Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2010: Best Performances of the Year: Actress

If the Best Actor category was great this year, than best actresses was even greater. I had a hard time eliminating performances from the top 10, as there was so much great work this year. In addition to the top the top 10, the follow performances deserve notice as well: Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right, Monia Chokri in Heartbeats, Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs, Isabelle Huppert in White Material, Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, Birgit Minichmayr in Everyone Else, Helen Mirren in The Tempest, Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right, Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go, Tilda Swinton in I Am Love.

10. Noomi Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
It must have been a daunting task for Rapace to step into the role of Lisbeth Salander – one of the best literary creations in modern memory – a character that so many people already had an idea of in their head before they ever set eyes on Rapace. Not only that, but Salander is such an internal character – someone who refuses to let other people see inside her, her thoughts, her pain, her emotions. And yet, with all of this looming over her, Rapace delivers an excellent performance in all three of the Millennium movies we saw this year. It is a remarkably subtle performance – one that if you don’t pay attention to every facial movement, you are liable to miss. Poor Rooney Mara, who will play the role in the American remakes – she has now not only has to live up to everything Rapace did, but she also has to live up to Rapace herself.

9. Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank
I think the studio behind Fish Tank did Jarvis a great disservice releasing this film last January – it seems like at this point, everyone has forgotten about what a great job she did in the film in her breakthrough role. Jarvis plays a English teenager, growing up in the projects, who thinks she is wise beyond her years, but in reality is just as naïve as all the other teens around her. She dreams of becoming a dancer, even if she doesn’t quite have the talent. And she believes that her mom’s new boyfriend (Michael Fassbender) is really just a nice guy who wants to help her out – even when he looks at her a little too long and flirts a little too much. This is a coming of age story, and Jarvis captures that sexual confusion, that longing to be an adult, and that frustration of being a teenager just about perfectly. It is a great performance that deserves more attention.

8. Chloe Grace Mortez in Let Me In
Mortez had a breakout year in 2010. Her performance as Hit Girl was the best thing about Kick Ass, but it is her performance in Let Me In that makes me think that she is the real deal. This is a completely unshowy, natural performance – something very hard for a child actress. What makes it all the more interesting is that she is playing a vampire – and yet you still believe. She is more restrained than the actress who had this role in the original film – more childlike and even naïve. And yet, she has the ability to break your heart – she tries so hard, but she is a monster unable to control herself. It is a great performance by a young actress who I cannot wait to see in the future.

7. Lubna Azabal in Incendies
Lubna Azabal delivers a brilliant performance in a nearly impossible role in Incendies. It is a role that requires her to hold back the truth of what she knows for almost the entire movie, and yet also maintain a believable character. Although we know she is dead at the beginning of the movie, but she remains the heart of the movie - the character we care about the most, even though she is a complex character, whose actions should make her unsympathetic, but because of her performance, she is. This is a very difficult performance, and it requires her to carry the movie, and Azabal does a great job with it.

6. Emma Stone in Easy A
Emma Stone carries East A on her charming shoulders from start to finish. She is at the center of every scene in the film, and you cannot take your eyes off of her. She has tremendous comic timing and is warm, sweet and funny throughout the film. Easy A is a fairly by the numbers teen comedy – it has a wittier screenplay than most sure, but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. But in Emma Stone, it found a star, someone who elevates the entire movie a notch or two above where it really belongs. We’ve known Stone is a comic talent for a few years now – going back to Superbad in 2007 – but East A was her coming out party – and she nailed it.

5. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone
Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Winter’s Bone pretty much carries the entire film – she is the center of every scene. She plays a teenage girl in the Ozarks, with two little brothers, a mother who has gone off the deep end and a father who has skipped bail, putting their house at risk. She sets out to find him. There is no showing off in Lawrence’s performance in this film – never a moment where you catch her acting. Instead, she inhabits this role, in all its de-glammed glory. She effortlessly fits in with the brilliant ensemble of people who don’t look like people we normally see in the movie. She is a real talent, and Winter’s Bone is her coming out party.

4. Kim Hye-ja in Mother
From the opening scene in the movie, where Hye-ja is standing alone in a field, slowly dancing, she commands the screen and our attention for two and half hours. She is a mother of a disabled child, now in his 20s, who has been accused of murder, and decides to try and find the “real killer” herself. It is a character study disguised as a thriller - it is really a study of guilt on Hye-ja’s part, although we do not understand that guilt until very little in the game. It is also a film that questions the limits of motherly love - what is the natural lengths you will go for your kids, and how far is too far. Hye-ja gives one of the most memorable performances of the year - and is perhaps the year’s most disturbed mother - which considering some of the mothers we’ve seen this year, that is certainly saying something.

3. Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit
This year’s best example of “category fraud” has been placing Hailee Steinfeld, who is at the heart of nearly every scene in True Grit into the supporting actress category. She didn’t need the demotion – she deserves to be nominated in the big category. Her Mattie Ross is a smart, sassy, determined 14 year old girl, who will not take no for an answer, and will not back down. We know that we are in are for it in an early scene where she haggles with a horse trader, and gets him so exasperated, he simply gives in, and gives her what she wants. Steinfeld, who has never had a major role before, completely nails this one – making Ross into a stubborn woman, but not falling into the trap that Kim Darcy did in the original, and making her annoying as hell. She more than holds her own alongside Brides, Damon, Pepper and Brolin – hell she steals more scenes than anyone. Her performance makes it clear that True Grit is her story – and that’s why she deserves to be nominated for Best Actress.

2. Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine
In most other years, Michelle Williams’s brilliant, subtle, heartbreaking performance in Blue Valentine would have easily been my pick for best of the year. She is the heart of the movie – going from a confused college student, dealing with issues she shouldn’t have to, to smitten young woman, to a wife and mother at the end of her rope, with a husband she no longer loves. It is a remarkable performance where we fall in love with her right alongside Gosling, yet feel her pain as things fall apart. And it’s not that she is entirely innocent in the breakup of their marriage either. This is a remarkably complex performance by one of the best actresses in the world right now.

1. Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Natalie Portman commands the screen like no one else did this year. She is at the heart of every scene in the film, and even when she is doing little, you cannot take your eyes off of her. Her Nina Sayers is one of the defining characters of the year – starting off perfect as the virginal white swan, and ending up a crazed black one. The movie focuses on her inner torment – everything is filtered through her perspective, and as the movie progresses, and she falls deeper into her own insanity, Portman brilliantly portrays her slow descent. It is surprisingly not that far off from Mickey Rourke’s performance in Aronofsky’s previous film The Wrestler – as both are people who rely on their bodies to make a living, and both would rather go out in a blaze of glory rather than lose. Like Rourke, Portman deserves an Oscar for her performance.

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