Best Of The Decade: Actresses

Just a brief note: like I said last time, this list will be more or less Americanized to the brim. There will be a few foreign choices because I’ve followed more European actresses then men, but still, very American. Alright, enjoy.


JUST MISSING THE CUT: Juliette Binoche
Perhaps it’s because I’ve missed Code Unknown and The Widow of St. Pierre that she doesn’t make my list, but regardless, Ms. Binoche has had a remarkable decade. From garnering her second Oscar nomination in the film Chocolat to being at the center of 2009’s critics darling Summer Hours, she has done just about everything over the span of the last 10 years. Abstract filmmaking? Le voyage du ballon rouge. Arthouse? Cache and Code Unknown. American mainstream? Dan in Real Life. Personally, she most caught me off-guard in Anthony Minghella’s final film Breaking and Entering as the Amira, the mother Will immediately falls for. There’s no question why there is an instantaneous attraction between the two, mostly because Juliette Binoche is one of the most natural performers in the world; one who can exude sensuality and distrust, worriment and romantics in a single scene. She never contradicts herself – her transformations are too undulating. And I’m sure that, by the time I get through watching the decade’s features I’ve been missing from my filmography, she’ll have found herself a secure spot in the top ten.

Though she’s only been around for four years (for me, not having seen All the Real Girls), Emily Blunt has demonstrated traits that tend to be found in preludes to a career full of longevity and success. Be it her nearly Oscar nominated performance in The Devil Wears Prada, her second Golden Globe nomination this year for The Young Victoria or just her coasting personality that is both very pleasurable to watch on screen as well as having the ability to maintain even the most typical of stories with her buoyancy, Ms. Blunt is a star that will only continue to grow throughout the years. But my favourite work of hers isn’t found in any of the aforementioned, but rather her supporting turn as the romantically conflicted Prudie in The Jane Austen Book Club. Her emotional fragility is most exposed her and even more spectacularly. Although I don’t condone music videos of performances, this is the only snippet I feel appropriate to show as apart of her frumpy, dejected and revitalizing work here; watch how she can speak so much with her simple body language or complex facial expressions.

NUMBER TEN: Ludivine Sagnier
Perhaps you’ve heard of her before; perhaps you haven’t, but let me bring the delight that is Ms. Sagnier into perspective for everyone. With a peculiar sexiness that she exudes from the most childish of roles (Peter Pan) to the most adult (A Girl Cut in Two), Ludivine Sagnier has yet to fully shake the staple of “the exotic European girl from next door”, but fortunately, she is in the midst of her growth in maturity. We could start her decade off in a variety of ways, but lets go with her first majorly acclaimed performance in Swimming Pool. Here you get a crash course in what makes her so appealing. Her natural beauty; natural talent; natural enveloping of the complex – she’s just so… well, natural. She went along with her sexiness for a few years tossing along some great performances from her work in La Petite Lili and A Girl Cut In Two, but it’s only been recently where she has been more adult with her film choices and this is where she is most potent. A secret Jew in Un secret and a free spirit shot in a grim light in Love Songs, she has really begun to pile on hints of melodrama and masking her native accent ever so subtly. She’s a true delight and will only flourish with time.

NUMBER NINE: Marion Cotillard
It feels a pity to place her so “low” considering she’s given one of my favourite performances this decade, but lets begin to rationalize. Now, I haven’t seen the majority of her work in France (or generally popular as I’ve not seen A Very Long Engagement or Big Fish), so this is a fair reason to assume why she isn’t at least a little higher up, but I digress. For a woman of only 34, she has a considerable amount of range. From the most delusional of laughs to the most impertinent of personas, Marion Cotillard can be simultaneously deranged and lovable – not an easy feat to accomplish. Of course, I’m speaking of her work in Love Me If You Dare, a performance that immediately captured my heart and shot the film up amongst my favourites of all time. Apart from this mesmerizing portrayal of a woman conflicted with her first love and new love, she’s turned in expert work. From her Academy Award winning portrayal as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose to her most recent work as the lovelorn wife of Guido in Nine, her inception (ha, get it?) into American pop culture has been a seamless trip from her; the best part is that she didn’t even try to become this barter between America and France, but she just has. Marion Cotillard: the greatest result of happenstance since the big bang.

