The Best Films of Tilda Swinton

The Best Films of Tilda Swinton

April 26, 2024

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Tilda Swinton is one of the most versatile actresses working today. The chameleonic actress has starred in a wide range of films — from independent and arthouse to comedy and blockbusters, you’ll never catch the androgynous beauty turn down a challenging role. She challenges, delights, but most of all, she surprises. And it’s this unpredictability that makes her an exciting addition to any movie. The film itself might be so-so, but her performance almost always elevates it. Swinton is someone you always look forward to seeing, so in the list below, we’ve gathered the very best of her work.

1. Orlando (1992)

best

8.8

Country

France, Italy, Netherlands

Director

Female director, Sally Potter

Actors

Andrew Watts, Anna Farnworth, Anna Healy, Barbara Hicks

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Mind-blowing

Based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando is a fitting adaptation for a groundbreaking story. Changing from man to woman, the titular time traveler is portrayed by the incomparable Tilda Swinton, breaking the fourth wall as if daring anyone to question her casting. But Swinton’s androgynous look and stellar acting make her the perfect choice for this. Her gaze is the anchor that we hold on to as the film glides through the novel’s multiple themes with ease. Through director Grace Potter’s indescribable vision, they create a fantastic film that blurs gender, sex, identity, and time together with the original novel itself.

2. Problemista (2024)

best

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Julio Torres

Actors

Amy Zimmer, Bardia Salimi, Brian Belovitch, Carlos E. Navedo

Moods

Original, Quirky, Thought-provoking

Some films struggle to balance style with substance, but Problemista isn’t one of them. It’s brandished with Torres’ unique brand of surrealist aesthetic, which is colorful, freakish, and fun, while also accurately relaying the pains of coming to and making it in America as an outsider. We see Alejandro accept increasingly debasing gigs as he runs out of time and money in the deep maze that is America’s immigration bureaucracy. And all the while, he’s being both genuinely funny and painfully incisive. Torres is not the first person to point out that in this day and age, the monsters we face are overbearing employers, greedy bankers, and exploitative companies, but he just might be one of the few to do it with such imaginative grace.

3. The Killer (2023)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

David Fincher

Actors

Arliss Howard, Bernard Bygott, Brandon Morales, Carlos Rogelio Diaz

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Dramatic

David Fincher’s return to form almost ten years after Gone Girl turns the eponymous French graphic novel series into a stone-cold stunner. The Killer can be described as a crime thriller and a neo noir, but it’s perfectly Fincherian in the ways it withholds information from the viewer, building up suspense in a masterful rhythm. The film opens on the inside of a construction site—a WeWork office to-be—where our Killer stalks his pray across the street. A rather static beginning, where nothing much happens: one may question the thriller qualities of the film during its first act for similar reasons, but just give it time; that’s exactly what The Killer would say. But little does he know that time is something he doesn’t have much of…

4. Asteroid City (2023)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Wes Anderson

Actors

Adrien Brody, Aimee Mullins, Ara Hollyday, Bob Balaban

Moods

A-list actors, Emotional, Quirky

After experimenting with multiple storylines in The French Dispatch, the inimitable Wes Anderson goes one step further with the mind-bendingly meta Asteroid City. Framed as a TV documentary about the making of a play, Asteroid City’s Russian doll setup reflects the neurosis of its period (the Cold War-struck ‘50s), art-making, and the intimidating vastness of outer space.

The play takes place in a tiny desert town where atom bomb tests routinely rattle the doorframes and where a convention for young geniuses is being held, attended by a host of typically idiosyncratic characters (played by Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hanks, and many, many more). Still, it retains a central focus: the grief of new widower Augie (Jason Schwartzman) and his kids, and the connections he and his son (Jake Ryan) forge with a visiting actress (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter (Dinah Campbell). Asteroid City draws much of its poignancy from this story (and its behind-the-scenes goings-on), as these people stare into the cosmic wilderness and a future without their loved one. Shot in gorgeous bleached postcard tones and full of the imaginative flourishes we’ve come to expect from Anderson, this is a profound rumination on existential angst that miraculously finds hope amidst all its characters’ nihilism.

