This has bay and large been a pretty good year for movies with female leads. Usually the lack of roles for female actors in Hollywood makes this category kind of hard to fill, but this year I didn’t have much trouble at all. I was able to find five worthy nominees without having had a chance to see Rabbit Hole or Another Year, and I still needed to leave off some prominent work from other films.
- Natalie Portman- Black Swan: This is certainly the most talked about role of the year and also the role that probably sends its star through the emotional ringer through much of the film’s running time. That Portman is a perfect physical specimen to play a ballerina and that she learned a lot of her own dance moves is certainly worth noting, but what’s really getting people’s attention is obviously her decent into insanity, a challenge that Portman accepts with great gusto.
- Michelle Williams- Blue Valentine: Michelle Williams’ career has been like a gift to the independent film world. She probably has the chops to be a star, but she is so often drawn to more challenging material like Blue Valentine. This is an “ordinary person” role, one that conforms to real world mannerisms, but it’s also a role that requires a lot of big emotions and a lot of shouting. That’s a tough line to straddle, and she also needs to let her character teeter towards and away from the audience’s sympathy.
- Greta Gerwig- Greenberg: Some of the best and most oft-rewarded acting comes in the form of large theatrical performances. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the only game in town. Gerwig is one of the leading voices in a school of acting that seeks to replicate all the nuances of realistic mannerisms, warts and all. This was honed in a number of micro-budgeted “mumble-core” movies, but it translates nicely into a more conventional indie like Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg.
- Annette Bening- The Kids Are All Right: The Kids Are All Right is a movie with two lead actresses in it, and there could be a strong argument for either of them being nominated (I’m not doing both, sorry). I ultimately went with Bening, not because she’s the one that most award groups are going with but because I ultimately thought she had the more difficult role. I found Bening to be deeply believable as someone’s mother, but she doesn’t always pander to the warmest image of what a mother is supposed to be, she has to bear the most responsibility in the family and must struggle with having to be “the bad guy” in family arguments. It’s difficult stuff, a lot more difficult than it is to be the “free spirit” to me.
- Hailee Steinfeld- True Grit: I’m not the first person to argue that this is a lead role, not by a long shot. In fact, I think that a lot of what’s impressive about this is lost when the role is relegated to supporting status. Steinfeld needs to carry this movie, and that’s not an easy task for a thirteen year old. This is a character who often needs to act wise and strong beyond her years and that can easily become really annoying. That Stienfeld makes this believable and fun is a testament to her talent.