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Helen Mirren’s 8 Best Movies

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  03 Sep 2015 

She’s one of the most highly respected stars of the stage, television, and film, with an Oscar, four Emmys, and membership in the Order of the British Empire to her credit — but Helen Mirren‘s eclectic filmography has always had room for more than arthouse fare. She’s also appeared in plenty of popcorn flicks, including National Treasure 2, Inkheart, and Red, which found her toting a machine gun and blowing away bad guys alongside Bruce Willis. It’s been a career worth celebrating, and this week, it expands to include Mirren’s starring turn in Lasse Hallstrom’s culinary drama, The Hundred-foot Journey.

actors
8 O Lucky Man!
imdb
rating

7.9

O Lucky Man! (1973)

Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Music, Foreign

The second installment of Lindsay Anderson’s epic Mick Travis trilogy, O Lucky Man! took Travis (played by Malcolm McDowell, reprising the role he originated in 1968’s If…) on a journey from insurrectionist schoolboy to grown-up actor (with stops as a coffee salesman, prisoner, and medical guinea pig along the way). It’s a big movie with big ideas, and an inflated running time to match (as well as a supporting cast whose members, including Mirren, were frequently called upon to perform multiple roles); understandably, some filmgoers (and a few critics) were put off by O Lucky‘s artsy meandering — especially those who, like Combustible Celluloid’s Jeffrey M. Anderson, thought it amounted to “three hours without much of a plot.” Most scribes, however, echoed the sentiments of Ken Hanke of the Mountain Xpress, who found it “Rich, densely layered, disturbing, unique and strangely satisfying in a way few films ever have been.”

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This sprawling, surrealist musical serves as an allegory for the pitfalls of capitalism, as it follows the adventures of a young coffee salesman in Europe. Many actors play multiple roles, giving the film a stagy tone.

actors:
Malcolm McDowell as Michael Arnold Travis   Ralph Richardson as Sir James Burgess   Arthur Lowe as Mr. Duff / Charlie Johnson / Dr. Munda   Helen Mirren as Patricia   Alan Price as Himself  

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7 Excalibur
imdb
rating

7.4

Excalibur (1981)

Adventure

The legend of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table has been retold countless times, for all manner of media, so for an adaptation to stand out, it has to be pretty special. Excalibur, director John Boorman’s blood-and-lust-filled take on the tale, beat the odds and managed to stand out from the crowd, thanks in part to a cast that included Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, and younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson — as well as Mirren, who brought the vengeful sorceress Morgana Le Fay to chilling life. Nearly thirty years after its release, Excalibur still stands as one of the finest Arthurian films — as David Keyes of Cinemaphile wrote, it’s “one of those great miracles in filmmaking… Its concept of Arthur and the landscape that surrounds him is a benchmark for fantasy as we know it.”

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The myth of King Arthur brought to the screen. Uthur Pendragon is given the mystical sword Excalibur by Merlyn. At his death Uthur buries the sword into a stone, and the next man that can pull it out will be King of England. Years later Arthur, Uthur's bastard son draws Excalibur and becomes king. Arthur's evil half-sister Morgana sires a son with him, who may prove his downfall.

actors:
Nigel Terry as King Arthur   Helen Mirren as Morgana   Nicholas Clay as Lancelot   Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere   Paul Geoffrey as Perceval   Nicol Williamson as Merlin   Robert Addie as Mordred   Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon   Keith Buckley as Uryens   Katrine Boorman as Igrayne   Liam Neeson as Gawain   Corin Redgrave as Cornwall   Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance   Niall O'Brien as Kay  

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6 State of Play
imdb
rating

7.1

State of Play (2009)

Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

You can pretty much bet that any political thriller with Helen Mirren’s name on the poster is better than average, and here’s a case in point. When Kevin Macdonald set about adapting the acclaimed BBC serial State of Play, he didn’t take any chances with his cast, lining up Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, and Rachel McAdams as his leads, then surrounding them with stellar supporting players, including Robin Wright Penn, Jeff Daniels, and (of course) Mirren. As the tight-lipped newspaper editor steering an investigation into the murder of a congressional aide whose boss (Affleck) went to college with her reporter (Crowe), Mirren didn’t have the largest role in State of Play, but she did add an extra touch of class to the proceedings — and she was an important part of why it was such a hit with critics like Ben Lyons of At the Movies, who simply stated, “I want to see more films like this.”

