Here are the 10 selections (plus another 10 honourable mentions) that make up what I thought were the very best female performances of 2012.
Rust and Bone
For: damn well breaking my heart in a multitude of new places, and in innumerable ways. Everything about Stéphanie – every glance, smile and, particularly, arm movement (man, that balcony scene...) – was conveyed with effortless emotion and exemplary skill. Cotillard was spellbinding here. A rich, rewarding performance that will stay with me for a very long time.
Cécile De France
The Kid with a Bike
For: the simple, subtle ways in which she made unshowy, deeply felt warmth and decency a grounded and inherent virtue. De France's hairdresser Samantha was one of the best, fascinating and most giving characters of the year. In terms of sheer, fuss-free human commitment, she shone bright in a singular fashion. And the way her face beamed...
For: daring to play such a complicated and hard to like bitch of, equally, confounding and compelling proportions. Mavis was a fascinating creature who earned genuine sympathy. This is a true one-off performance: she's someone who we rarely get to see on screen. A clever, precise piece of acting. Theron’s best performance to date.
For: keeping a cast-iron poker face throughout the pain-ridden, desperate entirety of Zvyagintsev’s masterful film. And for carefully letting us in on the intimate workings of Elena's actions and troubled psyche. Markina displayed such exquisite poise and pensiveness as to be almost like a statue made flesh. She's a housewife in a Hitchcockian quandry.
Damsels in Distress
For: her “tailspin”, her Sambola, her dishing out of doughnuts, her politely flippant turn of phrase in every scene, her suicide prevention techniques, her good-natured side that masks a humorous spikiness, her adroit way with making Whit Stillman’s words sing, and zing. This is Gerwig's best role so far.
For: making stillness feel integral in a fragile display of suffering that never once resorts to a needless simplicity. Riva is a one-woman futile barrier against inevitable defeat. Her performance was quietly, integrally heartbreaking – even terrifying in a vast and utterly human way. It's her face, lost in her husband's hands, that I remember most about Amour.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
For: arriving out of nowhere, pretty much, and creating a deft balance of mystery and mania with both grand and minute subtle shifts in personality. Martha, Marcy May, Marlene? Whoever this girl is – and we’re better off being left in the psychological fog – Olsen made sure she was evasive and confounding enough to vividly hold our attention.
For: her spot-on manic fluster in playing a woman so backed-up with forced social niceties that her outburts teeter on the cusp of absurdity. Winslet flirts with farce, but never lets the icy precision of this embittered, well-heeled class obsessive free of her grasp. She's spiky, vomitous, brilliant. The flower throwing was a great bonus.
For: being the slyly magnetic force – in a film full of untrustworthy and alluring figures – that makes The Housemaid tick. Yoon shows older housemaid Byung-sik’s years of experience and inner workings without so much as a flicker of hesitation. She's the key figure here, and the film's secret weapon.
For: the way she kept back everything intrinsic about the performance, but let tiny slivers of disturbing unbalance creep incrementally through until... the Alps "act" broke spectacularly down. A feat of withholding that results in a fractured whirl of pitiful sadness.
11-20, or Honourable Mentions:
Noomi Rapace Prometheus
/ Gina Gershon Killer Joe
/ Deannie Ip A Simple Life
/ Julie Sokolowski Hadewijch
/ Nina Hoss Barbara
/ Ari Graynor For a Good Time, Call...
/ Hannah Herzsprung Hell
/ Anna Margaret Hollyman Small, Beautifully Moving Parts
/ Nicole Beharie Shame
/ Jemima Kirke Tiny Furniture
Next: male performances and best films of the year.