Top 10 female performances of the last 5 years

Like I did with the men a couple of days ago, I give you my list of favorite female performances of the last five years in lieu of a best films of 2013 list as we are just hours away from celebrating the New Year.

I highly encourage anyone reading to make recommendations as to whom should have made my list instead.

Shame

CAREY MULLIGAN - Shame (2011)

Sissy is a broken and lonely soul. When she visits her brother and crashes at his apartment without much of a warning, she is desperately seeking for companionship.
There is hardly a more poignant demostration to Carey Mulligan’s heart-wrenching depth than when she takes to the stage and she shows everyone just how powerful a voice can be when it really comes from within. This is perhaps the most sincere and captivating few seconds of acting virtuosity  I have seen in the last five years.

Young Adult

CHARLIZE THERON – Young Adult (2011)

Like Sissy before, Mavis Gary is also a lost and lonely soul who has, in addition, lied to herself so many times that she has begun to believe her own words. Charlize Theron creates a character that we can sympathize and antagonize with, a perfect picture of a delusional woman who never got over certain choices she made when she was young and inexperienced.
Charlize has rarely been so intriguing and entertaining to watch as in Young Adult.

Amour

EMMANUELLE RIVA - Amour (2012)

The great French actress Emmanuelle Riva exceeded all of my expectations when she stripped down of the glamour of a life spent in front of the camera to play Anne, a role that embraced weakness and death as none other I have had the pleasure to see in recent years.
Her physical and emotional transformation as illness takes over her is as harrowing a portrayal as there has been in the history of cinema.

Winter's Bone

JENNIFER LAWRENCE- Winter’s Bone (2010)

The now famed young actress first burst onto the scene with this head-turning performance as Ree, a courageous young girl who must navigate the dangers of the drug-dealing world in Appalachian America to find her lost father and try to salvage the home in which her family lives. Winter’s Bone is so effortlessly acted and realistic that it is easy to forget we are watching a movie.

Melancholia

KIRSTEN DUNST - Melancholia (2011)

When it comes to portraying depression on the screen, no one has delivered a more surprising and affecting a performance in the last five years as Kirsten Dunst as Justine in Lars Von Trier’s mind-bending sci-fi drama Melancholia.
Kirsten’s performance is brutally honest and believably erratic. She runs the gamut of emotions, going from jubilant to depressed with an ease that is disarming and confusing, yet always interesting.
You may call her performance odd or overacted, but no matter what, it remains captivating and engaging throughout.

Another Year

LESLEY MANVILLE - Another Year (2010)

Another tragic character in a long line of tragic performances on this list, Lesley Manville is perhaps the most relatable of the bunch to many viewers out there. She plays Mary, a middle aged woman who pretends that everything is fine and dandy when, in reality, she is painfully lonely and afraid of spending the remaining years of her life without a lover.
Lesley’s performance is both pathetic and much too common, the kind of woman who never learned to love herself and, given the prospect of old age, can’t seem to find purpose and self-worth without a man by her side.

Incendies

LUBNA AZABAL - Incendies (2011)

If the tragic characters above are all common and believable, then Nawal Marwan, played with great restrain by Lubna Azabal, leads the pack of lives spent flirting with misfortune.

There is nothing more disarming than a woman who accepts her horrible faith with quiet dignity, knowing that nothing she says or does will ever change the reality of torture and losing a son. Lubna plays such a woman, and she does so effortlessly.

Mo'nique

MO’NIQUE – Precious (2009)

More than evil incarnate, Mo’nique’s Oscar winning performance as Mary is the terrible consequence of utter ignorance and abject poverty.
When she speaks to her daughter Precious there is not an ounce of love, but rather of jealousy and disdain. Mo’nique remarkably makes us empathize with her despite everything, just as her daughter manages to forgive her and move on.
For Mo’nique, this was the role she was always meant to play.

Natalie Portman

NATALIE PORTMAN - Black Swan (2010)

The difficult journey of Natalie Portman to play and become a convincing ballet dancer named Nina Sayers is well documented. She trained for months, injured herself on more than one occasion, and managed to lose a lot of weight in preparation for what would be the character that gave her a deserving Oscar statuette for Best Actress.

Black Swan is a performance-centered film that relies entirely on the ability of Portman to fill every single shot of film with the kind of larger-than-life tragic figure we can empathize with.
Nina is frail, insecure, naive and terriby inexperienced. The more she grows as a dancer, the more pressure she must bear and the greater her physical and psychological disintegration become. To say Portman was convincing during this slow transformation is to sell her performance short. It was a tour-de-force from beginning to end.

Rooney Mara

ROONEY MARA - Side Effects (2012)

~Spoiler Warning~

The success of Side Effects as a film hinged on the strength of the performance of Rooney Mara who, like in most films that depend on a twist, had to portray two entirely different personalities within the boundaries of one character: Emily Taylor. On the first half, Mara played the “unstable” widowed victim; while on the second half she played the diabolical victimizer who crafted a plan that was based on deceit, revenge and petty greed.
To discover her two sides in a film that was a bit stale saved the entire picture and gave us one of the best performances of the new millenium.

- N

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9 thoughts on “Top 10 female performances of the last 5 years

  1. C Theron is so entertaining in Young Adult :) Great to see Another Year get some love. It’s my favorite of 2010. So many good performances in that from the cast, and I agree Lesley Manville was terrific.

    If I had to disagree on one of your choices, I feel C Mulligan’s performance in An Education (2009) was stronger.
    You should watch Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013), Gloria (2013), and Blue Jasmine (2013), that might change your top 10 :)

    Nice picks, Niels!

    1. I am sure my picks would indeed change after I get to watch some more films released in 2013. I have heard good things about all of the ones you mention.

      As for Charlize Theron, what else can I say? She’s one of the very few actresses that have never disappointed me, and who is often the best thing about each film she has been in (including the bad ones). As good as she is in Young Adult, I was perhaps a little more captivated by Patton Oswalt, whose performance truly got to me.

  2. I haven’t seen many of these, but I wasn’t terribly fond of Rooney Mara. I guess I’m just not a fan of her style in general, it’s just too cold for me. I didn’t like the film but Leslie Manville was excellent in Another Year and Portman no doubt gave the performance of her life in Black Swan. Nice picks!

    1. I can see why not everyone would be fond of the style of Rooney Mara. I just think there’s something about her that is incredibly engaging and intriguing, even when her roles have so bar been somber and overly quiet. I think her eyes say so much and she is so talented that is makes me mad. One of those actresses that I can’t wait to see what she’ll do in the future.
      Lesley Manville was indeed excellent in Another Year, one of those performances that deserved more attention than it received. On second thought, everyone in Another Year was pretty damn good, even if the film could have been a little more exciting.

  3. Excellent choices. I expected Jennifer Lawrence to appear as she’s been consistently excellent but it’s great to see Carey Mulligan who clearly has bags of talent and plenty of range.

    1. Jennifer Lawrence is one of those few popular actors that has garnered fame by picking her career moves carefully and delivering one good performance after another, combining her blockbuster appeal with charisma and talent. She’s definitely a force of nature.
      As for Carey Mulligan, well, she’s one of the most exciting young actresses that have already left a mark on me. Another one to keep an eye on.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Nice list, Niels. I’m glad you highlighted Mulligan especially. It’s a tossup between her and Michelle Williams for my favorite actress working today. Also good call on Dunst in Melancholia — it’s a damn shame she didn’t get much recognition during awards season.

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