Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Best Actresses of 2006 - (Year End Round-up, Pt.2)

The Best Actresses of 2006 – (Year End Round-up, Pt. 2)

Well, kids . . . now that the Oscars are over and done with and studio moguls are revving up for next years awards (no kidding, it’s never too early to launch an Oscar campaign), we thought we would help close the curtain to 2006 by giving you, our faithful readers our comprehensive and brilliantly selected list of the Best Performances of 2006! Let's let this year's Oscar winning actress enjoy her post show burger and let’s dive right into the Best Performances by the Ladies, shall we?

And what a year it’s been. Unlike last year where the gals could barely get a well toned ankle through the door. This year was filled with wonderful performances from the distaff side, a true moviegoing treat! In looking back, we realized that the year was so kind to the ladies, that three of them were greedy enough to excel in three different movies, a piece!

Toni Colette, who has excelled at emotionally bruised women struggling to free themselves from their prisons: be it psychological, physical or emotional. She kept the guesswork interesting in “The Night Listener”, held down the moving fort as the mom in the mother of dysfunctional families in “Little Miss Sunshine” and managed to avoid the pitfalls of portraying the wounded spirit trapped in her own mother’s house in “The Dead Girl”.

Maggie Gyllenhaal pulled off a terrific performance in a less than terrific film as the recovering heroin addict in “SherryBaby”, brought realism and honesty to her role as a missing policeman’s wife in the overbaked “World Trade Center” and finally blossomed with expert comic charm as a present day granola hippie flake in “Stranger Than Fiction”.

But those two gals, as good as they were couldn’t compare to the lovely and luminescent Cate Blanchett who outshone all the competition with three terrific performances! In “Babel”, as the mother and wife who while struggling to hold onto her marriage finds herself struggling to stay alive in the bleakest of landscapes. As “The Good German”, she echoed screen goddesses of yesteryear like Ingrid Bergman, Alida Valli and Marlene Dietrich in her role as the mysterious woman of affairs who will do or say anything to help those she loves. And finally, as Sheba Hart, the art teacher whose affair with one of her young charges lands her in a psychotic web of trust and manipulation in “Notes on a Scandal”. It’s rare enough to see an actress shine in one good role a year, but THREE? Applause to Toni, Maggie and in particular Cate for being the most valuable actresses of the year!

For the Best Performances by an Actress in a Supporting Role, we would like to consider the following:

Luminita Gheorghiu for her no nonsense emergency services attendee who deals with every level of bureaucracy in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”.

Mary Beth Hurt as the harridan housewife who uncovers the dirtiest secrets relating to “The Dead Girl”.

Carmen Maura as a pale memory of a woman who fights to regain her right to be one of the family in “Volver”.

Jeanne Moreau as the loving grandmother who comforts her dying grandson in “Les temps qui reste”.

Charlotte Rampling for her vitriolic turn as the vengeful woman scorned in “Lemming”.

Hilary Swank as the glam lesbian femme fatale in “The Black Dahlia”.

Emma Thompson for her omniscient writer struggling to shake off her writer’s block in “Stranger Than Fiction”.

And cult favorite, Grace Zabriskie for her indescribably neurotic and mysterious neighbor in “INLAND EMPIRE”.

And those were just the “B List”! Any year where Carmen Maura, Charlotte Rampling, Hilary Swank, Emma Thompson and the great Jeanne Moreau just barely miss our final list of great performances is a very good year for the ladies. But, pray tell, who could have bested them? Well, pray no more, here you go – our nominees for the Best Supporting Actress of the Year!

Adrianna Barraza as the bedraggled housekeeper and nanny to two emotionally orphaned children who finds herself their sole hope of salvation after a disastrous case of miscommunication in “Babel”.

Tammy Blanchard for her heartbreaking and emotionally honest turn as the true love of a man who cannot avoid his destiny in “The Good Shepherd”.

Rinko Kikuchi as the deaf teenager, whose world is likely to implode if she is unable to communicate her desires in “Babel”.

Diane Lane for her mesmerizing turn as the wizened Hollywood trophy wife, whose dalliance with a young stud helps catapult him to stardom and just might have caused his sordid downfall in “Hollywoodland”.

Catherine O’Hara as the hardworking character actress who begins to fall for the rumors of an Oscar nomination on the set of her latest film and finds herself clamoring for more in “For Your Consideration”.

And finally, in a decision that had our judges fighting capped tooth and lacquered nail to decide if this was indeed eligible – it is – we have decided to include a single nomination for the work of two very talented ladies whose performances depend whole heartedly on each other.

