29 December 2012

Best Female Performances 2012

Here are the 10 selections (plus another 10 honourable mentions) that make up what I thought were the very best female performances of 2012.

Marion Cotillard  
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...

Charlize Theron  
Young Adult

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.

Nadezhda Markina  

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.

Greta Gerwig  
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.

Emmanuelle Riva  

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.

Elizabeth Olsen  
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.

Kate Winslet  

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.

Yeo-jeong Yoon  
The Housemaid

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.

Aggeliki Papoulia  

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.


  1. #21. Felicity Jones in Like Crazy?

  2. I'm afraid I wasn't much of a fan of her performance in that film. #21 was probably Sarah Paulson in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

  3. I love your write-ups on all, but I'm particularly with what you have to say about Kate and Greta. I'm especially glad to see Kate both because I think her comedic ability is often underrated, and because her work in CARNAGE too was generally forgotten or not mentioned by most. Strident, abrasive, unsettling but ultimately rewarding comedic word (brittle as the character was).

  4. Excellent list. I am with you 100% regarding Marion Cotillard.

  5. Thanks, Quinn. Cotillard was near matchless, I reckon.