What a year for leading actress performances. The first longlist for my Best Actress picks yielded over thirty serious candidates and it was like pulling teeth to narrow down to a final five. Fan favorites and personal darlings had to be dropped with thoughtless abandon, so forgive the many exclusions. The lineup I’ve chosen was ultimately the ones that lingered hardest in my brain and wouldn’t leave my mind.
Cate Blanchett – Carol
- She’s physically indicative of Carol’s mental state and intentions, but never delivers a mannered or cheaply telling moment. Her every longing and regret is so present in her physicality that she creates an aura of unspoken emotion around herself. Once she finally speaks her mind, Blanchett becomes the source of the film’s catharsis and appropriately unfetters Mara’s Therese (and the audience) anew.
Emily Blunt – Sicario
- Blunt plays Kate as a knotted muscle of blind morals and ambition, becoming the surrogate for the audience’s increasingly unbearable tension. The film wouldn’t click without the humanity she brings to the role and her economy in suggesting Kate’s unspoken depression. The threat of violence and potential for irreparable sacrifice is plain on her face from the word go.
Brie Larson – Room
- Filled with specificity of Ma’s pain, but open enough to acknowledge that there are things about her experience that will remain unknowable to her loved ones and the audience. She makes Ma more than a savior, but a complex woman frozen by trauma into the immature mind of a teenager. Like the film itself, Larson modulates her anguish for the sake of Jack and the audience while remaining fiercely honest.
Rooney Mara – Carol
- Her Therese is changed by love both in the moment and over the course of the film in clear ways, but Mara never cheapens them with obviousness. She may be flung out of space, but she’s also unexpectedly plain spoken, allowing Mara’s natural screen presence to take hold. From her sense of longing, to her anger, to her cold heartache, she is always the perfect compliment to Blanchett’s Carol.
Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years
- A performance that’s at its most transformative in the silences, with whole revolutions happening on Rampling’s face as her understanding of her marriage crumbles. Her consciously dissipating connection to Courtenay as she becomes more interior predicts the conclusion’s sharp turn without diminishing its impact. To put it cheaply, it’s as if she’s living on the screen rather than acting in it.
The Winner is after the jump!