1. Magnolia (1999)

IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Storyline

Magnolia weaves together nine narratives. Julianne Moore plays Linda Partridge, a woman struggling with guilt and insecurity. She is married to a much older, terminally ill man, whom she initially married for money, but eventually shared a deep bond of love.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore brings great depth to her character, greeting the viewer with an unexpected biting rage that underlines her guilt and rightens her fear of judgement after her husband passes away. The peak of her performance arrives in a pharmacy where she curses and screams at the employees, showcasing a frantic desperation that makes the audience empathise with the gravity of her situation.

This role scooped her third Oscar nomination. She takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster throughout the film. Moore’s breath-taking performance demonstrates her vast talent and capacity for depicting raw humanity.

2. Far from Heaven (2002)

IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

Storyline

In Far from Heaven, Moore portrays a 1950s housewife whose life begins to crumble as she discovers her husband’s homosexuality. As her world implodes, she develops feelings for her African-American gardener, creating more scandal and turmoil in her already chaotic life.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore’s portrayal of Cathy Whitaker is carefully crafted and modulated. She expertly conveys Cathy’s struggle to maintain appearances while dealing with social rejection, an unfaithful husband, and the pressure of forbidden love. The constrained emotion Moore displays won her critical acclaim.

This role led to Moore’s fourth Oscar nomination, validating her reputation as one of the finest actresses in Hollywood. Her ability to evoke and navigate emotional complexity further cements her status in cinematic history.

3. Boogie Nights (1997)

IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Storyline

The film follows the rise and fall of porn star Dirk Diggler, with Moore playing Amber Waves, a leading porn actress and maternal figure to Diggler and others in the industry.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore’s portrayal of Amber Waves is empathetic, nuanced, and raw. Caught in a world of drugs and adult film, Moore’s character is both glamorous and tragic, as she battles addiction and fights for custody of her son.

Moore presents a remarkable range, taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. Her portrayal shines a humanizing light on the largely stigmatized adult film industry. This role was Moore’s first Oscar-nominated performance.

4. Still Alice (2014)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

Storyline

Moore plays Alice Howland, a linguistics professor struggling to hold onto her personal and professional identity after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore delivers a powerful and touching performance. She realistically portrays the gradual progression of Alzheimer’s, showing both the early signs of forgetfulness and the later stages of severe cognitive impairment.

Moore won the Best Actress Oscar for this role. She beautifully captures the despair, confusion, and terror that come with such a heartbreaking diagnosis, providing a raw, emotional experience for viewers and demonstrating her extraordinary acting capabilities.

5. The Hours (2002)

IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%

Storyline

In The Hours, three women’s lives intertwine around Virginia Woolf’s novel. Moore plays Laura Brown, a pregnant 1950s housewife who contemplates suicide as she feels trapped in her mundane life.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore is poignant in her portrayal of Laura’s depression, blending despair and subtle rage into a nuanced performance that evokes empathy from the audience.

Moore was nominated for Best Supporting Actress by the Academy for this role. As a woman oppressed by societal expectations, Moore excellently portrays depression, leading many to consider this role as one of her best performances.

6. The Kids Are All Right (2010)

IMDB Rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Storyline

The Kids Are All Right tells the story of a lesbian couple whose lives are disrupted when their children seek out their biological father.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore plays Jules, the more free-spirited half of the couple. She delivers a complex and raw performance as she tries to navigate her own identity, struggles with her partnership, and grapples with the sudden entrance of the biological father into their family’s life.

Moore’s ability to convey the deep vulnerability and emotional complexities of Jules speaks to her strength and range as an actress. She earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

7. Safe (1995)

IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

Storyline

Safe is about Carol White, a typical suburban housewife in the 1980s, who begins to suffer from a mysterious illness seemingly triggered by her environment.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore delivers a meticulous and breathtaking performance. Her portrayal of Carol’s mounting fear and alienation makes for an anxiety-provoking and starkly moving film.

Safe was a definitive moment in Moore’s career where she cemented her reputation as a brave, thoughtful, and capable actress.

8. Short Cuts (1993)

IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Storyline

In Short Cuts, residents of Los Angeles go about their daily lives, interweaving their loves and losses. Moore plays Marian Wyman, an artist whose marital troubles escalate due to a misunderstanding.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore’s performance as Marian is powerfully nuanced. She perfectly depicts the disarray of a woman grappling with the complexities of modern love and commitment.

Short Cuts holds a pivotal place in Moore’s career. This film propelled her into the spotlight, earning her praise for her talent and versatility.

9. A Single Man (2009)

IMDB Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

Storyline

In A Single Man, set in 1960s California, Moore plays Charley, a British expatriate and best friend to George, a gay man grieving the loss of his long-term partner.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore delivers a moving performance, managing to create a truly memorable character with limited screen time. She paints an unforgettable portrayal of Charley: a lonely, ageing woman seeking comfort and companionship.

It’s a testament to Moore’s incredible talent that Charley, though not the main character, is remembered vividly for her vivacity, vulnerability, and the raw emotion Moore brings to the role.

10. Game Change (2012)

IMDB Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

Storyline

In Game Change, based on true events, Moore plays Sarah Palin – the controversial Republican Vice Presidential nominee during the 2008 United States Presidential election.

Why it’s a major performance

Moore’s portrayal of Sarah Palin is uncanny in its accuracy. Without turning Palin into a caricature, she presents a multi-faceted image of Palin – the charismatic, confident public figure and the insecure, ill-prepared candidate.

Moore won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her performance in Game Change. By humanizing a heavily criticized public figure, Moore showed her incredible range and depth as an actress.