10 Iconic Jennifer Lopez Movies

We have come to the end of the Jennifer Lopez season of the Ten Movies podcast, having grown a little wiser and having watched a lot of middling films, along with a couple of truly wretched ones.

One thing you see when watching a lot of her movies and thinking about her public persona is the extent to which film is simply one of the many things she does. She’s possibly the purest “star” in American culture: she sings, she acts, she does Superbowl halftime shows, she has clothing lines and cosmetics lines and fragrance lines, you name it. Her fame comes from her skill and reputation as a performer, rather than from any one type of performance. Movies may simply be an aspect of marketing for her, a loss-leader that creates brand equity. Certainly most of the movies we watched functioned largely in that space.

Photo from Time, on the occasion of Jennifer Lopez’s 50th birthday.

The thing of it is, though, Jennifer Lopez is an incredibly capable actor. In (nearly) every episode we observed that she was 1) pretty good, actually and 2) better than the material. She’s not particularly skilled as a comic actor, but in dramatic roles, she’s great – grounded, believable, restrained and inviting empathy. Even in action-ish roles, you never bump on her performance. When the giant snake comes after her in ‘Anaconda‘, you get a pretty real sense of how someone might react to being pursued by a giant snake.

In most of her better movies, too, there was a strong set of traits she embodies: grit, toughness, being hot, competence and a working-class resilience. And while maybe it would have been nice to see her in some roles where she wasn’t playing a struggling Latina mom with a hardened exterior but a heart of gold, it’s rare to see those kinds of characters in a big-budget movie.

Still, though, the movies we watched mostly ranged from adequate to bad to literally the worst. Maybe she makes poor choices or has terrible luck. Maybe women in Hollywood aren’t offered the same kinds of roles as men, particularly women of color. Maybe she likes making the kinds of movies she makes. It’s hard to say.

We were heartened by the fact that the best movie and her strongest performance in any of the films we watched was ‘Hustlers‘ – the most recent on the list. She’s great in it as world-class stripper and criminal mastermind dressed like a barbarian queen in a gold bikini and a gigantic fur coat. She also served as executive producer for the film, so maybe we’re in for some truly great Jennifer Lopez movies.

Here’s what we watched:

Anaconda. An early career B movie in which J Lo and Ice Cube are chased by a giant snake being manipulated by a demented, scenery-chewing Jon Voigt. Our review: If you like giant snake movies, you will like Anaconda.

Selena. A thorough and deeply-reverent biopic about the rise of a beloved young Mexican-American pop singer who died tragically, co-starring Edward James Olmos in a pitch-perfect role as her father. Our review: An important American story but a dull movie more concerned with lionizing Selena than portraying her.

Out of Sight. A sexy Steven Soderbergh thriller that wasn’t really sexy or thrilling enough for us, putting J Lo across from George Clooney in a convoluted robbery involving various factions of thuggish misfits. Our review: If you like stylish Soderbergh heist capers, you should probably just watch ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ again.

Maid in Manhattan. A J Lo staple in which her character is an ur-text for the kinds of characters she often plays – a working-class Latina mom with a heart of gold who is mistaken for a member of the ruling class. Sadly, the handsome prince for whom she falls is played by a miscast Ralph Fiennes in a criminally bland performance. Our review: We loved Jennifer Lopez’s character and liked the movie’s strong point-of-view on the class divide, but couldn’t get over how boring Fiennes was.

Gigli. An ill-conceived and bafflingly poorly-written romance/thriller starring J Lo and Ben Affleck as Mafia-adjacent kidnappers, widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made. But surely it can’t be that terrible, right? Our review: Wow, yes, it’s exactly as terrible as you’ve heard. What the hell?

U Turn. While we agreed that ‘Gigli’ was the worse film, Oliver Stone’s ‘U Turn’ – an overstuffed, violent mess of a movie in which Sean Penn plays a horrible man struggling to escape a horrible town filled with horrible people – was the one we least enjoyed watching. Our review: Painfully, graphically, upsettingly brutal to no obvious end. Do not watch this movie.

Shall We Dance? A light, low-stakes little movie in which Richard Gere learns to love ballroom dancing. Sadly, Jennifer Lopez, while featured prominently in the marketing, doesn’t really have much to do here. Our review: Hemal liked it. Brian thought it was fine.

