Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weekly Top Tens: The Best Actress Working Right Now

This was perhaps the hardest list to make up. So many great actresses – Jennifer Connelly, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, Joan Allen, Judi Dench, Kirsten Dunst, Penelope Cruz to name but a few did not make the list, simply because there was no room. But I am satisfied with the 10 actresses I did name. If you have a problem with it, tough.

10. Laura Linney
Laura Linney is one of those actresses who is so consistently great, yet often so subtle, that she is often overlooked. That is a shame because Linney is an uncommonly intelligent, wonderful actress. While not every movie she has made this decade has been wonderful, I cannot think of a performance of hers that was not at least good. She received her first Oscar nomination in 2000 for her wonderful performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, playing a woman struggling to raise her son by herself, dealing with her immature younger brother who shows back up in her life, and her affair with a married man. It is a great performance, and raised her status to one of the great actresses working today. Later that same year, she also gave a great performance in Terence Davies’s The House of Mirth. It is a supporting role, where Linney is great as a cold, heartless woman trying her best to destroy Gillian Anderson’s character. In 2002, she gave two good performances in two less than good movies. She added a touch of class to the ridiculous The Mothman Prophecies, and was one of many stars who was in the fine film The Laramie Project - inspired by the death of Matthew Sheppard. 2003 also saw three very good performances. First, she was the woman in The Life of David Gale that Kevin Spacey is convicted of killing. Yes, the movie is ridiculous, but Linney (along with Spacey and Kate Winslet) make it work way better than it should. Next came her Lady Macbeth-esque performance in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, driving her husband (Sean Penn) to do what he does in the movie. Finally, she was one of many celebrities contributing fine work in Love, Actually. 2004 brought a great lead performance from Linney is P.S. a drama where she falls in love with a younger man (Topher Grace) because he looks like her dead college boyfriend. She received her second Oscar nomination that year for Kinsey, playing the wife of the famed sex doctor (played by Liam Neesom). She did a fine job the following year as a lawyer in the supernatural thriller The Exorcism of Emily Rose. But it was her performance in The Squid and the Whale that may just be her best performance of the decade. Playing one half of a selfish, divorving couple, Linney does a wonderful job playing a woman who puts herself above the well being of her kids. She should have received another Oscar nomination for that one. She made three films in 2006, but there really is not much to say about Man of the Year or The Hottest State. But she also made the wonderful film Jindabyne, about a woman whose husband does something she thinks is horrible, and tries to deal with the guilt. Although no one other than me saw the film, she was amazing in it. Again, three films followed in 2007. The Nanny Diaries was not a good film at all, but everything worthwhile in it came from Linney’s performance as an impossibly uptight mother. She added a degree of professionalism as a female CIA agent in Breach. And she received her third Oscar nomination for her wonderful performance in The Savages, as a woman trying to deal with her brother, and her aging, asshole father. Her only film since then is still sitting around waiting to be released, but I saw it at last year’s Toronto Film Festival. In The Other Man, she plays a woman who dies early on, but is seen in flashbacks as her husband discovers that she had an affair. She has three other films on tap for the next few years, and although I have not heard of them yet, I assume that Linney is going to great in all of them.

9. Samantha Morton
Samantha Morton may not work quite as often as some of the other actresses on this list, but when she does work, she is always brilliant. She is a fearless actress, who is never afraid to take on just about any role. In 2002, she delivered her first two great performances of the decade. First there was her offbeat work in Lynne Ramsay’s Movern Callar, where she played the title character, next there was her mesmerizing turn as one of the three “people” who can see the future in Steven Spielberg’s brilliant Minority Report. The following year there was her hugely sympathetic turn (for which she received her second Oscar nomination) in Jim Sheridan’s immigrant drama In America and her performance in Michael Winterbottom’s intelligent science fiction film Code 46 - a kind of 1984-esque tale. 2004’s The Libertine was an absolute mess, but Morton remained unscathed with her very good performance. She was much better in Roger Michell’s dark romance, Enduring Love. She and Cate Blanchett are pretty much the only ones who delivers a great performance in the insipid sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age. She was hugely sympathetic as the wife of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in the underrated drama Control. I may have absolutely hated Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely, but her performance as a lonely, depressed Marilyn Monroe impersonator was the only thing worthwhile about it. Her best performance of the decade though is her most recent. In last year’s Synecdoche, New York, she plays the one woman who the main character loves, but he keeps screwing it up. Morton is the emotional heartbeat of the film, and keeps it from being more than just an intellectual exercise. Next up, she’ll star in Oren Moverman’s The Messenger, and the horror film The Daisy Chain, which has already got great reviews in England. Morton, as always, remains a fearless, and brilliant actress.

