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From ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ 7 standout Ellen Burstyn performances

By Dan Heching, CNN

(CNN) — Five decades after Oscar-winning actor Ellen Burstyn lived a mother’s nightmare in “The Exorcist,” she has reprised her role as Chris MacNeil in “The Exorcist: Believer.”

Now 90, Burstyn says shes busier than ever. Her memorable career credits range from starring roles (like her sitcom in the ’80s, with Megan Mullally playing her daughter) to scene-stealing supporting turns in dozens of titles, including that now-infamous 14-second role in 2005’s TV movie “Mrs. Harris” which nonetheless earned her an Emmy nod.

Here’s a look at just a few of Burstyn’s indelible performances in film and television:

‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971)

Already a seasoned theater and television actor who had only a handful of film credits to her name, Burstyn’s portrayal of a bored and bitter housewife and mother in Peter Bogdanovich’s searing drama about smalltown Texas life cemented her status as a stellar presence on the big screen, and scored her her first nomination for an Academy Award (for best supporting actress).

‘The Exorcist’ (1973)

As unprecedented now as it was then, this William Friedkin-directed classic became the most acclaimed horror film of all time – a title it arguably still holds. A large part of that, of course, comes from the performances. In 2021, Burstyn talked about the way she prepared for her role of a mother to a demonically possessed girl, saying how she was careful to make sure the audience identified with the character. “You always want the audience to feel what you’re feeling,” she reflected. That authenticity makes what happens later in the movie all the more compelling, and horrifying. Unsurprisingly, the film earned her a second Oscar nod, her first for best lead actress.

‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’ (1974)

In her Oscar-winning role in Martin Scorsese’s drama, Burstyn exhibits a matter-of-factness and realism as a single mother just trying to make ends meet while also realize her dream to be a singer. As she and her son travel from place to place in search of a home, Bustyn’s ability to vacillate from playfulness to dogged determination to sheer terror when a beau (Harvey Keitel) explodes in a rage at her is a showcase for her talents.

‘Same Time, Next Year’ (1978)

This sex farce opposite Alan Alda was somewhat of a departure for Burstyn. The movie follows a pair married to other people who meet once a year for a passionate and ongoing affair, and showed a more demure and even flirty side to the performer. It also earned her a fourth Oscar nomination.

‘Requiem for a Dream’ (2000)

As terrifying as “The Exorcist” was, nothing could prepare moviegoers for the horrors of Darren Aronofsky’s twisted “Requiem,” which showed the agony and destruction caused by drug and substance abuse. Burstyn’s performance as a pill-addled woman with a fast-failing grip on reality remains almost absurd in how extreme it becomes – matching only the insanity happening all around her in this mindbending and tragic opus.

‘Political Animals’ (TV) (2012 miniseries)

This miniseries saw Burstyn as the martini-swilling, trash-mouthed mother to a former First Lady and current Secretary of State (Sigourney Weaver) mired in scandal. The formidable pair’s repartee is thoroughly enjoyable to watch and the role serves as a wonderful example of Burstyn’s prolific work on television, earning her one of two Primetime Emmys.

‘The Age of Adaline’ (2015)

An odd and poignant movie starring Blake Lively as a seemingly immortal woman who watches everyone age around her, “The Age of Adaline” packs some surprisingly touching moments when Lively’s titular character sees her daughter slowly turn into an older woman, played by Burstyn. The duo maintain an authentic mother-daughter connection that remains one of the highlights of the film.

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