Jennifer Lopez has long been a powerhouse across many different genres, mediums and forms of artistic expression. Her gritty urban vibe laced with an angelic tenderness always rules the screen whenever she shows up in cinema, as well as a heaven sent singing voice, unbelievable dance skills and charisma for days. I’m not altogether familiar with her music career but I’ve greatly enjoyed her work in film for decades, she’s intense, varied, heartfelt and always completely focused. Here are my personal top ten performances:
10. Gabriela in Bob Rafaelson’s Blood & Wine
Essentially a thankless side chick role, she expertly plays demanding mistress to Jack Nicholson’s narcissistic petty thief in this pitch black crime drama that’s filled to the brim with contemptible characters. She makes the most out of an early career turn here and makes as vivid an impression as the rest of the prolific cast, almost all of which are cast against type.
9. Grace Santiago in Joseph Ruben’s Money Train
This is a terrific buddy action flick that sailed right under everyone’s radar and these days remains overlooked. Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson are the two cops, also adoptive brothers and Jennifer is the fellow officer caught between them. It’s interesting because both the script and her performance shirk the usual love triangle tropes and although there is romantic interest, she serves a much more functional part in the story than just that and ends up being smarter and tougher than both of them.
8. Harlee Santos in NBC’s Shades Of Blue
Many of the cop shows these days blur together, don’t last long or just aren’t all that memorable but this was something special due in part to Lopez and costar Ray Liotta, whose chemistry is incredible. She plays a big city cop who gets deep into corruption almost by accident with her trouble prone, hotheaded boss, friend and mentor (Liotta). It’s a tricky wade through urban quagmires of moral distress and bad decisions, she anchors it beautifully with a performance that elicits sympathy despite the crimes committed and has you feeling like you’re right there beside her.
7. Teri Flores in Luis Llosa’s Anaconda
Ahh, one of the ultimate 90’s nostalgic B movies. JLo plays it sexy and dangerous here in high adventure mode, holding her own against tough guy Ice Cube and creepy poacher Jon Voight. There’s been so many horrendous TV movie creature features in the last ten years (Pirahnaconda comes to mind as some bastard offspring of this) that people forget how legitimately fun this one is. J makes it so too in a performance that’s never too campy and never to straight faced.
6. Slim Hiller in Michael Apted’s Enough
A royally abusive, psychotic husband (Billy Campbell) gets an epic beatdown from Lopez’s Slim, the battered housewife and mother who has had, you guessed it, Enough. This film gets a bad rep but fuck the people, it’s a terrific star vehicle, effective thriller, stunt showcase and cathartic revenge story that is engaging, affecting and re-watchable. Jen makes a dynamic, sympathetic lead and you really feel every punch and kick when she fights back. Supported by an eclectic cast including Juliette Lewis, Jeff Kober, Noah Wyle, Dan Futterman, Bill Cobbs and Fred Ward, this has always been one of my favourites and stands as an example of how good Lopez is in a starring role.
5. Jean Gylkyson in Lasse Hallström’s An Unfinished Life
Maybe the most complex performance on this list sees her yet again play a victim of abuse, on the run from her nasty ex husband (Damien Lewis). She takes refuge on the ranch owned by her estranged father (Robert Redford) and their complex, stormy past relationship is explored meditatively by both as well as director Hallström who always has a way with challenging dramas. Jen really shows the deeply etched hurt and regret in her work here, one gets the sense that she maybe blames herself for certain things, the fascination is in seeing a slow but steady recovery and reconciliation for her as well as Redford.
4. Selena Quintanilla in Gregory Nava’s Selena
She brings light, warmth and beauty to an inspirational yet heartbreakingly tragic true life story that earned her a Golden Globe nomination and established her as a force to be reckoned with as both an actress and singer. The real life Selena rose to chart topping levels almost overnight and delivered a knockout solo performance at the Houston Astrodome, and here JLo paints a breathtaking picture of these events and embodies the artist with grace and charisma to spare.
3. Grace McKenna in Oliver Stone’s U Turn
Here she plays the only First Nations femme fatale on record (or at least the only one that comes to mind) in Stone’s wild, edgy and ultra violent sun soaked neo-noir. It’s the tale of one one wayward man (Sean Penn) who comes to town and wishes he hadn’t as it seems every local, yokel and their mothers all have it in for him. Grace is a manipulating, slutty, sociopathic, dangerous little brat who plays him and her tyrannical husband/stepfather (Nick Nolte at his slimiest) against each other to deliberately cause chaos for everyone. There’s a wounded bird vulnerability she displays as a lure that switches into conniving mind games before her targets can even react, it’s a deadly piece of work from Lopez that nails both the past trauma in this damaged girl’s psyche and the hard, amoral edge that it has cultivated in her.
2. Karen Sisco in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight
She rocks the Elmore Leonard dialogue like no other as smart, sexy and uncompromising federal marshal Sisco, who becomes conflicted when her feelings for slick ex-con Jack (George Clooney) threaten to derail her job. This is another performance that shows off her toughness and vulnerability, sometimes in the same scene. There’s one part where she’s sitting quietly having a drink in an airport bar, minding her own business. A couple hapless businessmen take turns trying to pick her up with increasingly pathetic tactics, and it’s a joy to see her firmly shut each one down with equal parts class, stealth and just plain magnetism. Don’t even get me started on the multitude of scenes between her and Clooney, they’re pure magic.
1. Catherine Deane in Tarsem Singh’s The Cell
A child psychologist who enters people’s dreams to learn about their mental state and help them, she’s forced to navigate the subconscious of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) and find hidden truths in his threatening world. Jen finds the complexity and compassion in this character, it’s her innate empathy with the human beings around her that drives the work she does, and she radiates light and resilience. As the cops around her express judgment when she adopts the killer’s dog when all is said and done, you can feel that a combination of seeing people’s private worlds inside their minds and her intuitive nature has made her this way, and the performance from Jen to back that up is remarkable.
Thanks for reading!