Disney has finally released its latest live-action adaptation Cruella in theaters and on Disney+ following a year-long delay, and in honor of the occasion, I’ve decided to look back on the already impressive career of the film’s Oscar-winning star, Emma Stone.
Though we were first introduced to Cruella de Vil as the antagonist in Disney’s animated classic 101 Dalmatians, she’s hardly the villain in this new film. Instead, she’s the heroine who seeks revenge on the Baroness (Emma Thompson), who is responsible for the death of Cruella’s mother. With the help of a couple of London street thieves played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser, Cruella beats the Baroness at her own game, taking the fashion world by storm and avenging her mother.
Though Stone acquits herself well in the iconic role, Cruella ultimately fell outside of Stone’s 10 best movies, at least for me. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, she just has a really solid track record over the past 15 years, whether she’s the star of the show or there in support, as she was early in her career in fun films like The Rocker, The House Bunny and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Take a look at my list of Stone’s 10 best movies below, and be sure to leave a comment below with your own personal rankings. Once you’ve done that, check out our review of Cruella here, since Stone’s latest may very well wind up on your list after you’ve seen it.
10. The Help
The Help hasn’t aged all that well, given the fact that it has been disowned as a “white savior narrative” by several of its cast members, but for what it’s worth, I thought it was a solid studio movie about the sad state of race relations in the early ’60s. Stone plays Skeeter Phelan, a young writer in Jackson, Mississippi who doesn’t like how her racist white friends — and her own family — treat their Black maids. These women helped raise Skeeter and she sticks up for them, helping them tell their stories, much to the chagrin of her childhood best friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard). Though Skeeter is praised for her courage, it’s “the help” who were brave enough to share their stories with her despite fear of retribution, and as such, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (in an Oscar-winning performance) are surely the reason to see this film. Still, Stone proves to be a sturdy emotional anchor — one who tries to do the right thing and lead by example — and she deserves credit for helping to guide this crowd-pleasing movie to a Best Picture nomination.
9. The Amazing Spider-Man
Though Stone caught some flack when she was originally cast as Gwen Stacy because so many people associated her as a redhead, the naturally blonde actress subverted expectations with her turn as Peter Parker’s love interest, who is hardly a damsel in distress in this film. After all, she’s the one who infiltrates Oscorp and creates an antidote cloud that saves those who were injected with Curt Connors’ serum — but not before the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) fatally wounds her father, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), who begs Peter (Andrew Garfield) to stay away from Gwen before his death. Though this ultimately proves to be a hard promise for Peter to keep, it gives Stone the chance to play the rare tragic note in a comic book movie as a girl who has lost the two most important men in her life. We’re also confident that she’ll recover, as Stone imbues Gwen with strength, intelligence and resilience — three traits that serve her well in the sequel before her tragic death at the hands of Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan).
8. Crazy, Stupid Love
Sure, this is Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling‘s movie, but Stone provides the common link even though her identity is something of a mystery throughout most of this film. The actress radiates strength and confidence as Hannah, and I like how she rejects Jacob, Gosling’s smooth-talking ladies man, the first time he tries to pick her up — though I also can’t blame her for giving him a second chance after her own boyfriend (Josh Groban) chooses to offer her a job rather than his hand in marriage. Naturally, Hannah’s father finds out about her secret relationship with Jacob and forbids her from seeing him. A lot of fathers would likely do the same. The catch is that by the third act, Jacob has fallen in love with Hannah and is ready to change his ways. Again, Stone doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting here, but to give credit where it’s due, she’s the one who encourages Gosling to take his shirt off in this movie and expose his hot “photoshopped” bod, for which a grateful nation thanks her.
This was our first glimpse at Emma Stone: Badass Extraordinaire and all things considered, I think she sold that image pretty well in this balls-to-the-wall zombie flick. She’s perfectly cast as Wichita, older sister of Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and love interest of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), who is just trying to survive long enough to see the sequel. She’s very protective of her kid sister, even though Little Rock is hardly the sweet little innocent 12-year-old many assume her to be. She and Wichita are well-practiced con artists who steal the Columbus and Tallahassee’s (Woody Harrelson) guns and their car before ultimately taking them hostage and agreeing to a truce in the name of survival. Stone had already demonstrated her comedy chops by this point, but it makes sense that she would be one of the few to survive a zombie apocalypse, as she gives Wichita a gritty determination that compliments the sense of humor she’s forced to have regarding the insanity of their terrifying predicament. The 2019 sequel may not have lived up to expectations but the mere fact that it existed at all is a testament to the goodwill generated by the first film and the chemistry shared by its dynamic cast.
