These Are the Best Catherine Keener Performances, Ranked

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As an actress, Catherine Keener plays to type and that type for her is a slightly cynical, depressed, realist. Keener is primarily known for her work in independent films, but she’s also made her mark in studio films. In fact, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress twice for 1999’s Being John Malkovich and for 2005’s Capote. Keener is frequently referred to as the acting muse of filmmaker Nicole Holofcener and appeared in her first five films including Friends With Money, Lovely & Amazing, Walking and Talking, and Enough Said.

Keener’s first speaking role in a film was in 1986’s About Last Night… She followed that up with a role in Survival Quest, where she met her future husband, Dermot Mulroney. They met in 1987, their film came out in 1989, and they married in 1990. Keener and Mulroney had one son Clyde before divorcing in 2007.

Most recently Keener sunk her teeth into a deliciously malevolent role in The Adam Project, after taking on an equally great villain in the Netflix horror Brand New Cherry Flavor, but we’ll get into that in a bit. In the meantime let’s take a look at Catherine’s Keener’s best roles.

8 Death to Smoochy

Okay bear with us on this one, because it’s still hard to believe that this 2002 movie not just got greenlit, made, and released, but actually attracted stars like Robin Williams, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart, Danny DeVito (who also directed), and Edward Norton. Keener played Nora Wells in Death to Smoochy, the producer of the squeaky clean children’s show starring Smoochy the Rhino (Norton). Smoochy took over the spot previously occupied by Randolph Smiley’s “The Rainbow Randolph Show,” from which he was fired for being an alcoholic who accepted bribes from parents who wanted to get their kids on the show. Mayhem ensues, and 20 years later we are still not convinced this wasn’t a fever dream.


7 Living In Oblivion

Director Tom DiCillo is another frequent collaborator with Catherine Keener. Living in Oblivion also starred Steve Buscemi, Keener’s then husband Dermot Mulroney, and marked the film debut of Peter Dinklage. The movie is a dark comedy that received critical acclaim and won DiCiillo the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival. The film is divided into three parts and is about a director trying to make an independent film. DiCillo got inspiration for the film from his experience making Johnny Suede, another film Keener starred in (with a then unknown Brad Pitt). Keener playe Nicole, the lead actress in the film within the film.

6 Being John Malkovich

Director Spike Jonze is another filmmaker that Catherine Keener has worked with several times. Being John Malkovich was his debut as well as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s film debut too. The satirical film also starred John Malkovich, Cameron Diaz, and John Cusack. Cusack played an out of work puppeteer and Keener is the object of his extramarital obsesssion, Maxine. They discover a hidden door that allows them to get inside the mind of John Malkovich and Maxine realizes they can sell that experience for money. Chaos results from their actions in this meta movie classic, with characters becoming trapped in the mind of Malkovich.


5 The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Catherine Keener plays the love interest of Steve Carrell’s 40-Year-Old Virgin in this 2005 film from Judd Apatow. Carrell plays Andy, an employee at an electronics store. Romany Malco, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen play his co-workers who become determined to help Andy lose his virginity. Keener’s performance was recognized by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the Boston Society of Film Critics, and she gives a surprisingly fantastic rom-com performance.

4 The Adam Project

Catherine Keener’s most recent project saw her playing the villain in Netflix’s The Adam Project opposite Ryan Reynolds, Mark Ruffalo, and Jennifer Garner. The time-traveling story sees Reynolds traveling from 2050 and crash landing in 2022, where he must team up with his 12-year-old self to save the world via his late father’s invention of time travel. It is a darling film, with Keener providing the necessary villian who is willing to preserve the ability to time travel no matter the cost to the world or the people she’s used over the years to get to her position of power.


3 Capote

Catherine Keener took on the iconic role of writer Harper Lee in 2005’s Capote. The late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman played Truman Capote, who enlists his childhood friend Harper Lee to travel from Manhattan to a small town in Kansas to investigate the murder of a family. Hoffman cleaned up during awards season for his role, winning the Oscar, Independent Spirit Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and a slew of other accolades, with Keener being nominated as well for an incredible, rare period performance for the actress.

2 Get Out

Director Jordan Peele had a surprise hit on his hands with 2017’s Get Out. Daniel Kaluuya played Chris, a Black photographer preparing to travel to upstate New York to meet the parents of his white girlfriend Rose. Catherine Keener plays Rose’s mother, a hypnotherapist. A truly bizarre chain of events is set off after Missy hypnotizes Chris to get him to stop smoking. This is a horror film to be sure, so make sure all your doors and windows are locked and lights are on when you sit down to take in this disturbing, provocative tale.


1 Friends With Money

In 2006’s Friends With Money from director Keener’s frequent collaborator Nicole Holofcener, Catherine Keener plays Christine, a screenwriter struggling to collaborate on her latest project with her husband Patrick. Meanwhile, their friend Olivia (Jennifer Aniston) is having a mid-life crisis in her mid-30s. Olivia is always broke and works as a housecleaner. Meanwhile her friends are successful and wealthy and include Keener, Frances McDormand, a fashion designer, and Joan Cusack, a stay at home mom living off her substantial trust fund. The women are more alike than they seem at first glance with each navigating her way through life’s difficulties with a little help from their friends.


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