The Best Female Film Performances of 2010

by PopMatters Staff

4 January 2011


5 - 1

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Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Yoon Je-moon


Kim Hye-ja

As our mad matron out to protect her mentally challenged son, Kim Hye-ja is genius. She’s clearly a short skip away from completely crazy, maintaining social standing while subverting the system. We learn of her various minor misdeeds through innuendo only - a warning from the snotty owner of the shop, a common acknowledgement and shaky alliance with the local police. But there is something more to her meaning that just flaunting the law. This mother has a deep dark issue gnawing at her core, an action we see in short flashback that goes unexplained until her son suddenly “remembers”. The reveal is just one of this movie’s many upending delights. One minute we are on the trail of the victim’s tainted Lolita-like backstory, the next our leads are screaming at each other in painful familiarity. Bill Gibron



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Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page


Marion Cotillard

When viewers first meet Mal, she calmly, seductively walks in at Saito’s (Ken Watanabe) side, sabotaging her husband Cobb’s latest gambit with a simple glance. Using her body for all its considerable worth, yet never overusing it as many other, lesser actors often do, she skulks around the borders of the film just as she haunts Cobb’s mind. Always there, always present, even in the waking world and even when she’s not in frame, Mal’s huge, expressive eyes (conveying every human emotion from anger and greed to jealousy and pain and everything in between) and her calm, collected delivery show that no matter what’s at stake, be it in a memory or a dream, she’s a woman who means business. With her artful performance, Marion Cotillard makes it abundantly clear why Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb fell so in love with her. Kevin Brettauer



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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Stefan Sauk, Ingvar Hirdwall, Sven-Bertil Taube


Noomi Rapace
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Noomi Rapace, is and remains to this day the living embodiment of late author Stieg Larsson’s troubled lead protagonist. From the moment she arrives onscreen in the first installment of the so-called Millennium trilogy (Dragon Tattoo was followed by The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), we are instantly draw to this stunning performance—the haunted look in Rapace’s raccoon eyes, the asymmetric approach to her appearance, the awkward piercings, the jaundiced Joan Jett haircut, the stolen Sioxsie Sioux fashion sense. But there is more to her than a bitter couture. Thanks to what she brings to the character, Lisbeth becomes the most unlikely action hero since Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling entered FBI training. Call her punk. Call her Goth. But the truth is, Lisbeth—and Ms. Rapace—are one thing only: flawless. Bill Gibron



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The Fighter

Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo,  Jack McGee,  Frank Renzulli


Melissa Leo
The Fighter

Really, Alice Ward should be the easy target as the villain of The Fighter. She’s Micky Ward’s overbearing mother, always hovering over his shoulder telling him what to do and guiding his career. Micky doesn’t find real success until he finally lets her go as his manager. But in Melissa Leo’s hands, Alice is understandable. Leo disappears into the role under a bleached-blonde wig that hides her trademark red curls and a thick Massachusetts accent. Alice is doing what she thinks is best for her family and her son. The fact that the best thing for Micky might not be the same as what’s best for the rest of the family never occurs to her. Micky is part of the family, so the idea that he would cut ties with his brother over his crack addiction makes no sense to Alice. The idea that Micky would listen to the advice of his girlfriend over his seven sisters and his mother baffles her. As written, Alice could be a borderline cartoon character, but Melissa Leo is too grounded a performer to let that happen, and The Fighter is a better movie because of her presence. Chris Conaton



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Black Swan

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


Natalie Portman
Black Swan

Like its mentally fracturing ballerina protagonist Nina, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is all over the place. Partly a fairy tale adaptation, partly a riff on All About Eve (with some tawdry Showgirls camp to boot), and partly an aesthetic homage to a range of authorial styles from Polanski to the Dardenne brothers, Black Swan zigs and zags with the alacrity of an eager dancer. Grounding the disorienting enterprise is the overriding sense of body horror, fully realized in the remarkable performance of Natalie Portman as Nina. Presently, there is much discussion about Portman’s weight and harsh training regimen. The film was doubtless a physical challenge. Yet body horror is empty if it lacks emotional and psychological triggers or connectors, and Portman’s total disappearance into Nina’s tortured mind makes the film tick. In scene after scene, from her elation in conveying good news about her prized role, to her regal, evil, sashay onto the stage when she “becomes” the black swan, Portman taps into something decidedly non-corporeal. She is otherworldly. She is perfect. Thomas Britt


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