Oh, the age old field of Actressing. In my dream world, that will become the preferred term for outstanding performance by an actress/female actor. But I digress. Undestand that I have not seen all of the tremendously buzzy films of the year. I haven't even seen all the films I actually had interest in. As such, please excuse the absence of Helen Mirren in The Last Station, Carey Mulligan in An Education, Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia, and Julianne Moore in A Single Man. Also be advised that I did not particularly care for Up in the Air and will most likely ignore it in my awards. My awards, my rules. Let's get on with it.
2009 was a great year for Oustanding Achievements in Actressing. It was so great, I have to include honorable mentions for wonderful tiny performances that otherwise go overlooked outside of ensemble awards.
Our first honorable mention goes to Adrianna Barazza for her scene-stealing, well, scene in Drag Me To Hell. Adrianna Barazza plays a medium brought in to try and exorcise the demon Lamia from poor Alison Lohman's soul. It's the type of performance I could spend days writing about if it were only a few minutes longer.
Our second honorable mention goes to Catherine Keener for her heartfelt work in poor, misunderstood Where the Wild Things Are. If the film had taken off with buzz for the awards season, I have no doubt that Catherine Keener would have received a few nominations for this film. After all, she was nominated for playing mild-mannered Harper Lee in Capote. She's perfectly sympathetic as brat Max Records' overworked mother and even gets to shed tears under reasonable circumstances. She does a great job grounding a fantasy film in some semblance of realism.
Our final honorable mention goes to the sadly too short performance by Nicole Kidman in Nine. Kidman plays Daniel Day Lewis' acting muse that always inspires him to write his movies. She is being difficult in responding to his messages because she wants to see a screenplay for once before filming. Her limited performance sets off the emotional climax of the film and Kidman knocks it out of the park with the costume-check sequence.
Now for the actual honorees.
Our first talented actress is one that is expected to waltz away with an Oscar on the big night, Mo'Nique. In Precious, Mo'Nique's acting talent is finally pushed beyond all displayed limits in her previously comedic work. I've always considered her a talented actress. Precious finally matches her abilities. There were two options to show a clip, and I will not be responsible for continuing the spread of her "Oscar scene" that ruins the ending of the film for those who haven't seen it yet. Instead, here is the trailer for the film that heavily features her performance.
Believe me when I say what you don't see is an even greater Outstanding Achievement in Actressing.
Our next honoree was brought through some of the most disturbing circumstances to strike a horror film actress in a long time. Alison Lohman is the reason why Drag Me To Hell works so well as a film. It is her wide eyed stare and portrayal of anger, jealousy, fear, disgust, and guilt that sells the suspiciously convenient gypsy curse of the film. She makes you care about the fate of her character, but also sells some pretty heinous behavior to justify the pain her character is brought through.
She gets off easy in that scene. There's no blood, puss, worm, fly, cat, or hideous gypsy, just a shadowy figure beating the crap out of her. For selling such a tremendous ammount of onscreen abuse in a disturbing horror film, Lohman has cleary demonstrated an Outstanding Achievement in Actressing.
Our next honorees, lumped together for convenience, are the lovely ladies of Nine with actual screentime and quality performances. Those are Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as the dutiful wife, Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz as the primary mistress, Academy Award winner Judi Dench as the dutiful costume mistress (not a whore), and Academy Award nominee Kate Hudson as the American reporter/mistress (double duty). They all kill their big solo numbers, especially a surprisingly spry Judi Dench and former lip-syncer Marion Cotillard. Cruz has some great non-musical actressing and Kate Hudson gets to introduce the world to future Academy Award-winning song "Cinema Italiano" (deal with it, people, it works in the film whether you like the song or not). Here are clips of the lovely ladies doing their thing.
Screw the negative reviews: Nine works as a showcase for Outstanding Achievements in Actressing and that's enough for me.
So many great performances, so little time.
Our next honorees are the wonderful women of Inglourious Basterds. Melanie Laurent is stunning as a Jewish woman hiding from the Nazis under an assumed French alias, and Diane Kruger steals her sequences as a double-agent/actress feeding intel to the Allies during WWII straight from Hitler's cabinet. They are two thirds of the reason to see Inglourious Basterds even if you don't like Tarantino, the other being Christopher Waltz. Below is a clip of Diane Kruger stealing another scene.
Just the tip of the iceberg for Kruger. Unfortunately, only two very spoilerly clips exist for Laurent to demonstrate her Oustanding Achievement in Actressing, and the end is too fulfilling to spoil just to recognize her.
Finally, we have our winner for Outstanding Achievement in Actressing: Gabourey Sidibe in Precious. This is, in my mind, without a doubt, the single greatest performance in a film this year. The slow transformation in character from mumbling, beaten, child-like Precious to the articulate, stronger woman at the end of the film is beautiful. The growth of the character is so incremental, it hits you like a bus when you realize that Precious is no longer the same person. Then you realize it's only halfway through the film and she hasn't even given birth to her second child yet. It's stunning work from the film newcomer and I can only hope she can continue to find rewarding roles in film. Again, sadly, the only clip demonstrating her tremendous performance out of context is just as big a spoiler as Mo'Nique's "big" clip. So here's the Gabourey focused trailer of Precious.