‘Dawn of the Dead’ (2004)
Exhibit A in the you-do-not-want-to-mess-with-Polley argument is this remake of the George Romero classic. Zack Snyder’s movie is vigorous, funny and suspenseful. Polley — as a suburban woman who literally wakes up one day to discover her neighborhood is overrun with the undead — is a resourceful survivor.
‘The Sweet Hereafter’ (1997)
This is the place to start with Polley’s career. Atom Egoyan’s stirring movie reconfigures the Russell Banks novel on which it’s based, with a tricky structure that skips around in time and into the heads of various small-town characters whose lives have been derailed by a school bus crash. Polley plays a babysitter who, despite her shy demeanor, becomes the town’s moral compass. (If being a writer/director/actor isn’t enough, she also demonstrates she’s a fine singer.)
‘Stories We Tell’ (2012)
If we know any stories, surely we know our own? Maybe not, as Polley finds out in a documentary about her family, which has some enormous secrets. Interviews with her siblings and others combine with re-created scenes, diary excerpts and film clips that reveal her parents, both of whom were actors, did their best acting offstage.
‘The Claim’ (2000)
When I think of filmmakers I wish more people knew about, I immediately go to Michael Winterbottom. And when I think about Winterbottom’s movies I wish more people knew about, I go to this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge.” Winterbottom shifts the setting from England to Northern California just after the Gold Rush, where hasty decisions have disastrous consequences for a family. Polley, Milla Jovovich, Peter Mullan and Wes Bentley star.