The Oscar-winning actress shows off her wide acting range in these excellent works.
There’s range, and then there’s Jessica Chastain’s filmography. A Juilliard-trained performer who has conquered both the stage and screen, acted in mega-blockbusters and indie passion projects, and starred in two separate bio-dramas centered around famous women named Tammy, Chastain has carved a name for herself over the last decade as one of Hollywood’s most committed and versatile artists. Given her predilection for letting her work speak for itself, we’ll keep the intro short; without further ado, here are the 15 best Jessica Chastain movies and TV shows, ranked.
“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (2013–2014)
One of the most uniquely structured works in Chastain’s repertoire, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby contains three films in one: Him, Her, and Them. Written and directed by Ned Benson and clocking in at five hours and 24 minutes of cinema released separately during 2013 and 2014, the overarching title refers to her character as well as the iconic Beatles song off 1966's Revolver.
A story of loss, grief, and the difficulty of existing amidst all the lonely people, the films follow the relationship of a married couple — Connor Ludlow (James McAvoy) and Eleanor Rigby (Chastain) — from three different perspectives: his, hers, and theirs together, which takes the first two movies and edits them into a linear story. Also starring Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Isabelle Huppert, and William Hurt in supporting roles, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby received some light criticism for its heavy-handed dialogue, which is easily overlooked thanks to the strength of Chastain and McAvoy’s respective performances.
“George and Tammy” (2022)
Chastain’s career may have started in television, but her best TV role came in the recent Showtime series George and Tammy. A bio-drama following country music stars George Jones and Tammy Wynette, the show reunites Chastain with Michael Shannon over a decade after their powerful work in Take Shelter (2011). Based on the book The Three of Us: Growing Up with Tammy and George (written by the couple’s child, Georgette Jones), the series follows both singers’ careers as well as their tumultuous six-year marriage with both actors doing their own singing. In an interview with EW, Chastain says that while they felt scared about the project, working opposite each other provided a sense of security. And her effort did not go unnoticed; she received a Golden Globe nomination and won the SAG Award for the role.
“Miss Sloane” (2016)
In the cutthroat world of political lobbying, ethics are often left at the door. But in the political thriller Miss Sloane, Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) discovers there’s one guideline she can’t cross. After her lobbying firm is approached by a gun manufacturer to rally against a proposed gun reform policy, Elizabeth switches sides and agrees to support the bill. Employing all the ruthlessness that has made her one of the most formidable minds in politics, she soon discovers that her opponents are just as cunning as she is — and are willing to stop at nothing to kill both the bill and her career.
Armed only with stilettos and one-liners, Chastain shines as a morally duplicitous, Nietzsche-esque legislative assassin for hire, playing the policy game like a chess match that she refuses to lose. Featuring a supporting cast of characters designed to showcase the full spectrum of D.C. virtue, Miss Sloane is a more realistic House of Cards fronted by a protagonist whose motivations remain murky until the very end.
“Take Shelter” (2011)
A rumination on marriage, commitment, and mental health, Take Shelter is a psychological thriller told through the eyes of Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), an Ohio man who works in construction, is deeply in love with his wife, Samantha (Chastain), and is a devoted father to his deaf daughter, Hannah. On the surface, Curtis seemingly has it all. But as he begins to suffer from a series of apocalyptic visions, he struggles to identify whether the storm he foresees is really coming or is the result of his family’s history of mental illness.
A modern American epic, Take Shelter is very much Shannon’s movie, but his triumphant performance as the deteriorating Curtis wouldn’t be possible without Chastain’s Samantha. With financial and medical problems crushing the family from all sides, she refuses to give up on her husband, and the film’s climactic (and open to interpretation) ending is a true testament to the strength of their romantic connection and partnership.
Before Oppenheimer landed in theaters with the force of a 180-minute long explosion, Interstellar was Christopher Nolan’s longest film ever — and the director packs a lot of sentimentality into his 169-minute sci-fi drama. Set in the year 2067, a group of NASA scientists travels to space to investigate three planets that could potentially host humans as a worldwide famine sweeps Earth. It’s not a Nolan film without a departure from the usual rules of time and space; In Interstellar, one hour on a planet is equivalent to seven years on Earth, which is why Chastain shares the role of Cooper’s (Matthew McConaughey) daughter with Mackenzie Foy and Ellen Burstyn. Chastain’s screen time might be limited, but she turns on what EW’s critic describes as her “authentic, emotive” performing style, helping transform this sci-fi film into a tender story about the love between a father and his daughter.
