Honourable mentions: Juliette Binoche - Certified Copy, Lubna Azabal - Incendies, Hayley Atwell - Captain America: The First Avenger, Vanessa Redgrave - Anonymous, Emily Browning - Sleeping Beauty, Vera Farmiga - Higher Ground, Berenice Bejo - The Artist, Emily Watson - Oranges and Sunshine, Elena Anaya - The Skin I Live In, Helen McCrory - Hugo, Mary Page Keller - Beginners, Rachel Weisz - The Whistleblower, Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn, Evan Rachel Wood - The Ides of March, Carey Mulligan - Shame, Jennifer Ehle - Contagion, Leila Hatami - A Separation, Sareh Bayat - A Separation, Shailene Woodley - The Descendants, Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs, Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs, Viola Davis - The Help, Octavia Spencer - The Help, Kristin Scott Thomas - Sarah's Key, Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids, Liana Liberato - Trust, Mia Wasikowska - Jane Eyre, Eva Green - Perfect Sense.
10. Saorise Ronan as Hanna in Hanna.
Maybe this comes out of pure envy. Saoirse Ronan is around the same age as me, and all I can think of when I see her is "how the heck does she do it?" She's such a talented performer, always lighting up the screen in whatever she's in. However, there is something truly terrifying about her performance in Hanna. First of all, she kicks ass. Second of all, she puts on this perfect accent - which is pretty hard for someone like myself to do (any European accent just sounds Indian if I do it). Third of all, she brings this strange fish-out-of-water aspect to it, wandering around her surroundings with such amazement and wonder. You can't help but feel sorry for poor Hanna, but then you remember that if you got on the wrong side of her, you wouldn't come out the other side all that well.
Key scene: "I just missed your heart."
9. Brit Marling as Rhoda Williams in Another Earth.
Brit Marling not only starred in this indie sci-fi/drama, she also co-wrote it. Brit is a talented wee lass, who has a knack for putting the words on paper and delivering them on screen. Her work in Another Earth is under-stated - I fear that in someone else's hands her character would have turned into some melodramatic figure worthy of being in Coronation Street. Instead, she shows just how conflicted she is, yet she never over shows it. Another Earth doesn't have a lot happening in it, but she was this magnetic force that kept me enthralled in it. I can't wait to see what she does in the future.
Key scene: When she turns up on John's (William Mapother) pretending to be a cleaning lady.
8. Felicity Jones as Anna in Like Crazy.
Okay, I admit to being a little biased in this one because I've always loved Felicity Jones. But her work in this low-budget romantic drama is simply fantastic. She doesn't feel the need to delve into being a manic pixie dream girl, nor does she let her character be a cardboard cut-out. Anna is an impulsive, vulnerable, sometimes clueless girl, and she manages to meld all of those things together without becoming Katherine Heigl. You can see the true hurt in her, and the way she's conflicted over everything, but how quickly she can change her mind about something. She's just heart-breaking to watch.
Key scene: When she isn't let back into America because of how she violated her visa.
7. Elizabeth Olsen as Martha in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Not only was Martha Marcy May Marlene the feature debut of writer/director Sean Durkin, it was also Elizabeth Olsen's acting debut. She is plunged right into the deep end by playing Martha (or Marcy May, or Marlene, whichever one floats your boat), a young woman who has escaped from an abusive cult. Martha is a woman who is constantly on edge - if one little thing went wrong, she would explode. Her state of mind was fragile, erratic, and wildly unpredictable. Along with that, we also have to see what Martha goes through in her cult, which is just as frightening. Olsen does such a great job of keeping up with an unpredictable character, who constantly made me feel as if I was about to explode, too. It would have been nice to see her work rewarded.
Key scene: The phone call to her sister after she flees the cult.
6. Kirsten Dunst as Justine in Melancholia.
Drawing from her fairly recent personal experience with depression, Kirsten Dunst returned to our screens with a stellar portrayal of Justine, Lars von Trier's latest lady against the world. In the first part of the film, we see her trudge through her wedding procession, becoming more and more destructive as the night goes on. At first, she's the blushing bride, but then she just wants the night to end - and much to her sister's disapproval, she makes that feeling known. In part two, the focus shifts more to her sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), but we see just how depressed Justine is. As she slowly gets better, the end of the world is slowly coming closer, which Justine is more than prepared for since she thinks "the world is evil." Justine isn't the easiest character to relate to, but Dunst plays her with such dedication that I couldn't help but be wowed.
