Look at the range. The contrast. And these stills are from the same movie!
The Impossible may be the role that lands Naomi Watts an Oscar, but she's been doing outstanding big screen work for more than a decade. And, yes, I know she got her Oscar nomination for suffering through the misery porn of Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams, but trust me, she's better than that. Read on and you'll understand.
1. Mulholland Drive (2001)
It remains inexplicable that Watts failed to land an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance in David Lynch's cracked-mirror psychodrama. It might actually be the quintessential example of actorly flexibility: Lynch reverse-engineered the picture from a failed TV pilot, drastically changing the conception of Watts's character as an innocent young woman from Deep River, Ontario. In the finished film, Watts ends up playing two completely different characters - and then there's whatever she busts out during that jaw-dropping audition sequence. It's the role of a lifetime, and Watts makes every beat resonate.
2. King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson's love song to the 1933 monster classic is an amazing accomplishment: not only is the film a technical marvel, but the delicate tone of innocent, large-scale adventure is maintained from beginning to end. Quite a lot of that is due to Watts, who brings her amazing range to the role of starlet-turned-ape-bride Ann Darrow, acting so convincingly opposite intricate visual effects that it's easy to believe she's really sharing the screen with a giant ape. (She's certainly a lot more believable as Kong's soulmate than she is as Adrien Brody's.)
3. The Ring (2002)
Gore Verbinski's chilly remake of the Japanese cult hit casts Watts as a journalist and single mother who's sucked into a web of supernatural horror when she makes the mistake of playing an accursed VHS tape. As with Kong, all the digital booga-booga would be a lot harder to believe if Watts didn't make Rachel's mounting terror and confusion so utterly real. She returned for a sequel, The Ring Two, but even with original Ringu director Hideo Nakata at the helm, the magic just wasn't there.
4. Ellie Parker (2005)
Scott Coffey's no-budget comedy about struggling actors in Los Angeles - expanded from a short film he took to Sundance in 2001 - casts Watts as an Australian actor looking for her first big break. Or at least the job that will lead to her first big break. Or any job at all, really. In the meantime, she takes classes and sees her therapist and does her best to make every moment of her life as theatrical as possible. It's messy and ungainly and loaded with cheap shots at L.A.'s culture of hipsters and posers, but Watts never condescends to the material. It's a brilliantly observed performance by an actor who spent just enough time in that world to be grateful she got out.
5. Tank Girl (1995)
Sure, Rachel Talalay's frenetic feature-length adaptation of Jamie Hewlett's punk comic strip is objectively insane: Lori Petty with a mohawk! Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo! Malcolm McDowell drinking people's souls or something! But Watts manages to create a calm centre as Tank Girl's hyper-competent sidekick, Jet Girl. She feels weirdly authentic in a movie where everything's balls-out crazy. That's actually pretty impressive.