The movie industry is changing in leaps and bounds. Only a few years back, women-centric films were few and far between. But come 2018, and it seems like at least a quarter of films have a female protagonist. I know, there is still some distance to be covered, but at least we are moving in the right direction. One of the best barometers for judging the quality of female roles in a year is to check the year-end list of best performances. While we already covered actors (you can read here), today it is time for the ladies. One glance at the list and you will know how great a year it has been for actresses. Come to think of it, I haven’t even included Lady Gaga, the most talked about performance of the year. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list of top female performances of 2018. You might be looking at some of the Oscar winners in 2019.
12. Claire Foy – First Man (2018)
‘First Man’ is one of the best films of this year. Part of the reason the film works so well is that of the actors. Claire Foy, who is on a hot streak right now, almost steals the show from Ryan Gosling. An Emmy winner, Foy has made a name for herself for her portrayal of Elizabeth II in Netflix’s ‘The Crown,’ and her profile appears to only be getting impressive. When ‘First Man’ released in October, very few people showed up. But that shouldn’t be a reflection upon Foy or Damian Chazelle. The film is truly a work of art.
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11. Elsie Fisher – Eighth Grade (2018)
‘Eighth Grade’ follows the story of Kayle, a pretty typical eighth-grade student in today’s world. I’d say more here, but in all honesty, it is a bit difficult because the film doesn’t really have a defined plot. Instead, it focuses more on just showing the landmark moments of her life during this time period, including learning about sex, interactions with boys, a myriad of self-confidence issues relating to her father. What I feel the need to point out immediately is the absolutely fantastic performance by Elsie Fisher, who executes what I think is one of the best portrayals of a teenager I have ever seen in a film. She doesn’t deliver lines like an adult, but instead with an unevenness that you would expect from a teenager. She doesn’t look like a supermodel so you buy every single second of her self-doubt, her nerves, and anxieties. She’s not a star, but a true actor in the making.
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10. Carey Mulligan – Wildlife (2018)
Ed Oxenbould is the teenage boy from whose vantage point the story is told. Carrie Mulligan portrays a mother who has no qualms about showing her true colors, as she meets an older, prosperous man. Jake Gyllenhaal is the hard-working father who has just seen his livelihood upended and finds himself at a crossroads. These three tremendous performances constitute the quiet but powerful life in this film and keep the audience gripped till the very end. The potent screenplay adaptation is written by Dano and Zoe Kazan. While it is expertly directed and partially written by Paul Dano, it is a low-key, depressing depiction of a wife, Jeanette, played by Carey, that immediately draws your attention.
Yes, she is what you would expect of a late ’50’s housewife: happy, subservient, loving, regretful. She regrets her indolent husband, Jerry, who is affable enough but can’t keep a job. She loves her 14-year-old son, Joe, who observes the disconnect between parents and her mother’s inevitable infidelity in her father’s protracted absence. Carey Mulligan gives an outstanding performance as Jeanette. This is a story where the less you know going in the better, so I’m just going to say this is by far one of my favorite films of 2018, and I will be sorely disappointed if Carey Mulligan does not receive an Oscar nomination for her performance.
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9. Kathryn Hahn – Private Life (2018)
Writer-director Tamara Jenkins lays bare the emotional complexities that come in this day and age with trying to get pregnant. More options than ever before are available to aspiring parents, from adoption to artificial insemination to egg donors. But as shown in this movie, these options don’t bring a sense of hope to those going through them. Rather, they reduce parenthood to a slog of doctors appointments, false starts, medical procedures, and disappointed expectations.
Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play the forty-something couple trying to conceive, while Kayli Carter, plays the emotionally volatile step-niece who agrees to be their egg donor. Kathryn Hahn once again proves her talent as one of the most underrated versatile actresses of her generation. I’m glad she got to show her acting powers in such a juicy role. Hahn is moody and emotionally driven as she should be. Her portrayal is heartwarming and grows more and more on you as the film progresses.
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8. Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
The film is about a young black woman who finds out she is expecting a child. The main issue is that her lover has been imprisoned for a crime that he most likely did not commit. She must deal with telling her family and his as well as preparing for motherhood without the presence of her mother. The film also explores the Black community in New York and the troubles faced, which still resonate today. The film also stars Stephan James, Colman Domingo, and a very excellent Regina King. Just like ‘Moonlight’, the film has a wonderful score and absolutely beautiful imagery.
The film employs the same personal profile shots of its characters with faces that tell an expressive story. Same with the slow panning between characters and profound dialogue. The film feels like a work of art, and Jenkins and his crew have perfected their storytelling as a form of art. The performances all around are great but I have to single out Regina King for having the best role of her career. She should surely be getting an Academy nod for Best Supporting Actress.
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7. Emily Blunt – A Quiet Place (2018)
‘A Quiet Place’ is John Krasinski’s first great success as a director. With his first foray into horror, he has proved that his talents extend far beyond gimmicky humor that he is generally known for. While the movie still suffers from some loopholes on the story end of things, Krasinski proves that he has what it takes to make a beautiful and haunting film. But the real star of the show is Emily Blunt, who is absolutely brilliant. She’s pregnant for the most part of the film, and she perfectly balances her performance between the family drama and the horror aspect of the film. Her performance hits the high notes once she goes into labor. It’s her chemistry with John and relationship with her children that is the highlight of the film.
