2014 finally rolls to a close. There are a few more women that might be able to claim a place on this list, like Evangeline Lily in ‘The Hobbit’ or Sigourney Weaver in ‘Exodus’, but for the sake of my article, I am going to close the calculations and write up a list of what I have collated so far. Besides, the truly great performances will be brought up again, when the OSCARS roll around in 2015. I have my five best female performances pretty much chosen already and I really don’t want my decision being made any harder. I must warn the reader that some light spoilers will be thrown into the mix, because certain aspects of their performances need to be discussed using examples in the later acts of the movies. I am happy with my winner and I will be livid if that person doesn’t at least get a nomination thrown her way. Do you agree with my list? Have I missed anyone out? I am ready to defend my choices in the comment section.
5 – ESSIE DAVIS – AMELIA (THE BABADOOK)
Words cannot really describe my love for the Babadook adequately. I thought it was a masterfully directed horror and truly brilliant. Searching for some tangible evidence to celebrate this movie’s success, I found it easiest to just point everyone in the direction of the two lead characters. It is just so refreshing to have an interesting character at the helm of a horror movie, rather than some copied and pasted cardboard plot device, and have an excellent actor portraying that character. In fairness, Amelia is not the only good horror movie heroine we have had this year (interestingly Karen Gillian nearly beat Essie Davis to the fifth place spot for her performance in ‘Oculus’, really hammering home the point of how much I want interesting horror movie characters to become a constant trend), but I think that she will definitely be the juiciest lead we will have for a few years. The truth of the matter is if you took the Babadook out of the movie altogether, you would have a pretty solid drama about Parental Alienation Syndrome. While some might be dissuaded by the story being so strong, the horror elements almost got watered down, I think this is a remarkable achievement for the genre.
Admittedly, strong writing was on Essie Davis’s side. It is a tough character to get right. She needs to passively abusing her son, but we have to side with her as a character. Jennifer Kent balances the mix well, so we actually pity Amelia, even when her son begins suffering. That is a very tough feeling to conjure for a character, making the Babadook a really exciting character piece. Essie Davis had a tough job and she hit every note. She wears her emotions on her sleeve so honestly that as you watch her in this film, a part of you is painfully aware of how tough this performance must have been for the actress. She gives everything she has into making the lead of this movie as three-dimensional as possible.
4 – JENNIFER LAWRENCE – KATNISS EVERGREEN (MOCKINGJAY PART ONE)
A part of me is very aware that the only reason Jennifer Lawrence isn’t higher on this list is because this is the third time she has absolutely perfected Katniss Evergreen. It almost feels like too obvious a comment to make that she is amazing in the latest Hunger Games movie. But in a way, this makes her addition to this list even more prominent. When an actor tackles the same character for more than one movie, it almost becomes routine. Hugh Jackman feels too much like Wolverine for us to notice how good he is at it. Pierce Brosnan showed up and played Bond as if he was just picking up a paycheck. The less said about Bruce Willis in the last Die Hard film the better. However, no one would even consider arguing that Jennifer Lawrence is looking too comfortable in any Hunger Games movie. No matter what scene we are in, she is giving everything to the part. This goes double for Mockingjay Part One, where there were a lot of smaller scenes, where one could be forgiven for taking it easy. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t seem to understand the definition of ‘taking it easy’.
3 – STACY MARTIN – JOE (NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 1)
Like Essie Davis, Stacy Martin gets onto this list from the fact that she puts so much into the performance. Seeing as Lars Von Trier’s two part movie dissects sex and the mythology surrounding it, Stacy Martin has to go to extreme lengths to make her performance credible. Charlotte Gainsborough also had to put herself into these uncomfortable positions as an actress, but Stacy Martin was the star of the show for me. Gainsborough portrayed Joe in the elder stages of her life and by that point in the narrative, the character had been hollowed out by her sexually driven lifestyle. Stacy Martin portrays the curious and excited part of Joe’s life and because she needs to deliver a wider range of emotions, her depiction of Joe earned the greater amount of respect for me.
