2007: Best Actress

This is where we get the annual complaint about how they don’t write great parts for women. Lesser performances are given Oscar consideration cause some big names are considered to be always good enough. This year, nobody will be terribly shocked if Cate Blanchett is picked for ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE or Jodie Foster for THE BRAVE ONE because they need to make a list of five.

Well I have a list of 10, count ‘em, 10 Oscar worthy performances. And they don’t include Blanchett or Foster. They don’t even include Keira Knightly (ATONEMENT) or Amy Adams (ENCHANTED) who also gave very good performances.

I should give Special Mention to Marion Cotillard, since she’s considered a virtual lock for a nomination for LA VIE EN ROSE. It’s an occasionally stellar piece of acting. Unfortunately, the movie is all over the map, sometimes brilliant sometimes just a lot of noise. Cotillard matches the tone of the picture. If she were consistently at her best, she would have made my Top 3, but taken in full she just missed the cut.

1. Julie Christie – AWAY FROM HER
When writing my lists I always ask myself, what is it that puts this one above all the others. To be honest, I don’t have an easy answer here. In fact, my Top 5 choices are all amazing from top to bottom. No particular scene, moment or character choice makes Christie’s performance better than Angela Jolie or Ellen Page.

That being said, Christie’s work is remarkable in a part that requires an almost mathematical precision. She has to decide scene by scene, how much her character is aware, all the while keeping secrets from others. Sometimes she’s required to be confused but happy while other moments are both clear and frustrated. She must keep her own counsel, yet lets us in so that we think we know exactly what she’s thinking, even if she doesn’t know herself.

2. Angelina Jolie – A MIGHTY HEART
After years of great promise squandered on bad vehicles, Jolie made me forget completely about the tabloid subject she’s become and recreated herself. Playing the pregnant wife of a kidnapped journalist, you’re all ready for an anguished star turn from Jolie. Instead she buries herself inside this woman, reacting to unfolding events rather than grabbing for the spotlight. Even her big moment is the emotional release the FILM has been building to. Great acting as great Reacting.

3. Ellen Page – JUNO
Following an equally brilliant turn in HARD CANDY, Page brings to life one of recent cinema’s most original characters. She perfectly captures that age when kids think they know everything one moment and realize they know nothing the next. Juno the character is still very rough around the edges, and Page doesn’t tone down her unlikable traits, but she also hints at the wonderful woman Juno will someday become.

4. Tilda Swinton – STEPHANIE DALEY
A flawless piece of professionalism from Swinton, and leagues beyond anything she was asked to do in MICHAEL CLAYTON. She plays a pregnant psychologist who must figure out of a 16-year-old had a miscarriage or murdered her newborn baby. The psychologist is also pregnant and is nervous about it because her attempt to have a child ended in a miscarriage. Oh…and her husband may be cheating one her. And go! Swinton takes all of that a bottles it up inside, looking for answers both from the girl and from herself.

5. Laura Linney – THE SAVAGES
THE SAVAGES is an 80min script padded out to 2+ hours with pointless montages that way too much time in the company of an uncomfortable, cranky old man. After 90min, I wanted an editor and I wanted out. You see the great film that might have been when there’s an actual scene…with dialogue, and whenever the focus is on Philip Seymour Hoffman (more on him tomorrow) or Laura Linney.

Linney plays Hoffman’s younger sister and what immediately caught my attention was the way Linney’s character immediately relapsed into the younger sister dynamic while in her brother’s presence. Her behavior becomes more childish and helpless even though we’ve already seen her be strong and independent. Linney also shows no vanity as this once striking, blonde, beauty queen movie star has settled comfortably into the pale, dark hair, and rough skin great actress of recent films.

6. Luisa Williams – DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT
The film is extremely minimal. For much of the running time she’s the only person we even have to look at and for a lot of the story the camera is aimed squarely at her face. She’s a completely mystery, from her plans to her motivations to even her ethnicity. With no artificial gestures, Williams holds your attention.

7. Ashley Judd – BUG
This was a tough one to place. Throughout the course of the film, Judd’s character descends completely from lonely, bar gal into deep madness. She’s fine in the beginning, nothing special. And she goes too far at the end, her peak craziness is actually kind of bad. However, the descent that makes up the bulk of the movie, that stuff’s not just the best I’ve ever seen from Judd, but possibly the best acting I’ve seen all year.

8. Marketa Irglova – ONCE
Some actors do it with big scenes or grand moments, and some have an intangible quality you can’t put into words. That’s Irglova, a real presence that says so much while hardly saying anything at all. Her character is full of surprises, because she doesn’t want to TELL you anything, she wants you to learn for yourself. Her character would much rather listen than talk. (Her songs convey so much more than she ever speaks.). I don’t know if Irglova could ever have an acting career, and I don’t think she’s interested

9. Carice van Houten – BLACK BOOK
The polar opposite of Irglova, this performance is a showcase for a brand new movie star. Houten plays a Jewish singer who infiltrates the Nazis on a mission of personal revenge. This is the kind of part I’ve referred to before as an actors’ decathlon, and one hell of a talent reel as Houten must play all the emotional beats big and small, happy and sad. And she looks great doing it too.

10. Helena Bonham Carter – SWEENEY TODD
Some critics have complained that her singing voice is too thin, and I think there’s more comedy in her songs than she was able to bring out. However, it’s still a great performance. Carter may be soft selling some of the jokes, but she completely understands the darkly comic tone. You feel the story could be told strictly from her side with no loss in quality.


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