8. Amy Adams
At the beginning of the decade, Amy Adams only had one screen credit to her name (a small role in the horrid Drop Dead Gorgeous), but she will finish the decade with at least two Oscar nominations, and a string of wonderful performances behind her. Adams is so damned adorable, that I think she is often not taken as seriously as she should be, but her work speaks for itself. Adams first really came to my attention for her wonderful performance in a small role in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, playing a naïve young woman (with braces no less) who falls for Leonardo DiCaprio’s con man. A string of small roles in movies and TV (most notably as Jim’s girlfriend on The Office) followed until 2005, when she got her big break in Junebug. Playing an overly cheerful pregnant woman, with a miserable husband (“God loves you just the way you are, but loves you too much to let you stay that way”) and an obsession with meer cats, Adams delivered an amazing, heartfelt performance that earned her an Oscar nomination (and in my mind, should have won her the Oscar). 2006 brought three small roles in comedies – the horrific The Ex, where Adams got some laughs as a dippy yoga instructor, the hilarious Talladega Nights, where she plays the woman who never gives up on Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby, and Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, where she played a character aptly named Gorgeous Woman. The following year she was perfectly cast as Giselle, an animated Disney Princess who ends up in modern day, live action New York. I’m not sure there’s another actress anywhere who could have pulled off the performance as brilliantly as she did. Later that year, she was also quite good as Tom Hanks’ loyal assistant in Charlie Wilson’s War. In the past two years, she has made five movies – some good, some bad – but she has been delightful in all of them. She was adorable as the spoiled “actress” in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, played the naïve Sister James to perfection in Doubt (for which she received her second Oscar nomination), took a slightly more dramatic turn in the offbeat Sunshine Cleaning, and was pretty much the only reason to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (I would be much more excited about the Amelia Earhart biopic later this year if Adams played her again, instead of Hilary Swank). Just this past weekend, she was delightful in Julie and Julia, playing a frazzled woman trying to cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. Adams is one of those actresses who simply make me smile every time she is onscreen. Yes, she is good looking and absolutely adorable, but she is also among the most talented actresses working today.

7. Frances McDormand
Unfortunately for us intelligent moviegoers, it appears like Frances McDormand has either decided to slow down this decade, or because she’s no longer 25, she just is not getting as many quality roles as she once did. Nevermind though, because when McDormand does get a good role, she is still more talented than just about anyone else out there. In 2000, she delivered two excellent supporting performances. First up was her work in Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys, playing the wife of a college dean having an affair with a pot smoking professor (Michael Douglas), who is on a journey of self discovery. McDormand’s weariness with Douglas’ antics, couple with her undeniable love for her, was wonderful. Then she received her third Oscar nomination for her hilarious performance in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, as the hero’s WAY overprotective mother, who worries, appear by the end of the film, to be entirely based on reality. She is wonderful in both of those films. The following year should have brought her another Oscar nomination for her no nonsense performance in the Coen brothers The Man Who Wasn’t There, playing the wife of the hero, who in classic film noir style, has succeeded in sucking all the life out of him. She was fine in 2002’s City by the Sea, but it really was a nothing role. But she was amazing later that year in the indie movie Laurel Canyon, playing the aging hippie mother of Christain Bale, who discovers she likes his son’s new girlfriend (Kate Beckinsale) perhaps even more than he does. More people should see that one. She had a small supporting role in Something’s Gotta Give, which really gave her nothing to do in 2003, and other then her hair, there is nothing memorable about her work in Æon Flux in 2005. Despite the fact that she received her fourth Oscar nomination for playing the dying miner in North Country, I have to say I was not overly impressed with her work there. Yes, she good. As good as it is possible to be given the role, but its something she could have played in her sleep. I much preferred her fiery performance in the following year’s Friends With Money, where she plays a woman who is sick and tired of just about everyone and everything, and is prone to explosive outbursts. She is the most enjoyable character in a film full of enjoyable characters. Last year she gave two great performances. First as a rather unconventional nanny taking care of a spoiled actress in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which starts out as a delightful comedy, but which ends on a more serious note than I was expecting. But the performance that should have garnered a lot more praise than it did was her great work in the Coen Brothers Burn After Reading. Playing a woman obsessed with getting plastic surgery, her dim bulb of a character embarks on a ill fated black mailing scheme in that somehow involves the Russians, the CIA and just about everyone else. McDormand is the personification of the vapid, empty headed woman of a certain age, obsessed with appearances, and so dense that she does not see what it right in front of her. Burn After Reading is a brilliant little comedy, and McDormand is a large part of the reason why it works as well as it does. It saddens me that on IMDB, McDormand has no upcoming roles listed. The woman is a genius – someone cast her in another movie already!

