The Fifties for 2010: Best Actress
Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right, for surviving choppy exposition and finding comedy in a character who is resolute, threatened, and pained, and never entirely predictable;
Greta Gerwig for Greenberg, for making her character entirely ordinary but not confusing this with making her colorless or uncomplicated, or someone to condescend to;
Katie Jarvis for Fish Tank, whose own greenness may feed into Mia's rough edges, but she's thorny and sensitive in the right ways, and her dancing is poignantly average;
Kim Hye-ja for Mother, for finding a woman who'd make Mildred Pierce cry but also scare the shit out of her, keeping us on our toes without playing her too smart; and
Birgit Minichmayr for Everyone Else, for teasing out gradations of Gitti being a pill on purpose or just being her flamboyant self, inviting critique but also seeking to please.
One of these women (not telling which!) cycled on and off and back on this list, and could get replaced at a moment's notice by any of my extremely honorable mentions: to Patricia Clarkson for risking a cloudy lethargy in Cairo Time that we rarely associate with her, and gradually revealing the reasons why this is such a well- or an ill-timed trip for her character; to Sylvie Testud for adhering to a fairly narrow, understatedly sunny range of affects in Lourdes, preserving mystery but playing a woman rather than a question mark; Nina Meurisse, who is so plausible and poignant as an adolescent drawn into a relationship that she can't possibly see coming in Accomplices, and unsure of what she's enjoying about it and what she isn't; and Jennifer Lawrence, who is good at playing one tough cookie in Winter's Bone, but is even more assured playing a patient, resourceful big sister in her quieter scenes. That seems like the easier half of her assignment, but I actually don't think it is.
Honorable mentions to Tilda Swinton for I Am Love, Aggeliki Papoulia for Dogtooth, Chiara Caselli for The Father of My Children, and Julianne Moore for The Kids Are All Right, and let no one say I am helplessly in the grip of my biases, given that the first and last of those women will rank a lot higher on other people's lists. Annette Bening in Mother and Child and Kristen Stewart in The Runaways might have hit a few notes too hard or played too strongly at times to their established personas, but they were really special during other passages. Each woman's deft handling of her final run of scenes was crucial to helping her film end sturdily after a wobbly middle.