Annette Bening’s Best Performances: ‘Nyad,’ ’20th Century Women,’ ‘The Kids Are All Right,’ and More

Annette Bening really should have gotten an Oscar by now, shouldn’t she? A consummate professional, Bening has been a star since 1990, when she received a Supporting Actress nod for her turn as a sexed-up con artist in “The Grifters.” Since then, she’s been a constant welcome presence on film, an actor that can be relied upon to give a charismatic, layered, and smartly calibrated performance. But, for one reason or another, she’s never quite taken home the gold.

Now on her fifth overall nomination and fourth Best Actress nod, Bening doesn’t seem overall likely to change that this year. She’s not a top competitor for her role in “Nyad,” in which she plays the eponymous long-distance swimmer with a penchant for self-mythologizing. Bening is one of the categories longshot competitors, as the likes of Emma Stone and Lily Gladstone are widely seen as frontrunners for the overall prize. That doesn’t have much to do with her performance; Bening is as good as ever in the prickly, often deeply unlikable part. But the film itself is only middling, and seems unlikely to be the one to give her the career statue. Still, in the unlikely event it does happen, there would be worse things in the world than see a great actor like Bening recognized.

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Born in Topeka, Kansas, Bening studied theater in San Francisco State University, and began her career in theater, receiving a Tony nomination for the play “Coastal Disturbances” in 1987. After her breakthrough performance in 1990, she met her future husband Warren Beatty on the set of Barry Levinson biopic “Bugsy,” and starred in a raft of great films like “Richard III” and “The American President” across the ’90s. Her acclaimed turn in Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty” fully established her as a leading actor, and from there she’s been a consistent workhorse, consistently turning out great work worthy of an Oscar, both in the films she actually got nominated for (“The Kids Are All Right,” “Being Julia”) and the ones she didn’t (“20th Century Women.”)

In celebration of Bening’s fifth Academy Award nomination, IndieWire decided to revisit the star’s incredible career to determine which performances stand out as the brightest. In ranking this list, films are sorted based on the quality of Bening’s work, rather than the overall quality of the movie itself. With that said, read on for Annette Bening’s 10 Best Movie Performances, ranked.

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