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Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins is the future of his political party: an honorable appointee who serves as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending. All eyes are upon the rising star to be his party's contender for the upcoming presidential race. Until his research assistant/mistress is brutally murdered and buried secrets come tumbling out.

actors:
Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey   Ben Affleck as Stephen Collins   Rachel McAdams as Della Frye   Helen Mirren as Cameron Lynne   Robin Wright as Anne Collins   Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy   Jeff Daniels as Senator George Fergus   Michael Berresse as Robert Bingham   Harry Lennix as Det. Donald Bell   Josh Mostel as Pete   Michael Weston as Hank   Barry Shabaka Henley as Gene Stavitz   Viola Davis as Dr. Judith Franklin   David Harbour as PointCorp Insider   Gregg Binkley as Ferris   Sarah Lord as Mandi Brokaw  

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5 Gosford Park
imdb
rating

7.3

Gosford Park (2001)

Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Mirren joined an outstanding ensemble cast — including Richard E. Grant, Dame Maggie Smith, Kristin Scott Thomas, the awesomely named Bob Balaban (who also produced), and her The Cook the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover castmate Michael Gambon — for this darkly funny murder mystery. Directed by Robert Altman, Gosford Park took a bunch of potential killers, confined them to an English manor, then proceeded to use that timeworn setup to make some pointed (and often humorous) statements about the absurdity of convention and how social status divides and defines relationships. Vintage Altman, in other words — and the Academy agreed, honoring Gosford Park with seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture). An $87 million success, it was also a hit with audiences and critics such as Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, who called it “A succulent and devious drawing-room mystery that, in its panoramic way, takes a puckish pleasure in scrambling and reshuffling the worlds of upstairs and downstairs.”

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Multiple storylined drama set in 1932, showing the lives of upstairs guest and downstairs servants at a party in a country house in England.

actors:
Helen Mirren as Mrs. Wilson   Clive Owen as Robert Parks   Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham   Geraldine Somerville as Louisa Stockbridge   Jeremy Northam as Ivor Novello   Kristin Scott Thomas as Sylvia McCordle   Michael Gambon as William McCordle   Kelly Macdonald as Mary Maceachran   Eileen Atkins as Mrs. Croft   Emily Watson as Elsie   Alan Bates as Jennings   Richard E. Grant as George   Ryan Phillippe as Henry Denton   Trent Ford as Jeremy Blond   Stephen Fry as Inspector Thompson   Charles Dance as Lord Raymond Stockbridge   Camilla Rutherford as Isobel McCordle   Bob Balaban as Morris Weissman   James Wilby as Freddie Nesbitt   Natasha Wightman as Lavinia Meredith   Claudie Blakley as Mabel Nesbitt   Derek Jacobi as Probert  

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4 The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover
imdb
rating

7.5

The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

Crime, Drama

What happens when a brutish gangster (Michael Gambon) takes over a respected restaurant? The poster for this Peter Greenaway production promised lust, murder, and dessert — and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover delivered heaping portions of all of the above. As the mobster’s surprisingly classy (albeit adulterous) wife, Mirren had the unique opportunity to play a character who runs the gamut from high society to perpetrating a thoroughly grisly revenge scheme that will be familiar to fans of Eric Cartman. It was all a bit much for filmgoers with gentler sensibilities; as ReelViews’ James Berardinelli wrote, it’s both “a wildly exuberant, bitingly satirical examination of excess, bad taste, and great acting” and “the kind of over-the-top experience that will have timid movie-goers running (not just walking) for the exits.”

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The wife of a barbaric crime boss engages in a secretive romance with a gentle bookseller between meals at her husband's restaurant. Food, colour coding, sex, murder, torture and cannibalism are the exotic fare in this beautifully filmed but brutally uncompromising modern fable which has been interpreted as an allegory for Thatcherism.

actors:
Michael Gambon as Albert Spica   Helen Mirren as Georgina Spica   Tim Roth as Mitchel   Richard Bohringer as Richard Borst   Alan Howard as Michael   Ciarán Hinds as Cory   Gary Olsen as Spangler   Ewan Stewart as Harris   Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Turpin   Ron Cook as Mews   Liz Smith as Grace   Emer Gillespie as Patricia   Janet Henfrey as Alice   Roger Lloyd-Pack as Geoff   Alex Kingston as Adele  

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3 The Madness of King George
imdb
rating

7.3

The Madness of King George (1994)

Comedy, Drama, History

Mirren scored a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the Academy — and a Best Actress award at Cannes — for her work in this adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III, starring Nigel Hawthorne as the monarch during his apparent bout of lunacy during the Regency Crisis of 1788-89. A meaty showcase for Hawthorne, who got to chew scenery with impunity (and picked up his own Best Actor nomination in the process), The Madness of King George wasn’t a commercial blockbuster, but it was one of the best-reviewed films of the year — as well as, in the words of the New York Times’ Janet Maslin, “a deft, mischievous, beautifully acted historical drama with exceptionally broad appeal.”

