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My own nominee for the next Screen Goddess is this year's Oscar Queen, Kate Winslet. Like Streep, Winslet has shown she can be counted on, not only to delight our eyes and ears, but to take us to emotional highs and lows we haven't experienced before. The daughter of a British barmaid and several generations of off-and-on actors, she's a strong-featured, natural beauty. From under heavy eyebrows, she looks into you like an X-ray machine, striding through her performances with the purposefulness of a conquering hero. Full-bodied and imposing, she has the perfectly sculptured nose of a Greek statue and the daring to take off her clothes when the role demands it.
Winslet first hit the screen with Heavenly Creatures (1994), about a pair of teenagers who murder one of their mothers, and soon became the darling of avant-garde cinema in England. She first attracted wide attention in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility, adapted from Jane Austen by Emma Thompson (who played Winslet's sensible older sister) and directed by Ang Lee. Winslet played an impulsive romantic, who throws herself at handsome rakes but has the underlying character and good sense to win herself a prize husband. She caught so fully what was going on beneath the silliness and played it so luminously that the frivolous character captured our hearts.
Two years later, at 22, she starred in the biggest box-office success of all time, Titanic, keeping us so enthralled with her lush appeal and her juicy romance with Leonardo DiCaprio that we barely noticed when the great ship went down.
After that, she shunned the crowd-pleasing movies that required her to play beautiful young women in corsets, and made some dreadful artsy films, one aptly named Hideous Kinky. She played Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet and an elfish queen in Lord of the Rings. She was corseted—to good effect—as an unworldly widowed mother of four Peter Pans in Finding Neverland, opposite Johnny Depp as Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie. In Little Children, she finally grew up, so to speak, and played a bored, sex-starved American suburbanite. In her choice of films inspired from literature, she showed us not only that she has the courage to avoid conventional role choices, but that she reads, and has the intelligence and the inner fire to give a mesmerizing intensity to her performances.
This year, Winslet is the star of two provocative films that have attracted much critical attention. In Revolutionary Road, she's opposite Leonardo DiCaprio again, and is directed by her husband, Sam (American Beauty) Mendes. Drawn from the novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road tells the tragic tale of an American woman in 1955 who gets trapped in a stultifying suburban life of caution and avoidance. Winslet plays a woman who, faithful to the conventions of the time, believes she should lead her life through her husband (played by DiCaprio), a self-styled, but ultimately timid, adventurer and would-be genius.