Great movies are so often shaped by the great actresses who carry them. Here are 10 of our favourite films that speak to the power of performance.
SBS Movies

20 Jul 2016 - 3:40 PM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2016 - 3:40 PM

Broken Embraces

Spain, 2009
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Romance
Language: Spanish
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Blanca Portillo, Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar
What's it about?
Fourteen years ago, a writer (Lluís Homar) was involved in a brutal car crash on the island of Lanzarote. After the accident, in which he loses his sight, and Lena (Penelope Cruz), the love of his life, the man takes his literary pseudonym and tries to forget the past. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Golden Globes. 


White Material

France, 2009
Genre: Drama
Language: French
Director: Claire Denis
Starring: Isaach De Bankolé, Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Huppert
What's it about?
French film legend Isabelle Huppert stars as Maria, a wilful plantation owner who refuses to give up her farm in an (unnamed) African country, where war and racial tensions are threatening to tip the nation into chaos. Nominated for the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. Directed by acclaimed French director Claire Denis (Beau Travail), and also stars Christopher Lambert and Isaach De Bankolé.

White Material Review



Germany, 2012
Genre: Drama
Language: German
Director: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Mark Waschke
What's it about?
Directed by Christian Petzold (Phoenix), Barbara stars Nina Hoss as a talented young doctor in 1980s Germany, who has applied for an exit visa from the GDR and, as punishment, has been transferred from her prestigious post in Berlin to a small pediatric hospital in the country. Despite being constantly aware of the shadowy presence of Stasi officers chronicling her every move, she arrives at her new post having already planned a series of secret meetings with her lover (Ronald Zehrfeld), with whom she plans to escape to Poland.

Barbara: Christian Petzold interview
Barbara Review


An Education

United Kingdom, 2009
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Dominic Cooper
What's it about?
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a bright young girl on the cusp of 17 who finds herself in a whirlwind romance with a much older David. Once she sees the lifestyle David can provide, one she never imagined might so easily be hers, she is hooked. Thoughts of prep school and one day attending Oxford fly out the window. Nominated for three Oscars in 2010. Directed by Lone Scherfig and stars Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard and Dominic Cooper. 

An Education review
Why You Should Watch: An Education



France, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, 2011
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg
What's it about?
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) are celebrating their marriage at a sumptuous party in the home of her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland). Meanwhile, the planet, Melancholia, is heading towards Earth. Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for her performance. 

Melancholia Review

Kirsten Dunst in Lars von Trier's Melancholia, showing Sunday 19th August on SBS


Winter's Bone

United States, 2010
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Debra Granik
Starring: John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Jennifer Lawrence
What's it about?
Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), an unflinching Ozark teenager, hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact and save their home from being repossessed. Nominated for four Oscars at the 2011 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. 

Winter's Bone Review



Hong Kong, 2004
Genre: Drama
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Faye Wong, Tony Leung
What's it about?
An unofficial 'sequel' to his 2000 masterpiece In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai's 2046 centres around a journalist (Tony Leung) who regrets his failed love for a married woman in the early 1960s. He escapes to a Hong Kong hotel room and tries to distract himself by sleeping with as many women as possible, until he meets his match in escort Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang), who lives next door in room 2046. 

2046 Review



United Kingdom, 1992
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Sally Potter
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Quentin Crisp, Billy Zane
What's it about?
Tilda Swinton stars as Virginia Woolf's gender-bending hero, the noble Orlando who is commanded by Queen Elizabeth to stay forever young. Orlando experiences four centuries of sexual politics, initially through the eyes of a man, until one day Orlando wakes as a woman, struggling to retain her property and status. 

Orlando Review


The Past

France, 2013
Genre: Drama
Language: French, Farsi
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim
What's it about?
An Iranian man travels to Paris to secure a divorce from his French wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo). The two parted on amicable terms, but his arrival brings old tensions to the surface. Bejo won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance. 

The Past: Asghar Farhadi interview
The Past Review: Farhadi betters his Oscar-winning break-up tale


The Band's Visit

Israel, 2007
Genre: Comedy, Race Relations
Language: Arabic, Hebrew
Director: Eran Kolirin
Starring: Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Sasson Gabai, Khalifa Natour
What's it about?
This warm, heartfelt movie about love, loneliness and cultural differences stars the late Israeli actress Ronit Elkabetz in one of her most popular roles. It follows the members of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, led by the repressed Tawfiq, who after taking the wrong bus on their way to a cultural event, wind up on the doorstep of Dina, a free-spirited cafe owner in a remote Israel village. After informing them they will be stuck there until the next morning, Dina offers to put them up for the night, with help from other villagers. 

Dinner and a Movie: The Band's Visit
The Band's Visit Review



Browse more famous faces at SBS On Demand



What's leaving SBS On Demand this month: July 2016
Some great movies are hitting the road this month. Be sure to catch them before they disappear.
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SBS On Demand: Cult Classics
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SBS On Demand: 10 American Indies for Independence Day
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SBS On Demand: Cannes Film Festival collection
Immerse yourself in the movies that have been the talk of the Croisette over the past few decades.