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For Your Consideration: 60 Women That Defined “The Year of the Actress”

For Your Consideration: 60 Women That Defined "The Year of the Actress"

It is a remarkable shame that when this awards season is all said and done, only ten actresses will be left standing with Oscar nominations, and only two with actual Oscars. Because while last year at this time Kathryn Bigelow’s potential directing Oscar had the blogosphere declaring 2009 “the year of the female director,” it seems that 2010 has subsequently become the “year of the actress.” Just take a look at indieWIRE‘s year-end critic’s poll, where 10 of the top 13 “lead performances” come care of women.

This is not to say female directing hasn’t had a great year too. Besides Bigelow actually winning that trophy this calendar year, the likes of Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone), Lisa Cholodenko (“The Kids Are All Right”), Maren Ade (“Everyone Else”), Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”), Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”), Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give”), Laura Poitras (“The Oath”), Mia Hansen-Løve (“Father of My Children”), Claire Denis (“White Material”), Sofia Coppola (“Somewhere”), Sam Taylor-Wood (“Nowhere Boy”), Tanya Hamilton (“Night Catches Us”), Lucy Walker (“Waste Land” and “Countdown To Zero”) and Andrea Arnold (“Fish Tank”) have collectively given 2010 a considerable amount of excellent work from female filmmakers, even if it’s still appalling below equal in quantity from their male counterparts (though inarguably well above the male average in quality). But instead of continuing down the familiar and necessary path of discussion that is the troubling under representation of women in the film industry, let’s celebrate one aspect of women in film this year where they clearly showed up their male peers.

If this year in cinema should be remembered for any one thing, it’s the incredible wealth of roles that have been earned and performed by actresses. It’s unfortunate that despite this, the year’s Oscar race seems heading for a mano-a-mano type showdown between two films that at their core are about the inter-personal relationships between men: “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech.” And while it’s great that female-centric films like “Black Swan,” “The Kids Are All Right” and “Winter’s Bone” seem headed for best picture nominations, and that the wildly deserving likes of “Swan”‘s Natalie Portman, “Kids”‘s Annette Bening, and “Bone”‘s Jennifer Lawrence are all very likely Oscar nominees, as are similarly worthy Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”), Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”), Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) and Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”), that still is a far cry from a full representation of how substantial 2010 was for the female actor – not just in America, but around the world. Though clearly it’s never going to happen, a one-year-only extension of the best actress category to ten nominees is not as silly an idea as one might think.

“The Kids Are All Right”‘s Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska

This being the very last “For Your Consideration” column of the year (it will return the first week of 2011), it seemed only appropriate to take a break from predicting this and analyzing that to just pay a small tribute to the many women receiving recognition this year, and the many women that are not. Initially, it was going to be an unranked list of 20, but it just didn’t seem like enough. Slowly it extended itself, to 25, then 30, then 50, then finally, 60. Even with this final number, there are many worthy performances that were excluded, though the intention of the list is to be as inclusionary as possible (it just had to stop somewhere).

Of the 60 women listed below, the assortment of actresses is overwhelming. There’s remarkable young newcomers like “Fish Tank”‘s Rebecca Griffiths and Katie Jarvis, “True Grit”‘s Hailee Steinfeld, “Winter’s Bone”‘s Jennifer Lawrence, and “Let Me In” and “Kick-Ass”‘s Chloe Moretz. There’s “Please Give”‘s 82-year old Ann Guilbert, who is in her sixth decade of work. There’s Americans and Brits (too many to name), as well as Koreans (Kim Hye-Ja, Jeon Do-yeon), Italians (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), Greeks (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni and Michele Valley), Australians (Mia Wasikowska, Naomi Watts, Jacki Weaver), Swedes (Noomi Rapace), Danes (Paprika Steen), French (Sylvie Testud, Isabelle Huppert and Alice de Lencquesaing), Austrians (Birgit Minichmayr), and a Brit playing an Italian with a Russian accent (Tilda Swinton).

