The Best Female Film Performances of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

5 January 2010


10 - 6


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Director: Erick Zonca
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould, Jude Ciccolella
Review [11.May.2009]


Tilda Swinton

When speaking of incredible performances, people often say that an actor inhabits a role. In Erick Zonca’s disturbing thriller, Julia, Tilda Swinton does much more than simply bringing the title character to life, she allows it to possess her completely. You’ve never seen her deliver such a visceral performance! The unforgiving story of an immoral woman, an impenitent alcoholic, who involves herself in a kidnapping and then embarks on a mad, violent journey as she tries to get the ransom for herself, Julia isn’t the sort of thing I could initially imagine viewers wanting to immerse themselves in, and yet Swinton is so engrossing you cannot help but be pulled in. Julia is disconcerting, disgusting and difficult to watch, but Swinton’s magnificent portrayal is unflinching, unrepentant and utterly unforgettable.  Christel Loar



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Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cottilard, Penelope Cruz, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Fergie
Review [18.Dec.2009]


Marion Cottilard

Let’s just go ahead and say it: Nine was a really fun mess. The shock at seeing so many of our great actresses singing and dancing, joined together to reinterpret a Fellini film and a beloved stage musical is what geeks like me live for. However, the final product was no ChicagoNine lacked the verve and vivaciousness of director Rob Marshall’s earlier foray into the genre. The only time a pang of genuineness graces the film is when Cotillard lights up the screen with her effervescent presence. When she sings, we feel it. When she moves, all the men pay attention. When she is away, we wonder where she is. She is to Nine what Patricia Neal was to Hud, in terms of screen time, significance to the narrative, and overall importance and presence (even in absentia) to the film. While Hud focused on Paul Newman’s caddish ranch hand, Nine looks at Daniel Day Lewis’ fraught director—but it is the stalwart women of both films that glue together the fractured shards of the mess the men have made and grab the heartstrings directly for resuscitation. Cotillard, along with her sublime work in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, has risen to the occasion by singing, dancing and acting her way out of one of the year’s biggest disappointments. The indecision over which category to place her Luisa in (lead or supporting actress) might result in the actress missing out on an Oscar nomination in the end, but what she has done onscreen this year is so much more important than that. Matt Mazur



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Away We Go

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: John Krasinksi, Maya Rudolph, Catherine O’Hara, Jeff Daniels, Allison Janney, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Review [27.Sep.2009]
Review [12.Jun.2009]


Maya Rudolph
Away We Go

While some critics hurled accusations of smugness and condescension at Away We Go, those barbs should mostly have been directed into the laps of screenwriters Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida and director Sam Mendes. Maya Rudolph, on the other hand, was a standout and revelation as the pregnant Verona. Previously known mostly for a long stint on Saturday Night Live and maybe as Luke Wilson’s co-star in Idiocracy, Rudolph took full advantage of her first shot at a real starring role. As Verona and her husband Burt (John Krasinski) traveled around the country looking for a place to live, Rudolph had to play a full range of emotions from disgusted to amused to depressed and everything in between. And she never hit a false note. While more famous actors went for broad comedy in small roles, Rudolph was responsible for giving the movie its heart. And while her performance can’t really be classified as low-key, it feels subtle and real compared to the rest of the movie, and this keeps Away We Go from descending into farce. Chris Conaton



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Director: Lars von Trier
Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Willem Dafoe
Review [23.Oct.2009]


Charlotte Gainsbourg

No one can measure the grief of a mother losing her only child. Now imagine such trauma taking place during a selfish act of lovemaking. Somehow, Lars Von Trier finds the perfect balance between histrionic insanity and stone cold feminine focus in depicting Gainsbourg’s fall from biological grace. Unlike many reviews, which dismiss the character as wholly misogynistic, Van Trier is actually celebrating the strength, the inconsistencies, and the enduring power of women. Sure, he expresses this authority with everything from genre-bending horror riffs to pure gory exploitative nonsense, but in Gainsbourg’s amazing work, we witness the literal translation of Shakespeare’s “woman scorned” sentiment. It’s Hell, but we still watch in abject fascination. 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]


Gabourey Sidibe
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

A virtual unknown, Gabourey Sidibe’s performance in Precious was on par with that of a more seasoned actress. As the film’s title character, Sidibe portrayed a poverty-stricken teen who endured daily abuse from her mother and repeated rape by her father. A teenage mother to two children born of incest, Precious’s surly demeanor is no surprise. However, Sidibe’s performance elevated the character from becoming just another angry urban teen role, showing many sides to Precious as a survivor and young woman with raw, visible potential to her teachers. She constantly evolves the character each moment she’s onscreen. One moment, she’s broken and defensive, an enraged victim of a situation she’s had no say in. The next, Sidibe shows Precious as she sees herself in daydreams—vibrant, bubbly, and beautiful—still Precious, all the same. As the film progresses, the actress delivers a very real transformation of a socially stifled girl who is given an opportunity to rise above the life handed to her with a newfound sense of purpose. Lana Cooper


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