Sadly, just like 2005, good female lead roles are hard to find. Even Oscar pundits have the contenders narrowed down to 7, and that includes Annette Bening for RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, an extreme long shot at best.

I have 8 performances that I want to mention. It might have gone to 10 but I was unable to catch Laura Dern in INLAND EMPIRE and Maggie Gyllenhaal in SHERRYBABY. I also didn’t see Penelope Cruz in VOLVER because I don’t care for Pedro Almodovar’s films.

8. Shauna Macdonald – THE DESCENT
Here’s a character that literally goes through the torments of hell. With deep emotional scars from the death of her family, she agrees to spend time with her friends on a cave exploration that goes horribly wrong. Macdonald perfectly captures her character’s fragile mindset, and when the nastiness comes, she seems ready to shrivel up and die. The torments continue and we watch with fascination as she decides to stop being pushed around. There’s further strife, but her new attitude brings exciting results.

Playing the iconic Bettie Page, Gretchen Mol gives a career making performance in a terrible, terrible movie. The screenplay offers no real character for Mol to play and there’s very little arc, but even with those handicaps, Mol IS Bettie Page. She’s unrecognizable, and the photo shoots capture the joyful personality that made Page such a famous model. She’s also excellent in the individual scenes. That those scenes don’t add up to anything is entirely the fault of the filmmakers.

6. Helen Mirren – THE QUEEN
Mirren is probably the current Oscar frontrunner, so I feel like I should explain why she’s so low on my list. Her work as Queen Elizabeth is a classic case of cold British perfection. Mirren is usually one of Britain’s more electric actors, so it’s interesting to see her in a role that’s so poised. Make no mistake, at times you feel you’re watching the actual Queen of England. I think the “deer” sequence is often talked about because it’s her biggest emotional moment. I might have liked her (and the film) more if there were more scenes like that.

5. Keke Palmer – AKEELAH AND THE BEE
Talk about performances that are alive. Keke Palmer has tremendous star quality as Spelling Bee competitor Akeelah. She’s smart, adorable, occasionally gruff, occasionally insecure and she absolutely commands the screen. If she were 10 years older and male, you’d be seeing her in about a dozen films next year. A star is discovered.

4. Kate Winslet – LITTLE CHILDREN
What more can you say about Kate Winslet at this point? She’s one of our finest actresses. She never gives a bad performance, and she keeps finding challenging roles to play. In LITTLE CHILDREN the greatness of her performance is about her constantly suggesting things she never talks about. When me meet her, her attitude towards the other moms and stay-at-home dad suggest she wasn’t ready to have children. Her affair suggests that she feels empowered by her adultery. Even in her final scene, all she does is stand under a streetlight, but we completely get what her character is thinking. Winslet gives an entire performance separate from the words she speaks. Bring on the next challenge.

3. Judy Dench – NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Anyone who thinks Dench is another repressed, stuffy British actor will be knocked on their ass by her vicious turn in NOTES ON A SCANDAL. A good chunk of her performance comes from inner thoughts, which she keeps in journals. She’s mean, real mean. She seems to have a pocket of hatred and contempt for everything around her, and there’s a strong suggestion that all this hate has unbalanced her. In Dench’s performance, it’s also suggested that her hatred comes from a suppressed part of herself that society would condemn her for. They wouldn’t understand her, so she’s going to get them first. Surprising work from one of England’s Grand Dame’s.

2. Ellen Page – HARD CANDY
Page (who was 18 at the time) plays a 14-year-old who traps a pedophile and plans to make him pay for his depravity. If the role had been poorly cast, you never would have heard of HARD CANDY. It’s a really tough balance to play 14, resourceful, smart and convincing in a mind game with an adult male. I completely bought it because Page completely sold it.

The opening sequences are creepy because she plays right into the predator’s fantasies. When she turns the table, Page emerges as a different character altogether. There’s a rattlesnake calm about her demeanor. (I love the way she describes her plans.) It’s a performance where I keep thinking back to all the great scenes (the countertop, the ending) and realizing how good she had to be to plug into that character. We’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future.

I want to start with a confession; Meryl Streep is not my favorite actor. I was a kid when everyone was writing about how Streep is the greatest actress since Katherine Hepburn. I was bored by OUT OF AFRICA and I’ve never seen SOPHIE’S CHOICE or A CRY IN THE DARK. I don’t think she’s bad, just that she’s slightly (*ducking*) overrated. She’s no Jodie Foster or Susan Sarandon or Kate Winslet.

I say this not to turn away the 40 people who read my site, but to explain that making Meryl Streep my Best Actress is no small accomplishment. In fact, in the 20 years I’ve been doing Top 5’s, Streep has only made my list once, for BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (She came in 5th behind Julie Delpy [BEFORE SUNRISE], Jessica Lange [ROB ROY], Elizabeth Shue [LEAVING LAS VEGAS] and my winner, Kathy Bates [DOLORES CLAIBORNE].)

As fashion editor Miranda Priestly, Streep chews up the screen while barely opening her mouth. She makes demand after demand, but never sounds demanding. Everything is quiet, including her strict dressing down of Anne Hathaway over different shades of blue belts, possibly her best scene.

This is a case (which I’ll get to again in my Best Actor pick) where Miranda is clearly a Supporting Role, but Streep is being considered as a lead actress. I don’t think this is a star/ego thing. Streep commands the film so completely, dictating the film’s entire tone, that even though she has less screen time than Hathaway, the film completely follows her lead.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Streep and she was good in "Devil" but I'm not sure if it's truly Best Actress good. She'll probably take it because the actress category this year is somewhat weak. On another note: Ugh. Jennifer Hudson, AGAIN?!

4:55 PM  
Anonymous The Descent 2005 said...

Don't you think "The Descent" is great film of Shauna Macdonald. She well acted in this film. Actually, All credits went to director of this film "Neil Marshall". He is genius.

5:03 AM  

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