As for the performances themselves, these women have collectively given us a extraordinarily complex set of cinematic characters. There’s scary, overbearing women with very questionable parenting skills (“Dogtooth”‘s Michele Valley, “Black Swan”‘s Barbara Hershey, “The Fighter”‘s Melissa Leo, and aforementioned Jacki Weaver), there’s women with very little parenting skills (“Nowhere Boy”‘s Anne-Marie Duff, “Fish Tank”‘s Kierston Wareing), there’s women desperate to protect their children (“Mother”‘s Kim Hye-Ja), women desperate to have children (“Mother and Child”‘s Kerry Washington), and women struggling to get over the loss of a child (“Rabbit Hole”‘s Nicole Kidman).

There’s women who parent their fathers (“Somewhere”‘s Elle Fanning), women who parent their siblings as they search for their potentially dead fathers (“Winter’s Bone”‘s Jennifer Lawrence), women that seek to avenge their dead fathers’ murders while meeting some questionable father figures along the way (“True Grit”‘s Hailee Steinfeld), women getting a bit too close with their would-be stepfathers (“Fish Tank”‘s Katie Jarvis), and women who seek out their biological fathers much to the chagrin of their mothers (“The Kids Are All Right”‘s Mia Wasikowska).

There’s women trying to protect their boyfriends from their mothers and brothers (“The Fighter”‘s Amy Adams), women watching their boyfriends viciously fall out of love with them (“Everyone Else”‘s Birgit Minichmayr), married women gaining boyfriends in the yummy best friend of their sons (“I Am Love”‘s Tilda Swinton), women finding out their boyfriends had actually taken them hostage in a bank robbery a few weeks earlier (“The Town”‘s Rebecca Hall), and women dating narcissistic man-children that should probably not be their boyfriends (“Greenberg”‘s Greta Gerwig).

There’s women married to ex-British prime ministers under criminal investigation (“The Ghost Writer”s Olivia Williams), women married to future Italian Fascist leaders (“Vincere”‘s Giovanna Mezzogiorno), women married to kings who struggle with speech impediments (“The King’s Speech”‘s Helena Bonham Carter), women struggling to love their well-intentioned husbands (“Blue Valentine”‘s Michelle Williams), women definitely not struggling to love their well-intentioned husbands (“Another Year”‘s Ruth Sheen), and women struggling to love one another (“The Kids Are All Right”‘s Annette Bening and Julianne Moore).

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There’s women dealing with middle-class guilt (“Please Give”‘s Catherine Keener), women dealing with sexist laws (“Made in Dagenham”‘s Sally Hawkins), women dealing amidst civil war (“White Material”‘s Isabelle Huppert), women dealing with the high school rumor mill (“Easy A”s Emma Stone), women dealing with a 15-year old circus accident that resulted in the death of their lover (“Around a Small Mountain”‘s Jane Birkin), women dealing with being clones raised simply to have their organs harvested (“Never Let Me Go”‘s Carey Mulligan), and women dealing with a world created by Todd Solondz (“Life During Wartime”‘s Charlotte Rampling, Ally Sheedy, Allison Janney, Renee Taylor and Shirley Henderson)

“Dogtooth”‘s Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni.

There’s women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (“Black Swan”‘s Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder, “Another Year”‘s Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton, and many of the aforementioned), women trapped inside their childhood homes with no knowledge of the outside world (“Dogtooth”‘s Aggeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni), women becoming religious zealots amidst remarkably tragic turns of events (“Secret Sunshine”‘s Jeon Do-yeon), and women kicking some serious ass (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”‘s Noomi Rapace and “Kick-Ass”‘s Chloe Moretz).

And that’s really just scratching the surface… So when Natalie Portman is likely the woman who takes the stage at the Kodak Theater come February, Oscar in hand after being proclaimed “the best actress of the year,” hopefully she will recognize the plethora of opportunities for actresses in 2010 that she is representing, including the sixty listed below.

The 60 Women That Defined “The Year of the Actress”:

Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska, The Kids Are All Right

Jane Birkin, Around a Small Mountain

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Alice de Lencquesaing, Father Of My Children

Jeon Do-yeon, Secret Sunshine

Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy

Elle Fanning, Somewhere

Greta Gerwig, Greenberg

Lesley Manville with Ruth Sheen in “Another Year.”

