Reese Witherspoon: Top Five / Bottom Five

While we wait for her latest work, in James L. Brooks' How Do You Know, take a look at the range of work Reese Witherspoon has given us over the past decade and a half, growing from a shrewd teen on-screen to an even more astute woman in roles that challenge stereotypes; her "worst" roles are the ones in movies that don't allow her to do that.

Top Five

Walk the Line

If it isn't enough that Witherspoon brings grace and grit to her portrayal of June Carter, she does all her own singing, too.

Legally Blonde

Witherspoon proves here that she is the rightful heir of the Not-So-Ditzy Blond throne in this delightfully warm and clever tale of a woman who defies the narrow expectations of those around her.

Election

One of the best movies of the last 20 years, and partly because Witherspoon is so chillingly believable as a seemingly mild girl with a deep repository of take-no-prisoners ambition.

Pleasantville

As a savvy modern girl zapped back into a pseudo 1950s -- straitlaced, conformist, and literally black-and-white -- Witherspoon smartly shows us how to find a happy balance between freedom and responsibilty.

Sweet Home Alabama

When formulaic romantic comedies work, it's because we feel truly invested in whether the protagonists end up falling in love ... and Witherspoon works that cinematic magic here with her goofy grace and irresistible charm.

Bottom Five

Just Like Heaven

Witherspoon does her best to be cute as a button as the nice ghost haunting Mark Ruffalo, but this is forgettable, manufactured fluff even grading on the romantic comedy scale.

Rendition

It's not a terrible movie at all, but Witherspoon has the thankless role of angry wife -- and while she's pregnant! -- searching for her missing husband, in a made-for-Lifetime female-empowerment-drama kind of way.

Four Christmases

Witherspoon's spunk and spirit takes unwarranted abuse here as her nonconformist happily-unmarried gal gets a lesson in what everyone's supposed to want -- husband, picket fence -- and learns to like it. Ugh.

Vanity Fair

She's wickedly witty as the classic social climber Becky Sharpe, but Witherspoon feels wasted in a film that reduces a lush novel to a feature-length movie; it should have been a 10-part miniseries to do the book, and Witherspoon's performance, justice.

The Trumpet of the Swan

We usually cannot blame the voice cast when an animated movie goes dreadfully wrong, but it's safe to do so here: wretchedly hammy voice performances only render more unendurable this cheap, cheesy cartoon take on the E.B. White story.

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MaryAnn Johanson walks the line at FlickFilosopher.com. (email me)