Best Actress 2010
Winner: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Nominees: Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Sure, the fact that Oscar basically swiped the Independent Spirit Award roster, minus the eminently deserving Greta Gerwig of Greenberg, somehow made the Spirits seem more colonized by the mainstream than it made Oscar seem excitingly adventurous. Yes, I think the least accomplished performance won, and in fact glided to a victory that ought to have given her a tougher go. But kvetch as I might, I'm the first to admit that it's a poorly chosen occasion for kvetching. I may not have loved any one performance the way I adored Cotillard in '07, Winslet in '04, Theron in '03, or Moore in '02, and my admiration for the 2010 nominees and their vehicles doesn't tempt me to cuddle with the DVDs the way I do with You Can Count on Me or Moulin Rouge! or Rachel Getting Married or Precious. But this roster is full of serious conviction, tonal and stylistic risks, and refreshingly diverse approaches, all the way from heightened posturing to fine-tuned naturalism. Every performer either showed us a new side of herself, or achieved a new peak in a style of acting she's been working through for a while, or, weirdly, both. Oscar had plenty of other viable nominees to choose from in this vintage, both in his wheelhouse (Swank, Hawkins, Watts) and a bit further afield (Manville, Swinton), so nobody here cruised to a nod. In fact, whatever my spectrum of enthusiasm from role to role, every one of these turns suggests an actor ceding an earnest, bloody, even a costly part of herself to the material—no less palpably in moments when we chuckled at her way with a laugh-line or thrilled to her spook-house tribulations. I suspect this will be cited as a benchmark year for a while, and I understand why. Hats off, ladies.

But You'll Have to Wait for Rankings!
I am at long last close to proposing a book contract for this special Best Actress section of the website, and if I'm expecting people to pay for a complete, fancy-pants, creatively curated print version of these write-ups, I can't give away all the jelly for free. So, even if you now know that I'm a fan of the whole field, I'm forced to keep playing the tease about whom I liked the best (and then whom, and then whom, and then whom). Some brief bits from what I've written elsewhere on the site...

From my Who's Who Profile of Annette Bening
"... In The Kids Are All Right, it's the point of the piece, rather than a reflection of dubious writing, that her character doesn't evolve so much as she gets the rug pulled out from under her three times—forced to meet her kids' sperm-donor father, then confronted with the possibility that he might be more substantial and less threatening than she thought, then faced mere moments later with an epiphany that he's actually more threatening than she thought. At all three moments, Nic's sense of herself and her family gets yanked away from her, and she has to land quickly on new terrain. Bening's good at making it feel like new and old terrain, the sweet and sour sense of being partnered with someone who rarely hurts her but regularly surprises or puzzles or unnerves her. Her three climaxes are showstoppers, respectively, of queasy surprise, atypically florid openness, and profound, intimate injury, but Bening is just as good in 'smaller' moments...." (Comment Here)

From my Who's Who Profile of Jennifer Lawrence
"... At moments when I have trouble believing the performance or the film, even on a folkloric or emotional level, it's usually because of something she or a scene partner is forced to say, or a reaction they have to muster, somewhat rigidly, toward something that beggars credulity. But especially in the less narratively driven scenes, skinning squirrels, reviewing school lessons with her brother and sister, cautioning them out of being fearful of the world, or just figuring out what to make for dinner, she's a can-do, casually riveting presence, even less self-conscious of the camera than she seemed in Burning Plain. She cracks Ree's carapace in very affecting ways during the rowboat climax, finding a heartbreaking poignancy that feels distinct from everything that is already macabre about that somewhat grandiose scene, and thereby recuperating a culminating moment that might easily have felt a bit too much. You'd imagine that her errand at that moment would prompt a desperate crisis in almost everyone, so it's a credit to Lawrence's resolve and her firm boundary-drawing elsewhere in the movie that we're actually astonished to see her crack...." (Comment Here)

From my Full Review of Black Swan
"... I don't mean to come down too hard on Portman herself. She's always struck me as an actress with evident limitations, but she has her moments here, and she at least struggles valiantly against her own ceilings, not least by getting herself cast in a role that does something useful with her screen persona's odd combination of steeliness, flatness, fragility, perspicacity, standoffishness, and vestigial little-girlishness. Again, with less screen time, she might have seemed more revelatory, the way Jennifer Connelly does in Requiem. In fact Connelly, as Hubert Selby's Marion, shows us a White Swan achieving her Black Swan potential much more fully than Portman's Nina ever does in this movie. But it matters that, no matter how rigorously she trained, she can't deliver in the major aesthetic register that the script and the character most require her to....." (Comment Here)

Who gets your vote in this field? VOTE HERE!

My Favorites from 2010:
(As determined by years of Oscar eligibility)

Nominees: Greta Gerwig, Greenberg
Nominees: Katie Jarvis, Fish Tank
Nominees: Jeon Do-yeon, Secret Sunshine
Nominees: Birgit Minichmayr, Everyone Else
Nominees: ...Plus One of Oscar's Nominees!

Honorable Mentions: Kim Hye-Ja, Mother; Patricia Clarkson, Cairo Time; Sylvie Testud, Lourdes; Hilary Swank, Conviction; Emma Stone, Easy A; Isabelle Huppert, White Material; Nina Meurisse, Accomplices; Paprika Steen, Applause; Sally Hawkins, Made in Dagenham; Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right; Julianna Margulies, City Island; Drew Barrymore, Going the Distance; Tilda Swinton, I Am Love; Chiara Caselli, The Father of My Children; Aggeliki Papoulia, Dogtooth; Naomi Watts, Fair Game; Annette Bening, Mother and Child; Kristen Stewart, The Runaways; Chloë Grace Moretz, Let Me In; Ruth Sheen, Another Year; Lesley Manville, Another Year; Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go; and at least three more of Oscar's nominees!

Also-Rans (alpha): Whitney Able, Monsters; Christina Aguilera, Burlesque; Gemma Arterton, The Disappearance of Alice Creed; Sabine Azéma, Wild Grass; Bae Du-na, Air Doll; Emma Bell, Frozen; Halle Berry, Frankie & Alice; Ellen Burstyn, Lovely, Still; Lena Dunham, Tiny Furniture; Dakota Fanning, The Runaways; Sprague Grayden, Paranormal Activity 2; Rebecca Hall, Please Give; Anne Hathaway, Love & Other Drugs; Shirley Henderson, Life During Wartime; Agnès Jaoui, Let It Rain; Angelina Jolie, Salt; Catherine Keener, Please Give; Rachel McAdams, Morning Glory; Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere; Julianne Moore, Chloe; Sarah Polley, Splice; Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Amanda Seyfried, Chloe; Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit; Orsolya Tóth, Delta; Soledad Villamil, The Secret in Their Eyes; Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland; Kerry Washington, Mother and Child; Kerry Washington, Night Catches Us; Naomi Watts, Mother and Child; Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Renée Zellweger, Case 39

Gourmet Prospects: Zoe Kazan, The Exploding Girl; Helen Mirren, The Tempest; Anna Mouglalis, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky; Rosamund Pike, Barney's Version; Kristin Scott Thomas, Leaving; Rachel Weisz, Agora; Reese Witherspoon, How Do You Know

Further Research: Gwyneth Paltrow, Country Strong; Julia Roberts, Eat, Pray, Love

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