Rebecca Griffiths, Katie Jarvis and Kierston Wareing, Fish Tank

Ann Guilbert, Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet and Sarah Steele, Please Give

Kim Hye-Ja, Mother

Rebecca Hall, Please Give, Red Riding: 1974, and The Town

Sally Hawkins, Rosamund Pike and Miranda Richardson, Made in Dagenham

Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Charlotte Rampling, Ally Sheedy and Renee Taylor, Life During Wartime

Isabelle Huppert, White Material

Zoe Kazan, The Exploding Girl

Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest, Rabbit Hole

Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Natalie Portman and Winona Ryder, Black Swan

Jennifer Lawrence and Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone

Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen and Imelda Staunton, Another Year

Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere

Birgit Minichmayr, Everyone Else

Chloe Moretz, Let Me In and Kick-Ass

Carey Mulligan, Never Let Me Go

Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni and Michele Valley, Dogtooth

Lucy Punch, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Noomi Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Paprika Steen, Applause

Tilda Swinton in “I Am Love”

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Emma Stone, Easy A

Tilda Swinton, I Am Love

Sylvie Testud, Lourdes

Kerry Washington, Mother and Child and Night Catches Us

Naomi Watts, Mother and Child and Fair Game

Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer

Peter Knegt is indieWIRE’s Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter and on his blog. Check out his weekly Oscar prediction chart here.

Previous editions of this column:
For Your Consideration: A Mid-December Stab at Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: A Guide To The Oscar Precursors
For Your Consideration: The 10 Biggest Surprises of the Spirit Award Nominations
For Your Consideration: The 10 Worst Original Song Oscar Snubs of the Past 10 Years
For Your Consideration: A Mid-November Stab at Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Gauging a Crowded and Female-Friendly Spirit Award Field
For Your Consideration: Could a Documentary Be Nominated For Best Picture?
For Your Consideration: Assessing Those Gotham Award Nominations
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actors
For Your Consideration: 10 Underdog Actresses
For Your Consideration: Save For “Love” Snub, Foreign Language Submissions Uncontroversial
For Your Consideration: Post-Toronto Oscar Predictions
For Your Consideration: Updating Oscar Contenders In The Eye of The Storm
For Your Consideration: 10 Things The Fall Fests Should Say About Awards Season
For Your Consideration: Assessing Oscar In The Calm Before The Storm

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Patricia Clarkson definitely deserves to be on this list; she was wonderful in Cairo Time. So does Marion Cottilard.


I think Naomi Watts has pretty good chances of winning at the Oscars for Fair Game.


I think Naomi Watts has a pretty good chance at winning the Oscars for Fair Game.


Definitely can’t forget Patricia Clarkson in “Cairo Time.” First role as a leading lady and she earned it!


i cant believe kirsten dunst hasnt been included in any awards talk let alone the top 60. she was devastatingly good in all good things and marks a serious return to form for the former child prodigy


Sorry, Lisa … but he wrote an article about women. You are the one making it inclusive — that was not the author’s intent in the least.

This is the definition of “reverse” … you are the one going backwards.

I have thought of this little fact you are throwing out now when awards and critic’s lists have began showing up. I realized a lot of the top picks have been awfully white this year; but then realized it isn’t the fault of the nominating bodies … it is the lack of decent roles written and casting. Don’t criticize a critic for someone else’s mistake and/or shortcomings.


It is still pitiful that out of those 60 roles, you mention THREE only for women of color. It is still despicable, regardless of racism, that’s not the point of my comment, it’s that yet, again, there’s is a disparity and no one addresses it. That’s why I don’t want to see any films, or television shows any more, because it doesn’t speak to me, as a woman of color. Also, when roles for Latinas are created, substantial ones, they usually go to white actresses because producers always mention that they can’t find Latinas who can act. If you’re based in LA, look around you, it’s 60% latino here. Perfect example, the film, FROM PRADA TO NADA, white girls taking the roles for latinas. Let’s not forget ZORRO when they cast Zeta-Jones as Mexican. I shall comment no more, at least, you tried to write an article regarding women in cinema even if it’s mostly white women you mentioned.

