Lead Actress

We’ve had some amazing supporting performances from some incredibly talented men and women. Now we move into the lead performance categories and let me say there were a lot to choose from. As I mulled over my options for the top lead actress performances, I had forgotten how many strong female lead performances there were in 2012. So many of them stood out and stuck with me. That’s one reason it was so difficult to leave some off this list. But that’s the nature of Top 5 lists, right? Ok, enough babbling. Here are the Top 5 Lead Actress Performances (according to me)…

5 – EMILY BLUNT (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)


I’m on record as being a big, big Emily Blunt fan. Well, this is one example why. Once you get past its goofy title “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” has a lot to offer. One of the highlights is Blunt’s delightful performance. She plays opposite Ewen McGregor and the two have a very different but enjoyable chemistry. Blunt is charming and witty and she brings her signature playfulness to this character that I love. But Blunt does a lot more than just smile and giggle. She has some really heartfelt scenes that I think give the movie its punch. The Golden Globes surprised people by giving her a nomination for her work. For me it was a very pleasant surprise.

#4 – RACHEL WEISZ – (“The Deep Blue Sea”)


Rachel Weisz has come a long way since I first saw her in “The Mummy”. Since then she has stretched out her talent to reveal some serious acting chops. She showed it again in this year’s underappreciated “The Deep Blue Sea“. In this layered British drama from Terence Davies, she plays a character trapped by her own poor decision. Her desire for passion muddies her vision of true love and Weisz takes us through all the conflicting emotions and subsequent heartbreak that this fragile woman endures. It’s a powerful and complex role that only works because of Weisz’s brilliance.

#3 – NAOMI WATTS – (“The Impossible”)


Naomi Watts is another one of those actresses that gets a lot of praise but yet I was never fully convinced of her work. That has changed and I now see she is a tremendous actress. You can see that clearly by her strong work in “The Impossible“. This is one of the most believable and captivating performances of 2012. Her ability to convey a mother’s love for her family is amazing but watching her sell both the physical and emotional pain her character is enduring is acting at its finest. Talk about giving everything to a performance! Watts nails it.

#2 – JESSICA CHASTAIN – (“Zero Dark Thirty”)


2011 was a fantastic year for Jessica Chastain. She was featured in two of my favorite movies of the year, “The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter”. But 2012 saw her soar even higher with an incredible lead performance in “Zero Dark Thirty“. She plays a tough and determined CIA operative heading the search for Osama bin Laden. Watching Chastain take her character through the highs and lows of the search is a delight. She gives us a character who is hard-nosed and aggressive yet we also see her emotionally laboring under the burden of her mission. Chastain channels all of this brilliantly while establishing herself as a bonafide superstar.

#1 – QUVENZHANE WALLIS – (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”)


I just smile when I think of Quvenzhane Wallis and her performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild“. This amazing newcomer was only 5 years old when she auditioned for the part and 6 years old during filming. That alone is stunning especially after seeing the beautiful work she did. This is a sweet but heartbreaking role and it’s impossible to not be deeply moved by what you see. Wallis navigates through this weighty material with a grounded authenticity and a skill that makes you think she’s a professional. Hats off to the Academy for giving this young star the recognition she deserves.

So where did I get it right and where was I wrong. Share your thoughts as well as your favorite lead actress performances. Tomorrow I wrap it up with the Top 5 Lead Actor Performances of 2012.

REVIEW: “La Vie en rose”


Edith Piaf was a brilliant young singer who had a life filled with joy and tragedy. She was born in the Belleville district in Paris, France and survived a difficult childhood to become one of France’s most beloved singers and a national icon. But her life was a constant struggle even in light of her huge success. “La Vie en rose” is a French biopic about the life of Edith Piaf from director and co-writer Olivier Dahan. Marion Cotillard stars as Piaf and delivers a brilliant performance that earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. This was also significant in that it was the first time an Oscar was given for a French language performance.