6. Nicole Kidman
People like to poke fun at Nicole Kidman because apparently she has had so much botox she is no longer to make any real facial impressions. That is utter and complete nonsense – Kidman remains not only one of the biggest female stars in the world, but also one of the most risk taking actresses currently working. Yes, some of her “big” movies have been awful this decade, but if you pay attention to all of her work, you will an actress with a resume full of great performances in risky movies. In 2001, she delivered three performances. I seem to be the only one who loved her work in the underrated thriller Birthday Girl, just like I seem to be the only one who was not overly impressed with The Others, although I still liked Kidman in it. But the one thing I do agree with everyone on, is that Kidman was brilliant in Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge! Playing Satine, a sometimes prostitute, sometimes singer, Kidman is asking to hit just about every note in her acting repertoire, and does so brilliantly. Yes, she is ably supported by the entire cast, especially Ewan McGregor, but this is Kidman’s show from start to finish, and she carries it off brilliantly (and received her first Oscar nomination in the process). The following year, her performance as Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours won her an Oscar. While I do quite like the movie, and admire Kidman’s performance in it a great deal, I am not convinced that it is the best work of her career – but rather another instance of the Academy giving an Oscar to someone who they felt was “due”, and also giving an Oscar to a gorgeous woman who “uglified” herself. The following year, she made two films that were pretty designed to get her another Oscar nomination, and although neither succeeded in doing that, they were interesting performances. First, she was very good as in The Human Stain, where she played an illiterate janitor who falls for a Professor shielding a secret. I know that many thought that Kidman was too “good looking” to play a janitor, but I have always found that criticism of actresses to be bullshit. Kidman is fine in the film. She is even better playing the lead in Anthony Minghella’s grand civil war, romantic epic Cold Mountain. For me, she saved the segment on the homefront from Renee Zellweger’s hamfisted performance (which inexplicably won her an Oscar!). I would put neither performance on a list of Kidman’s best, but she was quite good in both films. But it was two of her performances in 2004 that earned her a spot on this list for me. Forget the horrible The Stepford Wives, which no one liked. Instead concentrate on two smaller movies. First there was Lars von Trier’s minimalist epic Dogville, where Kidman played a woman put through hell at the hands of the residents of a seemingly innocent, mountain town in Depression era America. Here was a role that dragged Kidman through hell, and which she pulled off brilliantly. Her next film may have featured an even better performance by Kidman. In Jonathan Glazer’s underrated Birth, Kidman plays a woman about to be married when a strange little kid shows up at her door and announces that he is the reincarnation of her dead husband. The film is a wonderful little thriller, and Kidman carries the film. At the heart is a scene that is solely a close-up of Kidman’s face for minutes on end, where so many emotions run through her face, so many thoughts run through her mind that she is mesmerizing. She should have received an Oscar nomination for at least one of those performances, but sadly the Academy is not that bright. The following year, she was delightful in Bewitched, an otherwise terrible remake of the classic TV show, and she did some fine work in the mainstream thriller The Interpreter. 2006 brought her vocal work in Happy Feet, where she delightfully does a Marilyn Monroe impression, and offered her a challenging role in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. That the film was an utter failure is not Kidman’s fault – the writer/director seems to have no idea what they were doing. In 2007, she made a great villain for The Golden Compass, which unfortunately will not have the sequels made for it, robbing us of Kidman in bad girl mode again. But she was brilliant in Margot at the Wedding, playing the title character, a self involved bitch, who thinks she is better than everyone. Another Oscar nomination should have come for that one. Kidman’s biggest mistake of the decade was signing on for The Invasion, a horrible remake of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which it must be said she is bad in. Then again, I doubt there is an actress alive who could have been good in it. She was much better later that year in Baz Luhrman’s Australia, where she had, I kid you not, an Katherine Hepburn like presence on screen. Considering Kidman’s next three roles are in the Rob Marshall musical Nine, John Cameron Mitchell’s (Shortbus) latest Rabbit Hole, and the new film by Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry), entitled The Danish Girl, I think it’s safe to say that Kidman is still refusing to play it safe. I’m sure this may end up being by most controversial pick on this list, but I don’t care. Kidman is brilliant.

