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.
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)
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
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
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
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