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Watch the 7 best movies from the greatest actor that fans barely knew

Chris Hewitt, Star Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

'SIGNS'

M. Night Shyamalan's thrill­er seems to be about an alien in­va­sion but it's re­al­ly about grief that stopped its hero, an ex-priest played by Mel Gibson, in his tracks. We don't know the de­tails un­til a climactic flash­back shows a re­gret-filled po­lice of­fi­cer (Jones) telling him his wife is dead. Jones deals with a lot of the ex­po­si­tion in the sur­pris­ing­ly mov­ing film, imbuing it with com­pas­sion and grace (and, may­be, a hint of ro­mance?).

'MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN'

One fiery speech es­tab­lish­es Jones, play­ing an ac­tiv­ist fight­ing in­jus­tice in 1950s Man­hat­tan, as the con­science of Ed­ward Norton's styl­ish reimagining of Jon­a­than Lethem's novel.

'OUR FRIEND'

The in­tel­li­gent tear-jerker didn't have much of an im­pact when it came and went from theaters last win­ter but I hope peo­ple dis­cover it at home. Dakota Johnson plays a woman who is strug­gling with can­cer. Jones plays a hos­pice work­er and doesn't show up un­til the end. Her dig­ni­ty, com­pas­sion and hon­es­ty make sense of the film's ap­proach to death and dy­ing.

'ERIN BROCK­O­VICH'

The sim­plic­i­ty of Jones' per­form­ance, as one of the few peo­ple in the mov­ie able to re­sist Jul­ia Roberts' bull­doz­er charm, is breath­tak­ing. Her char­ac­ter only gets a cou­ple of scenes but Jones gets across that she's so beat­en down from fight­ing a gas com­pany that's pois­on­ing her family that she doesn't even have time to feel bad about it any­more. I'd bet mon­ey that di­rec­tor Ste­ven So­der­bergh cast her be­cause he knew that in the scene when she fi­nal­ly agrees to help Brock­o­vich, a single Jones close-up would tell us ev­er­y­thing we need to know.

 

'OCEANS TWELVE'

How much can one ac­tor pack into five min­utes of screen time? Let Jones show you. First, she's a hard­ened FBI a­gent who ad­vis­es a quak­ing Matt Damon he's about to spend the rest of his life in pris­on, with rats gnaw­ing on his toes. Sec­onds later, be­cause that's the way the "Ocean's" movies roll, ev­er­y­thing has changed and she's Damon's smoth­er­ing-but-play­ful mom. And there are strong hints that's not the end of her sur­pris­es.

'CRADLE WILL ROCK'

Tim Rob­bins' all-star his­tori­cal dra­ma isn't quite sure what it wants to be when it grows up, but Jones en­er­gizes the live­li­est, bright­est parts. As Hallie Flan­a­gan, a gov­ern­ment arts hon­cho dur­ing the Great Depression, she brings a light touch to far­ci­cal walk-and-talk scenes and — quite be­liev­a­bly — en­thus­es about how much she loves live theater.

'WINE COUNTRY'

In con­ver­sa­tion, Jones is breezy and fun­ny but we don't get to see her do much com­e­dy, may­be be­cause she con­veys such au­thor­i­ty. This women's-trip mov­ie, fea­tur­ing Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Ra­chel Dratch and Tina Fey, makes smart use of that, casting Jones as a very se­ri­ous, very woo-woo tar­ot card read­er who warns the women that they're doomed. Jones doesn't have any fun­ny lines but she's so se­ri­ous that her lack of hu­mor is hi­la­ri­ous.

Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367

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