Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top 15 Female Performances of 2012

Yesterday, I ranked the fellas, today paves way for the best female acting performances I saw in 2012. Whether it was a glorified cameo or an in-every-scene starring role, here’s the best the ladies had to offer in ‘12

15. Rosemarie DeWitt – Your Sister’s Sister
as Hannah
I’ve been in love with Rosemarie DeWitt since her shattering work in Rachel Getting Married. Since then, she’s made a name for herself in Showtime’s United States of Tara, but failed to nab stellar film roles. Noting that, 2012 really was her year, as she showed up (if ever so briefly) in Margaret, Nobody Walks, Promised Land, and hell, even The Watch. The thing all those movies have in common? They criminally underused DeWitt’s talents. Not Your Sister’s Sister. Playing a bisexual vegan with a penchant for the sauce (is that an American independent film character or what?), Hannah was the perfect forum for DeWitt to expose something we hadn’t seen from her yet: deceitfulness. Considering what Hannah does in this film, and how she so blankly means to get away with it, it’s safe to call Hannah DeWitt’s most emotionally vulnerable character yet. Well played, as ever, my dear.

14. Isabelle Huppert – Amour
as Eva
The combination of Isabelle Huppert and Michael Haneke has produced some of the finest film acting ever. The Piano Teacher is the most obvious piece of evidence to support this claim, but her desperate work in Haneke’s Time of the Wolf deserves mention as well. Now, while Huppert’s costars in Amour have (justly) been stealing most of the thunder, it says something to the actress’s fiery intensity that she’s more than able to hold her own in her brief time on screen here. With her mother bedridden and her father more irritable than ever, Eva tries to mask her frustration by (futilely) dictating her mother’s care. The result? A performance equally as devastating as the film’s two leads, which is certainly saying something.

13. Amy Adams – The Master
as Peggy Dodd
Apparently, I was drawn to a handful of remarkably understated female performances in 2012. DeWitt, Huppert, and many others below certainly fall into that category, with Amy Adams’ work as Peggy heading the pack.  It’s a tough gig: to act as the voice of reason without obviously acting. On the surface, you have to do nothing, when in actuality, you’re doing everything. Sure, Peggy was responsible for a few of the film’s most memorable scenes (including the scene), but for the most part, she sat in the background, nodded politely, smiled formally, and spoke only when she knew she would be heard. If I voted in the Oscars, Adams would get my bid in her category without thinking twice.

12. Michelle Williams – Take This Waltz
as Margot
Michelle Williams’ despondent work in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz was a perfect depiction of jaded woman trapped in a lifeless marriage. At least that’s how she sees it. Point in fact, Margot’s husband, Lou, is a considerate warrior, quietly battling through the varying degrees of coldness exuded from his wife. Margot is a woman who knows what she wants, and when she gets it, realizes it was never good enough to begin with. I wasn’t as jazzed about Polley’s film as many others (which can be credited entirely to the film’s never-ending conclusion), but that isn’t meant to take away from Williams’ work here. She’s one of the best actresses we have right now, and Take This Waltz certainly speaks to that.

11. Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Smashed
as Kate
Kate’s a tough role to play. Granted, effectively portraying an alcoholic is difficult anyway, but to do it with equal parts humor and tragedy (and to do it well) is damn near impossible. Take for example, the scene in which Kate and her husband aimlessly play poor while having a few early afternoon (or is it morning) beers? She tells him it may be time to slow down. He’s supportive, but curious as to why. Why? Because last night, while completely shitfaced, she wound up smoking crack for the first time (and sleeping on the sidewalk, and stumbling her way home around dawn, and so on). Now, this is scary stuff, and should understandably shock the audience. But the fact that Winstead follows the confession with a silly “Oh, is it really that bad,” sort of look just cements the fact that she and director James Ponsoldt were going for something different here. Different and ever lasting.

10. Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
as Tiffany
Am I the only person who is baffled by the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is 22 years old? I mean, she’s a ‘90s baby. She’s been nominated for one Oscar already, currently spearheads two huge franchises and just earned her second Oscar nom for portraying the wildly unique Tiffany. In short: this girl’s got game, and I dig it. Tiffany is fast-talking, free thinking and an overall refreshing face for romantic comedy cinema. She’s strong willed yet vulnerable, and can achieve whatever she wants whenever she wants it. Like when she demands her dance partner, Patrick, (Bradley Cooper) finish what he started and compete in a dance competition. To do this, she schools a bunch of superstitious football maniacs on the irony of her and Patrick’s dancing with the winning record of the Philadelphia Eagles. She makes her point, takes a breath, cracks a Budweiser, and takes a long swig. Yeah, this girl’s got it.

