Best Actress 2004
Winner: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Nominees: Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The Field: ★ ★ ★ ★
Career-defining work from nearly everyone involved, including major breakthroughs for team-player Staunton and rookie Sandino Moreno. Winslet dazzles in an atypical part and gets nom'd for the kind of eggheady, outlandish film that Oscar tends to snub. Even Bening and Swank keep only one foot in typecasting while taking memorable risks in the directions of period stylization and strenuous physicality, respectively. The best race of its Oscar year.

Ranking Oscar's Ballot
My Pick:
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
From my Best of 2004 feature: "Winslet channels the robust energy typical of her characters into the most high-strung, quivering, compassionate, defensive, perceptive character in a year of movies. Winslet's Clementine has virtually nothing in common with any female lead in any romantic comedy of the last many years, and miraculously, the actress coaxes the genre into meeting her performance rather than more simply submitting herself to expectations. As perfect in its way as Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve or Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Winslet's performance is the acting achievement of the year."

From There:
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "The central performance of Catalina Sandino Moreno is another huge asset to the film, a stunning synthesis of indignant pride, cutting intelligence, and a silently expressed desperation. Maria is bitingly resentful of her own naïveté, and of the living conditions which keep her trapped and at the mercy of foolhardy peers and unreliable elders. Sandino Moreno hotwires all of these emotions straight into our minds. The basic serenity of her remarkable face is undone by the furious stares and fretful retreats of her large eyes, and the movie emanates directly from those shifting contrasts."

Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "Her utterly distinctive face makes Staunton's every expression a kind of stylized vessel for emotion, radiating grins of elvish glee and, later, pure states of grief. Her walk has a dogged purposefulness quite at odds with her fluty voice and her habit of singing while she works, but the actress mostly reconciles these divergent character traits into a compelling and holistic performance.... Staunton rewards Leigh's attention beautifully, particularly in a poignantly sustained close-up in which her face has to carry the whole movie from the equanimity of the first hour to the spiritual devastation of the second."

Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
From my full review: "Maggie walks in from the almost Stygian black of the stadium corridors, a kind of looming void that sets an irrevocable tone for the picture, even as Swank's amply engaging, more than proficient but unprofound performance seems designed to alleviate all the gloom. And even then, Swank's Maggie is a dreamer but a tough and undeluded one.... Thankfully, both Eastwood and Swank keep us on our toes in their scenes together, modulating several types of affection into a blend of paternalism, eroticism, friendship, and sadomasochism that resists any easy label and refuses to flaunt its own ambiguities."

Annette Bening, Being Julia ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Being Julia was filmed in the UK and Hungary by a Hungarian crew with Canadian money, so no wonder it ignores Hollywood's dicta that women aren't supposed to carry their own vehicles, and that women aren't funny, and that women older than Reese Witherspoon aren't sexy, and that American audiences don't care about theater anymore, and they only understand ironic acting styles when a film like Far from Heaven bends over backward to justify the artifice. Bening, prancing and supremely game, leaps at the chance to fructify her voice and wear some great gowns and wigs and give stagy renditions of good and bad theater acting and savor the cheerful, frivolous anachronisms of the film. Her best moments are career-toppers, but she remains a disappointingly uneven and sometimes superficial actress, grande dame-ing even the moments where the screenplay requires more subtlety to keep things coherent. She's immune to the fairy-tale aspects of the piece, and while she's often funny, and a sensational laugher, she's not fun enough, and she's imperious without being complex.

Who gets your vote in this field, and on my dream ballot below? VOTE HERE!

My Favorites from 2004:
(Favorites in Major Categories)
(Favorites in All Categories)

My Pick: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Nominees: Julie Delpy, Before Sunset
Nicole Kidman, Birth
Nicole Kidman, Dogville
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace

Visit the 2004 Nick's Flick Picks Honorees for commentary on these five performances.

Honorable Mentions: Esther Gorintin, Since Otar Left; Moon So-ri, Oasis; Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake; Anne Reid, The Mother; Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby; Uma Thurman, Kill Bill, Vol. 2; Helen Mirren, The Clearing; Annette Bening, Being Julia; Jennifer Garner, 13 Going on 30

Gourmet Prospects: Sylvie Testud, Fear and Trembling

Further Research: Emmanuelle Béart, Strayed; Maria Bonnevie, Reconstruction; Carole Bouquet, Red Lights; Kimberly Elise, Woman, Thou Art Loosed; Jena Malone, Saved!; Leonor Silveira, A Talking Picture

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