Hustlers. A critical and commercial success featuring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu leading a band of strippers who carry out increasingly criminal acts in the wake of the 2008 recession. Our review: Fun to watch and with a strong point of view, plus J Lo kills it.

The Wedding Planner. Technically this is not one of the ten movies, as it was disqualified by virtue of having been featured as one of the ten movies in the recent Matthew McConaughey season of the podcast. But it’s one of J Lo’s most-loved romantic comedies, so we threw it into this season’s stream as a bonus episode. Our review: Many people think fondly of this movie, possibly due to Stockholm syndrome from seeing it every Sunday on TBS, but we were put off by the film asking us to simply not notice that McConaughey’s character is a class-A jerkwad.

Parker. A generic mid-budget action-thriller starring Jason Statham as a generic mid-budget action star and Jennifer Lopez as his amoral sidekick as they run around Miami chasing jewel thieves or something. Our review: A reasonably valid choice if you’re doing laundry or riding an airplane.

Second Act. A comedy/drama about a hard-working outer-borough gal who fakes her resume in order to ascend the heights of corporate America with her street smarts and ends up bonding with the daughter she once gave up for adoption. Our review: A microcosm of J Lo’s film career, in which she is better than the movie around her.

Second Act

We have come to the end of the Jennifer Lopez season of the Ten Movies podcast. Our final episode concerns 2018’s ‘Second Act’, a movie you probably haven’t seen or heard of, but which serves as a fitting finale to this season. As we have noted for pretty much all of these movies, Jennifer Lopez is often much stronger than the films she appears in, and ‘Second Act’ is no exception.

This episode is also notable for being the film that Brian and Hemal most vehemently disagreed over, with Hemal accusing Brian of hating the movie because he hates women and Brian accusing Hemal of having “pork chops instead of brains”. Ugly stuff, to be sure, but it makes for riveting audio content.

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‘Second Act’ was also a fitting finale, since J Lo’s character is a classic J Lo archetype: a tough, classy, working-class, outer-borough broad who gets one over on the swells. After being passed over for a manager gig at Value City, her friends set her up with a fancy Midtown job after creating a fake persona that pairs her actual street smarts and sales know-how with fake degrees from Harvard and the Wharton School.

Twist, though. What may, at first glance, have seemed like a retread of ‘Working Girl’ or ‘Maid in Manhattan’ is a totally different thing, because the catty young executive J Lo clashes with turns out to be [horn blast] the daughter she gave up for adoption lo these many years ago. So they do a lot of bonding and J Lo turns out to be really great at being a corporate executive but then her beautiful loving daughter and beautiful loving boyfriend both get pissed off because she lied to the and everything falls apart, but then everything is fine.

Jennifer Lopez is great in the movie, and Hemal dug it, in large part because it’s a rare film that is about women’s struggles and friendships unrelated to their relationships with men. Brian had mixed feelings, because yes to the preceding bits, but a lot of the the major relationship beats felt contrived and all the “comedy” stuff spackled on top of the film to make it (presumably) easier to market was awful. We end up arguing over this at length.

This would seem to be a good place to summarize what we learned by watching ten Jennifer Lopez movies, but for that you’ll have to wait, because we’re doing one more very special episode, summarizing our findings and ranking the movies we watched. That episode, like all of them, will be charming and free.

Parker

As we near the end of the Jennifer Lopez season of the Ten Movies podcast we have been forced to confront some hard truths. Despite the love of the masses and almost certainly enough wealth to buy a castle made of diamonds, J Lo tends to not be in very good movies. Mostly not terrible movies, but, you know, forgettable ones.

Despite what its marketing would suggest, 2013 action-thriller ‘Parker’ is just such a film.

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Don’t get us wrong. If you enjoy a reasonably serviceable shoot–em-up featuring anvil-headed action star Jason Statham, ‘Parker’ will be right in your wheelhouse.

But Jennifer Lopez is ill-served by the thin material she’s given to work with here, as has been the case with a whole bunch of these movies. Her character, an amoral real estate agent forced into a life of gunplay and jewel thievery, mostly functions as a sidekick to Statham’s Parker, rather than the partner/foil that might have made for a more entertaining film.

Luckily, Brian and Hemal found all sorts of clever and insightful things to say, because they are professionals. You’re welcome, America. (Don’t forget to rate and review us kindly on the podcast-listening application of your choice.)