The story of “La Vie en rose” is told in a very unconventional way. There’s no straightforward chronological narrative. The movie jumps back and forth between different periods of Piaf’s life. Sometimes this storytelling method works while other times it seems to shift between time with no cause or reason. There’s one particular tragic event that happens early in Piaf’s life but we never know anything about it until close to the end of the film. There’s no real structural reason that would cause it to be incorporated into the story at that time but nonetheless it is. I’m assuming the non-linear approach was an attempt to make it feel more unique and different from other biopics. This isn’t a bad approach but I still would have preferred a more straightaway mode of storytelling.


While the movie does frantically hop around, it does keep most of her childhood together at the start of the film. It’s very effective in conveying the reasons for her lifetime of trouble. The film shows how she was abandoned by her parents. We see how she is raised for several years in a Normandy brothel. We also see her spending time confined to a struggling traveling circus with her father. As a teenager she’s forced to sing on the streets to survive until she is discovered by the owner of a small nightclub. All of these things lay the groundwork for what was a complicated and often times hard life and her personal hardships often times overshadowed her incredible talent.


One of the main reasons to see “La Vie en rose” is for Marion Cotillard’s wonderful and mesmerizing performance. Cotillard spent a lot of time listening to, watching, and studying interviews by Edith Piaf and it really pays off. She completely loses herself in the role and at times she’s almost unrecognizable. The story required Cotillard to play Piaf at different ages and in different stages of health. I was amazed watching her capture the energy and exuberance of a young 18-year old girl as well as the frailty and emptiness of a 47-year old on her death bed who looks twenty years older than she really is. Cotillard’s Oscar win is completely justified and she takes this role of a lifetime and makes it unforgettable.

The life of Edith Piaf was filled personal highs and devastating lows. “La Vie en rose” shows it to us through it’s truly enthralling and heart-breaking presentation. It captures the special spirit of this larger-than-life personality which makes watching her troubled life unfold all the more painful. It does require an unnecessarily high level of concentration due to the fractured narrative which really adds nothing to the film. And while it still uses some of the same conventions that we’ve seen in other biopics, its still a powerful story. This isn’t a flawless film but I found myself totally involved right from the very start.


Top 5 Lead Actress Performances of 2011


I hate to repeat myself but this was a good year for women in Hollywood. It was tough narrowing down my favorite lead actress performances to just 5. But after painfully omitting some genuinely great performances, I’ve come up with a list that I think shows the talent and range found from women leads in 2011. Here’s my top 5 lead actress performances of the year:

#5 – Michelle Williams (Meek’s Cutoff)




While the movie’s out-of-the-blue ambiguous ending didn’t work for me, Michelle Williams’ performance certainly did. Williams’ acting range can’t be questioned and she is fantastic in this rugged Oregon Trail trail. It’s a very measured performance in a film that counts on deliberateness. While she’s received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was drawn more to this unique and challenging performance.

#4 – Viola Davis (The Help)



The performances in “The Help” more than make up for the occasional stumbles found in the writing. Viola Davis gives a stirring performance that often times rises above the material and there are several instances where she carries the movie. That’s a mark of a great actress. She always feels genuine and is able to relay the raw emotion that many of her scenes call for.

#3 – Saoirse Ronan (Hanna)



I really like Saoirse Ronan and her work in “Hanna” is just another reason why. It’s a tricky role in that it requires a child-like charm and an action movie-styled physicality. She keeps a steady balance to her character and had me sold hook, line, and sinker. Ronan shined in “The Lovely Bones” and I loved her in “The Way Back”, but this is her best performance yet and just a taste of what lies ahead for this immensely talented young actress.

#2 – Vera Farmiga (Higher Ground)



Vera Farmiga’s “Higher Ground” is a movie many people may have not seen, but it features one of the best performances of Farmiga’s career. She also directs the film but it’s her lead performance that carries the story. She treats her material with care and compassion and I never found her anything but compelling. She was completely overlooked by Oscar which comes as no surprise.

#1 – Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)



From the start of “Certified Copy” I found myself absorbed in Juliette Binoche’s Elle. Who is she? I spent most of the movie mesmerized by her conversations and trying to figure out if she was real or simply a copy. I know that sounds vague but once you see the film you’ll know what I mean. Binoche is marvelous and her work stood out from the other great female lead performances I saw last year.

Agree or disagree? Please share you thoughts. Comment on who your Top 5 were.