Onward, in my quest to complete recapping the year 2012 in cinema.
I would imagine at this point my choice for the top spot is no surprise, but I’m fond of all eleven women making up my top 5 and my finalists. Also, significant kudos to Keira Knightley for two splendid and dissimilar turns this year even if she peculiarly continues to be such a divisive performer.
On with my ballots (click on images for extended thoughts on the respective films)
Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress (as Violet Wister)
I suspect I’m still not quite as enamoured with Gerwig as her biggest fans, but her Violet Wister moves me from the category of faint appreciation to legitimate enthusiasm. Stillman’s lovely dialogue is many things but it is does not, as a rule, roll of the tongue and Gerwig’s ability to make it seem so naturally and fun is impressive.
HIGHLIGHT: She's typically great throughout whether instructing us on the important of olfactory senses, the perils of suicide or the etymology of doofuses/doofi. I’m very partial to her reading of “I don't really like the word ‘depressed’. I prefer to say that I'm in a tailspin.”
Nicole Kidman in The Paperboy (as Charlotte Bless)
She attacks the role (as per normal) with a daring and focused quality which turns Charlotte Bless from illusory dream-woman into the peculiar and beguiling object of our affection and disgust. She is neither fetishising nor apologising for the garishness but digging deep to reveal scars.
HIGHLIGHT: Not as aggressive as her other scenes, but the easy, trashy, coolness of that early car conversation with Jack is a beauty from the basic “I’s a swimmer” to “I’m getting horny being this close to him” to the perfectly played lilt of the “these special things called good vibrations”.
Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina (as Anna Karenina)
From Cecilia Tallis onward Keira has found a niche for herself playing abrasive characters we’re charmed into rooting for nonetheless and Anna is the encapsulation of the type. The performance is calling for inherent maturity she’s never shown on screen so kudos to her for balancing Anna’s maternal instincts with her childish adulterous rambling dalliance. She’s become so adept at conveyance emotion through the face the “Anna’s last train” can succeed with no dialogue.
HIGHLIGHT: She gets mileage out of small moments like miming to Stiva to go console Dolly, or a sly utterance of “I know everything” to Kitty and is as effective as needed in more significant moments like the dialogue free Opera confrontation.
Naomi Watts in The Impossible (as Maria Bennett)
That Watts manages to get so much effect out of sustaining various degrees of a single emotion over time is proof of her skill (in case in anyone was in a doubting mood). More than anyone in the cast she has to successfully telegraph emotion with significantly little dialogue to work with. Working through a scene like the rescue from the natives is just a series of sustained sobs. She, remarkably, keeps it gut-wrenching throughout with seeming to deliver a forced performance.
HIGHLIGHT: That look she gives out the window at the film’s end (significantly, again, with dialogue) is a master class in emotion. Maria’s disbelief at surviving, her inability to understand their luck, the sadness at the situation and the relief all sweep across her face.
Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea (as Hester Collyer)
HIGHLIGHT: That “Molly Malone” is important not just for the flashback, but watch how with the wind blowing against her Weisz is able to tell us so much about how Hester is feeling with only a few moments of observing her face. Superlative to the nth degree.
FINALISTS: Halle Berry in Cloud Atlas for an ace mystery heroine in Luisa Rae among other characters; Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone (my #7) for a tough characterisation of a sometimes abrasive character that is not unsympathetic; Kirsten Dunst in Bachelorette (my #6) for taking Regan’s abrasiveness and making them real and funny; Melanie Lynskey in Hello, I Must Be Going for pitching her “loser” divorcee in just the register to be pathetic and inspiring; Emmanuelle Riva in Amour for impressive moderation in avoiding the easiest tricks which could have befallen the character; Meryl Streep in Hope Springs for an astonishingly moving portrayal of a simple woman who still demands out attention. Also, impressive touching of the face
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Keira Knightley in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; Juno Temple in Killer Joe; Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz
Previous Citations: Audacious Cinema / Cast and Casting / Cinematography / Forgotten Characters / Openings / Sound and Music / Supporting Actor / Supporting Actress / Writing