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The Best Female Movie Performances of 2017

It's been a terrific year for risky performances by women at the movies. Here are our favorites.


It’s been a difficult year for conversations about women in the film industry, with revelations about sexual assault changing conversations about the nature of the entertainment world that should’ve been resolved long ago. Fortunately, no matter the challenges facing the business of making movies, women get the last laugh in front of the camera. This has been a rousing year for female leads, and not only because we’re finally seeing a plethora of strong women characters dominating some of the best movies of the year. Setting aside that obvious need, some of the best performances of the year were simply memorable characters that looked and sounded like nothing we’ve seen before. Here are some of the biggest highlights.

16. Melanie Lynskey, “i don’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

“I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”

A strong blend of dark comedy and crime thriller, Macon Blair’s directorial debut lives and dies by the strengths of its singular leads; fortunately, both Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood were both delightfully up to the task, cast as a pair of wily weirdos who embark on perhaps the year’s most unappreciated love story. Centered primarily on Lynskey’s character Ruth — a nursing assistant already teetering on the edge, and that’s before she gets robbed and vows to take revenge on her assailants — the film follows the pair as they plunge into a bizarre underworld that has no room for hapless tourists such as themselves. Lynskey is always charming, but she bolsters that with a seriously a dark edge in a movie that demands pure originality. She’s one of a kind. -KE

15. Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman”

“Wonder Woman”

Clay Enos

Now this is the hero we deserve. Gal Gadot handily tackles all sides of DC’s most beloved superheroine, turning in a Diana Prince/Wonder Woman that is startlingly pure of heart and clear-eyed in her vision, one hell of a counterpoint in a franchise so often given over to so-called “dark and gritty” sensibilities. Marrying her own kind of sort-of throwback to the circa-1978 “Superman” — another heart-of-gold hero — with modern grit, Gadot transformed a classic character into something entirely new and fresh. She’s the kind of hero you’d follow into battle, the sort of person entire film series should be built around honoring, and perhaps the sole reason to keep watching the DCEU as it attempts to keep up with the best example of true heroics it’s managed to turn out. -KE

14. Haley Lu Richardson, “Columbus”

Haley Lu Richardson and Rory Culkin in Columbus


Elisha Christian/Superlative Films

An architecture freak who is struggling to make her own way (and get out from under her loving, but troubled mother), Richardson’s Casey spends her days working at the local library, admiring the architecture of her adopted hometown, and steadfastly pushing down thoughts that there must be something more out there. If anything, she’s convinced herself that she’s fine where she is, but her curiosity and intelligence hint at bigger dreams for the recent high school grad. “I like Columbus,” Casey tells a nosy friend, who seems shocked that anyone would. You almost believe her. Relative newcomer Richardson, who was so appealing in “The Edge of Seventeen” in what could have been a throwaway role (and one outshone by star Hailee Steinfeld), is simply stunning here, infusing Casey with more empathy in one look, one word, than most actors find during an entire runtime. -KE

13. Diane Kruger, “In the Fade”

“In the Fade”

Diane Kruger’s first truly memorable movie role may have been the actress-turned-spy in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds,” but “In the Fade” clarifies her talent better than anything preceding it. As a grieving woman whose husband and young child are killed in a terrorist attack, she oscillates between exuding unspeakable terror and simmering with rage, while her actions remain entirely unpredictable. Fatih Akin’s involving character study veers from grim tragedy to courtroom drama to a final, suspenseful third act in which the furious woman decides to exact revenge on the source of her trauma. At every step of the way, she’s a fascinating study in nuanced emotional displays, whether erupting with pain or struggling to keep those same feelings contained. It makes you wonder why it took so long for Kruger to land such a significant lead role, and hope that she keeps it up. —EK

12. Ahn Seo-hyun, “Okja”

Netflix "Okja" Darius Khondji Arri


You could argue that no performance in Bong Joon Ho’s satiric near-future adventure tale is more central to its appeal than the titular CGI mutant pig constantly evading authorities over the course of the movie. But the plight of Okja would mean nothing without the aid she gets from the young girl who considers the animal a close friend. As Mija, newcomer Ahn provides the human foundation for this outrageous story, since her bond with Okja speaks to the interspecies connection that makes this story’s pro-vegan message sink in. Ahn displays genuine pathos when caring for her giant swine, skips through a series of innovative action sequences with ease, and finally communes with her creature’s plight by bearing witness to the terrifying realities of a slaughterhouse. She ensures that this cartoonish movie always has one foot in the real world. —EK

11. Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

“I, Tonya”


Making the most of her first leading role since “Z for Zachariah,” Margot Robbie does a brilliant job of skating along the thin line that runs between glory and the gutter. Sympathetic but not too sympathetic — able to glide from victim to villain and back again in the span of one fluid stride — Robbie’s irresistibly self-possessed portrayal of Tonya Harding allows “I, Tonya” to maintain its tenuous hold over the queasy tragicomedy of its approach. Robbie’s self-aware performance restores a certain measure of humanity to one of the most despised figures of the ’90s, the actress so believable as both a gifted superstar and a low-rent Coen brothers character that you can’t help but appreciate that, underneath all the blue nail polish and the heavy metal and the scandal, there was a lot more to her story than you could see on TV. — DE

10. Stephanie Beatriz, “The Light of the Moon”

“The Light of the Moon”

As human in Jessica M. Thompson’s “The Light of the Moon” as she is a puffed up caricature on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Stephanie Beatriz stars as Bonnie, a Williamsburg architect who’s raped by a stranger after a night out with friends. This is an unflinching study of trauma that’s as nuanced and mottled as scar tissue, but Beatriz does a remarkable job of sustaining a character who’s trying to shrug off a pain that lives under her skin, someone who’s acutely susceptible to her own strength. She doesn’t play this like she’s in a movie about rape, but rather like she’s in a movie about a person forced to reconcile her hurt with her sense of self. Understated to a point and unnervingly believable at all times, Beatriz makes it feel as though Bonnie is always searching for answers, desperate to heal a wound that she knows will outlast the duration of any story about it. — DE

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