5. Adaptation (2002)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Spike Jonze

Actors

Bob Stephenson, Bob Yerkes, Brian Cox, Cara Seymour

Moods

A-list actors, Funny, Original

A film written by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, about screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as he struggles to adapt a book about poaching a rare plant into a successful movie. Through Kaufman’s clever writing and Spike Jones’ unique style of directing, the film unfolds using “mise en abîme” as the viewer sees the lessons the writer in film comes across to improve his script more or less subtly influence the events he encounters as the narrative advances. Nicolas Cage’s performance is also particularly good as a highly intelligent and self-obsessed screen writer with low self-esteem.

6. The Souvenir Part II (2021)

best

8.1

Country

Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Female director, Joanna Hogg

Actors

Alice McMillan, Amber Anderson, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Anna Calvi

Moods

Instructive, Raw, Smart

After 2019’s The Souvenir—a drama about a toxic, suffocating relationship—director Joanna Hogg brings back her protagonist (played by a superb Honor Swinton Byrne) and sees her attempting to communicate the experience of this failed romance through her thesis film. Anybody with an interest in the production process of cinema should glean a ton of useful advice from The Souvenir Part II’s mundane on-set interactions and difficult conversations about the line between compromise and practicality. And through increasingly surreal images of stages within stages and reflections within reflections, Hogg paints a complex, intelligent portrait of cinema as a place of ultimate self-examination.

7. Okja (2017)

best

8.0

Country

Korea, South Korea, United States of America

Director

Bong Joon-ho, Joon-ho Bong

Actors

Adam Auslander, Ahn Seo-hyun, Ahn Seong-bong, Amber Snow

Moods

Action-packed, Sunday, Thought-provoking

Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.

8. Blue (1993)

best

8.0

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Derek Jarman

Actors

Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Intense

Part documentary yet part surreal daydream, director Derek Jarman’s final film is one last rallying cry into a blue void. Against an unchanging screen of International Klein Blue, most of the film is Jarman’s voice, drifting through various subjects, from day-to-day complications of AIDS to contemplations about the color blue. Some of his frequent collaborators chime in. Choirs singing about damnation occasionally pop up too. While essentially a radio drama, the combination of voices, foley, and scores all merge together into an ethereal, haunting soundscape, that sticks in your head long after the film ends. Mirroring his partial blindness, Jarman’s last experiment leaves an impression of his own experience. It’s absolutely devastating.

9. Uncut Gems (2019)

7.9

Country

South Africa, United States of America

Director

Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Actors

Abel Tesfaye, Adam Sandler, Alexander Gilkes, Andrea Linsky

Moods

Action-packed, Dark, Intense

A crazy, anxiety-inducing thriller that turns Adam Sandler into a thrill-generating machine, which in its own speaks volumes about the rhythm of this movie. It follows a jeweler who gets himself in trouble with what feels like all of New York – a gang, Kevin Garnett (the NBA player), other jewelers, his family, odd twins that appear out of nowhere – everyone. This all happens in the backdrop of him feeling he has “hit big” and is on the verge of receiving a lot of money.

If you watched Good Time, you know what to expect from directors Safdie brothers: excruciating tension that keeps building up when you thought it wasn’t possible. And that might be the only problem with Uncut Gems; the tension doesn’t feel that different from Good Time, and having watched one you can guess where the other one is going.

10. I Am Love (2009)

7.9

Country

Italy, United Kingdom

Director

Luca Guadagnino

Actors

Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti

Moods

A-list actors, Character-driven, Romantic

Tilda Swinton stars in this gorgeous Italian production by Luca Guadagnino, part of the director’s “Desire Trilogy”, together with Call Me By Your Name and A Bigger Splash.

Swinton learned to speak Italian and some Russian for the movie, where she plays – to absolute perfection – the wife of a Milan textile mogul who starts having an affair with a cook.

It’s an elegant family drama that’s definitely more concerned with aesthetics than substance, but the setting in snowy Northern Italy and lush 35mm film make that very easy to look past.

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