Film

Tough and Tender - The Top 20 Female Performances of 2008

Twenty talented ladies, 20 performances worthy of multiple little gold men. Unfortunately, as in all years, someone has to come out on top. But after looking over this impressive list, picking the preeminent turn of 2008 seems almost impossible.

Director: John Patrick Shanley Film: Doubt Studio: Miramax Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis Website: http://www.doubt-themovie.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08I1359AKOPVY First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-12-12 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2009-02-06 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/doubt-poster.jpg

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List number: 20

Meryl Streep

Doubt

There is no 'doubt' Streep would be good in the role of Sr. Aloysius Beauvier in the big screen adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize winning play. It's the kind of part she could play in her sleep. But having to carry the entire moral conscious of the film, which focuses on some unsubstantiated accusations against a priest in a 1960s Catholic school, is quite a chore for both the character and the actress. Yet Streep is nothing short of magnificent as the mean on the outside, frail on the inside nun who must uncover the truth and remove all reservation. Her confrontations with co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman set the tone for the entire narrative. Her final scene confirms our deepest fears. Bill Gibron

Doubt

Director: Oliver Stone Film: W. Studio: Lionsgate Cast: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Ioan Gruffudd, Richard Dreyfuss, Thandie Newton, Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Ritter, Toby Jones Website: http://www.wthefilm.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-17 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-11-07 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/w/w_ver3.jpg

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List number: 19

Thandie Newton

W.

You can never win playing a current political figure. You either come off as doing an impression, or making a mistake and missing the mark all together. Leave it to Oliver Stone to find the right combination of stature and surrealism in this UK beauty. Playing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Newton adopts an oddball accent and cadence, the better to bring out the inherent bureaucratic double-speak of the bumbling Bush Administration. Like a reverse Greek Chorus, this version of the Cabinet member is all swallowed pride and imperfect policy. If her boss weren't so bumbling, the entire set up would be scary. Newton's nonsensical depiction makes it that much more frightening. Bill Gibron

W.

Director: Arnold Desplechin Film: A Christmas Tale Studio: IFC Films Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Anne Consigny, Chiara Mastroianni, Laurent Capelluto Website: http://www.bacfilms.com/site/conte/ MPAA rating: N/A Trailer: http://www.ifcfilms.com/viewFilm.htm?filmId=996 First date: 2008 Length: 150 US Release Date: 2008-11-14 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/c/christmastaleposter.jpg

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List number: 18

Catherine Deneuve

A Christmas Tale

As the de facto Grand Dame of French Cinema -- or is that, at this point, European Cinema? -- it’s only appropriate that, in Arnaud Desplechin’s latest intimate-epic ensemble piece, Catherine Deneuve portrays the matriarch of a neurotic, dysfunctional yet oddly congruous bourgeois clan. In a film marked by tonal shifts informed by the dynamics of whichever characters happen to be sharing a scene, her moments opposite the equally terrific Mathieu Almaric manage to stand out; they’re the ones you remember most -- something that almost always seems to be the case when Deneuve is involved. Josh Timmermann

A Christmas Tale

Director: Clark Gregg Film: Choke Studio: Fox Searchlight Cast: Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald, Brad William Henke, Jonah Bobo Website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/choke/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 Distributor: Fox US Release Date: 2008-09-26 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-11-21 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/c/chokeposter.jpg

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List number: 17

Anjelica Huston

Choke

When one thinks of aging and Alzheimer's, the standard sainted Hallmark hearts and flowers come to mind. We like to think of the elderly and demented as noble and naïve. But in this stunning, savage performance, Huston strips away the concept of death with dignity to offer up a sharp-tongued take on failing mental faculties. Driving her son Sam Rockwell to criminal distraction, this misguided matriarch with a felonious past (which may include kidnapping) endears us to her plight with her simple rejection of reality. And as someone who has always lived by her own rebellious rules -- fact or fiction -- we find this self-delusion quite satisfying. Bill Gibron

Choke

Director: John Patrick Shanley Film: Doubt Studio: Miramax Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis Website: http://www.doubt-themovie.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V08I1359AKOPVY First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-12-12 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2009-02-06 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/doubt-poster.jpg

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List number: 16

Viola Davis

Doubt

Viola Davis may only have one scene in Doubt, but I guarantee that it's the scene you'll remember. Her off-kilter psychology upsets the entire balance of the film and sets a whole new tone for future scenes. The scene in question is a two person conversation between her and Meryl Streep, and about a minute into the talk Davis becomes so captivating that it's easy to forget Streep is actually in the film. She sells the complex structure of the woman's maternal love perfectly so that you are completely on board with what is essentially lunacy. A five-minute wonder. Aaron Marsh