We refer of course to veteran actresses Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, as the lovingly contentious Johnson sisters, Rhonda and Yolanda who bicker, harmonize, stroll down memory lane and end up charming the pants off the audience in Robert Altman’s final masterpiece: “A Prairie Home Companion”. We list them as one nomination, for rarely have two actresses’ performances melded together in such blissful thespian joy. Their interaction, the way they volley back and forth, speaking over, under and through each other’s dialogue to display a firm grasp of character, trust and a shared history that lays out their complicated relationship.

Champagne and cheers to the gals in the Supporting category! As for the Best Actresses of 2006, you might think you’ve heard all their names called out by the various critical and industry groups – but you would be wrong. There were so many wonderful lead turns by the ladies, that we had to list them ALL! (We’ll try to be brief. We swear!)

Catherine Deneuve as the weary wife and mother whose decades old tryst returns to upturn her life in “Les temps qui changent”.

Kirsten Dunst as the title character in “Marie Antoinette”. Her performance was a revelation to us. While she has always been a charismatic actress, rarely has she been allowed to pursue a character with such gusto and brilliance. Her portrayal of the young princess at age fourteen flowed effortlessly into the mature woman who found herself thrust upon history’s stage at the worst moment for the high court of France.

Gretchen Moll as the famed pin-up gal in “The Notorious Bettie Page”. If anybody had told us that we would enjoy a film with Gretchen Moll as the lead, let alone find her to be a wonderful actress – we would have beaten them to death with a cat-o-nine tails. Which is one of the few props that this simple and honest lady held sway in her “secret” life of mid-century masturbatory fantasy. Gretchen made us believe in the purity of Bettie Page as she catered to the whims of pervs the world over, while maintaining her feet on the ground and a delicious sense of humor regarding the whole ideal. A lovely turn that was curiously overlooked by the awards groups. People, if you want to crown the next young thing, you might pay better attention when one of them actually shines.

Charlotte Rampling for “Vers le sud”. Yet another fantastic performance for this highly underrated actress. We loved the way she held court over the lesser mortals in her portrayal of a woman who rules her island sexual retreat with intimidation and a haughty reserve.

Laura Smet as Senta Bellange in “La demoiselle d’honneur”. A rock solid blistering homage to the Film Noir heroines of the past. Laura Smet was mesmerizing as the deadly enchantress whose make believe world destroys all who dare cross her path.

Naomi Watts as Kitty Fane in “The Painted Veil”. One of the most dependable and talented leading ladies working today. Her performance as the bored young wife to a crusading doctor in the war torn China of the 1930s anchored this almost lovely film. While the last half of the film had many issues, her portrayal was the honest center to the maelstrom of emotions, politics and melodrama.

Kate Winslet as Sarah Pierce in “Little Children”. Miss Winslet who earned her fifth Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the bored suburban mom who succumbs to desire and almost falls prey to a darker menace lurking within their idle playgrounds.

The seven performances listed above were all deserving of the top honors, but this past year saw a remarkable amount of fine acting turns. The following six ladies deserve the accolades and honors they received. Except for one that might surprise you, if you failed to catch her brilliant performance.

Annette Bening as the monstrously self absorbed mother who seemingly abandons her husband and child in order to pursue her demented dreams of achieving acclaim for her overwrought poetry in “Running with Scissors”. A comic tour-de-force performance that finds the horror and truth inside this imbalanced creature. A pity her richly colorful performance was trapped underneath the layers of pop theatrics of the less than successful film.

Penélope Cruz as Raimunda in “Volver”. Shattering all preconceived notions about her mighty talent, Señorita Cruz returned with her mentor, Pedro Almodóvar’s breathtaking melodrama of family secrets. At turns feisty, comical, sensual, loving, clever and always with her feet firmly planted on the Iberian ground, Penélope delivered one of the most full bodied (pun intended) and rich performances in any year.

Dame Judi Dench as the sociopathic schoolteacher whose unhealthy obsession with a comrade mirrors her years of self denial in “Notes on a Scandal”. A completely selfless performance that demonstrated what the world already knew. Dame Judi is one kick ass actress who is not afraid of tearing down her vanity and letting her emotions rip full steam ahead.

Laura Dern for her three or four (?) performances in David Lynch’s “INLAND EMPIRE. Not since the days of Von Sternberg and Dietrich has there been a director and star so closely tied together in their professional paths. Their collaboration even garnered a special prize at this year's Independent Spirit Awards! David Lynch has found the ideal actress to ground his macabre, twisted, volatile, hypnotic and artistic screen fantasies. She might be the everywoman, or the gal next door – but there is nothing ordinary in her ability to reflect his surrealistic nightmares. She is the central grounding figure in his world run amuck with visual metaphors, sublime horror and distilled erotica.

