. Zellweger’s Roxie is initially a fan who is hurt and angry after Velma rebuffs her friendship. As the housewife-turned-wannabe-vaudevillian’s story unfolds on-screen, one cannot help but revel in the brilliance of Zewellger’s character who is desperate to attain her oh-so-craved fame. 

“You want some advice, well here’s a piece of advice from me to you, lay off the caramels.”

1. Judy (Rupert Goold, 2019)

In this film, Zewellger portrayed the complex life of Judy Garland and with such vigour and poise that it won her the Best Actress Award at the Academy. Besides upholding the melodramatic lifestyle of Garland, she had also managed to train herself to sing like her. Gary Catona, who calls himself the voice-builder and is famous for teaching people to sing, praised Zewellger’s voice and its dramatic improvement by talking about how Zewellger’s “trick was not impersonating Judy Garland, but bringing something of her own alchemy to it, which I feel she succeeded in doing while remaining true to the character and making it come alive.”

The film revolved around the life of the legendary singer Judy Garland and various upheavals that were beset across her path. Known for her role in the 1939 flick The Wizard of Oz, the beloved singer and actress became the focal point when she arrived in London to perform in various sold-out shows while she is in London, she reflects on her past, her family, friends as well as fans while getting involved in a tumultuous relationship with her fifth husband musician Mickey Deans. Prosthetics were used to extend Zewellger’s nose; Zewellger also had to wear dark grey contacts and walnut-brown cropped hair to impersonate Garland’s iconic look. 

“I just want what everybody wants. I seem to have a harder time getting it.”