1. We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

IMDB: 7.5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%

Storyline: “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is a psychological horror drama that details the life of Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton). The movie explores Eva’s relationship with her sociopathic son Kevin and the consequences of his terrible actions. The story is presented from Eva’s perspective, cataloging the events leading up to Kevin’s horrifying act and her attempt to come to terms with the part she might have played in shaping who he became.

Why it’s a major performance: In a deeply complex and emotionally gripping performance, Tilda Swinton portrays a mother weighed down by guilt, blame, and societal contempt. She shows remarkable skill in balancing the dual emotions of affection for her child and self-blame. Without losing sight of her character’s humanity, Swinton magnificently navigates the dynamics between the mother and son, painting a hauntingly bleak picture of a confused, heartbroken mother on the edge.

Swinton’s ability to get under her character’s skin and portray the raw, unedited emotions of guilt, dread, and isolation is powerful. The movie probes difficult, often ignored societal issues and Swinton plays a crucial part in this exploration with her immersive performance. It is the weight of her portrayal that takes the issues in question beyond the confines of the screen and into the viewer’s conscience.

2. Michael Clayton (2007)

IMDB: 7.2

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

Storyline: “Michael Clayton” is a legal drama and thriller centered on a “fixer” for a law firm, Michael Clayton. Tilda Swinton plays Karen Crowder, the chief counsel for an agrochemical corporation embroiled in a class-action lawsuit. As the corporation’s point woman, Karen ends up in a dubious position that sluggishly eats up her conscience leading to a climactic showdown.

Why it’s a major performance: Tilda Swinton’s turn as a company’s chief counsel is staggering in its authenticity. She portrays the character’s transition from holding everything together to crumbling under the corporate wheels with stunning subtlety. Swinton’s performance gives depth to a character who is essentially morally variable.

Swinton won an Academy Award for her performance in this film, and it isn’t hard to see why. She excels at representing the interior compulsions and struggles of her guilty character pushing ethical boundaries. The intensity she brings to the role enriches the overall viewing experience and adds further depth to a complex plot.

3. I Am Love (2009)

IMDB: 7.0

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Storyline: “I Am Love” is a drama set in the rich milieu of an Italian family. Tilda Swinton plays Emma, a Russian immigrant who marries into a wealthy Italian family. As she tries to find her identity within the family, an illicit love affair threatens to destroy the family’s legacy.

Why it’s a major performance: Swinton’s portrayal of a tortured soul, torn between loyalty to her family and her own heart’s desires, is mesmerizing. Her ability to project the character’s inner turmoil, feelings of alienation, and ultimate liberation without the usual melodrama is a testament to her mastery as an actress.

Swinton learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent for the role, demonstrating her commitment to her craft. The seamless blends of melancholy, passion, and charm she invested into the character were met with critical acclaim that recognized the film as a modern masterpiece.

4. Burn After Reading (2008)

IMDB: 7.0

Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

Storyline: “Burn After Reading” is a black comedy crime film that weaves together the lives of two gym employees, an intelligence analyst, and his wife. Tilda Swinton plays Katie Cox, the unfaithful wife of an ousted CIA official, who inadvertently gets entangled in a series of farcical misunderstandings.

Why it’s a major performance: As the frigid, self-centered Katie, Swinton is blisteringly funny. Her stone-cold demeanor and callousness provide a stark contrast to the bumbling goofiness of the other characters. This, paradoxically, only enhances the hilarity of the situation.

Swinton reveals her versatility by seamlessly slipping into a comedic role. Her fundamental understanding of character dynamics, combined with her impeccable comic timing, adds a level of sophistication to the slapstick humor. Such mastery in a character whose primary role is comedic rather than dramatic, showcases her aptitude and range as an actress.

5. Constantine (2005)

IMDB: 7.0

Rotten Tomatoes: 46%

Storyline: In “Constantine”, a supernatural horror film, Tilda Swinton plays the Angel Gabriel who is set on unleashing hell on Earth. The film follows detective/exorcist John Constantine’s attempts to prevent this from happening.

Why it’s a major performance: Swinton’s androgynous portrayal of the angel Gabriel is mesmerizing. She imbues Gabriel with a chilling aloofness, an almost celestial dispassion that is both transfixing and terrifying.

