The Fifties for 2012: Best Actress
Greta Gerwig for Damsels in Distress, for gently suggesting that her archly chipper co-ed might be playing a role or just being herself, and making her deluded epiphanies matter;
Léa Seydoux for Farewell, My Queen, for maintaining the sly, neurotic reserve of a cat in a court painting, but coming to life when it counts, as in her last-act twists of fate;
Meryl Streep for Hope Springs, for refusing to flatter the wife as an exceptional diamond in the rough, playing a timid, unremarkable gal who deserves love, as do we all;
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild, for passing so fluidly among precious, pugnacious, and contemplative, entering fully into the youthful but old-souled métier of this movie; and
Deanie Yip for A Simple Life, for giving such an understated, transparent performance despite the field-day elements of this role, from gradual dementia to beatific dying.
Honorable mentions skip past critical favorites Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, from whom I just didn't get much, and Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz, who makes a dubiously written character actively more irritating before pulling things together in more interesting ways toward the end. My runners-up are Ann Dowd in Compliance, who's never better than in her first 15 minutes or her last five, and does what anyone could with a jerry-rigged script; and Ariane Labed in Attenberg, for taking the character and her situations so seriously and soberly despite (and without shying away from) the bizarre mannerisms of the writing and directing. I got a lot of joy from Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror and Jennifer Westfeldt in Friends with Kids and was impressed with what Linda Cardellini augurs for her potentials in Return, but none are quite Honorable Mentions.