NUMBER EIGHT: Samantha Morton
How can you not like this woman (sans the attitude, of course)? Her work ethic is borderline obsessive, the detail she puts into each performance paints over the aperture that is often found in the writing she’s given and above all, she’s consistent. With acclaimed performances as the exacerbated clairvoyant in Minority Report, the timorous, but loving immigrant mother In America or the emotionally fixated titular character in Morvern Callar, it’s apparent that Ms. Morton picks her roles as meticulously as she portrays them. Personally, her best work has come in the latter part of the decade. Be it her entirely dismal affair as Ian Curtis’ wife in Control, the maladroit apple of Caden’s eye in Synecdoche, New York or my personal favourite, her emulation of Marilyn Monroe in Harmony Korine’s most palpable feature today, Mister Lonely, her versatility is like streetball; unhinged and without boundaries. To cap it off, she’s become a dark horse to snag her third Oscar nomination for her work in The Messenger.

NUMBER SEVEN: Evan Rachel Wood
I had a tendency to favor actresses who have demonstrated an apt knowledge of performing from a young age. Be it Natalie Portman or my number seven selection, Evan Rachel Wood, who, in 2003, evoked one of the most devastating cries pertaining to the tragedy of a teenage existence. She even garnered a Golden Globe nomination for her effort here, projecting her to… well, nothing much, but I have loved nearly every minute of this “nothingness”. From her performance that will make you feel desperate for a bath in Pretty Persuasion as Kimberly Joyce, a youth bent on collapsing society from her cozy little placement within to finding the most honest and humorous portrayal in the stale Running With Scissors to her recent work under the wisdom of Woody Allen’s aged hand as the boisterous and more-delightful-and-sunny-than-Sunny Delight Melodie, Ms. Wood’s work is as far from wooden as many suggest. With a key supporting role coming in Robert Redford’s The Conspirator later this year, perhaps we’ll be privileged to see this 22 year old beaut snag her first Oscar nomination. Lord knows she deserves one already.

NUMBER SIX: Gwyneth Paltrow
Up until a few months ago, Ms. Paltrow was my favourite actress of all time. Now she’s begun her decline and I suppose it’s all highlighted with her “low” placement on this list. Last decade, Gwyneth turned in some performances I personally look up to. From her darling portrayal that is romance defined in Shakespeare in Love to her peculiar prostitute routine in Sydney (Hard Eight), she’s the first actress I feel in love with. Fortunately for her, she isn’t the first male performer I fell in love with (who was Edward Norton; who also got a dishonorable mention on the actor list). Fortunately, she’s done some wonderful work this decade, but I fear her career is in decline. Well, fortunately she had a great little decade during the aughts so let me talk about that before I continue on this tangent.

Gwyneth Paltrow began (and by began I mean ‘begun trying) her decade in 2001 with two of the years best performances. With her modeling to the audience watching what your generic film starlet is like behind the scenes in her dainty role as Skye Davidson in The Anniversary Party and the greatest supporting actress performance of all-time (if this doesn’t introduce you to how I feel about the performance then I’d as soon assume that my flustering adjectives wouldn’t) as Margot in The Royal Tenenbaums,.. then she doesn’t receive any acclaim (or as it’s important to me here) any of my laudation until 2005 for her attentive work as Catherine, a woman who is having her mental stablity stripped away from her day by day in Proof. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing performance (only outdone by Emmanuelle Davos’ work in Kings and Queen) but does it make up for four years of near nothingness? Hardly. But still, Paltrow shows her brilliance once again. Then following this are menial supporting roles in films like Iron Man, The Good Night and Running With Scissors – neither script gives her what she needs to bring a role to life, but they’re fine performances nonetheless. It isn’t until 2009 does she hit anything significant once again — this time as Michelle in Two Lovers. She’s a fascinating actress that has lost her ability to overthrow leads in supporting roles because she’s become too accustom to her leading romantics. If she picks up some more leading roles, she’ll have a great decade in the ’10s, but if not, I fear for the worst.

