Michelle Williams has always gone her own way. The Montana-born actress was legally emancipated from her parents at age 15 so that she could better pursue her acting career and pursue it she did. By age 18, she was starring in the popular TV drama “Dawson’s Creek,” in which she played Meg, a loose big-city teen who relocates to small-town life. In her time away from the TV series, she acted in many small independent films, none of which connected until 2003, when one finally did — Tom McCarthy‘s “The Station Agent,” in which she played a small-town librarian who becomes close to a socially-withdrawn dwarf (Peter Dinklage). That performance earned Williams her first SAG Awards nomination for Best Ensemble.
From there Williams’ film career took off with powerful performances in such films as “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Blue Valentine” (2010), “My Week with Marilyn” (2011) and “Manchester By the Sea’ (2016), earning her four Oscar nominations to date. She also had a recently acclaimed performance in “All the Money in the World” for Ridley Scott. She has received five Golden Globe noms (with one win) and six Screen Actors Guild nominations. In addition, for her Broadway performance opposite Jeff Daniels in 2016’s “Blackbird,” Williams received her first Tony Award nomination.
Williams is now back onscreen as Amy Schumer‘s cosmetic company boss in the new comedy “I Feel Pretty,” so now may be a great time to look back at her career. Take a tour above of her 12 greatest screen performances, ranked worst to best.
12. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017)
In this surprise hit Hugh Jackman musical, Williams has the role of Charity Hallett, the childhood love of P.T. Barnum, whom she marries, raises a family and puts up with his wild show-business dreams. Although the role of a put-upon wife of an unfaithful husband is a familiar one, Williams aces her role, particularly the scenes in his her husband’s infidelity becomes public fodder. And as a bonus, she gets to sing onscreen in a musical at last.
11. MEEK’S CUTOFF (2010)
Williams took on her first role in a Western in her second collaboration with director Kelly Reichardt. Here she portrays Emily Tetherow, part of a group of pioneers on a trek through the Oregon High Desert in 1845. When the journey extends to five weeks instead of the promised two, Emily suspects the frontier guide Stephen Meek doesn’t know where he’s going and, with the help of a captured native, decides to take over and steer the pioneers in the right direction.
10. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)
Celebrated writer Charlie Kaufman made his directorial debut with this mind-bender of a film set in the world of theatre in which a dying director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is attempting to stage a production in a New York warehouse in which he can work through his own personal traumas. In the process, Caden falls in love with and marries one of his stars, Claire Keen (Williams), who bears him a child but who is not the answer to his traumas.
9. WENDY AND LUCY (2008)
A woman and her dog. That’s it — that’s the plot of “Wendy and Lucy.” Although there are a few other characters in the Kelly Reichardt film, it’s basically a one woman, one dog show as Williams plays Wendy, a lonely woman who is traveling to Alaska in hopes of finding a job. With her faithful dog Lucy in tow, she becomes stranded in Oregon, and how Williams communicates her desperate state is heartbreaking to behold.
8. TAKE THIS WALTZ (2011)
“Take This Waltz” is writer/director Sarah Polley‘s Canadian version of “Scenes From a Marriage.” Margot (Williams) is a freelance writer who has been married to her husband Lou (Seth Rogen) for five years. On a business trip, she meets and is romantically attracted to Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist and rickshaw driver who happens to be her neighbor in Toronto.
7. SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)
Martin Scorsese‘s twisted thriller, based on the book by Dennis Lehane, is set in a mysterious psychiatric facility which is being investigated by U.S. marshals including Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio). Teddy suffers from severe migraines and has troubling dreams about his late wife Dolores (Williams), who may have been killed by a patient in the facility.
6. THE STATION AGENT (2003)
Williams had done 10 films prior to Tom McCarthy‘s “The Station Agent,” but it was this film that first put her on critics’ radar, earning Williams her first SAG Ensemble nomination. Williams plays Emily, a small-town librarian who is pregnant, thanks to her cad of a boyfriend. She soon becomes friends with Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf who lives in a small railroad depot, who has withdrawn from meeting new people, an attitude that changes when Emily comes into his life.
5. ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (2017)
It’s too bad that Williams’ part in this film may be remembered more for the fact that co-star Mark Wahlberg got paid $1.5 million for the reshoot with Christopher Plummer, and Williams was only paid $80 a day for doing the exact same job. It’s especially true because Williams carries much of the film (whenever Plummer isn’t on screen) as the mother of the kidnapped J. Paul Getty victim, and she makes you feel in every moment how much she wants her son back.
4. BLUE VALENTINE (2010)
“Blue Valentine’s” nonlinear storyline tells the challenging story of Cindy (Williams), an aspiring doctor who is knocked up by another man but marries house painter Dean (Ryan Gosling). They desperately love each other, but as the marriage progresses, it becomes clear to them both the union simply is not going to work out.
3. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011)
Hired to be Marilyn Monroe in a movie? What could possibly go wrong? In this case, nothing. Williams wisely delivers the essence of Monroe rather than a cheap impersonation in this story of a young man (Eddie Redmayne) who attends to the star as she films “The Prince & the Showgirl” with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh).
2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)
In Kenneth Lonergan‘s Oscar-winning script, Williams plays Randi, ex-wife of handyman Lee (Oscar champ Casey Affleck), whose neglect while drunk led to a house fire that killed their three children. When she runs into her ex, a tearful Randi apologizes for her behavior at their divorce hearing, while he still feels he’s not worthy of forgiveness.
1. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)
Williams earned her first Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, as well as her third SAG nomination in Oscar winner Ang Lee‘s adaptation of the Annie Proulx short story about the love shared by two cowboys — Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal). Williams plays Ennis’ wife Alma, who witnesses the affection between the two men and cannot reconcile her love with the bond between her husband and Jack.