9. Dreama Walker – Compliance
as Becky
I’m not sure I felt more sorry for a film character last year than I did for Becky. As an aimless teenager slowly victimized by a crafty crank caller, Dreama Walker was solely responsible for convincing us that although the events depicted in Compliance are far fetched, they may indeed happen, and happen often. I’m guilty of not believing Compliance in the moment. I found it improbable that a man could call a fast food restaurant, say he was a cop, and within minutes, have one of its workers standing naked in the manager’s office. But as I watched the film, my perception began to change, and in time, I found myself wholly convinced and utterly mortified. Various players of the cast helped, but the person chiefly responsible for me falling into Compliance’s trap is none other than Dreama Walker.

8. Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea
as Hester Collyer
Playing a woman depressed and a lover scorn, The Deep Blue Sea depicts Hester over the course of one cold day, and slowly reveals her angst in fluid flashbacks. We see how she escaped from a passionless life of luxury by falling into the arms of a soldier. How her affair evolved from loving to obsessive to emotionally draining, resulting in her attempt at suicide. Much of what is required of Weisz in the film are extended sequences of her thinking, and smoking, and looking, and remembering. I was so taken with Hester’s defeated gaze; I simply would’ve followed her anywhere.

7. Noomi Rapace – Prometheus
as Elizabeth Shaw
The most repulsive, jaw dropping and physically sickening moment of 2012 was an extended sequence in which archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw attempts to remove an alien being from within her. Accidentally impregnated and hastily falling ill, Elizabeth scrambles to fight against time by having the being extracted via a fully mechanic, futuristic C-section device. Yes, the content of the scene is enough to unsettle, but it’s Noomi Rapace’s conviction that sells. The tears, the blood, the intense wails of pain, this is physical acting at its most raw. While that’s arguably the most discussed scene of Rapace’s work in the film, it is just one scene. There was so much more to love here.

6. Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
as Hushpuppy
By this point, the unparalleled acclaim that Wallis has attained for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild has been discussed ad nauseum. But there’s a damn good reason(s) for that. Only six years of age when the film was shot, Wallis asserted herself as a determined force of nature. As Hushpuppy, Wallis made me laugh, she made me cry, she broke my heart, and she picked me back up. And she was… six. I could go on, and many have, but that’s honestly a great deal of praise to throw at a seasoned actor, let alone one who learned how to speak just five short years before cameras rolled.

5. Naomi Watts – The Impossible
as Maria Bennett
Naomi Watts’ courageous performance in The Impossible deserves to be ranked among her finest work. In the film, she plays a woman who has survived a tsunami that may have taken the life of her husband and youngest sons. Her scenes during and following the storm (but namely during) demand such intensity from the actress, that they were actually quite uncomfortable to watch. And, come to think of it, that is precisely what Watts is best at: making us squirm. Whether she’s masturbating aggressively through tears, lashing out at the man who has her husband’s heart, or trying desperately to climb up a slippery tree, Naomi Watts can rattle, shake, a roll as well as the rest of them. If not better.

4. Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
as Anne
I have no idea how Emmanuelle Riva pulled Anne off. Much for her work in Haneke’s film consists of her staring off absently, hardly aware of how bad her health really is. Occasionally she screams, sporadically she bellows. Mostly, Anne is framed around a series of looks. Take the film’s most popular moment, in which Anne suddenly falls mute while in conversation with her husband, Georges. Georges shakes, he pleads, he begs – but nothing. Anne stares, with the faintest of smiles, lost and alone. How you direct an actress to do that, and how the actress actually does that, is far beyond me. But she did. Every actress nominated for the lead Oscar this year is on this list, but something in me really hopes the 85-year-old Riva gets to smile and wave from the stage. She’ll be 86 on the night of the Oscars. Tell me that wouldn’t be a hell of a swan song.

3. Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
as Maya
In a year filled with strong but understated female roles, perhaps the most noted one thus far is Jessica Chastain’s restrained turn as Maya. We know next to nothing about Maya, the woman. On the film’s surface, that is. At first glance, it’s obvious that the film has no intention of diving into Maya’s personal life – what motivates her to work so hard? To not have a husband, children, a white picket fence, and so on? And I honestly think the answer to that is simple: we don’t know anything about the personal Maya, because there is no personal Maya. I’ve never known anyone who has openly discussed their work for the CIA, but you can bet your ass I’ve met plenty of people who are their jobs. They live for their work, and slight everything else. And yeah, while these people are often miserable to work with (and for), you can be damn sure that in capable hands, they make for compelling film characters.

