Actress, director, icon. Jodie Foster represents a powerful voice in the entertainment industry. A precocious child star turned respect, mature artist, she has graced the screen for 46 years and counting, and this weekend marks the premiere of her latest film from behind the camera, Money Monster, an ambitious hostage drama that also skewers the 24-hour news cycle and economic corruption.
With such an impressive career to consider, it only makes sense that none of our critics can agree on which film should be hailed as “the best Jodie Foster movie ever.” But all of their choices are worthy, impressive pieces of cinema, we think you’ll agree.
Find out what they picked, and come back next week for another all-new, highly debatable installment of Crave’s The Best Movie Ever!
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Taxi Driver (1976)
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is, first and foremost, an analysis of mental illness, especially as it manifested in the wake of the Vietnam war. America was suddenly, the film argues, fundamentally broken. Its character had been forever sullied. Violence had now became part of the nation’s collective unconsciousness, and there was no one to understand. Travis spends the movie slowly sauntering downward from passable, functional illness into downright murderous impulse.
Many audiences, however, find Travis to be something of an admirable, even moral character. Indeed, Travis would be seen as a horrid maniac were it not for his counterpart, Iris, played by Jodie Foster, famously only 13 at the time of filming. Iris is a teen prostitute who spews forth with some of the most shockingly sexual language perhaps uttered by a child in a major feature film up to that point. When Travis looks at women, he sees creatures he can’t quite connect with. Sex is something that happens in incomprehensible movies playing in ultra-seedy New York grindhouses. He looks at people, and sees nothing but demons and scum. He looks at Iris, and he sees what she is: a lost soul in need of help.
Jodie Foster, even at that young age, managed to bring a level of weight and realism to Iris that a lesser teen actress wouldn’t have had. She could have easily played as minx or a wastoid. Iris is, instead, a working class kid who was simply lured into a very wrong job. While Travis’s acts are horrible and maniacal, and his redemption is certainly ironic, we can at least hold to ourselves that Iris managed to escape. She doesn’t play a large role in the film, but she is perhaps the most important. And Foster created that.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Perhaps the greatest irony of The Silence of the Lambs is that some people believe that this movie about the marginalization of women was stolen by a man. And sure enough, Sir Anthony Hopkins gave an iconic performance as Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, a slithering serial killer whose good manners give way to despicable violence. But this rich and filling motion picture – one of my very favorites – is not his movie. It is Jodie Foster’s.
It is Foster we see running the FBI training course at the beginning of the film, proving herself worthy from the opening frames and then spending the rest of the film showing her work. Every eye is upon her, lascivious or pitying, condescending or predatory. It says a lot about the world of The Silence of the Lambs that the only man in the movie who doesn’t view her as “less than” for her sex is a homicidal maniac. (And that is, if you think about it, the only reason we truly like Lecter at all. Only he and the audience can recognize Clarice Starling’s finer qualities.)
Jodie Foster plays her role in The Silence of the Lambs like a master chess player, always on the defense and always on the attack. She knows when to make sacrifices and she knows when to stand up for herself. She grows in confidence over the course of the movie, as one mentor fails her and another, more unlikely mentor gives her the strength she needs to carry on. And she does it all while fighting back a hint of an accent. Clarice Starling is a real person, and she is also an act, and she is acted by one of the greatest of all actresses, operating at the peak of her abilities, giving a performance for he ages.
Brian Formo’s Pick: Contact (1997)
Jodie Foster has had iconic roles that have spanned decades. But, odd as it may sound, I don’t think her greatest roles most define her consummate capabilities. She’s very good as a pre-teen prostitute in Taxi Driver, but I don’t get the sense that the 13-year-old actress Jodie Foster knows the weight of the filth that she’s saying (thank the heavens!). She’s fantastic as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, as a dogged FBI agent who’s aided by the bookish cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, in her pursuit of a serial killer. But half (if not more) of the lifting is done by Anthony Hopkins who, as Lecter, turns in one of the most amazing performances of all time; you feel his presence behind every door and in every hallway and are totally oblivious to the fact that he’s only on screen for 16 minutes. We all remember every minute of his presence and mostly just root for Clarice to survive.
For me, Foster’s best performance is the bookish, hope-she-survives and I sure as hell believe everything she’s sayin’ role in Contact. Foster plays up some of the tomboyish qualities that exist in her most iconic roles as Dr. Ellie Arroway, a scientist who discovers the audio signal of a spacecraft via satellite. Dr. Arroway is unable to venture to the signal because she does not believe in God, thereby making her unfit to meet another lifeform, a panel concludes, as she wouldn’t best represent the human race because most people believe in some higher power.
Dr. Arroway has the type of true-to-herself conviction, hard work ethic, and one-night stand capability that the movies usually reserve for their leading men. But in Contact it’s Matthew McConaughey who is the puritan and Jodie Foster who makes her own rules. And god bless it, for that. Contact is maybe the only movie where you’re happy a religious fanatic blows something up so that a woman’s dream of finding extra-terrestrial life can actualize.