Peter Knegt

@Lisa… There’s actually two Asian women and one African-American. I tried to not consciously consider whether to include different races when I was making the list and just focus on performances that really stood out the most to me. I think the low number of non-white performances on the list speaks to the lack of good roles that are out there for non-white actresses and not to any racism on the part of the article.


Seconding the mention of Rachel Weisz in Agora – she was radiant and showed incredible versatility.

Though not exactly “indie” I’d like to commend Emma Watson on her transformative development as an actress (finally leaving off the eyebrow/out-of-breathness acting).

Ellen Page held her own alongside Marion Cotillard and the many also excellent actors in Inception

Cate Blanchett was as always fine as Marion in Robin Hood.


Crocodile tears over the continued 11th snub of the true talented Ms. Watts by the small group of bottom-feeders the so-called HFPA and you queen-making buzzers the so-called film critics. OMG you don’t even remember to include those last-minute slot-fillers like Halle Berry and Hilary Swank on the lists.


Crocodile tears over the continued 11th snub of the talented Ms. Watts by the little group of bottom-feeders the so-called HFPA and you queen-making buzzers the so-called film critics. OMG, you don’t even remember to include those last-minute slot-fillers like Halle Berry and Hilary Swank on your lists.


Naomi Watts (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger)


Your list is commendable, however, as usual, you site only one Asian actress and not one other woman of color, be it African American, Latina, and it is disheartening to all types of women, it really is a sad state in cinema when you only chose white women to represent.


Marion Cotillard was fine-fine (yet again) in Inception.

Patricia Clarkson radiated in Cairo Time.

You have mentioned Michelle Williams but didn’t include her early performance in Shutter Island.

Funny … all of these wonderful performances and not-a-single-mention of either Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett or Kate Winslet :) They were missed this year.

And why not mention Joan Rivers? She had a revealing documentary/performance piece this year that was entertaining and rewarding.

Steve Warren

Annette Bening, Mother and Child
Gemma Jones, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Kimberly Elise, several others, For Colored Girls


I think you could have included Keira Knightley in the Never Let Me Go recognition. Mulligan may have been better but Knightley’s performance was as good as others on this list.

Also — I don’t even know their names, but the gaggle of sisters in The Fighter deserve some kind of shout-out for pulling off their roles. That collective whole was something else.

Aria Chiodo

And Lena Dunham for Tiny Furniture?? She not only wrote and directed an excellent film, she also gave an amazingly honest performance.
Also, Rachel Weisz in Agora has been painfully overlooked this year.


Great list, and thanks for calling out this amazing breadth of work. I do take issue, though, with your phrase “the incredible wealth of roles that have been bestowed upon actresses.” First, these roles had to be earned, not bestowed, and even if the roles were rich, meaty, whatever, it still took actresses of tremendous skill to pull them off. No bestowing, no gifting, just the results of hard work and talent.

emily Moulder

yay for Sylvie Testud, Lourdes was fantastic as was Easy A – where was her golden globe nod?!?!


I agree with the first comment concerning Keira Knightley. She did a terrific job in Never Let Me Go.


Another woman I’d like to see mentioned for 2010 is UK’s Jane Goldman, who wrote the screenplays for “Kick-Ass” and “The Debt.”


Is it my imagination, or where movie titles this year a lot more generic than usual?


‘It’s unfortunate that despite this, the year’s Oscar race seems heading for a mano-a-mano type showdown between two films that at their core are about the inter-personal relationships between men: “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech.” ‘

What sort of a preposterous statement is that? What is so unfortunate about those films being in the Oscar race? They are well made films. If you have a valid criticism against those films, then present those..hopefully they will be better than ‘they deal with interpersonal relationships between men’.
If there are not enough films dealing with inter personal relationships between females, then the solution is not to snub well made films that deal with inter personal relationships between males. Do not replace one sort of inequality with another.

Learn to see cinema as cinema before you start writing about it.

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