2. Ann Dowd – Compliance
as Sandra
How do you grow to pity a woman you spend the majority of a film disapproving of? For much of Compliance, Sandra abides to the increasing sketchy (and eventually illegal) demands a police officer requires of her. She forces her innocent employee to strip naked, atone for crimes she knows nothing about, and much much more. The horrific (and rather masterful) evolution of the film is rooted in Dowd’s performance. At first confused, ultimately cold, and always power strong, Sandra is a simple woman inexplicably thrown into a complex situation. You may not like her (let alone believe her dilemma) but by the time she’s forced to explain her actions, you can’t help but sympathize with her, if ever so briefly. Again, the fact that what is depicted in this film actually happened is something I’ll ever fully wrap my head around. We’re smarter than this. Right?

1. Marion Cotillard – Rust and Bone
as Stéphanie
No surprise here, and for damn worthy reason. As the taciturn, nearly emotionless Stéphanie, there’s no reason for the audience to connect with Marion Cotillard’s character in this exquisite film. Until director Jacques Audiard gives us one. And the fact that suffering a tragic accident isn’t even the main cause of our eventual adulation for Stéphanie, really says something about everyone involved. It takes more than physical pain and emotional suffering for this character to win us over. And as the film unveils its characters’ insecurities, we’re privy to the finest that film acting has to offer.

In my initial review for Rust and Bone, I described Cotillard’s work as one of commanding poise and utter fearlessness. Whether she’s walking confidently into a nightclub, climbing determinedly out of an SUV, dancing with an orca whale, or practicing simple hand movements that used to give her joy, there’s nothing about this performance that failed to cut straight to my heart. I should make mention that every scene I just described is executed without Cotillard speaking one word. Not one. Now that’s saying something.


  1. Interesting choices.

    I'm so on board with you on Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but you knew that already :)

    Can't get behind Dreama Walker. It's an intriguing performance but it's not fleshed out enough to warrant a place so high for me.
    I just came out of The Impossible's screening right now and while I think Watts did as great a job as can be done with that character, I think it's too one-note for the amount of attention it's been getting.

    Lovely that you've highlighted Huppert, who's almost as good as her costars but never got any credit for it this year.

    And finally, my personal addition to this list who's also been an unsung hero all season would be Olivia Munn from Magic Mike, who took a very small role and elevated it to a fully-realized character.

    1. Glad you liked Winstead's inclusion here. I'm glad she received an Indie Spirit nom, but man, that performance deserved more.

      I think The Impossible is rather one-note, but I definitely think Watts excelled with the material. I'm down with her Oscar nom, no doubt.

      Dude, Munn is a FANTASTIC choice. I just rewatched that film on Monday and I love what she does in that post-coital sex scene. How she dodges his questions and just leaves. Very intriguing work.

    2. Yes, that is the standout scene. And also when he finds out about her *SPOILER ALERT* other partner.
      She's so beautifully and endearingly sly. My favourite character in that film by a mile, and that's saying a lot considering McConaughey and Tatum give such wonderful performances in their characters too.

    3. Yep, just all around great, sly work. I think I'm one of seven people who loved everything Cody Horn did in that flick too. She was so real to me. That's how people talk. Real people.

    4. Make that 8! I thought she was really promising.

  2. Another fine list. I'm blown away. Dowd, Watts, Walker, Rapace and Williams would definitely make my list. Lawrence would be my number 1. This girl has nowhere to go but up.

    1. Wow man, thanks! Love that we love so many of the same performances this year. I agree, Lawrence is on fire.

  3. For me,

    Leading Performances

    1. Marion Cotillard-Rust and Bone
    2. Emmanuelle Riva-Amour
    3. Jessica Chastain-Zero Dark Thirty
    4. Jennifer Lawrence-Silver Linings Playbook
    5. Dreama Walker-Compliance


    1. Anne Hathaway-The Dark Knight Rises/Les Miserables
    2. Anne Dowd-Compliance
    3. Amy Adams-The Master
    4. Isabelle Huppert-Amour
    5. Edith Scob-Holy Motors

    1. So, yeah, we're right on point this year. Good shit man. Scob was fantastic in that flick.

  4. Excellent list! And I haven't seen any of these yet, except for Rachel Weisz. I agree that her work in Deep Blue Sea was wonderful, though I actually liked Simon Russell Beale better. For me, he kind of stole the show. Nevertheless I agree with everything you said about her performance as Hester. I'm off to see if Take This Waltz and Smashed are on my watchlist, since you've convinced me I need to see them.