5. Julianne Moore
At the beginning of the decade, Moore would have been even higher on this list. But after a great start to this decade, her most recent performances have either been in less than stellar movies, or have been mere cameos. Nevertheless, she earns her position here for her sheer talent – and her ability to make movies that would otherwise be insufferable into at least watchable enterprises. Moore started out the decade in 2001 with less than great movies. She had the misfortune of replacing Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, and although Moore is good in the film, she cannot compare to Foster. She slummed a little bit for Ivan Reitman’s Evolution, his attempt to replicate the success of Ghostbusters, and although Moore is fun in the film, the movie just is not very good. She was then in the misfire that was Lasse Hallstrom’s The Shipping News, where everyone other than Cate Blanchett was miscast. But 2002 was a career year for Moore, where she received not just one, but two Oscar nominations. For my money, her segment of The Hours was far and away the best, most heartbreaking of the three storylines, and Moore delivered the single best performance in the movie. She should have won the Oscar over her Hours co-star Kidman, for her amazing performance in Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, where she played a 1950s housewife, struggling to deal with her husband’s homosexuality, and her new found romantic feelings for her African American gardener. Moore perfectly captured a style of acting that went out of style decades before, and brought real depth and human emotion to Haynes’ exercise in style. It’s one of the best performances of the decade. Since then however, things have not been as good for Moore. Her two films in 2004 – the romantic comedy Laws of Attraction and the thriller The Forgotten were both misfires. In 2005, she was the only reason to watch The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, another story of a 1950s housewife – this one who supports her family by entering jingle writing competitions, and continuing to win. 2006 saw the rare bad performance from Julianne Moore, in what should have been a knockout role. In Freedomland, she plays a mother who accuses an black man of killing her child, although the evidence points to her. What should have been a great role, in a great film (it is after all based on a novel by Richard Price), was a colossal misfire, as director Joe Roth has no idea what he is doing. Moore fared far better later that year, taking on a glorified cameo as a revolutionary in Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece Children of Men, opposite Clive Owen. In her few short scenes, Moore sets the action in motion, and delivers an unforgettable performance. The less said about Next (2007), the better, as once again I sat in the theater wondering why Moore agreed to be in such a terrible movie. She did a spot on Joan Baez impression though in Haynes’ I’m Not There, his Bob Dylan biopic (another of her mere cameo roles). She is merciless with the folk singer, and provides the film with some huge laughs. It is a great performance in a great movie. Last year, she delivered her two best lead performances in years – two bad the movies did not live up to her. In Savage Grace, she plays a woman who has an unhealthy obsession with her son, stretching into incest. Moore is amazing in the movie, but the film itself is confused and fragmented, which undercuts her brilliance. Similarly, in Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, Moore is amazing as the one woman left who can see when everyone else around her has gone blind. The film simply does not reach the heights it should have, but Moore was deserving of more praise than she got. Finally, although she only does the voice of a computer, she still delivered the best performance in the incredibly stupid Eagle Eye, also in 2008. I hope Moore gets some better roles in some better films in the future. She has no less than five movies on the go right now – the thriller Shelter, the romantic comedy A Single Man, a supporting role in Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippia Lee, a role in Atom Egoyan’s latest Chloe, and finally a role in Lisa Cholondenko’s The Kids Are Alright. Moore deserves great roles. As she proved this decade, even if the roles she takes on are not always great, she almost always is.