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6. Helena Howard – Madeline’s Madeline (2018)
The story follows Madeleine, a young performer recovering from a recent mental breakdown. As her personal life starts taking on a central role in a play she is rehearsing, Madeleine’s grip on reality becomes increasingly tenuous. The lingering question is: is it art imitating reality or the other way around? Madeleine’s Madeleine is an unconventional take on mental illness, but what part of mental illness is conventional? The editing and camerawork go hand in hand to make this a visually fascinating and impressive work. The psychological depths explored in the film are perfectly portrayed thanks to director Josephine Decker’s incredible vision and talent for realizing the said vision. Equally impressive is the acting.
Miranda July is intimidating and awkward at the same time. However, the real highlight of the film’s performances comes from Madeline herself, played by newcomer Helena Howard. If the visuals, editing, and score aren’t enough to convince you to watch this film, her performance should. There is a particular sequence towards the end that is legitimately breathtaking due to her emotive and powerful performance. In many ways, it is an extremely pronounced performance, and in many other ways, it is extremely subtle. To see such a young actor display so much incredible talent makes me excited to see her future career, and makes this film all the better.
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5. Toni Collette – Hereditary (2018)
‘Hereditary’ is one of the best horror movies so far this decade. It doesn’t rely on jump scares or loud noises like most horror films; it’s more of an unconventional masterpiece. This is Ari Aster’s first feature-length movie as a director and now he’s on my radar. I can’t wait to see what he does next because he has crafted an almost perfect horror movie. I loved the tension created in the movie. The editing choices are phenomenal and actually unsettled me a lot. The acting in this movie is superb, in particular, by Toni Collette who gives one of the best performances of the year. Toni’s performance adds to the unpredictability of the character and the film. Actually, she is a major reason why the film works so well.
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4. Joanna Kulig – Cold War (2018)
The Polish movie ‘Zimna Wojna’ was shown in the U.S. with the translated title ‘Cold War’. It is co-written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. The movie stars Joanna Kulig as Zula, a young woman whom we first see as a trainee at a folk dance school. She falls in love with Wiktor, portrayed by Tomasz Kot. Zula is a rural girl, whereas Wiktor is a sophisticated professional. Despite all this, they fall desperately in love. The plot of the movie is that of two star-crossed lovers who want to be free in a time when freedom was a privilege. From the gorgeous black and white cinematography to the stunning music, everything looks to be exactly in the right place. The two main actors Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot steal the show. They do a fantastic job, I believed their chemistry, their desire to be together, but also their frustrations. There is a scene where Zula and Wiktor are on a boat, just enjoying this quiet moment that they have together and looking out at people as they pass by. They know that this moment is fleeting, but they still take it in. This scene is the point where you realize the fantastic work the actors are doing, if you haven’t already. It almost feels like a silent movie, and I wouldn’t have minded if it was, but the music is so great in this that I’m glad it’s not. Joanna’s performance and her chemistry with Kot make the film a worth watch.
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3. Laura Dern – ‘The Tale’ (2018)
Some true-Stories demand to be told, despite their heartbreaking, heart-wrenching reality and ‘The Tale’ is among those films. This stunning film registers a sledgehammer impact and the exquisite Laura Dern delivers a performance of pure tenacity. ‘The Tale’ is an investigation into one woman’s memory as she is forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship. ‘The Tale’ is a true story and what you see here, is something so disturbing, that it will leave you shaken. Pedophilia is Some serious criminals are among the most brutal creatures out there in the disguise, who can harm, manipulate and destroy the lives of children living in our society.
Written and Directed by Jennifer Fox, ‘The Tale’ is Fox’s true life-story on the sexual abuse she faced during her life, especially her childhood. Fox is a brave, gutsy woman, who’s made a film of her own horrors and has presented us a story that’s disturbing as well as powerful. Here’s a woman whose courage needs to be witnessed, spoken and shown. ‘The Tale’ is also packed with stunning performances, led by the magnificent Laura Dern. Dern, one of the underrated actresses, portrays Jennifer Fox with sheer heart, mind, and soul. It’s a performance that is extremely powerful. Dern is a great actress and the film explores her brilliantly.
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2. Yalitza Aparicio, ‘Roma’
‘Roma’ offers a subtle critic of the ethnic and class divisions that exist in Mexico — and many other places in the world. The fact that Alfonso Cuaron chose to make a film about his maid — and not about himself — tells you that he wanted to make a statement about the societal disparities. The contrasting lives of the maids and the family living under the same roof are both eye-opening and heart-rending. And the center of all the action in ‘Roma’, the maid, is played with tenderness and empathy by Yalitza Aparicio. What’s shocking is that it is her debut performance. Boy, Cuaron sure knows how to find talent. ‘Roma’ wouldn’t be the film it is without such a sensitive and realistic portrayal of Cleo by Aparicio. Twenty minutes into the film you will forget whether you are watching a film or someone’s memories. All credit to Cuaron and Aparicio.
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1. Olivia Colman – The Favorite (2018)
Basically, this is a film about a lesbian love triangle, with two mistresses vying for the affection of an ailing, middle-aged queen. As her lovers and her confidants, they both try to manipulate the queen for their own personal gain. In the middle of the rivalry between Weisz and Stone’s characters, Olivia Colman gives a fantastic performance as a frail, tragic and aged Queen Anne. Not only does she often provide brilliant comic relief to the dark and scheming battles between Weisz and Stone, but Colman also brings the film’s most surprising and riveting dynamic that of a person who is being fought over. This is something that a lot of films with similar premises fail to pick up on.
Her Queen Anne is not a very admirable woman, but Olivia gives her depth, that is very impressive. Olivia makes you believe that she is the Queen. She is simply breathtaking and had me in tears of laughter. Apart from all this, she also portrays sadness, despair, and empathy. How she can conjure so much is stunning. Her performance is easily the best female performance this year, and will also find itself on the upper half of the list if all male and female performances put together.
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