“Crimson Peak” (2015)
It’s hard to say what’s scarier about Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance Crimson Peak: the ghosts haunting the film or Chastain’s performance as Lucille Sharpe. When a young heiress and aspiring novelist named Edith (Mia Wasikowska) falls in love with an English inventor (Tom Hiddleston), the two marry and move into the tumbledown mansion where he lives with his sister (Chastain). Built atop a foundation of red clay, Crimson Peak houses a number of family secrets, any of which would be enough to send Edith fleeing back home to America. But the more she learns about the Sharpe siblings and their alarming past, the more trapped she becomes in their web of mystery and madness.
An aesthetic triumph that EW’s critic describes as a “cobwebs-and-candelabras chamber piece,” Crimson Peak is a turn-of-the-century ghost story with Edgar Allan Poe vibes and strains of some of the ickier elements of Game of Thrones.
“The Debt” (2010)
A Holocaust film that takes place years after the fact, The Debt is a time-jumping thriller following three Mossad agents who attempt to capture a Nazi war criminal and return him to Israel to stand trial. With narrative components that loosely nod to the real Mossad arrest and extraction of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann — but with major deviations and added drama — the film alternates between 1965 and 1997, with Chastain and Helen Mirren sharing the role of Rachel Singer at different points in her life.
Described by EW’s critic at the time as an “entertaining riff on Munich,” (and notably also featuring Irish actor Ciarán Hinds, who seems to have a monopoly on playing Israeli operatives), the film ping-pongs between the ‘60s with its high-stakes mission and subsequent complications, and the ‘90s, where the three agents continue to wrestle with the secret they share from that period. As the glue holding the whole story together, Chastain deftly balances the movie’s themes of love, revenge, and regret, adding humanity to a role that also requires a great deal of badassery.
“The Good Nurse” (2022)
Nurses are angels with the power to do the work of demons. In the Netflix original psychological thriller The Good Nurse, Amy Loughren (Chastain) is a night nurse with a work husband: Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). A single mom suffering from a serious heart condition, Amy is shocked to learn that the recent death of one of their hospital’s patients might have been intentional — and Charles might be involved. The more Amy digs, the more she realizes the co-worker she trusts is actually someone far more nefarious. Based on the true story of how the real-life Amy Loughren helped authorities take down serial killer Charles Cullen, The Good Nurse is good old-fashioned, ripped-from-the-headlines cinema with a story made all the more terrifying because so little of it is exaggerated. (Trust us: You’ve never seen Redmayne like this before.)
“The Help” (2011)
The Help is not a perfect film, but it does feature a near-perfect (and Oscar-nominated) performance from Chastain in the role of Celia Rae Foote. Adapted from the 2009 best-selling novel, the movie follows a young, white writer (Emma Stone) who returns to her hometown of Jackson, Miss., where she witnesses systemic racism targeted at the community’s Black maids, all of which compels her to publish a tell-all book with their help.
Well-deserving of the accusations for centering the story around non-Black experiences and themes of white saviorism, The Help does have many bright spots, and the acting tops that list. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer give career-rocketing performances as two of the maids fighting back against the toxic workplace treatment, and Chastain provides both levity and pathos in her role as a rejected would-be member of the town’s socialite scene. Playing opposite Spencer in some of the film’s best two-handers, the pair wrestle with power and privilege, social vulnerability, and accepting people as they are.
“A Most Violent Year” (2014)
Chastain appeared in four films in 2014: a sci-fi movie (Interstellar), a period drama (Miss Julie), a high-profile indie (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them), and a crime drama (A Most Violent Year). Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the latter features Chastain as Anna, the wife of oilman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), who struggles to maintain his morality while growing his business amidst the violence and corruption that marked New York City in the early ‘80s.
