#10 

Jennifer Lawrence in Joy 

The test of a phenomenal actress is to place her in middling work and see how she does.  Now that Joy has proven itself to be the weak spot in Lawrence’s collaborations with David O. Russell, the world has come to an agreement — the film isn’t that great, but Lawrence is excellent.  I often become so enamored with her that it slips my mind how insanely talented she is as an actress.  In a career with just a few performances, I’m sure Joy will go on to be one where the film is forgotten but she isn’t.  She leaves you breathless.

#9 

Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens 

Click on Daisy Ridley’s profile on Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll be surprised by something: this year’s Star Wars is her sole movie.  And yet, she’s its leading heroine, its most interesting character, and its most memorable feature.  How can a newcomer from across the pond steal a movie from such heavyweights? I know — unbelievable talent.  Watching Ridley in The Force Awakens is similar to seeing Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. We’re witnessing a star being born.  Watch out, Hollywood.   

#8 

Julianne Moore 

in Still Alice, Game Change, & Magnolia 

If I were really being honest, I’d list Julianne Moore’s entire filmography as being her best performance, but I won’t sell myself short here.  So good is Moore that I’ve already decided that she’s this generation’s Meryl Streep, no exceptions.  Her work is so consistently phenomenal I could only watch her movies for months — she is the best there is.  Still Alice is the movie she won the Oscar for last year, deservedly, Magnolia contains her best monologue, and Game Change provides her with her most notable chance at embodiment.   

#7 

Faye Dunaway in Network 

You know what’s it’s like to see a performance so good it almost makes you dizzy? Network is a film featuring many of them, but Dunaway is the tippy-top of its spectacular characterizations.  Delivering monologue after monologue with such conviction we forget she’s even performing, she manages to up the work done by Vivian Leigh and Katharine Hepburn in their heydays.  The 1970s were a wonderful time for the movies, and I have no doubt that Dunaway is the film queen of the decade.  

#6 

Cate Blanchett in Carol 

Blanchett is so repeatedly terrific that she’s at the point in her career where she can do know wrong — even sticking her in a Transformers movie wouldn’t end the respect that trails behind her name.  So despite the fact that I seem to bill every one of her performances as being “among her best,” here we are again, saying that her portrayal of the refined Carol Aird in Carol is, excuse me, among her best.  I won’t go into details.  Just see the movie (or read my review), and you’ll understand.  

#5 

Rooney Mara 

in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Carol 

Why Rooney Mara didn’t win the Oscar the year of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo infuriates me — the fact that Meryl Streep beat everyone for a role in a bad movie is something I won’t get into because ranting is sometimes a part of my nature (I still love Meryl, though).  Mara gives one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema as Lisbeth Salander, a gothic hacker who bears as much cool as she does vulnerability.  Just give her the Oscar already, dammit (she’s bound to be nominated as the fragile Therese in Carol anyway).

#4 

Jennifer Jason Leigh 

in The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight, disappointingly, is not the film I was hoping it was going to be (where is Quentin Tarantino’s usual chaotic energy?), but there are many exceptional moments within it, with Jennifer Jason Leigh giving the most memorable performance in the cast (she’s also the only woman among the main men).  Playing despicable killer Daisy Domergue, she is uglied, diabolical, and hilarious, a torrent of star power given few lines until the conclusion sets her up with a heinous monologue that sees her covered in blood and brains, hand-cuffed to Kurt Russell, and without her two front teeth.  It’s a hell of a performance, one of the best of the year.   

#3 

Adèle Exarchopoulos & Léa Seydoux 

in Blue Is The Warmest Color 

No onscreen romance has ever been as convincing as the one between the characters in Blue Is The Warmest Color. We have Adéle Exarchoupoulos and Léa Seydoux to thank, actresses both fearless and emotionally unrefined in ways Gena Rowlands was in the 1970s.  They’re so superb in the film that I sometimes find myself at a complete loss for words — how do my sentences, my word choices, my metaphors, convey their brilliance? It’s impossible.  They are beyond me.  

#2 

Juliette Binoche & Kristen Stewart 

in Clouds of Sils Maria

I refuse to say one actress in Clouds of Sils Maria is better than the other, as Binoche and Stewart’s performances are equally stunning and equally important to the overall structuring of the film.  Like Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, there’s something parasitical but also magnetic about their chemistry — we could watch them talk for hours as their characters begin to unravel before our very eyes.  

#1 

Charlize Theron 

in Mad Max: Fury Road 

If Charlize Theron doesn’t get an Oscar nod for her leading turn in Fury Road, I, ironically, will be as furious as her Imperator Furiosa.  It’ll be the biggest robbery since Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and I’m concerned that ignorance will occur since the Academy historically seems to suffer from memory loss (the audacious assholes).  Theron breaks all the rules here.  She steals the show from the franchise’s leading character (we can hardly remember anything about Tom Hardy after first viewing), she undergoes action scenes with the same gusto as Pam Grier or Angelina Jolie and more, and she proves herself to be more three-dimensional, more raw, than any action hero of the last few decades.  Theron makes it seem easy.  Far from the truth.