John Wick

This season on Ten Movies we are watching – and deftly interrogating – the work of Jennifer Lopez. Though alert readers may have noticed that the popular 2014 action movie ‘John Wick’ is not technically a Jennifer Lopez film, in that she does not appear in the movie or have anything to do with it.

Alert readers will have also noticed that there is a currently a global pandemic raging, a challenging state of affairs that has already driven the production of Ten Movies from Hemal’s lavishly-appointed podcasting studio to her far less lavishly-appointed patio and last week completely borked our recording schedule.

Rather than leave you with only hundreds of thousands of other podcasts to listen to, however, we’re taking this brief interruption in service to treat you to a classic episode from the first season of Ten Movies.

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This weekend, the New York Times published a piece by film critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott ranking the 25 greatest actors of the century. Lo and behold, Keanu Reeves came in at number four. Number four! Simply astounding.

In a follow-up interview, Dargis and Scott noted that a great number of people had expressed consternation at this development, but stuck to their guns, and specifically noted ‘John Wick’ as one of the films cementing this controversial assessment.

Keanu Reeves has been a controversial pick, but he was on the list from the beginning. Then we decided we were going to make a statement by putting him up there on the list [at No. 4]. The John Wick movies aren’t masterpieces of cinema, but the way Reeves embodies this slightly ridiculous action hero in those movies is just beautiful to watch.

Both Brian and Hemal enjoyed ‘John Wick’, though we nearly came to blows over the question of whether the film was supposed to be taken seriously or not. A chief finding of the Keanu Reeves season of the podcast was a growing respect for his stuntwork and physical acting. Not in a “Well, at least he does good fight scenes” way, but in the sense that watching his (better) movies gave us a genuine appreciation for what goes into that kind of acting. ‘John Wick’ is perhaps the pinnacle of this, which is maybe why the New York Times people liked it so much. We’re not sure. We love the guy, too, but it still seems a weird choice.

Anyway, check it out, it’s a good episode. And never fear, we’ll be back next week on the home stretch of the Jennifer Lopez season.

The Wedding Planner

On our latest season of the Ten Movies podcast, we’re watching and discussing the movies of Jennifer Lopez. We took the week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, so instead of a brand-new episode we’re dropping a fan favorite from last season into the podcast stream. Last season we focused on Matthew “All right, all right, all right” McConaughey and one of the ten movies we watched was ‘The Wedding Planner’ – featuring none other than Jennifer Lopez.

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In romantic comedies, we know perfectly well the attractive lead characters are going to get together. Our enjoyment comes from how entertainingly the movie puts barriers in their way and (eventually) overcomes them. In this case, the barrier to true love comes from the fact that Matthew McConaughey is about to have a wedding with some other lady, and Jennifer Lopez is in charge of planning it.

Your podcast hosts were divided on this movie. Brian was aghast at the laziness of the screenwriting and storytelling (spoiler alert: they made McConaughey’s character a dishonest opportunist actively cheating on the woman he was about to marry, yet assumed the covenants and protocols of romantic comedies would prevent us from disliking him for any of that), while Hemal felt warmly towards it, mostly on the strength of J Lo’s presence and residual nostalgia from being a 14-year-old girl watching it every Sunday on cable TV.

Anyway, regardless of how you or we feel, what are you gonna do? Not watch high-budget romantic comedies? During the holiday season? Forget about it. Luckily, we are here to support you with high-quality, handcrafted audio content.

Hustlers

We continue the latest season of Ten Movies, focusing on the cinematic works of Jennifer Lopez. So far it’s been a tough slog of mostly forgettable fare – plus a couple Grade-A stinkers – but this week we were delighted to watch ‘Hustlers’, a 2019 film written and directed by Lorene Scafaria about some ladies who take their clothes off for money and become friends and then rob a bunch of dudes.

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Jennifer Lopez plays Ramona, a larger-than-life queen among strippers who takes Destiny, played by Constance Wu, and a host of others under her wing. In the wake of the 2008 recession, all the Wall Street money dries up and life gets tough for a hard-working exotic dancer. So the ladies resort to some increasingly ethically ambiguous approaches to revenue generation, first luring dudes back to clubs where they scam them out of money, then drugging them, then skipping the clubs altogether and just rolling the marks at their lavish penthouse apartments. Eventually, of course, karma has its due and everyone goes to jail or whatever.

