Throughout award season this category has been beset by “category confusion” and I’ve tried my best to navigate that while also looking for unsung performances that haven’t gotten their due this year. These actresses all had to do a lot with a little and many of them excelled.
- Sarah Paulson- Carol: She’s been somewhat overshadowed by the other two ladies in Carol but she’s also a very important part of the movie as Carol’s previous paramour and ongoing friend and ally. Paulson is important to the movie in that she’s the only of these three women who seems to be fully “out” and not recently in a relationship with a man and is notably more feisty and combative than the other two. Paulson captures this and paints a clear picture of this woman despite some relatively limited screentime.
- Kristen Stewart- Clouds of Sils Maria: We need to stop being surprised when young actors and actresses end up giving stellar performances when they get better material to work with than the soulless crap that Hollywood gives them. In Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria she plays an assistant to a famous French actress but not a long suffering one so much as a faithful companion who can converse with her as an equal.
- Zhang Huiwen- Coming Home: Coming Home didn’t get a lot of press stateside but it had some really strong performances and the real surprise breakout was from a twenty two year old former ballet dancer who had never acted before named Zhang Huiwen who must play a character at two different ages and in two different ways, being petulant and immature at one age and tortured and frustrated at the other.
- Jennifer Jason Leigh- The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino more or less built Christoph Waltz’ career by making him a sort of smiling devil and he does something similar with Jennifer Jason Leigh here. Leigh is a consistently menacing presence in The Hateful Eight despite the fact that she doesn’t do a whole lot of evil while actually on screen. What’s more she very capably adopts the rough demeanor of a profane frontier woman that’s pretty far removed from what we’ve seen from her before.
- Rachel Weisz- Youth: One of the year’s most unsung performances was that of Rachel Weisz as the long suffering daughter/manager of Michael Caine’s central character, but of course Weisz has generally been an underappreciated actress over the course of her career. Weisz is actually one of the younger major actors in Youth but she definitely holds her own among the likes of Caine, Harvey Keitel, and Jane Fonda.