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Nicholas Hytner’s much awarded 1994 drama, based on Alan Bennett's West End play. George III's erratic behaviour leads to a plot in Parliament to have him declared insane and removed from the throne.

actors:
Nigel Hawthorne as George III   Helen Mirren as Queen Charlotte   Ian Holm as Dr. Willis   Rupert Graves as Greville   Amanda Donohoe as Lady Elizabeth Pembroke   Rupert Everett as Prince of Wales   Julian Rhind-Tutt as Frederick, Duke of York   Julian Wadham as William Pitt Jr.   Jim Carter as Charles James Fox   Geoffrey Palmer as Warren   Adrian Scarborough as Fortnum  

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2 The Long Good Friday
imdb
rating

7.7

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller, Foreign

Before she wielded a machine gun in RED, Mirren displayed her gift for steely reserve as a no-nonsense mob moll in this British gangster movie classic. Starring Bob Hoskins as a cutthroat mobster whose dreams of going legit are threatened by a mysterious rival, The Long Good Friday combined political overtones with good old-fashioned bloody mayhem, and while it wasn’t a huge American hit — in fact, it wasn’t released in the states until 1982 — critics always appreciated its tightly written script and uniformly solid performances. “This movie is one amazing piece of work,” declared Roger Ebert, “not only for the Hoskins performance but also for the energy of the filmmaking, the power of the music, and, oddly enough, for the engaging quality of its sometimes very violent sense of humor.”

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Harold, a prosperous English gangster, is about to close a lucrative new deal when bombs start showing up in very inconvenient places. A mysterious syndicate is trying to muscle in on his action, and Harold wants to know who they are. He finds out soon enough, and bloody mayhem ensues.

actors:
Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand   Helen Mirren as Victoria   Paul Freeman as Colin   Dave King as Parky   Bryan Marshall as Harris   Eddie Constantine as Charlie   Leo Dolan as Phil   Kevin McNally as Irish Youth   Patti Love as Carol Benson   P.H. Moriarty as Razors   Ruby Head as Harold's Mother   Charles Cork as Eric   Olivier Pierre as Chef   Pierce Brosnan as 1st Irishman   Dexter Fletcher as Kid  

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1 The Queen
imdb
rating

7.4

The Queen (2006)

Drama

No stranger to royalty, both onscreen (she’d played a queen on three previous occasions, including her Oscar-nominated performance in The Madness of King George) and offscreen (she was sworn into the Order of the British Empire in 2003, after refusing the honor in 1996), Helen Mirren was arguably the only logical choice to portray Queen Elizabeth in this dramatization of the events surrounding Princess Diana’s untimely death in 1997. Unlike a lot of plays and films about royalty, The Queen didn’t depend on the drama and mystery surrounding the monarchy; in fact, it sought to put a human face on the rigid ceremony of one of the world’s longest-running institutions. And judging from the heaps of awards it earned — including a Best Actress Oscar for Mirren — it succeeded: In the words of the Detroit News’ Tom Long, “Borne with grace and honor on the back of Helen Mirren’s astounding title performance, The Queen manages to encompass the personal and political with both depth and grace.”

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The Queen is an intimate behind the scenes glimpse at the interaction between HM Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair during their struggle, following the death of Diana, to reach a compromise between what was a private tragedy for the Royal family and the public's demand for an overt display of mourning.

actors:
Helen Mirren as HM Queen Elizabeth II   Michael Sheen as Tony Blair   James Cromwell as Prince Philip   Sylvia Syms as HM The Queen Mother   Helen McCrory as Cherie Blair   Paul Barrett as Trevor Rees-Jones   Alex Jennings as Prince Charles   Roger Allam as Sir Robin Janvrin   Tim McMullan as Stephen Lamport  

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