Here at Ten Movies, we love nothing better than interrogating the sociopolitics of popular works of cinema (wait, is that why we don’t have any listeners?) and ‘Hustlers’ has a sharp but skewed viewpoint. On the one hand, the movie is clear about the realities of class warfare in modern-day America, and is firmly on the side of the working girls. The dudes who get robbed, almost to a man, are hedge fund investor-types who only leach from society, like remoras, and they deserve the cruel fate that Jennifer Lopez and her friends visit upon them.

On the other hand, the characters – and the movie – celebrate materialism and excess. There’s a lot of Louboutin shoes and $6,000 handbags and chinchilla fur coats and while the film convincingly portrays the main characters as working-class people whose upbringings have given them a healthy fear of precarity, the overall sense is that of transferring ill-gotten wealth from selfish people in suits to more-sympathetic but still selfish people in chinchilla fur coats.

But it was a fun, well-made movie and Jennifer Lopez is extremely great in it. Magnetic, amoral, driven and doing the craziest pole dances you can possibly imagine. The fact that she didn’t get nominated for an Oscar is straight-up criminal.

Anyway, it’s a strong recommendation from Brian and Hemal, possibly the first from this season, so fire it up over Thanksgiving, then download this episode to see if we agree.

Shall We Dance?

We continue the latest season of the beloved but critically-overlooked Ten Movies podcast, this time with our appraisal of the films of Jennifer Lopez, who is also beloved but critically-overlooked. Today’s episode: ‘Shall We Dance?’, a light 2004 ballroom-dancing movie with stakes so low as to be practically nonexistent. Brian found this maddening, while Hemal found it refreshing. Controversy! It’s good for sales and it’s good for podcast episodes.

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First things first. Despite what is strongly suggested by the film’s marketing, Jennifer Lopez is not a major part of the film. She plays a mysterious, beautiful, brooding ballroom dance instructor whose mystery, beauty and broodingness draws Richard Gere into the studio, where he learns that ballroom dancing was the missing ingredient in his comfortable, professional-class life.

Unlike ‘Maid in Manhattan‘, where the befuddled male lead inexplicably throws his whole life into the garbage can over his love of the hot maid, Richard Gere just kind of has a mild crush, which dissipates. Jennifer Lopez’s character is not so much a person as she is a landmark by which he – and other characters – orient themselves.

It is not the absence of Jennifer Lopez that divided us, however, but the aforementioned dissipation. In Hemal’s reading, ‘Shall We Dance?’ is sophisticated and interesting (by romantic comedy standards), framing attraction between men and women not as life-defining events, but as ephemeral. Richard Gere is kind of into the mysterious, beautiful, brooding dancer, but she’s not into him, and that’s not a big deal. In fact, it leads him to something more valuable – a new sense of purpose and community with lovable ballroom-dancing misfits.

This theme is reinforced by other relationships, including a rumpled private eye that Susan Sarandon (Richard Gere’s wife) hires to figure out if he’s having an affair. The guy a) quickly confirms that he’s not; and b) seems kind of into Susan Sarandon himself. The film avoids melodrama or contrived suspense by having the wife character learn early on that her husband is not cheating on her, he’s just pursuing a quirky new hobby in secret. It never feels like this marriage is in any real danger – they’re just working through something a little murky.

In Brian’s reading, on the other hand, okay, sure, all of that, but the movie keeps everything a secret from the audience. The film is so understated and restrained that it’s hard to know why the characters are doing what they’re doing or why we ought to care. Both Richard Gere’s and Jennifer Lopez’s characters have motivations driving their actions, but we don’t really learn them until the final 10-15 minutes, after which you can go back and say “Oh, so THAT’S why she was so frosty!”, assuming you still care at that point.

So, you know, a mixed review from the Ten Movies team, but we did heartily agree that this was a welcome change from to the last two films we watched – the bafflingly-incoherent ‘Gigli’ and the unwatchably-barbarous ‘U Turn’. Point is, your own viewing experience of ‘Shall We Dance?’ will be made immeasurably richer by our efforts, and isn’t that why we’re here?

U Turn

This season on the Ten Movies podcast, we’re watching the movies of Jennifer Lopez. This week we made the terrible mistake of watching ‘U Turn’, a depraved 1997 noir/art-school crime thriller in which the viewer is forced to watch a series of gruesome but pointless barbarities, ranging from maimings to incestuous violations to brutal murders. It is literally excruciating to watch.

