The Best Female Film Performances of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

5 January 2010


15 - 11


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Director: James Cameron
Cast: Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso
Review [18.Dec.2009]
Review [17.Dec.2009]


Zoë Saldana

Though we never see her “human” form (she is a native to Pandora, after all) and must have her actions completed rendered in CG animation by motion capture technology, Ms. Saldana’s turn as Na’vi heroine Neytiri is one of the most “alive” performances of the year. Experts will tell you that no software can replicate what this talented actress does with her body, her finely realized facial expressions matching the mesmerizing voice turns flawlessly. Even better, by building the character from the actor up, James Cameron keeps things from being a pure F/X light and magic show. Instead, he lets the individual cast members find their motivation, centering the storyline in the realistic and the emotional while all manner of science fiction spectacle plays out around them. In Ms. Saldana’s case, she is truly Avatar‘s soul, the reason we care about what happens on this far off planet and the creatures that inhabit it. Bill Gibron



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The Lovely Bones

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Ronan, Michael Imperioli
Review [11.Dec.2009]


Saoirse Ronan
The Lovely Bones

It’s the most difficult role in Peter Jackson’s astonishing afterlife fable—and the Academy Award nominated teen (who was terrific in Atonement) more than delivers. It’s not just the sense of wonder and fear, longing and personal pain. Susie Salmon must stand as both a symbol and a structure, the reason the rest of the narrative exists while acting as a constant reminder of the heartbreaking issues at stake. Somehow, Ms. Ronan reinvents such a role, turning it into an adolescent adventure tale where justice, as well as an end to lingering sorrow, are the ultimate goals. And yet through it all, she must remain frozen in time, forever young, forever cemented as the victim of an unspeakable act. Under Jackson’s masterful tutelage, she delivers something definitive. Bill Gibron



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Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

Director: Lee Daniels
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz
Review [6.Nov.2009]


Mariah Carey
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

To say that Carey was “unrecognizable” is an understatement. As Ms. Weiss, the audience surrogate in Precious, the singer did transform her appearance in the film to suit the role (a social worker), but what she did internally is equally interesting and that is somehow lost in discussions of the surface physical elements. When actresses “deglam” like this, it is the exterior changes that bear the brunt of the focus, but just look at Carey’s haunted reactions to Gabourey Sidibe’s casual confessions in her office—they hint at a depth and passion that has not been previously exposed in the pop star’s other work. There is a raw, real edge to Ms. Weiss that Carey exposes in these scenes with Sidibe and then in final dynamic scene with Mo’Nique’s Mary. The audience needs this kind of steely reprieve from the horrors happening in the film and also needs Carey’s empathetic, tough and grounded agent to get them the hell out of that office when things start to crumble into oblivion. We don’t know too much about where she comes from, where she goes at night or why she does this thankless job, we just know that she has enough chutzpah to confront demons and “the vampires”. She is tenacious, brave and shrewd—something that people perhaps unfairly fail to associate with the star of Glitter. These are the qualities that will afford Carey another chance at surprising us all again. Matt Mazur



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Bright Star

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox
Review [27.Jan.2010]
Review [25.Sep.2009]


Abbie Cornish
Bright Star

So pinning one’s romantic hopes on the penniless tubercular poet John Keats may have been… an ill-advised idea. But the luminous Abbie Cornish plays Bright Star’s Fanny Brawne with so much passion and conviction, it begins to seem like the only possible idea, nay, the most wondrous idea ever. Like the butterflies she catches that remind her of Keats, Brawne undergoes a transformation in Bright Star, from bold flirt to devoted lover, and Cornish’s intuitive performance makes us feel her character’s every emotion, from elation to yearning to abject despair. Brawne is no mere lovesick schoolgirl, however. She is a cunning wit, a talented designer, and a fierce adversary—as worthy of Keats’s admiration as he is of hers. As Brawne struggles to articulate a critique of one of his poems, the poet asks her, “Are you frightened to speak your mind?” When Cornish replies, “Never!” you know Brawne means it. Keats may describe Brawne as “bright and delicate,” but Cornish also demonstrates her underlying heroism. Marisa Carroll



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Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman
Review [11.Mar.2010]
Review [4.Dec.2009]


Anna Kendrick
Up in the Air

Anna Kendrick absolutely nails the role of Natalie Keener, the young go-getter in Up in the Air. She’s fresh out of college with bold new ideas on how to make the company more efficient, but she has no practical experience. Still, the boss is seduced by her money-saving plan, and it takes a show of force from Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) to convince him that she needs to get some of that practical experience before her ideas can be implemented. Kendrick practically oozes discomfort as Natalie sees what it really takes to fire someone, and yet we buy it later when she develops a complicated flow chart that attempts to account for every possible reaction to being fired. Kendrick really shines when Natalie lets down her guard, whether its breaking down in tears when her boyfriend leaves her or getting drunk at a conference in Miami. The story positions Natalie as a character we dislike at the beginning of the film, but she ends up being the one who looks the best by the movie’s end. It’s Kendrick who makes this trick possible by making Natalie a fully fleshed-out person and not a caricature. Chris Conaton


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