Alicia Christian ‘Jodie’ Foster made her first TV appearance at the age of 3. By the mid-1970s, pre-teen Jodie Foster started playing girls who seem to possess worldly experience beyond their age. Her acting evolution slowly moved through the 80s and saw a sudden rise with the role of Clarice Sterling (The Silence of the Lambs). From then on, Foster became a veritable Hollywood star and also skillfully directed few decent projects. In her over 4-decade career, Foster has won two Academy Awards, three BAFTA Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards. While receiving Cecil B DeMille Award in 2013, she chose to publicly come out as gay. Now, here’s a recollection of her best performances:
10. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Even though Jodie Foster plays a handful of scenes in Scorsese’s obscure classic, the film announced her arrival as an acting force. The narrative chronicles the recently widowed 35-year-old Alice Hyatt’s (Ellen Burstyn) quest to begin a new life. She is on the road with her younger precocious son Tommy (Alfred Lutter). Jodie Foster plays Audrey, a poorly cared girl with whom Tommy forges a friendship. Foster imbues a sense of adventure and curiosity into Audrey. Foster’s matter-of-fact dialogue delivery that displays experience beyond her age is what brought her more challenging roles.
9. Freaky Friday (1976)
Gary Nelson’s fantasy comedy was one of the five films Jodie Foster appeared in that year. In this Disney feature, a daughter switches bodies with her mother, both comprehending how hard the other’s life is. Barbara Harris plays the mom trapped in an adolescent body. On the other hand, Foster provides her most hilarious and charming performance as 13-year-old Annabel Andrews. She possesses the sort of confidence that well portrays the travails of an adult character. The identity-switching element was particularly well handled throughout without any cringe-worthy comedy.
8. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
Jodie Foster rarely played the traditional, cutesy child-actor roles. In Nicolas Gessner’s low-budget Canadian feature, she plays preternaturally self-possessed 13-year-old named Rynn Jacobs. Rynn lives with her poet father in a rented house on New England shore. In this small town, everybody knows everybody’s business. Hence the fiercely independent Rynn comes under the scrutiny of an array of individuals, including the friendly local cop. In addition, there’s an ‘unspeakable’ secret waiting to be revealed. Foster’s performance is mesmerizing, full of depth and complexity rarely envisioned by child actors.
7. Bugsy Malone (1976)
Alan Parker’s hit musical is a spoof of prohibition-era gangster cinema with a cast entirely made up of child actors. Parker maintains a sense of playfulness throughout, replacing machine guns with toy guns shooting whipped cream. Chief among the cast is Tallulah, a night-club singer and femme fatale. The notion of letting the 12-year-olds play adults may offend the contemporary sensibilities. A remake, if it happens, no doubt would gain the label of ‘sexual exploitation’. But this is a product of innocent times.
Years after Bugsy Malone’s release, director Parker reminisced how natural and self-assured Foster was in the tricky role of Tallulah. In fact, Foster’s torch-singing sequences are the most entertaining aspect of the film.
6. Little Man Tate (1991)
Jodie Foster’s impressive directorial debut tells the tale of a 7-year-old child prodigy Fred Tate. Fred’s devoted single mother Dede tenderly cares for him. Despite being a genius at math and music, Fred remains an outcast among his peers. A wealthy psychologist intervenes, but her involvement only escalates the boy’s feelings of isolation. Foster herself played the young mother character with a sweetness and tenderness that never looked cloying. Child actor Adam Hann-Byrd was outstanding. He conveys Fred’s awkwardness and anxiety in a realistic manner. At the same time, Jodie Foster’s direction was measured and unobtrusive, subtly imbuing emotional depth.
5. Nell (1994)
In this film, Foster plays a wild child who has grown up outside civilization. She lives in a mountain forest cabin with her resentful mother. A local physician Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson) discovers Nell after her mother’s death. And, a cool-headed psychologist Paula joins Lovell in observing Nell’s private world. Despite the psychobabble and melodrama, the movie mostly works due to Foster’s raw poetic performance. She commands real interest in her character, lending both strangeness and vulnerability to Nell.
Michael Apted’s sentimental drama won Jodie Foster her 4th Academy Award nomination.
4. Contact (1997)
Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s hard sci-fi novel tells the story of Earth’s first contact with alien intelligence. Unlike several Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters, plausible science and deep philosophy drive the narrative. Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, an astronomer who’s devoted her career to SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Foster once again boldly plays a character whose intelligence and beliefs isolate her from most people. Foster’s portrayal of soul-deep emotions bring incredible poignancy, especially in the film’s final third narrative.
3. Taxi Driver (1976)
Jodie Foster was just 13 at the time she played teenage prostitute Iris in Martin Scorsese’s veritable masterpiece. Nevertheless, she had starred in more films and TV series than anyone else in the film at that point. Foster’s part as Iris is relatively brief. But the mixture of cynicism and youthfulness she expresses plays a pivotal role in protagonist Travis Bickle’s later actions. Moreover, Foster’s performance earns equal amount of empathy and frustration. She also absolutely holds her own in the scenes with Robert De Niro. Both Foster and De Niro were Oscar nominated for their performances.
2. The Accused (1988)
Jodie Foster’s acting career in the late 1970s took a dive. It was remarked that like many traditional child/pre-teen performers she’s destined for obscurity. However, in 1980s (after breaking away from the media spotlight thrown by Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt) Foster started to play a series of well-judged adult roles. The most notable among these was Tony Richardson’s Hotel New Hampshire (1984). Incidentally, the films failed at the box-office. Hence it was the Oscar-winning performance in Jonathan Kaplan’s victim-blaming drama that served as a turning point in her career. In The Accused, Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a young waitress with a promiscuous past. One night, the drunk patrons of a seedy bar brutally rape Tobias. Subsequently, she takes her attackers and witnesses to court. Tobias easily gets marginalized and ostracized in the court due to her social status and private mistakes.
The film was both popular and controversial, placing Foster among A-list Hollywood actresses. She is absolutely fantastic in playing the hard-headed Tobias. Kelly McGillis provides a solid supporting performance as the raped woman’s lawyer. The Accused is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Marked by Anthony Hopkins’ sterling performance, The Silence of the Lambs is a film with formidable legacy. While Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter was present onscreen for less than 20 minutes, his unforgettably creepy dialogue delivery spread a sense of discomfort throughout the narrative.
But, it was Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who served as the film’s perfect emotional anchor-point.
Interestingly, Michelle Pfeiffer was director Jonathan Demme’s first choice for Clarice. But Foster, who’s always on the hunt for challenging roles, smartly embodied the strengths and vulnerabilities of Clarice.
Although labeled as a ‘serial-killer thriller’, the movie primarily focuses on the female FBI trainee’s experience of a male-dominated world. Clarice often faces inquisitive and rapacious looks and over the course of the narrative, she finds her authoritative voice. Accordingly Foster’s adequate performance never turns Clarice into a cipher. She is especially great in the confrontational scenes with Hopkins, showcasing a mix of fascination and dismay.
By Arun Kumar
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