presented by j:
Like I did with the men, I’ll be doing the same for the ladies. I think it was actually more difficult to pick only five for the ladies than it was for the men, but here are my top 5 Best Actress-winning performances:
5. Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins
Many people forget that the legendary Julie Andrews won her Oscar for Mary, not for the later Sound of Music. After. Ring passed over for the part of Eliza in Tyne film adaptation of My Fair Lady – a role she originated in West End – Andrews took up an offer from Walt Disney to help them adapt another popular work for the silver screen, magical but firm English nanny, Mary Poppins.
It’s easy to overlook how great her performance is since it’s a “kid’s movie,” but I’d give her the trophy for this movie any day of the week over most others.
Mary could have easily been a one-dimensional character, but Andrews elevates the film to art through her performance. Think about what she had to endure: constructive costumes, dancing, singing, and convincingly communicating with animated penguins long before the days of CGI or performance capture. It’s even worth debating if the film owes its Best Picture nomination to her performance. It might. Emily Blunt has a huge umbrella to fill with the upcoming sequel.
4. Charlize Theron in Monster
Monster is a great film in its own right, but let’s face it, the movie exists to showcase Theron’s incredible performance.
She literally disappears into the role of prostitute-turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos in this truth-is-crazier-than-fiction biopic, and not just because of her makeup. Her voice, mannerisms, strut, everything. She plays this “monster” with incredible energy and compassion.
It’s not the easiest movie to watch, but so hard to tear your eyes away from thanks to her powerhouse performance.
3. Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind
Like Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird, some people were just born to play a specific part. That’s Vivien Leigh in the Southern romance epic Gone With the Wind.
There’s a lot of interesting psychology happening in the pages of the novel, and Leigh is able to portray those nuances through every smirk, eye flutter, and upraised eyebrow. Simply put, she is Scarlett O’Hara. She’s a complicated lady: you love to hate her one moment and then hate that you love her the next.
Some say that any actress who won the role was destined to win the Oscar, but I disagree. Scarlett could have been portrayed very poorly or as one-sided. Leigh turns pages of description and drama into flesh and blood.
2. Frances McDormand in Fargo
Here is a performance that doesn’t have to rely on effects, costumes, or literary prowess to be great. And what other movie exists where the female protagonist doesn’t show up for the first half hour and then steals the show from there on out? (Maybe J-Law in Silver Linings Playbook, but it’s a rare feat.)
McDormand’s unassuming, delightfully friendly, sharp, and ripely pregnant police chief is the type of character that sounds completely impossible to make convincing. And with another actress, the Coen brothers’ writing could have sounded klunky and awkward.
Marge Gunderson remains one of my favorite film characters of all time, thanks to her magnetic performance.
1. Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Currently the favorite to win another Oscar for Best Actress, I have to wonder how Portman’s performance in Jackie stacks up against her role as the tortured ballerina Nina in psycho-drama since I haven’t seen it yet.
The psychological and emotional layers that Portman peels through in Black Swan is a Method actor’s dream. Or nightmare. Or both. The film is brilliant in its own right, and not exactly an easy one to watch, but its Portman’s show from start to devastating finish.
I’ve only seen the film once but her performance is forever seared into my mind. Which is a good thing.
Some may be disappointed by the lack of Meryl Streep or Jodie Foster or any other great actress from this list. But it’s completely subjective. If I had space for a sixth, it would probably be a tie between Brie Larson in Room and Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice.