Masterful actresses know how to accent the positive

The other night while watching The Closer with my lady love, I had to giggle when she said, “Wow, Kyra Sedgwick’s Southern accent is so thick!”

What my girlfriend didn’t know — and what many of you may not know, either — is that Kyra is a born-and-bred New Yorker with such good acting chops, she can convince you she’s the southernest of Southern belles. Kyra comes from a long line of awesome actresses who can switch up their voices to suit a character. For instance, did you know Golden Girl Rue McClanahan was faking Blanche’s Southern trill? Yep, McClanahan was trained on the stages of New York.

Of course, for every actress who can fake a believable accent, there’s another (two or three) who bomb at it. Let’s take a look at a few winners and losers in the accent department.

The Best:

We would be remiss if we did not start with Meryl Streep, who became so well known for her accents in the 1970s and 80s, people would jokingly wonder what dialect she would conquer next: African tribe woman? Eskimo?

With lots of research and endless attention to detail, Meryl knocked it out of the park when mimicking the dialects of Australians (A Cry In The Dark), Danish (Out of Africa), Polish (Sophie’s Choice) and lesbian (Manhattan). OK that last one is just a joke, but wasn’t it fun to see Meryl play Woody Allen’s Sapphicly-inclined ex-wife?

One of the few contemporary actresses who could go head-to-head with Meryl is the lovely Cate Blanchett. Aussie Cate’s a master of accents from Russian (The Man Who Cried) to American (Babel) to Kate Hepburn’s quirky Connecticut cadence (The Aviator). Cate can even do Bob Dylan (I’m Not There)!

Come to think of it, Nicole Kidman’s Russian accent wasn’t too shabby in Birthday Girl, and it’s hard to remember she’s Australian and not American when hearing her speak with a convincing Southern accent in Cold Mountain. She even nailed the nuanced New England dialect in the creepy Margot at the Wedding.

Kate Winslet, too: You forget this British-born beauty isn’t from the ol’ U.S. of A., her accent is so convincing. The same goes for Aussie Toni Collette, and Welsh-born Catherine Zeta-Jones.

A handful of American ladies can put on a decent British accent. Texan Renee Zellweger proved the naysayers wrong after they heard her spot-on middle-class British accent in Bridget Jones’s Diary and its sequel. Her secret? A vocal coach.

Lastly, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Brit accent was convincing even before she married the guy in Coldplay.

The Worst:

Winona Ryder should never be allowed to fake a British accent again after her legendarily awful warble in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

You know I adore Natalie Portman, but her bizarre British accent in V For Vendetta sounds like a little kid putting on airs at a tea party with her stuffed animals; kind of like how Anne Hathaway sounded in Becoming Jane.

Surely, with eight or nine decades of cinema history, you’ve picked out your own best and worst on-screen accents. Let’s hear them!