Key scene: "You know what I think of your plan? I think that it's a piece of shit."
5. Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary in Young Adult.
Mavis Gary is a total bitch. There's no other way of putting it. You can say what you like about what is really conflicting her, but at the end of the day, if you ever came across her in public, you'd think that she is a bitch. Charlize Theron is one of the nicest people in showbusiness (well, that I know of). I'd want to be her best friend. And that's exactly what makes her performance in Young Adult so special. While Mavis spends the majority of the movie trying to destroy everyone around her, there's also a feeling of sadness that she's slowly destroying herself. Mavis isn't a very healthy person, inside or out, and whether that's used for comic or dramatic effect, Theron hits all the right notes.
Key scene: When Mavis breaks down at the baby naming party.
4. Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Upon a second watch of We Need to Talk About Kevin, I loved Tilda Swinton's performance even more. I'm not the biggest fan of hers, but how she constructs this portrait of a woman who just can't get through to her child is freaking amazing. We have her performing both her experience with Kevin before his terrible act, and then how she tries to move on with life afterwards. She does it with such terrifying tenacity that she nearly brought me to tears. Her reactions to everything that Kevin does (the most unsettling - aside from the obvious - being where he walks on him doing you-know-what) are so natural, even though you would expect her to explode. How she got so overlooked during awards season is beyond me.
Key scene: When Kevin decides he actually prefers her company and she gives this huge smile to her husband. A small, yet heart-breaking moment.
3. Jessica Chastain in, well, everything.
I know, I'm cheating here. But I really couldn't pick just one performance from the wonder-woman of 2011. I love all of her work so much. In Texas Killing Fields, she plays a small role of a cop with extreme bad-assery and strength. In The Tree of Life, her performance is as much of a work of art as the film itself, as she plays a woman exuding grace with beautiful subtlety. The Debt - which has one of her most underrated performances - again shows that subtlety, but also shows naivety and fragility in a situation which doesn't require either of those things. Her Oscar nominated performance in The Help had her playing my favourite character from the book, and she doesn't let Celia become a cartoonish blondie. Perhaps my favourite of hers (by a small margin) is her work in Take Shelter, which could have had her playing a non-descript character, but she fills it with such subtlety and heart-break, playing off Michael Shannon's performance. Chastain was the actress of 2011.
Key scene(s): Texas Killing Fields - when she tells her suspect what's up. The Tree of Life - where she tries to fight with her husband, but he holds her off. The Debt - when David (Sam Worthington) says goodbye to her. The Help - the very first scene she's in. Take Shelter - when she silently goes up to stand with her husband, letting him know that she'll always be there for him.
2. Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
I'm probably gonna get a lot of hate for this. Yes, I loved Noomi Rapace's performance in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But the fact of the matter is, I loved Rooney Mara's performance a little more. Mara's interpretation of Lisbeth was a little more awkward and vulnerable, yet she was a force to be reckoned with. And of course, there's her amazing transformation into the role, which saw her go to extreme lengths in order to get her Lisbeth just right. I guess my love for her performance is best summed up in how I reacted to her Oscar nomination: it was around 2.30am, and I was huddled up in bed with my laptop nestled under the sheets as I waited to see who was nominated. When they called out her name, I let out this huge scream of delight, which unfortunately woke up the whole house because my dog thought someone was dying so he ran around barking. I wasn't the most popular person in the household once daylight hit.
Key scene: I could go down the traditional route with the obvious scenes (Bjurman, tattooing, etc etc etc), but the final scene is just the best. Her reaction is absolutely heart-breaking.
1. Olivia Colman as Hannah in Tyrannosaur.
This may come as a surprise, but when I was sifting through all the performances I loved from 2011, this one stood out the most. Olivia Colman plays the difficult role of the emotionally and physically bruised Hannah with gusto and courage. It makes me kinda sad that Meryl Streep got rewarded for her exercise in mimicry in The Iron Lady (no disrespect to Meryl but come on), while Colman's performance topped her mimicry with actual bravery. Bravery is something that needs to be rewarded in film. Sure, you can be brave while you're being someone else who everyone else knows about, but being brave and creating a character is so much more special. Colman is heart-wrenching in this hopelessly dark film, and I hope that in the future she'll have more of an audience.
Key scene: Where she refuses to go back to her old house.
What do you think of these actresses and their performances? Who were your favourites of 2011?