Total Recall

Total Recall: Kristen Stewart's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 star.

by | November 15, 2012 | Comments

Kristen Stewart

For the last couple of years, Kristen Stewart has been The Twilight Saga‘s Bella Swan — and the middle of one of the most hotly contested love triangles in recent pop culture history. The debate between Team Jacob and Team Edward reaches its senses-shattering conclusion this week, with the release of Breaking Dawn Part 2, but no matter which side you’re on, there’s no denying that Stewart’s film career has always been about more than vampires and werewolves. Over the last decade, she’s assembled a crowded, surprisingly eclectic filmography, and Breaking Dawn Part 2 is only one part of a busy year that also includes her turn in On the Road, debuting December 21; we decided to join in the fun by celebrating her work with this week’s Total Recall. Without further ado, here are Kristen Stewart’s best-reviewed movies!


10. What Just Happened?

A few weeks before Twilight descended upon theaters, Stewart appeared in a very different sort of film: Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened, a tragicomic adaptation of producer Art Linson’s memoirs, which provide a bitter window into the absurd behind-the-scenes drama that filmmakers often face. Playing the teenage Zoe, daughter of the beleaguered film producer played by Robert De Niro, Stewart understandably received less screen time than some of her more famous co-stars (including Bruce Willis and Sean Penn), but Happened gave her the opportunity to rub shoulders with some big names — not to mention the chance to play a character whose penchant for eye-rolling, back-talking, and bedding older men was far removed from Bella Swan’s chaste longing. Though most critics felt it didn’t have enough bite, others thought it went just far enough; the Houston Chronicle’s Amy Biancolli, for one, called it “the sharpest Hollywood satire since The Player.”


9. Welcome to the Rileys

In the midst of Twilight mania, Stewart stepped away from the supernatural for 2010’s Welcome to the Rileys, an indie drama about a grieving father (James Gandolfini) who copes with the death of his daughter by starting an offbeat adoptive relationship with a troubled stripper (Stewart) while his wife (Melissa Leo) walls herself away in their home. Ultimately, in true Sundance fashion, all three of them end up learning something about themselves — but even if the movie walks to a by-now familiar beat, a number of critics felt the cast was strong enough to anchor its less believable moments. Lauding the end result as “Quietly assured and superbly written,” ViewLondon’s Matthew Turner called Rileys “an emotionally engaging drama with a trio of terrific performances from James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo.”


8. Undertow

For a perfect example of how diverse Stewart’s acting choices have been, just look at 2004, when she followed her starring turn in Catch That Kid with a supporting role in David Gordon Green’s Undertow, a moody Southern Gothic thriller about the bloody chaos that erupts when an ex-con (Josh Lucas) moves in with his brother (Dermot Mulroney) and his nephews (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan) on their remote Georgia farm. As Lila, the girlfriend of Bell’s character, Stewart embodies the idyllic, albeit hardscrabble, existence that the boys are forced to flee when the violence Lucas carries with him inevitably erupts — and she also gets to reel off one of the strangest lines ever uttered in a teenage love scene: “Can I carve my name in your face?” While it didn’t earn as much money or critical approval as Green’s previous film, All the Real Girls, Undertow managed to cast a spell on a number of critics, including Film Threat’s Stina Chyn, who applauded: “Structured like a fairytale and driven like a fast boat down a leafy river, Undertow expertly blends myth and suspense to create a fable with a wicked sense of humor and an appetite for destruction.”


7. The Cake Eaters

It took two years to make its way to theaters, it’s an independent feature populated with quirky characters who have names like Beagle and Easy, and it marks the cinematic directorial debut of Mary Stuart Masterson — but don’t dismiss The Cake Eaters out of hand as just another purposely offbeat indie. Here, Stewart plays a teenage girl afflicted with a rare, incurable disease; it’s a role that could easily have been dragged into scenery-chewing melodrama, but she played it subtly, adding her restrained performance to those of a fine cast that included Bruce Dern and Melissa Leo. Though few people saw The Cake Eaters when it finally reached theaters in 2009, it made a profound impact on a number of critics, including the New York Post’s V.A. Musetto, who clucked, “With so much junk cluttering movie houses, it is a shame that it took two years for this sweet, intelligent drama to get a release before heading for DVD. But such is the sad state of the movie business.”


6. The Yellow Handkerchief

During the long buildup to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Kristen Stewart snuck in a supporting role in The Yellow Handkerchief, a quiet, character-driven indie about an ex-con (played by William Hurt) whose return to his Louisiana home — and the ex-wife (Maria Bello) he left behind — becomes a journey of self-discovery, not only for himself, but for his two teen traveling companions. As the 15-year-old runaway Martine, Stewart might have been stuck with another petulant adolescent role, but Erin Dignam’s script (adapted from a Pete Hamill story) offered more subtly shaded characterizations than most, and Udayan Prasad’s unobtrusive direction gave the cast room to shine. And shine they did: Although The Yellow Handkerchief‘s stately pace and rather minimal storyline arc turned off some critics (ReelViews’ James Berardinelli summed it up as “Sluggish. Torpid. Boring”), most felt that all-around superlative performances from the movie’s stars were more than enough to make up for any flaws. “You don’t need an original story for a movie,” wrote Roger Ebert in his review. “You need original characters and living dialogue.”


