"Eat Pray Love" allows Julia Roberts to show off the best of what she can do: flash that radiant smile and let loose with that hearty laugh, but also provoke more than a tear or two in emotionally weighty scenes. An A-lister with irresistible magnetism, Roberts is a movie star through and through but she can also really act, as evidenced by her three Oscar nominations and one win.
It was hard to winnow the list down, but here's a look at the five most notable performances of Roberts' long and illustrious career:
n "Erin Brockovich" (2000): The title may have seemed like a head-scratcher at the time but there was no mistaking Roberts' dominance in taking on the true story of a trash-talking environmental crusader. The hair, boobs and skintight clothes all grabbed your attention off the top. But Roberts' feistiness and smarts and just the sheer power of her personality are what ultimately resonated. Director Steven Soderbergh, with whom she's worked repeatedly, also allowed her to show some vulnerability in her scenes with Aaron Eckhart as the biker boyfriend who lives next door. This is the role that earned her a well-deserved Academy Award for best actress.
n "Pretty Woman" (1990): This movie could not come out today -- not without a shred of irony. But 20 years ago, it asked us to accept not only that a prostitute could walk the streets of Los Angeles looking like Julia Roberts, but that she'd also turn out to be charming and poised enough to accompany a wealthy businessman to polo matches and high-pressure society events. Nevertheless, Roberts made it work in the performance that made her a superstar. Those endless legs in the knee-high boots alone would have made you stop and take a look, but her effervescence and an almost childlike enthusiasm made the performance surprisingly sweet (and earned her the first of her best-actress nominations.)
n "Steel Magnolias" (1989): She was pretty much an unknown at this point but she stole the spotlight away from much more seasoned actresses, including Sally Field as her mother and the scenery-chewing Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine as a couple of bickering biddies. In a small Louisiana town filled with larger-than-life characters who sat around a beauty parlor gossiping all day, Roberts stood out for the loveliness of her youth and promise. And in a film jammed with melodrama, she got the tear-jerkiest story line of all. Still, it was a performance that helped put her on the map and led to an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
n "Closer" (2004): A rare chance for Roberts to show an ugly side. Then again, everyone screwed everyone else over at some point in Mike Nichols' film, which screenwriter Patrick Marber adapted from his own London stage production. Roberts played a photographer who winds up in various romantic permutations with Jude Law and Clive Owen, and the scene in which Owen confronts her about an infidelity is devastating. It was thrilling to see Roberts in a darker role, one that allowed her to deviate so vastly from her persona as one of America's Sweethearts (which, by the way, is the title of one of many romantic comedies in which she's starred).
n "Duplicity" (2009): Roberts and Owen reteamed for a little more fun this time. They enjoyed a delightful chemistry as former spies and on-again, off-again lovers who scheme to steal tens of millions of dollars from the dueling corporate behemoths that employ them. Roberts looked great here in her return to leading-lady status after a few years off -- strong, curvy, formidable. Writer-director Tony Gilroy's storytelling was dense and full of twists but the tone also had a sly, sexy playfulness about it. Roberts was ready for every challenge thrown her way.
Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: www.twitter.com/christylemire.