Doubt

Director: Guillaume Canet Film: Tell No One Subtitle: Ne le dis à personne Studio: Les Productions du Trésor Cast: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nathalie Baye Website: http://www.tellno-one.com/ MPAA rating: N/A First date: 2007 Distributor: Music Box US Release Date: 2008-07-02 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/t/tellnooneposter.jpg

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List number: 15

Mikaela Fisher

Tell No One

German actress Mikaela Fisher is at the fringes of Tell No One. But in a film that paints its female characters with a less detailed brush than its male characters, Fisher uses five minutes of screen time to create an unforgettable villain and elevate the entire work. As Zak, who manipulates pressure points to force victims into submission, Fisher almost wordlessly dominates the film’s sizable world of heavies. Her face fixed in a defiant Dame Judith Anderson stare, Fisher’s reaction to getting shot is just to keep walking. This is a brief but bold performance that could generate fandom for Fisher akin to Zoe Bell’s following in the wake of Death Proof. Thomas Britt

Tell No One

Director: Stephen Daldry Film: The Reader Studio: Weinstein Company Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, David Kross MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-12-10 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2009-01-02 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/reader-poster.jpg

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List number: 14

Kate Winslet

The Reader

Selling both lust/love for a teenager and sympathy for a concentration camp guard (herself) is quite a tall order; then again, we're talking Kate Winslet. Both tasks are so vital to the life of the film that without someone who completely sells, everything simply disintegrates. But Winslet is not content simply to "make it work", but elevates her odd tale and catches you off guard with the raw emotion on display. Don't be surprised if you find yourself incredibly moved by the film's close on her work alone. Hanna Schmitz is just another vibrant, memorable role by our greatest working actress. Aaron Marsh

The Reader

Director: Philippe Claudel Film: I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime) Studio: Sony Pictures Classics Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Elsa Zylberstein, Serge Hazanavicius, Laurent Grévill, Lise Ségur Website: http://www.sonyclassics.com/ivelovedyousolong/index.html MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony/ivelovedyouforsolong/ First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-24 (Limited release) UK Release Date: 2008-09-26 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/m/mazur-lovedyou-poster1.jpg

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List number: 13

Kristin Scott Thomas

I've Loved You So Long

Many performances by Kristin Scott Thomas have a remote, icy quality that makes it difficult for the audience to sympathize or find a way into the character and her situation. I’ve Loved You So Long -- a perfect match of performer and material -- fully capitalizes on that quality. As Juliette, who has just been released from prison and into her sister’s home, Scott Thomas uses obstinate will to hide the myriad mysteries of the character. Reminiscent of Miranda Richardson in Damage, her masterful investment in suppression yields a concluding flood of emotions that transcends the film’s flimsy third act plot devices. Thomas Britt

I've Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t'aime)

Director: Jonathan Demme Film: Rachel Getting Married Studio: Sony Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-03 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/rachel-getting-married.jpg

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List number: 12

Debra Winger

Rachel Getting Married

Two strangers on a train told me some gossip that supposedly occourred at the Toronto Film Festival: an antagonistic reporter badgered Winger, promoting her most well-written, best-executed film role in years, about (alleged) diva behavior on the Terms of Endearment set more than 25 years ago. After answering the question, and then being gracious while being intensely grilled for more explicit details two more times, the no-BS Winger had him ejected. Whether this story is true or not, there is no denying the hurricane-force power of this disgustingly under-employed actress as the poisonous Abby. She is an anti-mother whose grief and rage over the loss of a child is masked by a glacial reprieve toward her living children that could induce hypothermia. If her reputation is to be believed, than truly no other actress could have endowed Abby with such simmering volatility and hid it behind an empty smile the way she does. When William Hurt or Robert Duvall or other similiarly scandalous male stars do that, they get Oscar nominations. When Winger does it, she is erroneously labeled difficult and harassed. That reporter is lucky she didn’t bitch-slap him like she does her onscreen daughter in Rachel’s pivotal scene, because I bet that is what Hurt or Duvall would do. Matt Mazur

Rachel Getting Married

Director: Jonathan Demme Film: Rachel Getting Married Studio: Sony Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Tunde Adebimpe MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-03 (Limited release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/r/rachel-getting-married.jpg

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List number: 11

Rosemarie DeWitt

Rachel Getting Married

In a film which features Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger chewing up the dialogue like champions in every scene they are in, someone had to hold down the emotional middle ground here. Thankfully, Jonathan Demme chose the dynamic DeWitt, a career TV performer making a rare big screen turn. As the title bride, our heroine must deal with inquisitive in-laws, an incredibly messed up sister, and a distant mother who can't quite decompress from a devastating family tragedy. While some might call the Buchmans dysfunctional, Rachel would probably disagree. Instead, she would see them as typically tragic, the perfect symbol for the social structure circa 2008. It's a message DeWitt delivers flawlessly. Bill Gibron

Rachel Getting Married

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