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Winona prefers art of film over showbiz In Focus by Richard Crouse FOR METRO CANADA September 16, 2009

beetlejuiceIt’s easy to forget that  has had an interesting career.

Nominated for two Oscars before her twenty-third birthday, she was an “it girl” with a collection of big hits under her belt like Heathers and Mermaids and a laundry list of A-list directors hankering to work with her. Her waifish good looks and habit of dating hot stars with names like Johnny and Matt made her a tabloid regular — but that was some time ago. Before Dec. 12, 2001, she seemed to be destined to become the next Julia or Meg, but career ambivalence — “For a long time I was almost ashamed of being an actress,” she says — and a run-in with the law slowed her momentum.

The fallout from her arrest and a four-year hiatus may have dimmed her star, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been doing interesting work, including a supporting role in the TIFF entry The Secret Lives of Pippa Lee. She’s not the box office draw she was, but that doesn’t bother the actress, who turns 38 next month.

“Pretty Woman turned (Julia Roberts) into an overnight celebrity rather than an actress,” Ryder said, “Now her whole career is about box-office. It’s not a burden I’d ever want to carry.”

That’s lucky for Ryder, because other than this year’s Star Trek, her movies haven’t ignited the box office — but there are some good rentals in her recent work.

In The Darwin Awards, she’s an insurance claims investigator scrutinizing the deaths of people who die while doing ridiculous things. The movie has been called a “celebration of eccentricity” — film critic speak for “quirky” — and contains witty dialogue and dark humour.

Death is the subject of another unjustly ignored Ryder film. In The Last Word, she falls for a man who makes a living writing suicide notes. This one plays like a rom-com Harold and Maude, and sits nicely alongside the noir comedy of her earlier films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.

The final entry in our Ryder triple bill is The Ten, a portmanteau comprised of stories, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. Ryder plays a newlywed who finds sexual liberation with a ventriloquist dummy.

Choices like these guarantee she won’t have Meryl or Angelina looking over their shapely shoulders, but they are good movies and deserve to be seen.

“Focus should be on the art of film,” she says, “not on the business of film.”

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