Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 15 Female Performances of 2014

Hello, Bloggers, since 2014 has come to a close, I figured I'd compile a list of what I feel are the top 15 best performances given by an actress this year in both lead and supporting roles. Again, this is my opinion and whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to compile your own list in the comments section. Here we go:

15. Naomi Watts as Lesley in Birdman:
Originally, I had Watts' comedic work in St. Vincent, which was equally as amazing, but after revisiting a few of her scenes in Birdman, I went with her dynamic portrayal of Lesley, an actress longing for her big break. One scene of hers in particular that I liked was the one where she says that her boyfriend Mike is available to be in the play. As she does explain that, she gets quite a bit nervous, aware that Mike is a bit of a handful, but is anxious for her breakthrough. Yet, as the film progresses, she slowly realizes the error of her ways.

14. Laura Dern as Bobbi Grey in Wild:
While Reese Witherspoon lifts our spirits as she goes down her physical journey in Wild, Laura Dern breaks your heart as she widens her smile. Dern's portrayal of Cheryl's deceased mother is a very poignant mix of sunny and rainy as while she appears to have a childlike happiness, if you look at her eyes, you see the kind of pain that a mother would shield her child from.

13. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in Belle:
There is certainly some truth to her last name as Gugu delivers a star-making turn that is both radiant and "raw".  While Gugu Mbatha-Raw captivates you with just a simple glance, she still captures her character's vulnerability and rough interior. One key scene in which she does that is when she looks in the mirror and tears at her skin. When watching that scene and her performance, I could feel her pain as she struggles to find her place and voice despite being able to speak.

12. Essie Davis as Amelia in The Babadook:
Complex roles in horror films are rather rare these days, so thank goodness for Jennifer Kent for introducing her film with the character of Amelia and having Essie Davis portray her. Essie Davis' portrayal is rather double-sided as at first, she seems like a typical loving mother, but once the Babadook is introduced and takes a hold of her, I found myself fearing her and wondering whether the Babadook is just a figment of her imagination. Davis plays Amelia as if she is a snake that slowly sheds its skin.

11. Emily Blunt as Baker's Wife in Into The Woods:
As I watched Into The Woods, there was one question that I thought which I wrote in my review and still plagues me: "Why isn't Emily Blunt a bigger star?". Seriously, this year she proved she can be an action hero in Edge of Tomorrow and in this, she gets to showcase both her musical and comedic chops as well. What was so spectacular about her performance was how she had me in stitches by portraying her character's desperation through charming deceit. Her role may not be as flashy as co-star Meryl Streep, who is likely to get another Oscar nod, but she is still able to create a character that is complex, yet fun.

10. Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed in Wild:
I have always enjoyed Reese Witherspoon's work as an actress, whether it'd be her work in Election, Pleasantville, and Fear. But in Wild, she offers quite a unique mix of Reese the actress and Reese the star. As she showcases a side of her we haven't really seen on screen, she is still able to quietly convey the winning charismatic smile that has us enamored with her while incorporating the different facets to her character shown in the flashbacks: A self-destructive loose cannon and a young woman that plays both child and mother as her mother falls ill. When she is on the trail, those two facets would invisibly shine through. Not just her best performance, but a redefining one.

9. Tilda Swinton as Mason in Snowpiercer:
Much like Emily Blunt in Into The Woods, Tilda Swinton manages to create a character that is both complex and fun. Swinton steals the show whenever she pops on screen as the corporal who is very dominant and in control yet when she tries to reach her own boss that never answers and she becomes held captivs the passengers from the tail of the train, it turns out she is just another pawn in the whole chess game. She is the "shoe" and not the "head".

8. Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne in Gone Girl:
While watching her performance, it felt as if Carrie Coon had been acting for a long time. But it turns out this is her debut film role. Now, I can't wait to see what's next for her as I enjoyed watching her effortless portrayal of the protagonist's sister Margo, or "Go", who offers the best lines of the film ("Everyone knows complicated is code for bitch), yet acts as the voice of reason when called for.

7. Patricia Arquette as Olivia in Boyhood:
Patricia Arquette's portrayal of a struggling mother was so authentic, I felt like I was watching a portrait of my own mother brought on screen. As we watch Mason grow over the span of 12 years, we also watch Olivia grow too. We witness her arc whether it'd be from a distance or closer to the camera.