Believe it or not, I covered the premiere of this movie for Variety. I can still remember interviewing Michael Cera and Jonah Hill poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel. It was Jonah’s first big movie and he was nervous. It was perfectly understandable, but he needn’t worry, as he came off like a bolt of comedy lightning as Seth in that Sony film. Likewise, Christopher Mintz-Plasse earned himself a place in movie history with his turn as McLovin’. And yet, if I recall correctly, many people whom I spoke to that night mentioned a young actress named Emma Stone, who played Jules, the object of Seth’s affection. Superbad was her very first movie, and even though she may have been overshadowed by the male stars of the film, her supporting turn stood out as impressive. She was funny and charming and she displayed an early knack for physical comedy, so it’s no surprise that her career took off the following year. She soon became Sony’s lucky charm — The House Bunny, Zombieland, Easy A, Friends With Benefits, The Amazing Spider-Man and, um, Aloha — but if she hadn’t made such a strong first impression in Superbad, who knows if she’d be one of the biggest movie stars in the world right now. It goes to show that everyone starts somewhere and that the scene-stealer of today could be the Oscar-winning actress of tomorrow.
5. Easy A
In this ode to John Hughes‘ teen movies of the ’80s, Stone plays Olive Penderghast, an “anonymous non-entity” who pretends to lose her virginity to a gay classmate at a party and quickly becomes the talk of the school, who mistake the sham sexcapade for the real thing. Rather than clear up the confusion, Olive chooses to embrace her newfound reputation by taking a page from The Scarlet Letter protagonist Hester Prynn and donning a red A on her chest. This was Stone’s first lead role in a movie and she makes the most of the opportunity, delivering a winning performance that balances her youthful innocence with her budding sexuality as she romances Penn Badgley while dodging the slings and arrows of Amanda Bynes. Not so easy, eh? But Stone makes it look that way with her natural talent and infectious charisma.
4. Battle of the Sexes
I must admit that I didn’t particularly love this movie, but that has little to do with the lead performances, both of which are exceptional. Stone plays tennis great Billie Jean King, who is forced to put up with the obnoxious antics of Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell), a one-time tennis legend himself whose addiction to gambling has put his marriage in jeopardy. When Bobby claims he can beat any woman in a tennis match, King relents and agrees to play him, albeit on her own terms. Stone makes for a fearless competitor on the court, and she also handles the romantic element of the film quite well. Billie Jean’s relationship with love interest Marilyn Barnett feels very natural, and I assume it helped that Stone had previously worked with Andrea Riseborough on Birdman. As a sports movie, Battle of the Sexes leaves something to be desired, but it works on a more important level as a call to arms in the name of gender equality — a fight that still rages on today.
3. The Favourite
Stone is an utter delight in this black comedy from director Yorgos Lanthimos, who she will soon reteam with on Searchlight’s Poor Things. Here, she plays Abigail, one of Queen Anne’s maids who helps the Queen (Olivia Colman) with her ailing legs and is taken into her majesty’s confidence. One night, she witnesses her cousin Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the Queen’s most trusted adviser, having sex with the Queen, and sets out to seduce the Queen herself by any means necessary, and that includes clearing Sarah out of the picture. Naturally, Abigail’s indecency is discovered and she is reminded of her place in life. Stone displays a wicked sense of humor and a fierce sense of loyalty as Abigail, who in her own words, is “capable of much unpleasantness.” You could certainly say that again, but at least Stone makes it a joy to watch.
Yes, it’s Michael Keaton who delivers a tour-de-force as Riggan Thomson in this film, but Stone earned her very first Oscar nomination with her supporting turn as his daughter, Sam, who is fed up with her jaded actor father. Sam is a recovering drug addict who is working as her father’s assistant in an effort to reconnect with him, though it’s proving difficult. Stone seems to relish the difficult conversations they have with each other, in which she gets to remind her onscreen father — and to some extent, Keaton himself — of his own relevance, or lack thereof. The actress soars as the film’s resident millennial, whose passion for social media pays off when her dad gives her the ultimate viral video moment. The final shot of her rushing to her father’s open hospital window and looking up rather than down is the perfect kicker, one that alludes to the film’s signature sense of fantastic realism, and provides the happy ending that Riggan deserves.
1. La La Land
I’m not trying to reignite the great Oscar controversy of 2016, but count me among those who think La La Land deserved to win Best Picture over Moonlight. I think it’s a beautiful film about love, loss, and the power of art, and it just moved me in a way that Moonlight did not. Stone won an Oscar for her dazzling performance, which feels all the more powerful because, at some point, we’ve all been her character, Mia — the wide-eyed girl just hoping to be noticed and plucked from obscurity to become a star. Who’s to say what we would or wouldn’t give up to accomplish that dream? Stone and Ryan Gosling build on the chemistry they shared in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and even though we’re rooting for Mia and Seb to wind up together, we don’t leave the theater mad at either of them when they don’t get the kind of happy ending you often see in movies. Sometimes, in the City of Stars, it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I love this movie, and the fact that it lost Best Picture somehow only serves to enhance its legacy, much like another epic love story, Brokeback Mountain.
It’s been nine years since the original ended.
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