Saturday, December 30, 2006

Best actresses of 2006

It may not have been a great year for movies in 2006, but in many ways it was a great year for women, be they young or old, familiar or new. With the proviso that I have not seen "Notes on a Scandal" or "Inland Empire," here is my list of 12 actresses in 10 movies that just made a lasting impression on me this year.

Jennifer Hudson - "Dreamgirls"
Might as well begin with the most recent one I've seen, since it's burned on my brain the brightest. I read a rather snarky critique of "Dreamgirls" which posed the question "should you be nominated for an Academy Award just for singing?" The short answer might be no, but the answer here is that the question is simply ridiculous. Ms. Hudson carries this movie on her shoulders in a cast crowded with stars, and her performance of "And I Can Tell You I Am Not Going" is simply remarkable.

Helen Mirren - "The Queen"
All the hype Dame Helen has been receiving for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II is definitely well-deserved. The challenge is in keeping the queen tightly wound while at the same time showing all she went through after the death of Diana, and she just pulls it off flawlessly.

Ellen Page - "Hard Candy"
The next three choices hopefully signal a youth movement in serious films that will contintue for some time. "Hard Candy" could have easily devolved into the typical horror-schlock that pollutes our multiplexes, but young Ms. Page, Patrick Wilson and director David Slade deserve tons of credit for instead keeping this scary tale in the realm of psychological thriller occupied by classics like Polanski's "Death and the Maiden."

Keke Palmer - "Akeelah and the Bee"
Young Ms. Palmer also appeared in the very funny "Madea's Family Reunion" this year, but she never really made an impression on me until I saw this flick. It's a fairly standard story, but she and Laurence Fishburne play it with plenty of heart, and I have to admit I throughly enjoyed this flick, even if it was produced by Starbucks.

Abigail Breslin - "Little Miss Sunshine"
If Ms. Hudson hadn't stolen the show with "Dreamgirls," young Abigail surely would have been a strong contender for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. She's just charming throughout the movie, and when she finally takes the stage at that hideous pageant, it just breaks your heart.

Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza, "Babel"
I expect both these actresses to make the Supporting cut, much like they did at the Golden Globes, and both would be worthy. They each made full use of quiet stretches in this fantastic flick about our failure to communicate on a global scale. The look on Barraza's face when she's stranded in the Mexican desert and Kikuchi's when she's naked, in so many ways, in that sterile Tokyo apartment are scenes I won't soon forget.

Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura, "Volver"
Ms. Cruz has understandably been getting all the hype for this, but for me it's definitely a package deal. They have each starred in some of Pedro Almodovar's best films, and here they get to share one of his best scenes, on that park bench near the end of the flick where they lay all their burdens down. It's just two of my favorite actresses on top of their game, and a joy to behold.

Diane Lane - "Hollywoodland"
This uneven flick is at its best when Ben Affleck's George Reeves and Ms. Lane as his illicit lover are alone together. They just had a natural chemistry that might be enough to propel them each into Supporting contention.

Maggie Gyllenhaal - "World Trade Center"
"United 93" is, by any measure of filmmaking prowess, a superior film to this one from Oliver Stone, but I still have to say I preferred "WTC" mostly due to the performances delivered by its leading men and women. As the men are trapped in the rubble, its left to Ms. Gyllenhaal and Maria Bello to carry the movie, which they do with skill, but I give the nod by a nose to Maggie here.

Geraldine Hughes - "Rocky Balboa"
Along with the younguns and Ms. Hudson in "Dreamgirls," this is the other real breakthrough performance in 2006 for me. I wasn't expecting the opening of "Rocky Balboa" to have so much soul, and much of it comes from Ms. Hughes as "little Marie," who has now grown into a barmaid beaten down but not out by life. It's a perfect character for a "Rocky" movie, and her performance is just spot on.

So, there you have it. Please feel free to sound off on any I may have omitted or that just left a strong impression on you this year. And check back tomorrow for a review of Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" and Monday for a list of the best leading men of 2006. Peace out.


* (asterisk) said...

The main problem with online DVD rental services is that so often I am palmed off with ancient movies. The upshot of this is that I have seen very few new films this year, and that kinda sucks.

Also, of course, I resent paying cinema prices for most of the dross that is churned out by Hollywood, and so few cinemas near me show anything other than Hollywood flicks.

So I have very little to add here. Except:

1. I really want to see Little Miss Sunshine, Hard Candy, and Volver; they are on my shortlist already.

2. Does Maria Bello get naked and get head in WTC, since she seems to in virtually every other film she's ever made?

3. As much as I love love love Lynch, he's not particularly good at getting great performances out of his actors, so I think seeing I.E. will make little difference to your rankings here.

Reel Fanatic said...

I guess this is a different kind of turn for Maria in "WTC," Mr. *, because I can sadly report that she does none of those things in it ... And though I haven't seen and won't see it, I'm fairly confident she didn't do so in the family flick "Flicka" either, but you never know ...

Anonymous said...

So glad to have you visit me and even happier to have linked to your site as a result. I always need new additions to my Netflix list.

Anonymous said...

Good call on Ellen Page. She was excellent in Hard Candy. That was a great suprise of the last year and don't know why it isn't getting more praise.

Anonymous said...

excellent choice with abigail breslin. i adored "little miss sunshine" and between her and paul dano, two relatively unknowns, they stole the movie from comedy heavy hitters like carrell and kinnear.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'd have to agree with you there, Millie .. the grown folk did just fine in Little Miss Sunshine, but those two were easily the soul of the movie .. when young Mr. Dano finally breaks down on the side of the road, it's just devastating

M said...

Dream girls hasn't come out here yet, I CANNOT WAIT!! I love some of the music in that "am I'm telling you" is one of my all time favourite songs.

Reel Fanatic said...

If you already like the song, m, you will be blown away by seeing Ms. Hudson sing it on screen .. it's a thoroughly raw moment, but still entirely entertaining

Anonymous said...

Did you get to see Maggie G in Sherry Baby? Whoa. That was intense.

Reel Fanatic said...

Movies that good never make it anywhere near my little corner of the world, Jeremy, but I'll definitely be seeing it on DVD .. I'll watch her in just about anything

Marina said...

Great list and I think you included all the biggies including a few I hadn't really considered.

James said...

Abigail Breslin was aborable!!!

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