6. Marion Cotillard as Sandra in Two Days, One Night:
Nowadays, I think of Marion Cotillard as a French Charlize Theron. She's insanely gorgeous yet is never afraid to take visceral roles that don't require makeup. In Two Days, One Night, she not only physically takes her makeup off, but figuratively as well as she plays a complex anti-hero. She begs without pity, is understanding yet determined to get her way, and is playing devil's advocate yet is seen by her co-workers as a devil. This is one of the first French language films of Cotillard that I've seen yet the facial expressions she conveys as she takes in people's reactions need no translation.

5. Emma Stone as Sam Thomson in Birdman:
From her opening scene where she talks to Keaton through Skype with the line "It smells like f**king kimchee!", I had a feeling I'd be in for a treat with Stone's performance and boy, did she not disappoint. Especially in her big "Relevant" monologue where she gets to spew out comedic fire, then apologize to her father without actually having to say sorry. While she isn't afraid to use her acidic tongue and yell " Eat me" from a balcony, through her eyes, she still manages to showcase that behind all of that is such doubt and vulnerability.

4. The Agatas in Ida:
The only combination on this list, I feel that the two Agatas, Agata Trzebuchowska as the reserved titular nun and Agata Kulesza as her outspoken alcoholic aunt with unapologetic candir, are like vines that compliment each other and to recognize one is to recognize the other. Trzebuchowska is a true discovery as she effortless delivers a multi-dimensional portrayal of a nun struggling to figuratively be a nun while her habit that she wears symbolizes her guarded demeanor. She isn't given a boatload of dialogue yet she never really needs it as the magic is all in her eyes that showcase her doubt, her sensuality, her ferocity, and simple wonder of the places she and her aunt go to. Trzebuchowska went from being discovered at a coffee shop to delivering one of the most impressive screen debuts in recent memory. Agata Kulesza, however, manages to take a character that is rather hard-edged and make her incredibly sympathetic. Ida's aunt is never afraid to go out for a night of booze and dancing or speak the truth even when it hurts. But Kulesza plays the role with a rather harsh yet graceful dignity. Both Agatas get to play opposite halves of the same coin.

3. Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand in Maps To The Stars:
I would've put Moore's fantastic turn as an Alzheimer's patient in Still Alice, but because I am such a sucker for those neurotic ice queen roles, I went with Moore's work as aging diva Havana Segrand in Maps To The Stars. While watching her work in this, I can come to the consensus that there is no role Moore won't play. Not only is the film dark with its fare share of graphic sex, but Havana Segrand is such a despicable character with every crinkle of her lip and line delivery being a showcase of her vanity and ego. Moore not only uses this role for her darkly comedic strengths, but there is a surprising amount of pathos to her performance like in the scene in the limo after she and Robert Pattinson's character have had sex and she asks him "Am I better looking?". Through her line delivery, she is able to showcase Havana's yearning to be back in the spotlight. I can definitely she why she won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance in this.

2. Jenny Slate as Donna Stern in Obvious Child:
At first glance, Jenny Slate gave one of my favorite comedic performances of the year. But while reflecting on it, I realized that there are quite a bit of layers to her performance. For example, since the title of the film is Obvious Child, we kind of see that Donna is a bit of a child herself when she uses an excuse for not using a condom during sex or how her mother says how she still doesn't pay taxes. Yet when she is on the stage during stand-up, she is a bit more free or herself. She is more mature. We even see her character grow when she is off the stage as well. Here's hoping we see more of Jenny Slate on the big screen.

1. Rosamund Pike as Amy Elliot-Dunne in Gone Girl:
In the words of Amazing Amy herself, "It's not even close!". Right after I walked out of Gone Girl, I knew that Rosamund Pike would top my list of the best female performances of the year. In the opening narration, Nick explains how he wonders what is inside Amy's head. We the audience wonder as well. Even as the events in the film slowly unravel, I was still just wondering what was going on inside that head of hers and what she was going to do next. Normally, an actor lets us know what his or her character is going through by the use of their body language but Pike manages to showcase a rather enigmatic mind that takes us on her rather unclear journey. That is why, in my opinion, Pike gave the best female performance of 2014.

So that was my list of the top 15 female performances of 2014. As I said before, whether you agree or disagree, please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section. I would love to see your own top 15 or top 10. Whichever you prefer. Thanks for reading!