4. Naomi Watts
Out of all the actresses who burst into our consciousness this decade, no one is better than Naomi Watts. Out of nowhere, she delivered one of the very best performances of the decade with her work in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. Playing a lesbian actress lost in her own fantasy world, Watts is alternately sweetly innocent, and darkly dangerous. It is quite simply an amazing performance, and the fact that the Academy did not even nominate it is a shame they have yet to live down in my mind. But if Mullholland Drive proved she could act, it was not until the following year with the wonderful horror movie The Ring, that she became a bona fide movie star. Watts grounded the ridiculous premise of that horror film is reality, and made The Ring one of the surprise hits of the year. If the sequel four years later was nowhere near as good, it’s not Watts fault – she is actually quite good in that awful film. Since then, Watts has been extremely busy. She was wasted in Ned Kelly, but was the best thing about the mediocre Merchant-Ivory film Le Divorce (both 2003). Later that year, she delivered a devastating performance (which earned her first, and so far only, Oscar nomination) in Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s 21 Grams, as a woman who falls back into her drug addiction after the death of her husband. It was an amazing, gut wrenching performance. The following year came three great supporting performances. As a woman having an affair with one of her best friends, she is sexy, yet delicate in We Don’t Live Here Anymore. She was wonderful as the ex-wife of Sean Penn in the underrated The Assassination of Richard Nixon. She should have received an Oscar nomination for hilarious, and pitch perfect performance as a spokes model in I Heart Huckabees (she is especially good when she starts to break down and screams “Fuckabees”). The next year, she was fine in the misfire thriller Stay. But it was her heartbreaking performance opposite a computer ape in King Kong that was truly special. Watts convinces us that she truly does love the big ape during the course of the movie, and that love makes the movie as special, and great, as it is. In 2006, she was in fine form in the costume drama The Painted Veil, as she supports her husband after she has an affair, on his mission to China. She was wonderful as a sympathetic nurse trying to unravel a mystery in David Cronenberg’s excellent Eastern Promises (2007). She gave a fearless performance as she has to endure one humiliation after another in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, her performance in which single handedly raised the level of the movie above Haneke’s original. Finally, earlier this year she was solid in Tom Tykwer’s thriller The International, although I could not help but wonder why she decided to be in that one. Upcoming for Watts in the lead in Doug Liman’s Fair Game, reteaming her with Sean Penn yet again, for their take on the Valerie Plame scandal, she has the lead in the new Rodrigo Garcia film Mother and Child, and will team up with Woody Allen on his latest London set film. Watts is an actress who over this decade, I have pretty much see do everything. Her theory seems to be to work with the best directors she can – hence leading her to films with Lynch, Cronenberg, Haneke, Tykwer among others. I hope that she continues to be great in the future.

