Each year I set aside time to examine and spotlight what I think are the best performances of the past movie year. In keeping with the upcoming Oscars I have adopted their format and for the next several days I’ll be highlighting the very best performances for each of the four acting categories. Much like in the supporting category, women had a ton of fabulous performances to consider which made this tough to narrow down. Nonetheless these are my five favorites.
#5 – Sarah Paulson (“Blue Jay”)
In “Blue Jay” (the first of Netflix’s multi-picture deal with Mark Duplass) two high school sweethearts bump into each after years apart. Duplass and Sarah Paulson start by reminiscing over the past but soon open up painful old wounds. Paulson is a true highlight. Much of her performance features a considerable amount of improvisation but you never notice. She’s completely in tune with the material. A truly wonderful performance.
#4 – Amy Adams (“Arrival”)
It saddens me to see “Arrival” getting such little attention from the awards crowd, but one thing they have all recognized was the fine work from Amy Adams. In Denis Villeneuve’s cerebral science fiction thriller Adams takes the role of a linguist but (as the director himself said) first she is a mother. That adds an entirely different layer to the role which Adams handles with an understated beauty.
#3 – Rebecca Hall (“Christine”)
“Christine” tells the sad, tragic story of the final days in the life of news reporter Christine Chubbock. Rebecca Hall’s portrayal of Chubbock is unquestionably one of the year’s most unforgettable performances. Hall’s handling of depression, loneliness, and self-doubt is brilliantly agonizing. Hall gives every ounce of herself, physically and mentally transforming into a deeply troubled real-life character. It’s incredible work.
#2 – Emma Stone (“La La Land”)
I can finally say I am sold on Emma Stone. What a performance in this Damien Chazelle modern day musical. Channeling beats from the MGM musical heyday but with a real-world messiness, Stone acts, dances and sings her way through this uplifting yet bittersweet story. This had to be impossible to visualize, but Stone hits it with a full commitment to every task she is given. The results are magical.
#1 – Kate Beckinsale (“Love & Friendship”)
How, oh how, has Kate Beckinsale not been given the awards attention she so richly deserves for her superb performance in Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship”. It is such a tricky role. Beckinsale nails this wacky mixture of beautiful eloquence and casual toxicity. She’s both charming and appalling. I love the other performances I’ve mentioned, but there was nothing quite like Beckinsale.
Those are my picks for the five best lead actress performances. See something you agree or disagree with? Please let me know in the comments section below.