NUMBER FIVE: Renee Zellweger
One could argue that Ms. Zellweger had the best opening years of any performer this decade. From 2000 to 2003, she was on fire, capturing a plethora of accolades and most importantly 3 Oscars nominations with one win. Though I’m not entirely fond of her performance in Bridget Jones’ Diary, her Golden Globe winning performance just one year prior in Nurse Betty more than makes up for it. Only the best actresses in the world can do diluted romantic time and time again and keep it refreshing. With Zellweger, be it the chauvinistic approach to her character from outspoken misogynist Neil LaBute in Nurse Betty, the oh-so-adorable Bridget Jones, the good girl on a bad streak in Chicago or the southern belle that is as cute as she is helpful in Cold Mountain or even her heartbreaking work as the wife of a boxer who could see his final days in the ring in Cinderella Man, she is always changing it up to accompany her films (even if the purpose in each is generally the same) which makes her one fascinating actress. Though she’s been in decline since her 2005 performance, she’s done some decent work. Sadly, it appears her days as an A-lister are numbered unless she picks up the pace. Hopefully My Own Love Song does it for her because it would be a shame to watch such talent go to waste from here on out.

Is there anyone more delightful than this woman? Nope! However, that’s where her problem in acting lays. Seldom does Adams choose to (or is given) roles with rough depth that allows her to shake off the sweet girl coat that she’s been painted with since her delightful performance as Brenda in Catch Me If You Can. In fact, the only performance I’ve seen her be a regular person in is in Moonlight Serenade, but that’s probably because she hated being involved in the production of that film because it’s so bland that cardboard would be jealous. Even though she’s always the sweet and innocent type, I haven’t gotten enough of it yet. Whether it’s the dark comedic presence she gives birth to in interesting roles like her two Oscar nominated ones in Doubt and Junebug or the frothing ecstasy she presents most gleefully in just about every other role, Amy Adams – while a far cry from being one of the most diverse performers – is one of the most enjoyable actresses working to day. To watch her perform on screen is to watch a flower bloom or a child sing a hymn; you’ve seen it done before, but there’s always going to be a mystical allure to it that keeps you coming back for more. Oh, and seeing her spout off 30s lingo like “You’ve got moxy!” and “Crimey, we’ve been jimmy-jacked!” in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian? The cure for depression right there.

NUMBER THREE: Cate Blanchett
After getting nominated for Best Actress in 1998 for her role as Elizabeth in, well, Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett kicked this decade off in style and kept her cool (literally) throughout the following years. With Academy Award recognized performances as a teacher looking for sexual excitement with a cute student in Notes on a Scandal, her turning the histrionics to 11 for her imitation as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator and you know, playing Bob Dylan— it’s no argument when asking who the greatest cinematic absconder is with Cate Blanchett so readily in the picture. In addition to these big roles she portrayed exuberantly, Ms. Blanchett is proprietor of some other beautiful performances. Be it her encapsulating the strong female in the reiterated film-noir The Good German as a Mariene Dietrich-type or just last year playing Daisy in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button from age 18 to age 70 with grace, she has found a myriad of greatness. In addition, she has a tendency to be the best aspects in poor films: Best Actress nomination for her work in Elizabeth: The Golden Age and garnering a lot of new audiences as the leather clad Irina Spaklo in the latest Indiana Jones installment. If I’d see more of her performances from earlier this decade (Veronica Guerin, The Gift and Heaven) she’d probably be even higher up on this.

NUMBER TWO: Nicole Kidman
Despite her being “box office poison” and having a tainted image, Ms. Kidman is easily one of the best actresses of the decade. Apart from her botox injections/constant barraging of her for it, what has she done wrong this decade? Hardly anything. Sure, she had a few poor role choices in The Invasion (which I didn’t find to be half bad; fun for the sake of fun), Bewitched (no excuses there…), The Stepford Wives (again…) and Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (where she’s just outside my top ten for lead actress), but her highs more than make up for those lows. We could begin with two highly acclaimed performances in 2001 — including her first Oscar nomination of the decade for her beautiful leading turn in Moulin Rouge! — and we could end with her brevity causticity in last year’s Nine, but forget formula because I’m just going to explain why she’s #2 here. From her work as Grace in Lars von Trier’s Dogville, a performance which emulates small town struggles in the 20s and contrasts them perfectly with the naive character that Kidman immerses herself in, to her dainty turn as the romantic desolate in Cold Mountain: a performance both tearful and jovial to viewers to her bereft neurosis as Margot in Margot at the Wedding; she’s changed it up more than a bored couch potato with a television remote. Toss in her smaller works that have found fanbases in her transition from spiteful to warm in Australia, her icy squalid in The Golden Compass and just about anything else she’s done this decade and you’ve got ten years well spent on celluloid. Boom baby, I can’t wait to fall into her Rabbit Hole this year.

