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I think few would disagree that Frances McDormand is one of our greatest living actors. I also am inclined to believe that that same few have likely never seen a movie starring the acclaimed 63-year-old (who is also married to Joel Coen) and had no interest in seeing Nomadland until after it won Best Picture at the 2021 Oscars. Well, that being said, now seems like as good a time as any to bear witness to the best Frances McDormand movies on streaming or available to watch elsewhere, starting with the latest film to earn her praise from the Academy.
After suffering a devastating financial collapse, Fern (Frances McDormand) joins an emerging subculture of middle-aged people living on the road and searching for work at every stop.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Based on the non-fiction book by journalist Jessica Bruder, Nomadland is a visually and emotionally striking, stunningly authentic, and a refreshingly human story which earned Oscars for director Chloé Zhao and lead actress Frances McDormand - both of whom also took home the Best Picture awards as producers.
The pregnant sheriff (Frances McDormand) of a small town in Minnesota investigates a murder linked to a struggling used car salesman’s (William H. Macy) botched scheme to have his wife kidnapped for the ransom.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Widely considered to be one of the greatest dark comedy movies ever made and one of the best movies on Amazon Prime at the moment is Fargo, which earned directors Joel and Ethan Coen their first Academy Awards for their inventive screenplay and Frances McDormand the first of her three Oscars for acting.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
A divorced mother (Frances McDormand) rents out three unused billboards outside of her small town to send a stirring message to the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson), after they fail to solve the case of her teenage daughter’s rape and murder.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: The second film to earn Frances McDormand a Best Actress Oscar was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is also a masterfully thought-provoking, rural crime thriller of darkly comic proportions from the engrossingly twisted mind of writer and director Martin McDonough.
Blood Simple (1984)
A Texas bar owner (Dan Hedaya) hires a private investigator (M. Emmett Walsh) to find evidence that his wife (Frances McDormand) and employee (John Getz) are having an affair, and then hires him again, after learning the truth, to kill them.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: The grim Neo-noir thriller Blood Simple is not only the feature-length debut of writers and directors Joel and Ethan Coen, but the brotherly duo’s first collaboration with Frances McDormand, who also makes her acting debut in the stunning romantic tragedy.
Raising Arizona (1987)
Desperate to have a child of their own, an ex-con (Nicolas Cage) and his ex-cop wife (Holly Hunter) kidnap the newborn son of a wealthy furniture salesman, which quickly puts their lives in tailspin.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Frances McDormand’s second collaboration with her husband and brother-in-law was Raising Arizona, yet another rural crime thriller that is much, much funnier than Blood Simple (and one of the best Nicolas Cage movies), in which she plays Dot, the nosy wife of Cage’s boss, Glen (Sam McMurray).
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
An emotionally lethargic, chain-smoking barber (Billy Bob Thornton) suspects his wife (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini), which he sees as an opportunity to blackmail his way into the laundry business, until things take a turn for the worse in 1940s Sacramento.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Co-writer and co-director Joel Coen once again casts his wife as an unfaithful spouse involved in a deadly scheme in the old school film noir throwback, The Man Who Wasn’t There - one of the more somber, but still quite cheekily bizarre, Coen Brothers movies starring Frances McDormand.
Burn After Reading (2008)
A disc belonging to a recently retired CIA agent (John Malkovich) falls into the hands of dim gym employee (Frances McDormand) and her even dumber co-worker (Brad Pitt), setting off a series of odd misunderstandings with unexpectedly grave consequences.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: There is nothing somber, but everything cheekily bizarre, about Burn After Reading - yet another shockingly dark but screamingly funny crime thriller from Joel and Ethan Coen in which Frances McDormand’s character becomes involved in a blackmail scheme which goes horribly wrong.
A brilliant scientist (Liam Neeson) uses a special synthetic skin of his creation as temporary disguises in an effort exact revenge on the criminals who tried to kill him, leaving him badly burned and disfigured.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Not many know that one of Joel Coen’s first jobs was as an assistant film editor on 1981’s The Evil Dead by Sam Raimi, who would later cast Coen’s wife, Frances McDormand, as Liam Neeson’s spouse in Darkman - the absurdist horror director’s inventive take on the superhero movie genre before making his Spider-Man trilogy and the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
A veteran FBI agent (Gene Hackman) and his younger partner (Willem Dafoe) come at odds with one other, while in a Southern county at odds with itself, while investigating the murder of three civil rights activists in 1964 Mississippi.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Loosely based on the real-life murder of civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, late director Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning is a powerful tale that attempts to shed light the true roots of bigotry, which is analyzed in Frances McDormand’s heartbreaking performance as the wife of a racist deputy sheriff.
Almost Famous (2000)
A teenage aspiring writer (Patrick Fugit) gets the chance to tour with an up-and-coming rock band called Stillwater for a Rolling Stone cover story in the early 1970s.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Loosely based on the real-life experiences of writer and director Cameron Crowe before he became a filmmaker, Almost Famous is a winning tribute to a lost era of music and an inspiring coming-of-age story, especially in how main character William Miller defies his mother’s (Frances McDormand) objections to rock music and learns to let his passions be his guide.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
The citizens of a small island off the coast of New England are thrown into a frenzy when an orphaned boy (Jared Gilman) and a young girl (Kaya Hayward) run away from home together after falling in love.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Frances McDormand once again plays the overbearing mother to a child following her passions (Hayward as Suzy Bishop) in Moonrise Kindgom - an irresistibly quirky and visually inventive tale of young love and my personal favorite of all the Wes Anderson movies I have seen.
Isle Of Dogs (2018)
After a flu suspected of being linked to dogs spreads throughout Japan, all dogs in the country are banished to an island of garbage where one boy ventures out to find his beloved pet.
Why it is one of the best Frances McDormand movies: Another great Wes Anderson movie featuring Frances McDormand is the darkly funny but heartwarming stop motion animation tale Isle of Dogs, in which the actress voices a Japanese-to-English interpreter named Nelson.
Frances McDormand’s third collaboration with Wes Anderson, The French Dispatch, was meant to come out in 2020 before the pandemic caused a delay to its debut. Yet, it is now one of the most anticipated 2021 new movie releases, if we are looking on the bright side. Hopefully, we can expect to add this next quirky period piece to our list of the best Frances McDormand movies once our binge of the favorites above is complete.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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