To be a Nicole Kidman fan hasn’t always been easy. The Australian star may consistently turn in strong, challenging work in a diverse range of arthouse and commercial fare, but inconsistent box-office returns and ongoing tabloid scrutiny of her personal life makes for a fair amount of pushback. She may have won an Oscar and starred in a number of critical darlings, but she somehow inspires snarkier commentary — whether about her choice in roles, or her taste in men — than such comparably gifted peers as Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore. As BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen wrote in an appreciation earlier this week: “No woman with as much talent as Kidman should be forced to re-argue, over and over again, that she is a force to be taken seriously.”
2017, however, has been a pretty great year for the Kidman faithful. In January, she scored another Oscar nomination — her fourth — for a heart-rending turn as an adoptive mother in Best Picture nominee “Lion.” Even that, however, has paled beside what looks to be the actress’s most talked-about achievement of the year: her slow-burning turn opposite Reese Witherspoon in HBO’s hit miniseries “Big Little Lies,” which has netted Kidman some of the best reviews of her career, and is prompting talk of a possible Emmy win come September. With new prestige collaborations with Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”), John Cameron Mitchell (“How to Talk to Girls at Parties”) and Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”) on her slate this year, a renewed collective appreciation of Kidman’s talents is clearly on the cards.
Which is what inspired this Variety film critic to launch the “Kidman World Cup” earlier this week, as a tribute to the actress’s storied career thus far: a four-day series of bracket-style Twitter polls designed to highlight the range and quality of roles she has played over the last 30-odd years, and to determine which among them film lovers treasure the most. Structured like the soccer World Cup, from group stages through knockout rounds, quarter-finals, semis and a final head-to-head, the Twittournament featured some close showdowns as 32 films were whittled down. (You can trace the development of the entire contest here.) But ultimately, only one film could prevail — and it was “To Die For.”
Released in 1995, Gus Van Sant’s pitch-black comedy starred Kidman as a regional weather reporter who will stop at nothing — not even homicide — in her quest to become a national news anchor. 22 years ago, her sexy, acidly hilarious performance was hailed as a revelatory breakthrough for the star, whom Hollywood had hitherto largely sidelined as Mrs. Tom Cruise. Clearly, its impact has endured: “To Die For” saw off such heavyweights as “Moulin Rouge!” and “Eyes Wide Shut” in earlier rounds of voting, before narrowly beating “Birth” in the final — scoring 52% of the 2,766 votes cast.
“Birth” may have been pipped to the post, but was arguably the surprise sleeper of the tongue-in-cheek competition. Jonathan Glazer’s eerie supernatural drama, starring Kidman as a New York widow who may or may not see her husband reincarnated in the form of a 10-year-old boy, met with mixed reviews and chilly commercial returns in 2004, but has acquired an ardent revisionist critical following in subsequent years — and stealthily crept its way through the Kidman World Cup competition, fending off her performances in “The Others,” “Stoker” and “Big Little Lies,” among others.
“Birth” certainly prompted the most impassioned Twitter endorsements of any film in the poll, and from unexpectedly prestigious sources: “People of Twitter we must defend the honor of ‘Birth!'” tweeted Barry Jenkins, director of reigning Best Picture winner “Moonlight,” at the quarter-final stage. Phyllis Nagy, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Carol,” concurred: “How often does one of the great performances win the popular vote?” she asked her followers, mischievously adding, “Don’t make us go electoral.” (After “To Die For” emerged triumphant, however, Nagy admitted that she “adored” Kidman in that too.) Kidman’s fellow Antipodean thesp Melanie Lynskey, on the other hand, was on board with the winner: “Nicole Kidman in ‘To Die For’ is better than pretty much anyone in anything ever,” she gushed on Twitter.
Whatever your preference, what started out as an irreverent Twitter experiment ended up proving a more serious point about the depth and breadth of Nicole Kidman’s heavyweight career: You couldn’t ask for two more tonally and stylistically contrasting finalists than “To Die For” and “Birth.” The same goes for semi-finalists “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Others” — with the former winning third place in a bronze-medal match-up — or indeed any combination of the 32 Kidman vehicles that competed in the first place, from “The Paperboy” to “Paddington” to “The Portrait of a Lady” to her Oscar-winning work in “The Hours.” (Speaking of the Oscars, both finalists went unrecognized by the Academy: Kidman hasn’t always received her due.) If we’ve learned anything from this particular World Cup, it’s that Nicole Kidman, as they say, has got the range. Here’s hoping Barry Jenkins gives her a call sometime.
What’s your favorite Nicole Kidman performance? And which actor’s work would you like to see given the Twitter World Cup treatment? Tell us in the comments!