3. Meryl Streep
I hate to admit it, but it took me a while to warm up to Meryl Streep. When I starting becoming a movie buff in the 1990s, it seemed like the woman could sneeze and get an Oscar nomination – and it quite frankly annoyed the hell out of me. But over the course of this past decade, when I have delved into her past work, as well as her new work, I find it impossible not to admit that Streep is probably the best actress in movie history. It has helped a great deal that her work this decade is far superior to her work in the 1990s. It seems like every time there is a great role for a woman her age, Streep grabs it. Streep earned her 13th career Oscar nomination for her wonderful performance in 2002’s Adaptation, as author Susan Orlean, who ends up falling in love with the subject of her book The Orchid Thief. Streep got right on Charlie Kaufman’s weird wavelength, and went for it, delivering a wonderful performance. That same year, she was very good as in The Hours, playing a modern day lesbian, dealing with the same feelings that her two co-stars (Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore) grappled with in their bygone eras. Streep won her first Emmy for her excellent performance in Mike Nichols’ miniseries Angels in America. Playing multiple roles over the six hour epic, Streep was a complete revelation, delivering one of her best overall performances. She was fine as one of the many bad people in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004), but she was even better stepping into Angela Lansbury’s shoes for the villain role in The Manchurian Candidate that year. Playing an evil version of Hilary Clinton, Streep chomps on ice cubes with glee, as she heartlessly manipulates everyone around her. It’s one of the few times in her career she deserved an Oscar nomination and did not get one. Her lone movie in 2005 was Prime, where she played a Jewish mother worried about her adult daughter (Uma Thurman). Streep is, as always, wonderful but the movie leaves something to be desired. Two great performances followed in 2006. First, she was wonderful as one of two singing sisters in Robert Altman’s swansong A Prarie Home Companion – which is far and away the best musical performance of Streep’s career. Then, she was delightfully evil in The Devil Wears Prada, as the boss of a fashion magazine. But Streep, who received her 14th Oscar nomination for the role, does something extraordinary in the role – she makes you understand what ticks beneath the vile exterior of the woman. It is a remarkable performance, in a merely average film. Three disappointing films followed in 2007 – although Streep is not the reason why any of them are not very good. Evening was absolutely horrible, but Streep is barely in it, so you cannot blame her. The political thriller Rendition is a little too on the nose to be truly effective, and Streep is simply playing an evil more evil version of her character in The Manchurian Candidate. Yes, she is very good at it, but I wanted something more. Then she played a reporter in Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, a film that everyone with the exception of me seemed to hate. Streep is fine in the film, but she has her scenes stolen from her by Tom Cruise, who has the much juicier role. Three more films followed last year. I am sure that almost no one other than me saw Dark Matter, an indie where Streep plays a woman who tries to reach out to recent Chinese immigrants who have come to the country to go to university. Streep is good, but it really is a thankless role. I may have absolutely hated Mama Mia!, but there is no denying that Streep threw herself into her role with great determination. She is the only reason to suffer through that piece of crap. Her best performance of the decade though was obviously her role as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, an old school nun trying her best to get a young priest thrown out of her congregation because he may have been inappropriate towards a young boy. She is a marvel in the film, ripping into her dialogue, and dominating every scene she is in (with the exception of the one with Viola Davis, where Streep knows well enough to stay out of Davis’ way, as she owns that scene). As good of an actress as Streep is – and she is one of the best – she always fits in well with her ensemble cast. This past weekend, she once again showed off her uncanny ability for accents, nailing the iconic Julia Child in Julie & Julia. Next up for Streep is voice work in Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox opposite George Clooney, and the lead role in the latest Nancy Meyers comedy It’s Complicated opposite Steve Martin. I wouldn’t be surprised if this year she receives Oscar nomination 16. She is a true legend.

2. Cate Blanchett
In the past decade, Cate Blanchett has proved to me that she can do just about everything. In the past 10 years, she has taken on a variety of roles, and has been great in pretty much all of the them. She started the decade playing a psychic in Sam Raimi’s The Gift, a film that she pretty much anchored single handedly. That year, she also did a fine job in support in The Man Who Cried. Four movies followed the next year. She was quite good in the WWII film Charlotte Grey, a lot of fun in the crime comedy Bandits, fine as the elfin princess in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (as she was in its two sequels in the next two years). She was the only reason to see The Shipping News, as her small role at the beginning of the film cast a spell over the rest of it could not live up to. On of her most underrated performances came the following year in Tom Tykwer’s Heaven, where she starred as a would be revolutionary. Three strong performances followed the next year. She was wonderful in Ron Howard’s underrated Western The Missing. She was hilarious is a dual role in a segment of Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. And she was quite good as a crusading journalist in Joel Schumacher’s Vernoica Guerin. In 2004, there was two other strong performances. First was her work in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as a reporter at the heart of a father-son love triangle. She finally won an Oscar for her brilliant turn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, where she perfectly captured Hollywood icon Katherine Hepburn. She was fine in the little seen Australia indie Little Fish as a drug addict the following year. In 2006 there was three more strong performances. She had a thankless role in Babel, as a woman who gets shot, and spends much of the movie passed out, yet she was still able to leave a lasting impression. She was the only good thing in Steven Soderberg’s The Good German, a horrid WWII drama, where she somehow managed to create a realistic character in amongst all the stylistic excess. But her best performance was in Notes on a Scandal, where she played a teacher who sleeps with one of students, and gets drawn into a strange relationship with a fellow teacher played by Judi Dench. This performance earned her the third Oscar nomination of her career. Two more Oscar nominations followed the next year. I do not think she came close to deserving one for her performance in the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which was really just an exercise in camp excess. But she gave the best performance of her career - and one of the very best performances of the decade - in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, where she played one of six versions of Bob Dylan. Blanchett played the most famous version of Dylan - high on amphetamines, using women, being harassed and booed by fans, and essentially being squeezed from all sides, and she pulled it off brilliantly. If this performance did not prove she could do anything, then nothing ever will. Last year, she had fun in the campy role in Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. She gave a remarkable performance in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where she plays a woman who falls in love with a man who ages backwards. In many ways, she had a much harder performance than Pitt’s, and she is wonderful in it. She has no movies out this year, but we can look forward to her as Maid Marion in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood next year. Blanchett is always great. There are very few things that she cannot do, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