Swinton masterfully layers her performance with an enigmatic appeal, maintaining a delicate balance between vulnerability and menace. She artfully sustains a sense of mystery and ambiguity about her character, leaving viewers in a gripping anticipation. Her compelling portrayal is a stand-out in a film peppered with high-profile performances.

6. A Bigger Splash (2015)

IMDB: 6.4

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

Storyline: “A Bigger Splash” is a dramatic thriller that unfolds on a sun-drenched Italian island. Tilda Swinton plays Marianne Lane, a world-famous rock star trying to recover her voice and enjoying a holiday with her lover. The arrival of an old friend and his daughter disrupts their tranquil existence leading to tension and drama.

Why it’s a major performance: Playing a character struggling to regain her voice, Swinton manipulates her limited dialogue with emotive expressions, body language, and silent eloquence. Her portrayal of Marianne is an exquisite study in understated acting, making her silences speak louder than words.

The complexity of Marianne’s persona is laid out in all its nuances by Tilda who transforms emotional restraint into a compelling narrative tool. The film won her critical acclaim for a character portrayal persona that’s both emotionally fragile and astoundingly resilient.

7. Orlando (1992)

IMDB: 7.2

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Storyline: Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, “Orlando” is a historical drama where Tilda Swinton plays the titular character, a man who lives for several centuries and mysteriously becomes a woman.

Why it’s a major performance: Swinton’s transformative and enigmatic portrayal of Orlando is a masterclass in character evolution. She utilizes her androgynous features to depict the gradual transformation deftly, imbuing Orlando with a unique personality that stays irrespective of the gender.

Swinton’s performance is a delicate balance of strength and vulnerability, capturing Orlando’s evolution in thought, desire, and physicality. Her ability to delve deeply into Orlando’s psyche, traversing centuries and gender change, garnered rightful critical acclaim for its depth and versatility.

8. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

IMDB: 7.3

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

Storyline: This film, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” is a vampire-themed romantic drama. Tilda Swinton plays Eve, who, along with her lover Adam, are centuries-old vampires living apart in different cities. When she learns of Adam’s depression, she flies down to reunite with him, only to have their peaceful existence shattered by the arrival of her wild sister Ava.

Why it’s a major performance: As Eve, Swinton brings a calming, regal presence to contrast with Adam’s morose character. Her portrayal of an ancient vampire, knowledgeable but still fascinated by life, funnels charm and elegance into an otherwise dark and brooding narrative.

Swinton’s naturalistic portrayal of a centuries-old vampire brings depth and romance to the role, elevating the film to something more than a typical genre picture. Her ethereal performance, coupled with her character’s unusual circumstances, shines a different light on immortality, love, and time, making it an unforgettable role.

9. The Deep End (2001)

IMDB: 6.6

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%

Storyline: In “The Deep End,” Tilda Swinton plays Margaret Hall, a mother who, after discovering the body of her son’s lover, arranges to dispose of the body herself to protect her son. However, when a man discovers her secret, it sets her on an eerie and dangerous path.

Why it’s a major performance: Swinton’s portrayal of a strong-willed, protective mother is one filled with tension and determination. Her character has to deal with threats while still maintaining her role as a mother, and Swinton’s performance deftly juggles these two aspects.

Swinton’s nuanced portrayal of fear, desperation, and compassion, all while operating under intense stress, packs an emotional punch. The movie is held together by her brilliantly crafted performance, which maintains a slow-paced suspense that keeps the audience glued till the end.

10. Snowpiercer (2013)

IMDB: 7.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 94%

Storyline: “Snowpiercer” is a post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller that takes place on a globe-spanning train carrying the last remnants of humanity after a new ice age. Tilda Swinton plays Mason, the train’s authoritarian second-in-command who maintains the oppressive class system onboard.

Why it’s a major performance: As Mason, Swinton is virtually unrecognizable behind thick glasses and false teeth, playing a character who is both grotesque and unnerving. Her outlandish accent and constant oscillation between obsequiousness towards the train’s overlord and cruelty towards the lower class passengers is terrifying.

Swinton’s performance is wildly different from anything she has done before, showcasing her versatility as an actress. She brings a certain eccentric humor to the role, prompting both laughter and discomfort from the audience, enhancing the surreal, dystopian tone of the film.