A Most Violent Year allows Chastain to put on a masterclass in acting range: Anna is strong, willing to put her family above all else, ethically duplicitous, confrontational, and campy. Despite serving as what EW’s writer describes as a “worthy showcase” of the stars’ talents, the movie was overlooked by the Academy. Still, the film has stood the test of time, and the role remains one of Chastain’s more memorable performances.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021)
Tammy Faye is the character that finally won Chastain her Academy Award. It was also the first time she starred in a biopic as a real woman named Tammy. The film follows the rise and fall of Christian televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, a complicated woman whose love of Jesus and radical acceptance of those in the LGBTQ+ community was compromised by her errant financial enrichment, pill addiction, and scandal-plagued husband.
Acting opposite Andrew Garfield, who stars as her spouse and business partner Jim, Chastain’s transformation into Bakker throughout multiple points in her life is physically and emotionally riveting. The film is based on a documentary from 2000, and while some would argue the predecessor features a more compelling story, Chastain’s performance offers strong points in favor of watching both.
“The Martian” (2015)
Chastain has acted in her fair share of sci-fi space movies (hello, Interstellar), but none was as well-received as Ridley Scott’s 2015 film, The Martian. Based on author Andy Weir’s best-selling novel and fronted by a tour de force performance from Matt Damon, the film was nominated for Oscars in multiple categories, including Best Picture, but the real winner here is science.
The film begins on Mars in the year 2035 where astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) and his fellow NASA crew members — led by Commander Melissa Lewis, as played by Chastain — find their mission interrupted by severe weather. After Watney is knocked out by the storm and presumed dead, his crew departs without him, leaving the astronaut stranded on the Red Planet. Unwilling to give up, Watney, whose area of expertise is botany, must figure out how to connect with comms and survive for four years on Mars. Scott and his team worked closely with NASA experts to nail the science of the film, but it’s Damon who gives the movie its humanity and humor, with help from Chastain and the rest of the film’s deep bench of supporting players.
“The Tree of Life” (2011)
2011 was when Hollywood sat up and took notice of Jessica Chastain. The actress appeared in six films that year: Coriolanus, Wilde Salomé, Texas Killing Fields, Take Shelter, The Help, and the most inscrutable, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Also starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, the movie is artistic, abstract, and unlike anything you’ve seen before. Placing more emphasis on themes than narrative, the script — which follows the O’Brien clan from the 1940s onwards — is a meditation on God, family, choices, and the endless tug-of-war between nature and nurture. What little story exists is told through the eyes and memories of the oldest O’Brien child, Jack (played as an adult by Penn), and Chastain calls the film the “high point” of her life.
A project so emotional that Chastain says she hasn’t watched it since its release, The Tree of Life is a cinematic masterpiece of ambitious proportions, striving to fit both the vastness of the entire universe and the intimacy of one family into the same movie.
“Molly’s Game” (2017)
Generally critiqued for his struggles in writing complex female characters with agendas independent of the men they work with, Aaron Sorkin strikes a commendable balance in Molly’s Game. The story follows Molly Bloom (Chastain), a young skier who, after her Olympic dreams end in injury, uses her athletically-earned gifts of confidence and composure to run an exclusive underground poker ring. Based on Bloom’s real-life memoir, the film’s two-hour and 20-minute run time races by in a series of flashbacks and narration as she relays her riches-to-rags story to her lawyer (Idris Elba).
Celebrity gossip enthusiasts will delight in Michael Cera’s performance as an unpleasant Hollywood actor and poker enthusiast who, according to Cera, is based on Tobey Maguire. Despite being Sorkin’s directorial debut, EW’s critic calls Molly’s Game a “cool, crackling, confident film that appeals to your intelligence instead of insulting it.”
“Zero Dark Thirty” (2012)
Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a historically accurate account of the era during which Osama bin Laden was hunted and killed, but it is an unquestionably gripping thriller. Written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film’s release prompted controversy on all sides, with some arguing that it propagandized the Obama administration and others claiming it glorified the CIA’s use of torture tactics. The one thing all sides can agree on is that Chastain delivers a standout performance as Maya, a CIA analyst tasked with finding bin Laden. While the character serves as a composite of the many people who contributed to the terrorist’s capture and killing, Chastain plays her with a restrained, obsessive fervor.
Somehow, Boal’s writing and Bigelow’s direction manage to condense a decade’s worth of teeth-grindingly frustrating detective work into a terse 157 minutes, which culminates in a climactic Seal Team Six raid. The film might not constitute good journalism, but as far as cinematic appeal and performances are concerned, it’s a must-see.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.