1. Kate Winslet
Kate Winslet has been my favorite actress for years now, and there are very few times where she does not earn that distinction. She has made 13 films this decade, and I defy you to find one of them where she is not wonderful in. In 2000, she started off the decade with a brilliant performance in Philip Kaufman’s Quills - where she becomes the sexual obsession object for both a Catholic priest and the Marquis de Sade. The following year, she received her third Oscar nomination for playing the young Iris Murdoch in Iris. For my money, Winslet’s part in the movie was much better than Judi Dench’s - where after all she just totters around senile. I may not have nominated her for that movie, but she is wonderful in it. I did prefer her performance as one of the code breakers in the WWII British spy thriller Enigma that same year though. I have thought that The Life of David Gale was a horribly conceived movie with a terribly mixed message, but Winslet’s performance as a crusading journalist is actually quite good. I think Winslet should have won an Oscar, instead of just receiving her fourth nomination, for her wicked funny, twisted performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. She plays a woman who decides to delete ex-boyfriend Jim Carrey from her memory, and when he tries to retaliate, then regrets the decision, he tries desperately to hold onto those memories. This is a strange movie, brilliantly well executed, with Winslet helping to ground the movie, and making it one of the best romances of the decade. While that same year’s Finding Neverland was a little too bland for me, Winslet’s performance as widow raising her kids by herself is quite heartfelt. John Turturro’s strange musical Romance & Cigarettes came out the following year, and gave Winslet a wonderful, fiery role as James Gandolfini’s mistress. The movie was uneven, but was utterly wonderful when Winslet was on screen. She made four movies in 2006 - by far her most productive year. She did wonderful vocal work in the animated film Flushed Away, was one of the few people actually deliver on the promise in All the King’s Men, and was quite good in the by the numbers romantic comedy The Holiday. But it was her performance in Todd Field’s Little Children, where she received her fifth Oscar nomination, that was truly amazing. She plays a housewife who starts an affair with married house husband out of sheer boredom. Winslet digs deep into her performance, and delivers a knockout. It was not until last year though that she finally won an Oscar - albeit for the wrong film. I loved her Oscar winning performance in The Reader, as a Nazi woman covering up a secret that she is even more ashamed of. It is a complex role, one that does ask for sympathy, but for understanding. It is a wonderful performance. But I do think she was even better in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. She plays a 1950s housewife who is miserable in her life, and does what she thinks she needs to fix it - with tragic results. Winslet owns the screen in that movie, and it is probably the best performance of her career. Winslet has yet to choose her next role, but I am confident enough to say that she will be brilliant in what she does next. If I were to choose the best performer - male or female - right now, than Winslet would be it.


  1. I wholehartedly disagree with your inclusion of Nicole Kidman on your list. Other then a very oscar-worthy performance in the Hours and noteable, but probably overlooked, performance in Birth she has left me wanting in recent years.

    Upon first read I also took issue with your choice on Ms. Coen. However, upon more reflection she has pulled off some good performances. In a very superficial industry she has the ability to portray the avaerage work-a-day woman in a very effectual manner -- not an easy feet in Hollywood.

  2. I don't have time yet to read your entire post. However, as likeable as she is, Amy Adams does not belong with the company you've mentioned. So far, she's only proven she's a step above Meg Ryan. I would put Julia Roberts before her.