    1. Thanks! Beale WAS really quite good in that film. I thought the movie was okay, but the acting was universally remarkable. Hope you enjoy the others!

  5. Awesome picks man! So many great ones here, but I'm really glad to see Watts and Weisz made your list. Again, you listed 4 of my Best Actress nominees. :)

    1. Thanks! Ah, cannot wait for your picks. Really cool that we have so many in common. Great year for understated female performances.

  6. Cotillard is definitely the best thing I saw in 2012. I am shocked that she didn't get a nomination but I don't care because she doesn't need it to be my number one.
    She's one of the rare actor that I actually always go see in theater like Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet or Maryl Streep.

    1. Your first two sentences: HELL. YES. Could not agree more. I had a strong feeling she wouldn't get nominated, which is fine, because that performance will live with me forever, no matter its lack of awards attention.

      I too love everything she does and will see ANY movie she's in.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

  7. 1). Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
    2a). Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed
    2b). Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
    3). Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed
    4). Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
    5). Emma Watson in Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Again great list here, I know there has been a little back lash against Wallis getting a nod over her seasoned more 'professional' peers, but damn like you said she was six when they shot the thing. I mean just damn, I was barely over tripping and falling over my own feet at that age. I was heartbroken by both M.E.W and Cotillard in different ways that I couldn't rank one higher.

    1. Great picks. Still need to see Safety Not Guaranteed. And fair point about MEW and dear Marion. Both of those performances broke my heart as well. So very, very good. Both of them.

  8. I glad you have Michelle Williams in here. Take This Waltz was very underrated in my opinion. I loved it.

    1. I LOVED her work in that movie. I haven't seen a less-than-stellar Williams performance since, uhhh, The Station Agent? earlier? Love her.

  9. I think that is the first list I saw that actually includes my line up - Rapace, Lawrence, Cotillard, Watts and Dowd. Usually people omit Rapace, so it's awesome to see her here, I mean I know the film has its haters but she really should get more recognition for her work. She went through completely different route than Ellen Ripley and still managed to create bad ass character we root for.

    And how refreshing not to see overrated Hathaway for Les Mis here! She is in my line up for TDKR, but her work in Les Mis didn't even get tears from me and I cry when I see commercials for dog food and see sad dogs right before they get their meal.

    1. Oh, it wasn't even a question for me as to if I should include Rapace her not. I love what she did with that role. I saw notions of Ripley there, but yes, they really are quite different.

      We've talked about this a bit on Twitter (how about all that backlash we got... Ha), but yeah, Les Mis did nothing for me, and I am stunned by all the acclaim Hathaway is receiving. Her one (...one) musical number was rather well done, but tonally, she cannot sing. When they were playing her song as she walked on the stage to accept her Globe, I was like, "Am I the only one who can hear this?" Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for basically singing one song, but at least she could sing. Oh well.

    2. I don't think the acclaim hathaway is receiving is undeserved. I don't know if i can comment on whether she did good tonally, but for me i felt it was a intense performance. As for Les Mis itself, for me it fell in the good but not great category

    3. And a lot of people would certainly agree with you. I honestly thought her one performance of that one song was emotionally well done. One shot, tears, emotion. Solid. But the singing was just... off. I mean, wow. I've heard she's the frontrunner for the Oscar, which again is just baffling to me.

  10. Great list!
    Wallis tops mine, but Cotillard was definitely amazing and the best part of Rust and Bone for me.
    Weisz too really blew me away this year. What a subtle performance.
    As much as I love Chastain as a person and did really appreciate the last few scenes of her character, I got nothing from her in ZDT.

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed some of the picks. Many people are taking your stance concerning Chastain's work in ZD30. All's I can say is that I got everything from her in that movie. She killed me.

    2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who was underwhelmed by Chastain's performance. All of these conflicting opinions about her performance is really making me think there's a strong chance she might not win the oscar.

    3. Oh you're definitely not the only one. Actress, like a lot of the acting Oscars this year, is a tough one to call. Obviously, I loved Chastain in ZD30, but if I voted, I'd vote for Riva. She oh so deserves it.

  11. Adams, Lawrence & Williams - that's definitely some awe-inspiring shit. I still haven't seen any of the others! Need to get on 'Rust & Bone'.

    I'd also like to heap praise upon Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, who was just a great Blockbuster character. That's probably the best mainstream female performance of the year for me. And the young girl in 'Moonrise Kingdom'...everyone in that film was fantastic, but she and the boy were great without the whole novelty value of "look, it's Jason Schwartzman dressed as a scout!" Really earnest and heartwarming.

