21 Grams (2003)
Now we’re getting into the big league. Watts landed her first (and, so far, only) Academy Award nomination for Best Actress with 21 Grams . “It's far beyond what I ever dreamed for,” the actress said of the acclaim, “that would have been too far-fetched.”
Moody and thoughtful, acclaimed filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu presents 21 Grams as a non-linear drama that sees Watts playing the grief-stricken mother of a car accident victim. It’s a powerfully demonstrative turn from the blossoming actress.
Star Wattage: Burning bright.
We Dont Live Here Anymore (2004)
Proof of Watts' growing Hollywood heft came with this celebrated indie, which found her taking on the dual role of producer and star. Based on the collection of short stories We Don't Live Here Anymore and Adultery by Andre Dubus, the plot follows the breakdown of two marriages after a destructive indiscretion.
A continuation of Watts’ love for drama, We Don’t Live Here Anymore is a grim and emotional melodrama.
Star Wattage: Holding fast against Laura Dern.
The Assassination Of Richard Nixon (2004)
After starring opposite Sean Penn in 21 Grams , Watts again shares screen time with him in this period drama. She’s Marie Andersen Bicke, once married to salesman Samuel J. Bicke (Penn). It's 1974, and he's plotting to kill President Richard Nixon.
Celebrated as a daring drama, Assassination refuses to condemn Bicke as a person, instead inviting us to understand the motivations behind his evil endeavours. A sober, sensation-free character study.
Star Wattage: Steady.
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
Watts joins a stunning cast in David O. Russell’s lauded comedy, starring opposite Dustin Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman, Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Isabelle Huppert and Mark Wahlberg.
Watts plays Dawn Campbell, the face and voice of Huckabees, a chain of department stores that are taking over the United States. Meanwhile, Hoffman and Tomlin are ‘existential detectives’ who investigate the meaning of their clients’ lives.
This is Watts doing screwball crazy - and excelling, as usual.
Star Wattage: Glowy.
Ellie Parker (2005)
Watts jumps into (film production) bed with Mulholland Drive screenwriter Scott Coffey. A project that apparently grew out of their friendship, it’s a semi-autobiographical tale following a young woman who’s struggling to become an actress in Los Angeles.
Originally filmed as a short in 2001 (which Watts also co-produced), Coffey spent four years expanding it into a feature film. Chevy Chase makes an appearance.
Star Wattage: On the rise again.
The Ring Two (2005)
Watts returns to one of her more acclaimed roles, but this sequel to 2002’s successful The Ring failed to earn her the same praise the second time around. A mind-numbing, illogical misstep, Ring Two suffered terrible reviews.
Not even Hideo Nakata, the Japanese director behind the original Ringu , manages to iron out a truly horrendous script. This time around, Watts’ journalist has relocated to Oregon to start life anew with her son. But it seems something’s followed them...
Star Wattage: Having a glitch, normal service will resume shortly.
King Kong (2005)
A giant ape is Watts’ unconventional co-star in Peter Jackson’s epic, three-hour-plus love letter to the 1933 King Kong . Watts steps into the shoes of wannabe actress Ann Darrow (a part previously, iconically, played by Fay Wray), whose hopes of becoming a star seem unattainable in a New York gripped by the Great Depression.
But when she’s offered a job filming on the mysterious Skull Island, she encounters a giant beast known as Kong, and discovers a kindred spirit in him. Despite the outlandish premise, Watts’ sensitive performance adds plausibility to proceedings.
Star Wattage: Blinding.
The Painted Veil (2006)
Watts mixes business with pleasure for The Painted Veil , as she stars opposite new hubbie Liev Shreiber in this costume drama.
As Kitty Garstin Fane, she’s a vacuous London socialite who’s trapped in a loveless marriage.
When she moves to Shanghai with her husband, Kitty embarks on an affair with another man (ironically played by Shreiber). The film, the third film adap of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel, was greeted with general positive reviews.
Star Wattage: Fair to middling.
Eastern Promises (2007)
View London noted that Watts managed to strike up “an intriguing balance between strength and emotional vulnerability” with her performance in this David Cronenberg film (the director’s second non-horror outing with muse Viggo Mortensen).
A gritty crime thriller set in London, Eastern Promises finds Watts playing a British midwife who encounters the Russian Mafia and is pulled into their underground interactions. Promises earned high praise and won several awards.
Star Wattage: Crucially not eclipsed by Mortensen’s.
Funny Games (2007)
Despite having come up against harsh criticism for The Ring Two , Watts threw herself whole-heartedly into another remake with this English-language re-do of the controversial Austrian film.
As a consequence, Watts became labelled ‘queen of the remakes’ by certain press outlets – a moniker that wasn’t helped by news the actress was to star in a new version of Hitchcock’s The Birds . In Funny Games , Watts is a holidaying mother whose family is targeted by vicious teens and placed under house arrest. It kicked started a movie obsession with house invasion horror.
Star Wattage: Terrifyingly dazzling.