NUMBER ONE: Naomi Watts
To be honest, even I’m surprised that she’s my favourite actress of the decade. I suppose I didn’t ponder this list much at all, so when I finally say down and composed something concrete, I found I loved Ms. Watts more than I imagined. Everyone knows she’s given one of the decade’s finest as one of Lynch’s disoriented muses in Mulholland Drive, so for the sake of being redundant, lets skip over this one — as anyone should if mentioning, say, Kate Winslet’s body of work this decade with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind *hint hint*. Basically, Naomi Watts embraces each role she’s in with the utmost warmth. Even when she’s antagonistic you find yourself wanting everything to work out for her because she brings a layer of humanity to every role given. She’s also had the fortune to find herself great roles for the most part — roles she can sink her teeth into. From her first Oscar nomination in 21 Grams where she’s applies a complex understanding of a soul in melancholy to her quiet portrayal of a similar character in completely opposite circumstances as Kitty in The Painted Veil, Ms. Watts is clearly best at being pensive. Even when she’s required to be chipper in works like I Heart Huckabees or told to embody the grandeur of a film like King Kong in the lead performance, she nails each note with pinpoint accuracy. Like the world’s best dart player, she can hit bullseye blindfolded. As of late she hasn’t been all too exciting — pretty regulated roles in The International and Eastern Promises, but the remake of Funny Games kept her work interesting — but here’s to her rocking ’10 with three hopeful performances. Ms. Watts, you shock me so good.


It’s far more difficult to pick five women because for the most part it isn’t that they’ve stooped to terrible lows that is the reason for their careers in decline; it’s because Hollywood is a shallow mistress who discards you after you lose your looks, especially for women. It’s going to be a task to come up with five, so if you’re offended, well, take it up with Hollywood for not supporting these women as they should have.

Joan Allen
She’s still a competent actress, but Joan Allen has been given an array of poor roles this decade. After her Oscar nominated work in 2000s The Contender, Ms. Allen has become the generic corporate antagonist. Between her roles in the Bourne films and Death Race, her ability to keep it fresh and interesting on a bi-yearly basis has become stale; like baked goods left out for too long. I like her, but come on… something must be done.

Helen Hunt
She was never “big” in cinema to begin with, but I am so disappointed with her work as an actress that I have to mention her on some level. So after winning Best Actress in 1997 for her great work in As Good As It Gets, Ms. Hunt gathered (ha, I’m so witty) together some of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in the ’00s. OK, perhaps not performances, but her work in Then She Found Me is amongst some of the most horrid film I’ve ever watched — and I’ve seen Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer molest the good name of cinema. Her attempt at attempting to recreate the success she had 10 years prior in that role made me physically sick to my stomach. That ordinary girl we all adored in the 90s became ordinary to the point of annoyance… and then tried to benefit from her former cuteness which made her terrible. Thankfully she hasn’t starred in a film since, so perhaps her career has finally crashed and burned. Thank God.

Kathy Bates
She’s a nice woman, but Hollywood has all but discarded her. After some beastly turns in the 90s — from her Oscar win Misery to her respected turn in Dolores Claiborne to her second Oscar nomination in Primary Colors — she was one of the top dogs in cinema. Although she’s garnered an Oscar nomination this decade for her work in About Schmidt, her reputation has been reduced to something dismal since then. Her recent work as the cuckoo tutor in The Blind Side
has sealed it for me. May your career rest in peace, Ms. Bates.

Julianne Moore
I think we can mostly agree that Ms. Moore had a shoddy decade. Apart from 2002 – where she turned in two excellent performances in both Far From Heaven and The Hours – she’s done nothing but B to C-grade rustic cinema. From her pulpy turn in the garish Hannibal to her ‘work’ in The Forgotten, Freedomland and Next to being the low-light in my favourite film of 2009, she’s been pretty awful. I did like her in Blindness and Savage Grace though, so it hasn’t all been bad… just mostly.

Sharon Stone
From having an iconic turn in 1992’s Basic Instinct to getting an Oscar nomination in 1995 for her work in Casino even to 1999 where she was a delight in The Muse, Sharon Stone was one of the quintessential leading ladies of that era. Flash forward to the ’00s where not only is she showing the signs of a woman desperately craving the attention she received over a decade ago, but has also shown a decline in skill as a performer. From over the top portrayals in the smallest of roles (Alpha Dog) to flat-out awful work in crap like Catwoman, Sharon Stone is as valuable in today’s current cinematic market as a decent caterer. Expect her to drop off the face of the Earth in the ’10s.