    It's kinda unrelated, but did you see 'Twixt?' It's kinda fascinating in a 'Wicker Man' sort of way. Just like, what the FUCK was anybody involved thinking?

    1. Awe-inspiring work, indeed, my friend. I loved Hathaway as Kyle. I thought she killed that performance. Dark, cold, sexy, human... she did wonders with it. Also loved Kara Hayward in Moonrise. What raw talent she has.

      I thought the trailer for Twixt looked completely and utterly batshit insane. And from what I've heard, I was right. Is it at all worth it?

    2. It's worth it, but it's not a good film. It involves Val Kilmer (back when he was really, really fat) going around some hick town getting freaked out by ghosts and stuff. I think it might be a comedy, but I'm not sure. Again, I'll cite 'The Wicker Man' for comparison.

    3. I definitely need to check that out then. Hopefully while drunk. Drunk viewing a fat Kilmer... what's not to like?

  12. Riva and I share a birthday! I can't wait to see Amour this Saturday. And I'm dying to see Compliance. Great list, man.

    1. Thanks man. A birthday on Oscar day?! Not half bad!

  13. I am agreeing with your number one. I love Cotillard's survival story in Rust and Bone, she was excellent. I also loved Rapace in Prometheus. Lawrence in Silver Linings was also quite bold. Others, I still need to catch up!

    1. Nice! Your appreciation for Cotillard here makes me so happy. Glad you liked some of the others as well. Such a great year for strong female characters.

  14. It'd be nice to see Marion Cotillard take home a bunch of awards home before the season is over. She's such a talented beauty!
    I'm glad to see Noomi Rapace in this list, she was one of the best things about Prometheus (short of Fassbender). Very intense and physically draining performance.
    I totally coincide with your thoughts about Michelle Williams. The only redeeming quality of the film is precisely her performance which, as always, demonstrates just how talented she is. However, she needs to stop picking roles in boring/forgettable movies. Out of her last five, four were pretentious films that fizzled out about 30 minutes in.

    1. It would be nice to see Marion win a few, but it's a damn shame she didn't get nominated for more. Really bummed about that, but whatta gonna do?

      Glad you like Rapace's work in Prometheus, such a raw and yes, draining performance there. And I agree about Williams and Take This Waltz. She was fantastic, the movie was... okay.

  15. Great choices, especially Jessica and Marion!

    1. Nice man, glad you dig those picks. Marion is just... ah, she's perfect.

  16. So glad to see Dowd and Rapace on this list!

    1. I CANNOT WAIT to see Dead Man Down

    2. Nice man, glad you dig the picks! I think Dead Man Down will be awesome. Let us hope!

  17. Amazing list! And I think we have so many picks in common man. 2012 was for me the best year for female roles in quite a long time, so I'd like to share with you my personal Top 15:

    1) Marion Cotillard - Rust and bone
    2) Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook
    3) Rachel Weisz - The Deep Blue Sea
    4) Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
    5) Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild
    6) Jessica Chastain - Zero Dark Thirty
    7) Naomi Watts - The Impossible
    8) Michelle Williams - Take this waltz
    9) Amy Adams - The Master
    10) Mary Elizabeth Winstead - Smashed
    11) Isabelle Huppert - Amour
    12) Anne Hathaway - The Dark Knight Rises
    13) Rosemarie De Witt - Your sister's sister
    14) Juno Temple - Killer Joe
    15) Noomi Rapace - Prometheus

    Great list again, buddy.

    1. Thanks man! Wow, we really do have a lot of them in common, which is great. I rewatched ZD30 recently, and appreciated it so much more. Chastain really did something special there, giving true credence to the notion of less is more. And Cotillard... my god, perfect in Rust and Bone. That film haunts me. I love it.

    2. Marion Cotillard's performance in "Rust and bone" is simply hypnotic. She immerses herself into the role of Stéphanie in a way you think it's impossible for an actor to do so. It's as if the soul of her character has penetrated into every part of her body. I simply cannot explain how the hell she is able to do something like that. I'm a movies lover by birth, I've watched thousands of movies thus far, but in my whole life, I have never seen an actress like Marion Cotillard. There's obviously not a limit to the depth she can bring into a role. And I'm just in awe of Chastain's work in ZD30. And that last scene is just unforgettable.

    3. Hell yeah man, couldn't agree more about Marion Cotillard. I hailed her work in La Vie en rose as one of my Top Favorite 10 Female Performances of All Time, but after having let Rust and Bone settle for a few years, I'd be confident placing her work as Stéphanie on my list. It's otherworldly, what she did there.

  18. So glad to see Dowd and Rapace on this list!