Last year I could barely come up with five top picks in the Best Actress category. It wasn't because there weren't any good actresses around, it was because there were very, very few films with women in starring roles. This year's wasn't quite as difficult to put together as there seemed to be more films with women in meaty leading roles.
Here's the deal: The studio is prompting voters to put Kate Winslet in the Best Supporting Actress category for The Reader, but I'm not buying it. Winslet's the lead in The Reader and just because there's a possibility she'll be nominated as the lead in Revolutionary Road doesn't mean pushing her starring turn in The Reader into the supporting category is the right way to go. Winslet's performance in Revolutionary Road is the best thing about that film, but it doesn't hold a candle to what she delivers in The Reader.
Based on the number of tickets sold, it appears most people will be associating Anne Hathaway's success in 2008 with the comedy movie Get Smart. But there was another film starring Hathaway that hit theaters this year that earned the actress rave reviews and the attention of critics groups. In Rachel Getting Married, Hathaway portrays an addict trying to set her life straight while attempting to come to terms with a horrible event. Glammed down and looking like something the cat dragged in, Hathaway shows a lot of depth and maturity as an actress. She makes this very difficult character to like into someone who doesn't completely alienate the audience.
Cate Blanchett goes from a gangly teen to an elderly woman on her death bed in my second favorite movie of the year, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Blanchett can always be counted on to deliver a show-stopping performance and that's exactly what she does in Benjamin Button. Opposite a backwards-aging Brad Pitt, Blanchett progresses through the decades of her character's life in a totally believable manner. It's a beautiful performance.
Sally Hawkins makes playing an eternal optimist look easy in Happy Go Lucky, a sassy little comedy from filmmaker Mike Leigh. Hawkins is bubbly and goofy and constantly 'on', and surprisingly it's not in the least bit obnoxious. Hawkins should move onto every casting director's radar with this breakthrough performance.
Changeling is Angelina Jolie's second film in a row in which she plays a woman desperately searching for a missing relative. In 2007 Jolie took on the lead role in A Mighty Heart based on the true story of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. Changeling, also based on real events, finds Jolie starring as a single mother whose young son goes missing one day while she's at work. In both movies Jolie delivers performances that'll break your heart.
Meryl Streep's had a heck of a 2008. Who would have thought one of the most successful movies of the year would be one featuring the two-time Oscar winner singing and dancing and flirting with a threesome of good-looking men? Mamma Mia! surprised just about everyone (except Streep) but even though audiences loved it, it won't be earning Streep another Oscar nod. The film that more than likely will put her back in the running for the 15th time is about as anti-Mamma Mia! as you can get. This Oscar nomination business has become a real habit for Streep... Get it? Habit? She plays a nun in Doubt. Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Kate Beckinsale's another actress who packed a one-two punch in 2008, and it was actually difficult to choose which of her two roles stood out from the pack of contenders. So, because she was terrific in both films, I opted to include her on my Top 10 Actresses of 2008 list for Snow Angels and Nothing But the Truth. Both roles required her to dig deep and Beckinsale showed that although fanboys may still prefer her in tight leather and big-budget action movies, she's equally at home in independent dramas.
Elizabeth Banks as a porn version of Princess Leia... With Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Banks confirmed her place on the short list of talented actress who can be counted on to make audiences laugh. Banks had a busy 2008 with a starring role in Zack and Miri and supporting roles in W, Role Models, and Definitely, Maybe (can we agree to forget she was also in Meet Dave?). And despite the fact it seemed as though there was a movie coming out every week with her in it, Banks never wore out her welcome.
Frances McDormand reunited with the Coen Brothers for Burn After Reading and the result was another terrific performance from McDormand (aka Mrs Joel Coen). While not as wildly embraced as Fargo, McDormand was cited by the majority of critics as the real standout in a film loaded with A-list actors.
10. Michelle Williams - 'Wendy and Lucy'
Wendy and Lucy earned a Best Feature Film nomination from the indie version of the Academy Awards - Film Independent's Spirit Awards - and Williams picked up a nomination for her leading role in the film. While the movie itself isn't one of my favorite films of the year, Williams' performance is one of my favs. As Wendy, Williams is heartbreakingly fragile and so vulnerable you just want to hug her. Playing a homeless woman traveling the country in a beat-up car with her best friend Lucy (a dog) as company, Williams gives another great performance. She seems to thrive in the world of independent films and this is one of her best roles to date.