We're keeping the 12 wide field but narrowing down the descriptions to the top six from here out. So here are my top Leading Actresses of 2012. An asterisk indicates VOD/home video release. Honorable Mentions:
- Emma Fitzpatrick, The Collection
- Greta Gerwig, Damsels in Distress
- Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
- Tara Lynne Barr, God Bless America*
- Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed
- Juno Temple, Killer Joe
6: Keira Knightley, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Keira Knightley frees herself from all expectations and control in a very memorable and believable free spirit role. Penny is not the manic pixie dream girl she appears to be in her first scene and Knightley continually imbues her with great depth and nuance. This is a bold and adventurous performance that deserves a far wider audience than it initially received.
5: Judi Dench, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
For all the joy and madcap hijinks of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Judi Dench has a far more somber arc to deal with. She is a widow who has to take a job after moving halfway around the world for financial stability. Every single time she attempts to pursue happiness with another person, she's knocked down and reminded of everything she's had to leave behind.
4: Sarah Gadon, Cosmopolis
Sarah Gadon has a thankless but essential role in Cosmopolis. She is supposed to be desirable and off-putting in equal measure. Her unapproachability spurs the entire plot, forcing her new husband to pursue an impossible investment feat to woe her. Gadon has the densest, most affected text in the screenplay and the second largest role in the film. Everything she does is natural, cold, calculating, and eventually sympathetic.
3: Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice
Brit Marling is proving herself to be a strong new voice in science fiction. Even if she never writes another screenplay in her life, her acting shows a brilliant understanding of establishing believability and introducing an audience to a fantastic alternate reality. Her turn as a time-traveling cult leader is a tour de force of power and mind games.
2: Robin McLeavy, The Loved Ones*
Never say I don't give poor films credit when credit is due. Robin McLeavy is the only reason to watch The Loved Ones. If you can stomach gore, her performance is worth it. This might be the single most menacing villain in the history of horror. McLeavy is all the more impressive for making this sadistic, disturbed, and spoiled teenage girl a sympathetic figure. Then she pulls out a fork, a hammer, and a funnel and confuses you. It's no easy task to commit this much to such a loathsome character and McLeavy manages to make you care for her even after the bloodshed is done.
1: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games
Forget about Silver Linings Playbook. The Hunger Games is the 2012 release where Jennifer Lawrence actually gets to drive the action. Most of the film is her, by herself, reacting to shocking circumstances and trying to survive. It is a brilliant, captivating performance that demands you pay attention without any exaggeration or artifice.
So what do you think of the list? Who do you think was the best leading actress of 2012? Sound off below.