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Last week we watched ‘Gigli’, widely-considered one of the worst movies of all time. And boy howdy, it was awful. Yet both Brian and Hemal agreed that we’d gladly watch the bewildering, aimless mess that is ‘Gigli’ twice over before subjecting ourselves to ‘U Turn’ again. It sanded down our nerve endings.

Our project with Ten Movies is not to watch bad movies and make fun of them, as noble as that undertaking may be. Instead, we chart the arc of an actor’s work and ponder their cultural meaning. But we are beginning to lose faith in Jennifer Lopez. She’s magnetic, talented and skilled – yet we have yet to watch a truly good J Lo movie, and now we’ve watched two truly dreadful ones back-to-back. Conviction falters.

We cannot, of course, recommend this film in good conscience. It’s not so much the acting or the story, though they are lousy, but the ceaseless, pointless brutality. Over and over we are forced to witness horrible things for no reason – simply for the experience of witnessing them.

Yet, as always, our podcast (almost) redeems the experience of watching the movie, as we are reliably witty and delightful. So, you know, don’t watch ‘U Turn’, but definitely download this episode.

Gigli

This week on the Ten Movies podcast, we continue our descent into the work of Jennifer Lopez. We use the metaphor of descent purposefully, as this week’s selection is ‘Gigli’, released in 2003 and widely considered one of the worst movies ever made. Is it as terrible as people say? Or was director Martin Brest bravely challenging the stale, bourgeois notion that films must have coherent stories and characters to whom the viewer might somehow relate or feel sympathy?

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Our chief learning from this season of Ten Movies has been that Jennifer Lopez is a stronger actor than you might think, given her lack of widespread critical cinematic acclaim, but that she stars in some not-so-great movies. Here at the nadir of our season, our working hypothesis is both validated and sorely tested, as ‘Gigli’ is a genuinely terrible movie, and she is terrible in it.

For the most part, it’s not her fault, nor is it her co-star Ben Affleck’s, though neither of them acquit themselves admirably. (The third lead, Justin Bartha, turns in a cringingly offensive performance as the developmentally-disabled kidnapping victim who brings Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck together, expressing his disability primarily by saying inappropriate things and flapping his hands.) No, the real blame here attaches to the writers, who neglected to provide a story or coherent motivations for the characters, and the director, who failed to notice the oversight.

Mostly the two lead actors spend the entire movie in Ben Affleck’s apartment, saying painfully stupid things to one another that are supposed to be clever and sexy, maybe? (“In every relationship, there’s a bull and a cow. It just so happens that in this relationship, right here with me and you, I’m the bull, you’re the cow.”) Also, Jennifer Lopez’s character is allegedly a lesbian, but she changes her mind after spending a few days with a thoroughly unlikeable, not-very-bright jamoke in a leather jacket.

Anyway, we cannot possibly recommend you watch ‘Gigli’, but we can heartily recommend this delightful 30-minute podcast episode where we say mean things about it. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, in that sense.

Maid in Manhattan

We continue our third season of Ten Movies, delving deeply into the cinematic oeuvre of Jennifer Lopez. In this week’s episode, we watch the modern-day fairy tale ‘Maid in Manhattan’, in which a heroic working-class Latina single mom falls for a rich, handsome prince who appears to be suffering from a brain concussion.

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The further we get into our Jennifer Lopez season, the more dismayed we are by the quality of her body of work. She’s really great in this role – a plucky, streetwise maid [in Manhattan] who is accidentally mistaken for a member of the ruling class by a wealthy politician – but the movie itself was disappointing.

On the one hand, it has potential beyond your bog-standard romantic comedy. It’s framed more like a fable – a retelling of the Cinderella story – which (somewhat) relieves the unrealism that obtains in romantic comedies. Plus it has an incredibly strong point-of-view on class – the divide between the haves and the have-nots is constantly referenced and illustrated in the film, with the movie firmly on the side of the multi-racial proletariat.

Yet the romance at the heart of the movie falls painfully flat, largely because of Ralph Fiennes as the handsome, wealthy, Kennedy-esque Prince Charming character. He’s just terrible. Hemal felt he was miscast and doing a straight-up bad job at being, you know, charming, while Brian felt the screenwriters had simply forgotten to give his character any motivation for upending his entire privileged life beyond “Hey, that’s a hot maid! [in Manhattan]”.

You’ll have to watch and see for yourself, but we fear – sadly – you will agree.