Next up in my year end lists are my top 10 performances by an actress this year. This was probably the hardest list to cut down to 10 because there were so many great performances. In any other year my honourable mentions would have made up a really strong list. In accordance with my rules there will only be one performance per film, another factor that made it incredibly difficult to narrow down the choices, and with that said, here’s my list.
10. Jessica Chastain – Crimson Peak – This is a fine example of how an over the top performance can bring a film to life. The rest of the performances are excellent but there’s a deliberate restraint to them so they can fit the tone of the story. That’s not the case with Chastain, who’s allowed to go full high camp, over the top and she’s incredibly entertaining to watch. At the end though, aside from the insanity and rage of the character finally being unleashed, there’s also a bit of a sympathetic side, letting you know how she ended up the way she did and this dark yet sympathetic performance works wonders for the tone of the film, especially when put next to the quieter, gentler performance of Mia Wasikowska. There’s also this sinister, menacing quality throughout the film which adds to the gothic vibe of the film, again making the tone of the film work so well.
9. Olivia Cooke – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – There’s a lot of charm to Cooke’s performance which lets you understand how the friendship between her and Greg developed and the chemistry Cooke shares with Thomas Mann is excellent. There’s also this encouraging nature to the character which shows the good hearted nature of the character. It’s near the end, when Rachel decides not to carry on with Chemotherapy that Cooke really shows off her talents, the pain in her decision, her regrets and her overall demeanour is heartbreaking to watch and Cooke shows it all brilliantly
8. Amy Poehler – Inside Out – This is a really interesting performance because Poehler is playing the closest thing to a villain Inside Out has. She does a great job showing the bright, fun nature of the character, alongside her care for Riley but within this is a streak of selfishness and a severe ego that prevents her from seeing the good that the other emotions can bring, especially Sadness (incidentally, if I didn’t have my one performance per film rule, Phyllis Smith would be on here for playing Sadness). The gambit of emotions that Poehler shows throughout the film forms the basis of the changes in her character and the moments where she learns the value of sadness, both the feeling and the character, are brilliantly handled moments.
7. Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs – Throughout Steve Jobs, we always see the worst aspects of Jobs, his ego, his bitterness, his distrust and we needed something to put that into contrast, to show the good that can be developed from the situations. It’s through this that we get Winslet’s performance. Throughout the film, she acts as the conscience for Jobs, making sure he understands the things that are truly important, making sure he treats other people with respect and she’s the only person willing to stand up to Jobs. She’s the only one that can see through his persona to see the broken man in the centre and frequently calls out Jobs for his lack of empathy. Winslet also does a good job at showing someone who isn’t fooled by Jobs’ presentational skills, pointing out the problems and trying to ensure the right things are focused on. It’s made clear that without Joanna Hoffman, Jobs would not be the success he was and it’s only when he starts to listen to Hoffman that Jobs sees his work pay off and Winslet is able to present all these qualities in Hoffman brilliantly, whilst also having a lot of great comedic moments courtesy of Aaron Sorkin’s script.
6. Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road – This is a performance that’s all about the body language of Theron. So much life and history for the character is expressed through the smallest of gestures and facial expressions. This is a true visual performance. The chemistry she has with everyone else in the film is excellent and there’s a calm fury at the heart of it, rage against the system that has forced her into this situation but there’s also some hope in there, hope that she can create a better life for those she’s rescuing and this more than anything else is what makes Theron’s performance work so well. It also helps that she’s a brilliantly intimidating figure, commanding the screen whenever she’s on and helps make the action scenes work so well on a character level.
5. Rooney Mara – Carol – It was incredibly difficult to decide between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara to be put on this list for Carol. In the end I decided to go with Mara because I found her character to be the more interesting. Throughout the film there’s this naive nature to the character, she’s someone who wants to experience the world but all her insecurities and her fears have prevented her from fully embracing her potential. The relationship she has with Carol allows her to fully embrace her talents because it’s really the first time she’s felt appreciated and loved. The chemistry she has with Cate Blanchett is excellent, really selling the romance and the moments of pain she feels when she is pushed away are brilliantly sold, nearly reducing me to tears at a few points in the film.
4. Maggie Smith – The Lady in the Van – Characters like Miss Shepard in The Lady in the Van are pretty hard to pull off without devolving into parody. In Smith’s hands though, despite the more spikey elements of the character, there is a warmth to her and a sympathetic streak, especially when the truth about how she ended up in the van is revealed, making here one of the most sympathetic characters of the year. It also helps that Smith is completely hilarious in the part.
3. Karidja Toure – Girlhood – It’s a shame that Girlhood wasn’t widely seen as it meant this excellent performance has been completely overlooked. In any other film Toure would have been presented as an unsympathetic chav, someone to earn the ire of the audience (look at Owen Jones’ book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class to see this in action). In this film though, we see the hardship that she faces, that her prospects have been limited by her economic situation and her race, being pushed into taking vocational courses, destined to end up in a low paying job in the service sector. Through this we see why the friendships she creates are so important to her and how she’s been opened up and her self esteem raided by her friends. We also see the difficulties in her family life, abused by her brother, making her incredibly sympathetic and it makes what happens at the end of the film all the more powerful, seeing what she has to do in order to escape an abusive household, along with the guilt she feels over leaving her sister behind and the overall regret she has for leaving her family. It’s an excellent performance by Toure, one that should be getting a lot more attention.
2. Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina – Vikander’s performance was a very hard one to pull off. She had to show both the humanity and more robotic side of the character and through her body language and her tone of voice she does this perfectly. It’s in the quieter scenes though where Vikander comes into her own, showing the intelligence of the character and her scheming nature, along with her desire to be free and her disgust at being treated like an object by every other character in the film, in one form or another.
1. Carey Mulligan – Suffragette – It’s a shame that this film didn’t really take off in the States because it meant the brilliance of Mulligan’s performance was not seen. As Maud, Mulligan shows the inner turmoil that it took for women to join the suffragette movement, the difficulties they faced in terms of their family lives and their work, along with the pain they feel when this happens, along with the humiliation of what the police do to them when they’re arrested and the pain of the force feedings. There is also a determination and strength in Mulligan’s performance, combining a lot of love she feels with her desire to see the world changed for the better for women and her resolve to fight for it and do good for other women in any way she can. Carey Mulligan is fast becoming one of the best actresses working today and Suffragette is one of the performances she’ll be remembered for.
- Daisy Ridley – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Kristen Stewart – Clouds of Sils Maria
- Mae Whitman – The DUFF
- Rinko Kikuchi – Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter
- Chloe Grace Moretz – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (English Dub)