5. The Runaways

If she was at all concerned about Twilight typecasting, Stewart could hardly have picked a better way to fight it than playing Joan Jett to Dakota Fanning’s Cherie Currie in The Runaways. Not only did Floria Sigismondi’s biopic of the groundbreaking (albeit short-lived) band give Stewart the chance to adopt a tough rock-and-roll swagger, but her striking resemblance to Jett helped remind filmgoers she’d always been more than Bella Swan. And by most accounts, Stewart nailed her performance, projecting a combination of pent-up aggression and teenage insecurity that helped make The Runaways more than just a $10 million episode of Behind the Music. While a sizable number of critics felt the movie didn’t delve deep enough, most considered it an exceptionally well-acted biopic, with Stewart, Fanning, and Michael Shannon repeatedly singled out for their work. Perhaps no one went further than Cinemablend’s Josh Tyler, who gushed, “Kristen Stewart is a modern day James Dean.”


4. Zathura

Between his smash hits Elf and Iron Man, Jon Favreau directed a little family sci-fi thriller called Zathura. Adapted from the book of the same name by author Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji), Zathura follows the fantastical adventures of a pair of quarreling brothers (played by Jonah Bobo and Josh Hutcherson) whose squabbles reach epic proportions when they make the mistake of playing the titular board game, which magically transports their house into outer space — and the middle of a battle with alien creatures called Zorgons. In the middle of all this chaos is Kristen Stewart as the boys’ older sister, who spends a decent portion of the film in cryogenic deep freeze. A thankless role, perhaps, and Zathura went down as a rather surprising commercial failure — but as far as most critics were concerned, the movie did exactly what it was supposed to. As David Edwards wrote for the Daily Mirror, “Zathura is one of those rare movies that should appeal to kids and adults alike thanks to a great little storyline, neat special effects and a genuinely likeable cast.”


3. Panic Room

After some early uncredited roles (including one in The Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas) and an appearance in The Safety of Objects, Stewart received her first big break with David Fincher’s Fight Club follow-up, the 2002 thriller Panic Room. It presented a tremendous opportunity for Stewart, who not only shared her scenes with Jodie Foster as her on-screen mom, but spent most of the movie trapped in a single room. Of course, Fincher being Fincher, Panic Room livened up its claustrophobic premise with plenty of style, but still — this is a movie about two women hiding in their home from a crew of burglars, and if Stewart hadn’t been able to hold her own against Foster in the acting department, none of it would have worked. A respectable $196 million worldwide hit, Room prompted slight disappointment from critics who yearned for another subversive, Fight Club-style jolt from Fincher, but Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post spoke for the majority when he called it “powerfully manipulative, quite clever and full of evil ambition.”


2. Into the Wild

One of 2007’s most critically lauded, award-hungry films, Into the Wild adapted the true-life story of Christopher McCandless, a young, uncompromising idealist who shed his material possessions and embarked on a solitary journey that ultimately took him into the Alaskan wilderness — and to his death. McCandless has been an understandably divisive figure since Jon Krakauer made his story famous with a non-fiction book (also titled Into the Wild) retracing his doomed path, but for director Sean Penn, his tale was tragic and arguably noble — and Emile Hirsch’s empathetic portrayal of McCandless made it easy to see why. Given the nature of the story, Hirsch necessarily dominated Wild, but Penn lined up a stellar supporting cast that included William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and (of course) Kristen Stewart. Here, Stewart plays Tracy Tatro, a girl McCandless meets while passing through a Southern California desert commune — and ultimately leaves behind so he can camp out in an abandoned bus. Along with most of McCandless’ decisions, it’s a little hard to fathom — but for most critics, the lessons of his life were rich and profound. As Bill Goodykoontz wrote for the Arizona Republic, “though it’s easy to dismiss McCandless’ hippified musings and near-suicidal choices as the misguided actions of a kid who read Walden a little too closely in college, Penn’s film aims for something more, a deeper telling of a tale of yearning and escape.”


1. Adventureland

For his follow-up to Superbad, director Greg Mottola opted for another coming-of-age story — but Adventureland is far from a carbon copy of its predecessor, offering a darker, subtler, far more personal take on life at the cusp of adulthood. This time around, Mottola, who wrote the script, took filmgoers back to the late 1980s to tell the tale of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college graduate whose dreams of a celebratory trip to Europe are shattered by his suddenly cash-poor parents. Finding the summer job market lacking, James is forced to take a job at the local theme park, where he meets Em (Kristen Stewart), an NYU student with a rocky home life and a thing for older men who look like Ryan Reynolds. As you can probably tell, Adventureland doesn’t offer quite as many yuks as Superbad; unfortunately, the studio’s marketing campaign decided to focus on Mottola’s recent past, and the trailer focused on testicle-punching gags instead of the movie’s more thoughtful side. Perhaps as a result, Adventureland didn’t make a ton of money during its theatrical run — but it was a big hit with critics, who appreciated Mottola’s obvious affection for his characters and the authentically 1980s touches dotting the screen. The cast earned high marks, too, including Stewart, who prompted Tom Long of the Detroit News to write, “Yes, you’ve seen much of it before, and the nervous James character is now officially a cliché. But Stewart makes you care anyway. This, folks, is an actress.”

In case you were wondering, here are Craig’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Into the Wild — 90%

2. Twilight — 82%

3. The Twilight Saga: New Moon — 78%

4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse — 74%

5. The Safety of Objects — 65%

6. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 — 63%

7. Panic Room — 61%

8. The Yellow Handkerchief — 60%

9. Welcome to the Rileys — 59%

10. Fierce People — 59%

Take a look through Stewart’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.

Finally, here’s Stewart in one of her earliest roles — playing “Girl in Fountain Line” in the made-for-TV movie The Thirteenth Year:

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