2005: Best Actress

I could find 20 worthy candidates for Best Actor, but I always have to dig extra deep when looking for good female performances. I don’t blame the women. The studio system still skews heavily towards the male driven movie (and thanks to the failure of IN HER SHOES, that trend will continue.)

I only have 5 choices for best Actress. I could have filled out the list with Cameron Diaz (IN HER SHOES), Q’orianka Kilcher (THE NEW WORLD), Jodie Foster (FLIGHTPLAN), Rachel McAdams (RED EYE) and Radha Mitchell (MELINDA & MELINDA), but that would only further point out that Hollywood needs to do better next year.

Mrs. Henderson is a lot like Paris Hilton. She’s spoiled, rich, and cheerfully admits to knowing little and caring even less. Because of her age, these traits are actually amusing and because she’s played with great class by Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson is endlessly charming. When placed on a tall dresser, Dench protests like a precocious child and when confronting the government over the sexual content of her theatre, you’re completely on her side as she tells those stiff shirts to go stuff it.

4. Naomi Watts – KING KONG
I hear acting against a green screen isn’t easy, but I’ve never tried it myself, so I can only speculate on the tremendous dramatic lifting Watts had to do. The aspiring actress is Watts' signature character, and she plays it better than anyone. Always a little over the top, a little melodramatic, Watts understands that even when not on the stage, an actor is always searching for that real moment. Her Ann Darrow gets the job of her life, acting for her life – first in front of and eventually with – the mighty King Kong.

3. Reese Witherspoon – WALK THE LINE
Reese was fantastic in ELECTION, then LEGALLY BLONDE made her a star and I thought we’d seen the last of her great acting. Playing June Carter, Witherspoon came to the party completely transformed. Her every physical movement, her voice (both on and off stage), was like nothing she's done before. This is also her first truly mature role, and she’s credible as both a country superstar bending the audience to her whims and the true love of Johnny Cash. She'll save him from his personal demons, but never at the cost of her own dignity.

I never wanted to see THE UPSIDE OF ANGER, but I kept hearing so much about the acting that I finally gave it a try. The movie’s good, but Joan Allen is extraordinary, playing a mother of four who becomes an alcoholic after her husband mysteriously leaves.

This isn’t a portrait of alcoholism, but a portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Alcohol is her escape from reality. It helps her deal with problems, and sometimes compounds difficulties. Allen finds a particular attitude for each scene. Sometimes she’s angry drunk, sometimes sad drunk, sometimes numb or happy or determined. The alcohol actually plays only a small part in her performance, but the way Allen uses it to open up unexpected choices as an actor is difficult to pull off. She makes it look incredibly easy.

1. Charlize Theron – NORTH COUNTRY
I could write an article about how NORTH COUNTRY was poorly marketed. The studios gave it the stigma of being something important that you should watch, a dry history lesson. (That would be THE NEW WORLD). Charlize was seen as obviously grabbing for an Oscar (and so soon after MONSTER. How dare she?) Let the record state that Theron's work is equal to Sally Field in NORMA RAE and Julia Roberts in ERIN BROCKOVITCH.
Theron plays Josie Aimes who suffered sexual harassment on all sides, both at work and at home. Hesitantly, she found the quiet courage to say “enough” and used the system to fight back. The key word here is ‘hesitantly’, for Josie is not a strong-willed crusader like Norma or Erin. Josie is actually very weak, and it takes a long time for her to find her courage. But while this isn’t "Iron-Jawed Josie", Theron doesn’t just play human punching bag. We watch her look in all directions for help, finding betrayal at almost every turn.

Josie is flawed, which makes it hard for others to take her seriously. And Theron doesn’t have that big moment where she finds her inner strength. It’s practically pulled out of her by the bad events that pile up. Even if the part is Oscar bait, Charlize owned it from her first close up, and never hit a wrong note all the way to the end.


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