The Best Female Film Performances of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

4 January 2011


15 - 11

cover art

Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder


Barbara Hershey
Black Swan

Perhaps the most criminally-underrated performer of her generation, Hershey daringly stepped into what most critics erroneously dubbed the “scary mom” role in Darren Aronofsky’s meta mind-fuck Black Swan, instantly drawing unimaginative comparisons to Piper Laurie’s religious fanatic in Carrie. This couldn’t be any more wrong. As Erica, Hershey plays a tightly-wound, claustrophobic game of emotional cat and mouse with her ballerina daughter Nina (Natalie Portman), one second playing at being her best friend, her confidant, and in the next her captor, her nemesis. There is a rivalry between the two women, but as Hershey pointed out in a recent interview, her character is anything but a simple villain:

“Most people will see her as the ‘mother from hell’, but I think she’s a mother in hell.” To this effect, Hershey—amazing in films such as Shy People, A Killing in a Small Town and Paris Trout—manages to convey a lifetime of sadness, dedication to her child, desperation, and, yes, even a degree of steely control and manipulation over Nina as the young woman’s mind becomes warped by playing the Swan Queen. As the film descends into darkness and madness, Hershey’s poignant, wordless final scene at the ballet jerks the spectator, at this point lost in the performance and the surrealism, back into the tangible world’s mournful denouement. It is a moment played with tremendous heart by Hershey and we weep along with Erica for everything that has been lost, and it is a satisfying release. Matt Mazur



cover art


Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Mark Strong
Review [16.Apr.2010]


Chloë Grace Moretz

Chloe Moretz had a hell of a 2010. She finished the year as creepy vampire Abby in the criminally under-seen Let Me In, helping to make it one of the few Hollywood remakes that lives up to the original film. But it was her appearance as the 12-year old Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass that really put her on the map. Although the movie itself didn’t live up to the internet hype-inflated box office projections and had its share of detractors, Moretz was clearly the best thing about it. She brought unflagging energy to the role, gamely fighting off bad guys with swords, guns, and various martial arts. As entertaining as Kick-Ass was, the excitement level of the movie picked up noticeably whenever Moretz was on screen. Hit-Girl did all her fighting while being profanely sarcastic, gleefully murdering thugs and mobsters. That the movie manages to portray Hit-Girl as an unrepentant killer who suffers no apparent psychological consequences and still make her likable is a testament to Moretz’s considerable charm. Chris Conaton



cover art

Never Let Me Go

Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard


Carey Mulligan
Never Let Me Go

As Kathy, Carey Mulligan is forced into the daunting task of being the emotional anchor of Never Let Me Go, something the character, but certainly not the actress, is largely incapable of. In the middle of the most unfortunate and most heartbreaking of recent screen love triangles, Mulligan’s Kathy radiates sincerity in a world not too far removed from our own. Her clear love for Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), sometimes conveyed with a quick eye movement or the faintest quiver of her lip, helps secure the film to an emotional reality that would not exist were its characters, three second-class citizens, not so… human. Kevin Brettauer



cover art

Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Max Von Sydow
Review [19.Feb.2010]


Michelle Williams
Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island leaves no Gothic horror reference unturned and this results in a pileup of real and imagined corpses. Disappearance might be what motivates U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) to investigate the island’s hospital for the criminally insane, but death is what follows him. In waking and sleeping visions, Daniels sees the atrocities of war and new fears awakened by the madness around and within him. While Scorsese and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis crowd the movie with flashes of dead bodies, Michelle Williams’ graceful performance as Daniels’ late wife Dolores is the key to his haunted condition. Emerging from shadows or surrounded by ashes, Dolores is an irresistible siren, beckoning Daniels and the audience towards a truth we may not want to face. Williams’ guilelessness and vulnerability increase in meaning as the film progresses toward the agonized reality of its final, extended flashback. The actress’s measured last moments form a flawless counterpoint to DiCaprio’s hysteria. She is the crucial heart of a film too taken with tricks of the mind. Thomas Britt



cover art

For Colored Girls

Director: Tyler Perry
Cast: Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Phylicia Rashad


Phylicia Rashad
For Colored Girls

Bringing together two different kinds of damn-the-torpedoes expression—mid-1970s experimental dramatized poetry long marinated in Meaning, and neon-symbolism gospel-play moralizing—promised that Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s cornerstone black feminist text was going to be a wiggy mess of a thing; and the baffled response to this uncomfortable hybrid confirmed it. But while Perry’s amateurish threading together of Shange’s resonant, firecracker monologues left most of his cast out to dry, Phylicia Rashad rose above it all. Playing Gilda, the seen-it-all matron of an apartment building with more than its share of complicated young women, Rashad’s stone-quiet presence and beautifully resonant delivery cut through the TV-tawdry confusion of Perry’s film and give Shange’s poetry the burnished, prophetic gleam that it deserves. Chris Barsanti


We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media


TIFF 2017: 'The Shape of Water'

// Notes from the Road

"The Shape of Water comes off as uninformed political correctness, which is more detrimental to its cause than it is progressive.

READ the article