Martin is a fairly young actress too. It is the kind of movie where most female actors trying to break into cinema would listen to pitch, roll their eyes and walk out, not wanting to be associated with ‘smut’ so early on. But Stacy Martin saw the appeal in the story and gave everything she had to make it happen. Let’s be honest, any other director would have botched this up, too blinded by the obvious sexuality of a young woman exploring her sexual limits. While none of the lead actors had to actually have sex (the more graphic parts of the movie were performed by porn stars with the actors faces digitally printed onto their bodies), it must have been a gruelling process. I really hope Nymphomaniac becomes a career-making turn from Stacy Martin, because I really do feel that the actress deserves to break into Hollywood for her truly magnificent portrayal of a woman both vulnerable and powerful due to her sexual appetite.
2 – SHAILENE WOODLEY – HAZEL GRACE LANCASTER (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS)
Anyone that has seen The Fault in Our Stars will most likely have Shailene Woodley on their lists for best actress of the year. She takes the difficult subject of cancer and delivers a heart-warming performance that delivers on just as many laughs and smiles as it does tears. Woodley captures the perfect essence of the character in the book, strong-willed yet a realist. She handles the grim inevitable conclusion of her life with a hollow emptiness, yet there is warmth and depth elsewhere, making her a really interesting character for an actress of Woodley’s calibre to take on. Even for those that haven’t read the novel, like myself, will appreciate how easy to like Woodley’s Hazel Grace is. From the very first moment, she waltz on-screen, we are in love with her, which is The Fault in Our Stars’ strongest point. We are just as in love with the heroine, as Augustus Waters is.
Woodley started very low down on my Top Five list, as it happens. When I chalked up a few notes, as I do throughout the year, I scribbled her name down, thinking ‘I must mention her; she might not be the best, but she deserves a mention’. When I came back to the list to figure out exactly who ranked where, Shailene Woodley somehow battled her way to second. There is something just so firm and memorable about the performance. Stacy Martin might have blown my mind with her courage and Jennifer Lawrence might have held a weak entry of the Hunger Games franchise together with her performance, but it was Shailene Woodley that hung around the corners of my mind. She was the one my memory kept coming back to. It makes her a worthy runner-up, but is also means that the winner deserves first place even more for somehow trumping Shailene Woodley. And, of course, we already know who that winner is…
1 – ROSAMUND PIKE – AMY DUNNE (GONE GIRL)
There really was no other choice. Rosamund Pike is a bit of an odd actress. Everyone likes her work, no one being able to raise so much as a bad word against the actress. I first saw her in Die Another Day, where she handled the role of Bond girl without falling too hard onto simpering cliché. She also turns up as a supporting star in several other movies, like Jack Reacher and Doom. She was quite good in ‘Surrogates’, but everything in that movie was a little too easy to breeze over. She is just too easily dismissed. You like her performance, but then move on to talking about everything else that happened in that film. However, by the time, Gone Girl closed, there was really nothing else that anyone wanted to talk about.
When the movie starts, it seemed like another case of Rosamund Pike missing the mark again. She has a good American accent, but otherwise, she is little more than a plot device. Her narration holds the film together well, but there is little the actress can do, when her character starts the movie dead. Of course, then the twist kicks in and her character is suddenly the forefront of the show once again. And that is when Pike hits you with a career-making performance. Next year, I wager she will be a sought-after person in Hollywood (a gamble for the Fantasy Acting League, perhaps?). The performance is so eerie, terrific and meaty. Some performances end up monopolising a movie and that is probably the case of Gone Girl. We watch that movie just to see what Amy Dunne is going to do next and how Rosamund Pike will embody that character development. Even if Gone Girl ends on an odd note, it gives Pike a good load of material to show her stuff with. The only problem with her performance is that Gone Girl’s twist will be spoilt, when she steps up to collect her award during the BAFTAs and OSCARs.