Isabelle Huppert for “Gabrielle”. While you certainly have heard the names of Annette, Penelope, Judi, Laura and of course, Helen throughout the awards season – there was one towering performance last year that has seemingly slipped through the cracks. Isabelle Huppert has been France’s national acting treasure for decades. One could easily find ten or twenty great performances in her oeuvre thus far. In “Gabrielle”, she shattered our expectations. As the bored, bourgeois housewife who decides to leave her life of complacent luxury and position, only to be forced to return to her cuckolded husband after being cast aside herself – she immersed herself in the role to such a degree, that it laid waste the competition. The acting duo of Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory were miles ahead of any other screen couple seen in the past twelve months.

Dame Helen Mirren for “The Queen”. What can one say about this past year’s queen of the acting awards? Precious little that hasn’t been said already. As the emotionally stunted monarch of England attempting to cling desperately to the last vestiges of the fallen Empire, Dame Helen found extraordinary moments of truth behind her majesty’s stiff façade. She deserved all the awards and attention that was so generously bestowed upon her. (To a point. Just wait.)

But, wait! How could you not mention another Oscar nominee, young Abigail Breslin who charmed critics and audiences alike for her heartfelt turn in “Little Miss Sunshine”? Well, as we have mentioned in the past, while we can certainly admire the performances of youngsters, we believe that no matter how good their portrayals may be – there should be no comparison between a nine year old and a veteran. The art of acting may be instinctual, or it may be possible to perfect your craft through arduous training – but considering how few child actors maintain a career once they hit puberty, their performances must be viewed in comparison to their real peers, each other.

And so, with that in mind we look a the Outstanding Performance by a Young Actress:

Ivana Baquero as the young lady escaping her wartorn reality by entering “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Señorita Baquero embodied the artful blend of realism and fantasy that shone threw this bewitching film.

Abigail Breslin for “Little Miss Sunshine”. While we questioned the ultimate success of the film for its horribly manipulative and unbelievable ending, we never doubted young Miss Breslin’s ability to break your heart as the plump little girl with dreams of becoming a beauty pageant princess.

Shareeka Epps for “Half Nelson”. Such a pity that her honest performance was almost done in by the amateurish direction of this “Crack Kills: Afterschool Special”. Thankfully, for Miss Epps she was cast opposite the Oscar nominated Ryan Gosling who helped guide her through the rougher patches. Together, they actually seemed to develop a rapport and budding relationship that cut through the “Independent Arthouse” crap visuals and meandering script.

Sarala for “Water”. Perhaps the most curious of all our nominees. This child actress was put through the ringer as the prepubescent widow sentenced to a life time of poverty and outcast status amidst India’s socially stunted misogynistic caste system. While the promotional material and back history of the film portrayed it as a piece of social reform propaganda – it was in actuality, the oldest story known to cinema. A “Romeo and Juliet” for the bindi toting crowd. The film itself was lovely, it might have been more powerful if they had focused on the social injustices thrust upon this innocent victim – but thankfully, young Sarala captured the frustration, confusion and lust for freedom that the part called for.

And finally a special note to two cameo performances that briefly ignited the screens in the scant seconds they appeared.

Gwyneth Paltrow as the cabaret singer Kitty Deans in “Infamous”. Her breathtaking delivery of a jazz standard had to act as metaphor for the surface deep society milieu that writer Truman Capote so delighted in crashing during his heyday as the most notorious “walker” in town. Rarely has a metaphor looked or sounded so lovely.

Viola Davis as the aggrieved mother longing to hear news of her missing son in “World Trade Center”. While she may be on the screen for only a few minutes, this fiercely talented and highly underrated character actress deserves mention for finding the emotional honesty in all too trumped up paean to the crimes committed on that particular September morning.

So, alright. We’re done. But who WON? Who are the Best Actresses of 2006? Well, beloved readers . . . here they are. Our choices for the Best!

Most Valuable PlayerCate Blanchett for her brilliant trio of performances in “Babel”, “The Good German” and “Notes on a Scandal” and the Outstanding Young Actress of 2006Ivana Baquero for “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

Our Best Supporting Actress(es)Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin for “A Prairie Home Companion” and finally our Best Actress of the YearIsabelle Huppert for “Gabrielle”! Thank you, thank you . . . ladies, take a well deserved bow! What? You didn’t think we’d just bend over like the rest of the awards givers and hand our trophy over to Dame Helen, did you? She was fantastic. Not as fantastic as Isabelle Huppert, but very deserving of the accolades. Now, quit your bitching and go rent “Babel”, “The Good German”, “Gabrielle”, “A Prairie Home Companion” and run out to the theatre and go see “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Notes on a Scandal” to bathe in the splendors of some fiercely talented women. Bless you all!



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