All too often the Best Actress category seems inferior to its Best Actor sibling, in part because women are not offered as many quality roles as men. That wasn’t the case this year; in fact the Best Actress category may well be stronger than the Best Actor category. Most of the other acting categories have forced me to sort of choose a default winner amongst a handful of solid but unspectacular performances, but with this one I’m really torn between some excellent choices.
- Bérénice Bejo- The Artist: Various award bodies have called this a supporting performance, but I think that’s bullshit. She’s in the life of the leading man every step of the way throughout the film and there’s no other female performance that she is in service to over the course of the film. What’s more, she in many ways gives Jean Dujardin a run for his money when it comes to feeling at home in the world of a silent film. Seeing her on screen you can really see how her character could easily have been a star in the 30s.
- Juliette Binoche- Certified Copy: Director Abbas Kiarostami has largely built his career off of movies that are made without professional actors, but Certified Copy makes it clear that he’s more than capable of directing fine performances when he’s given the talent to work with. Here Binoche needs to act in three different languages, often switching between them rapidly, and she is also put through a bit of an emotional ringer.
- Viola Davis- The Help: Viola Davis wowed people with her brief appearance in Doubt, but that was mostly just a prelude for her star turn here. Playing a woman who has needed to deal with a lot of pain without expressing herself, you can see in Davis an anger deep down in her soul that you think is going to eventually spring forth but which never really does.
- Rooney Mara- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: The word on the street is that the behind the scenes battle for who would land this role was positively fierce, that there were a number of young actresses fiercely fighting to play Lizbeth Salander. Rooney Mara seemed like an odd choice when it was announced that she would get the role, but that’s only because no one accounted for how much she’d be able to transform and inhabit the role. She’s about as far from that nice college girl at the beginning of The Social Network as it gets.
- Elizabeth Olson- Martha Marcy May Marlene: This is Elizabeth Olson’s very first credited film role, and it’s a very challenging lead role to boot, but she really pulls it off. Olson, who is the younger sister of the famous “Olson twins,” plays a young woman who falls into and out of the grasp of a cult. By the chronological end of the film she has been withered down, she’s confused and frightened and highly sympathetic.