THE FIVE TO LOOK OUT FOR (in alphabetical order)

Cecile de France
She has as much reason to be in a “top ten of the decade” as Ludivine Sagnier, but I doubt Sagnier will get the exposure she needs to really burst into mainstream US cinema. With Cecile de France, she’s begun building her audience overseas with her frantic (and amazing) work in High Tension. With her being one of three main characters in Clint Eastwood’s newest Hereafter (set for a December 2010 release) it’s nearly assured that Cecile de France will become a commodity in America. Not as largely as Cotillard has, but she’ll garner herself a nice group and I’m willing to bet she snags two nominations this decade.

Greta Gerwig
One of my new favourites. After a wonderful performance in the mumblecore flick Nights and Weekends as a lovelorn Mattie, I said to myself “Girl’s gonna be huge” but I never expected her to penetrate the mainstream so snappily. With her co-lead status in Noah Baumbach’s newest Greenberg, she’ll get plentiful exposure along side Ben Stiller. Oh and girl has oodles of talent to, so if she’s given even the slightest glimmer of a well constructed role she will bowl over the majority of film fans everywhere. Personal nominations galore, I’m prediction. After her work in that film her phone’s going to be ringing off the hook. Yeah, she’s in. Hopefully she sustains her mumblecore roots because her performances there have been nothing but wonderful.

Zoe Kazan
Having appeared briefly in two mainstream films already, Ms. Kazan seems to be picking up steam along the Hollywood big wigs. Having a delightful supporting performance in Revolutionary Road has propelled her to slightly larger work (It’s Complicated) and even her first leading role set to be out in March 2010 as Ivy in The Exploding Girl. She’s a demure presence that’s sought after highly and could potentially swoop in and take some of the Amy Adams-esque roles when Ms. Adams decides to become more prestigious (which she undoubtedly will with age). I adore her plenty — her two scene role in Revolutionary Road blew me away; she stole the spotlight from Leonardo DiCaprio so quickly that I’m sure such a motion temporarily blinded him — and hope for her best. She’s got the looks and the talent, but like all actresses she needs the exposure. Give it a few years before she becomes a name for most film fans.

Anamaria Marinca
Deserved to be on my top ten of the decade, but I reserved her placement here so I could give an actress who put in more performances this decade in. Yeah, she’s given the decade’s best performance as Olivia in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and yeah, she’s done some TV work that shows how versed she is in the English language. Everyone knows she has talent that reaches the heights of the best in the world and all fans of contemporary foreign cinema know her name (and it’s also one of the most beautiful names in the world to say, so she has an extracurricular aesthetic that I adore). Basically all she needs is a role in a film that is in English. Oh wait, she’s got The Countess coming out in 2010. So what I’m saying is… she’s going to be on my top ten actresses of the ’10s next decade. She’ll always find work in the most obscure of places and she’ll always deliver amazing performances. It’s as habitual to her as typing these lists are to me.

Carey Mulligan

The caustic “wow Tyler, could you be more out there” choice of the list, but I need one surefire pick to keep it palpable for most. She might win Best Actress this year for her work in An Education, she might win Best Actress next year for Never Let Me Go — basically what I’m saying is she’s become the flavor of the month which will extend itself throughout the beginning of this decade and perhaps even to the end if she plays her cards right. She’s got a cute look, a nice name and her fair share of talent. I find her to be the bubbliest asset to cinema this year and am going to look forward to her work from here on out. Essentially, she’s Keira Knightley without Pirates of the Caribbean. Or will be. Hey, she might even find herself a box office hit in the future. Who wouldn’t love Carey Mulligan as Ruby Ryder in a Batman sequel? I’m down.

NOTE: I’ll do my next “Best of the Decade” for next Sunday. I think one a week is a good tradition. I’ll be doing a top 30 of the decade and adding my “Performer of the Year” award for each year between 2000 and 2009 because I felt it silly to tack it onto these already large posts. Hope you enjoyed this installment, ya’ll. Oh and I finished my second script (working on finishing my third as you’re reading this, I’m sure) and there’ll be a post announcing it later today/tomorrow.

One thought on “Best Of The Decade: Actresses

  1. Jake says:

    Alright, three Aussies!

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