The Best Female Film Performances of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

5 January 2010


5 - 1


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Julie & Julia

Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond


Meryl Streep
Julie & Julia

This is one of those acting jobs where any attempt to analyze it seems doomed to come up short. When Meryl Streep bounds onto the screen as Julia Child, the brawny, giggly diplomat’s wife who muscled French cuisine into the middle American palate by sheer force of will, there is little that can stop you from buying wholeheartedly into this creation. Streep’s creation, all trilling high notes and swooning enthusiasm, is almost self-parodic in its muscular ardency. But the keening lust for life envisaged by her Child—particularly when compared to the colorless Julie Powell that director Nora Ephron sticks Amy Adams with—just knocks down all barriers in her path, demanding that you just try this beef bourguignon. Really, it’s heavenly Chris Barsanti



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Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Michael Fassbender, Diane Kruger, Mélanie Laurent, Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, Til Scheweiger, Christoph Waltz
Review [8.Feb.2010]
Review [21.Aug.2009]


Mélanie Laurent
Inglourious Basterds

Brad Pitt and the Basterds may be the main draw of Inglourious Basterds, and Christoph Waltz has been deservedly lauded for his performance as the slick Nazi nicknamed the Jew Hunter. But it’s Melanie Laurent, as the secretly Jewish theater owner Shosanna Dreyfus, that provides the film’s soul. The American-led Basterds and British Intelligence each have plans to get at Hitler, Goebbels, and the rest of the Nazi high command. Shosanna, though, has been lying low in Paris, not attracting attention, when a similar opportunity falls into her lap. She doesn’t hesitate, hatching a brutal plan and carrying it through even though the cost to herself is incredibly high. Laurent plays Shosanna as a bundle of tightly-wound nerves and barely concealed loathing. When an affable Nazi soldier approaches her several times to discuss film, she does her best to put him off without revealing the depth of her hatred. Later, when Shosanna encounters the Jew Hunter at a formal lunch, the tension is so palpable that the scene is difficult to watch. Laurent is just as vital to the success of Basterds as her more acclaimed co-star. Chris Conaton



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An Education

Director: Lone Scherfig
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, Emma Thompson
Review [26.Apr.2010]
Review [9.Oct.2009]


Carey Mulligan
An Education

There are scenes in Lone Scherfig’s An Education that are downright intoxicating, but Carey Mulligan’s performance as Jenny—a precocious British schoolgirl seduced by the much-older David—is the most bewitching thing of all. With her remarkable poise, intelligence, and sartorial flair, it’s no surprise that critics have compared Mulligan to Audrey Hepburn. Because Jenny is on the threshold of womanhood, Mulligan has to strike a difficult balance between naiveté and sophistication, but she handles it with aplomb. As Jenny drinks in every new sensation and experience, Mulligan conveys her character’s thirst for “life and color and fun.” Though we may fear for Jenny’s heart (perhaps even her safety), Mulligan makes us see exactly why the words I’d love to take you to Paris—you’d fit right in would persuade this whip-smart girl to abandon a promising future at Oxford. And not for nothing: Mulligan’s dance with Dominick Cooper to “Coming Home, Baby” may be the most sexually electric moment you’ll see all year. Marisa Carroll



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The Stoning of Soraya M.

Director: Cyrus Nowrasteh
Cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Mozhan Marnò, James Caviezel, Navid Negahban, David Diaan
Review [14.Mar.2010]
Review [26.Jun.2009]


Shohreh Aghdashloo
The Stoning of Soraya M.

Aghdashloo has consistently deconstructed the myths and stereotypes perpetuated in Western entertainment towards women of Middle Eastern descent, by playing to the extremes and infusing them with soulfulness and first-hand knowledge. Here, she’s Soraya’s brave female lead Zahra who breaks the cycle of violence and oppression in her village by having the courage to stand up for what she believes is right and by speaking the truth, even when her life is at stake. Zahra is a multidimensional, heroic female lead character, over the age of 50, and she also happens to be Iranian, with her lines delivered mostly in Farsi. It is a particular treat that this character exists at all in a business that prizes youth and whiteness in its women for the most part. Matt Mazur



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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]


Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

As the riskiest performance of 2009, the famed stand-up comic could have gone the easy route. She could have ditched the high glamour and glitz she normally carries, put on the poverty row routine, and go for villainous monster broke. Instead, inside every outburst, every frying pan throwing sign of child abuse, we witness a walking wounded undercurrent of equally painful personal rage. Granted, she is given little more to do in Lee Daniel’s mega-melodrama than deliver the blows that press the title character toward some manner of self awareness. But then Momma gets her defining moment, a chance to confess to Mariah Carey’s social worker just how horrible her own life was—and then it all becomes crystal clear. Her brutality is part of a pattern—as this performance demonstrates flawlessly. Bill Gibron


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