Putting together an unsung female performance list was hard for me. I haven’t seen that many films this year with female performances that stick out at all. I haven’t seen Nine, Brothers, Cheri, Bright Star, or Broken Embraces, which pretty much covers the [respected] female-lead films, and everyone’s already talking about those, anyway. Let’s face it, 2009 in film has been a man’s year. From The Watchmen to Fantastic Mr. Fox to Pirate Radio it feels like every movie I really liked this year featured a huge male cast. But that’s ok. I still managed to scrape together a list of what I thought were the largely ignored female performances of 2009.
5. Mariah Carey in Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire – Mo’Nique surprised everyone by being able to pull of any kind of performance at all, much less one so heavy-handed and emotional. But director Lee Daniels didn’t stop there, casting Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in supporting roles. Daniels was clearly up to the challenge, and both Care and Kravitz deliver convincing, straight-forward performances. I was especially impressed with how toned down Carey was. After her music videos and Glitter, I think it’s fair that we expected worse. And, luckily, she didn’t live up to expectations. Without all that glimmer and glitz, I like Mariah, which I’m sure means the world to her.
4. Vera Farmiga in Orphan –Everyone is getting so excited about Farmiga in Up in the Air, but what I want to show here is how she has always been as good as she is in that film. She was probably type cast in this role as mother of an evil child because of Joshua, but she takes what could have been a conventional, boring role and turns it into a performance worthy of her. That’s a clear sign of a great actor: someone who can rise above the genre to do something a little more original. And Farmiga always delivers.
3. Sari Lennick in A Serious Man – One of the discussions on the IMDB message board on this actors’ page reads “This is my Hebrew Tutor!” (Someone also points out that she looks like Topanga) It’s exciting to be able to witness the screen birth of a talented actor, and I hope this doesn’t remain Lennick’s only film role. She’s hilarious but aggravating in A Serious Man, and somehow remains slightly sympathetic as she goes about ruining the hero’s life.
2. Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell – Lohman has looked like she’s 13-years-old for the past ten years, but she uses her youthful appearance to her advantage in Drag Me to Hell. She appears innocent and fresh, her lisp and fear of getting fat again add character depths to another straight-forward genre film. She manages to play the part of a heroine in a horror film, while also getting huge laughs. She’s great.
1. Tilda Swinton in Julia – This is the performance most ridiculously overlooked. Swinton plays a confused, yet clever, alcoholic who somehow gets herself into a chaotic kidnapping mess. Swinton carries the film for two and a half hours, moving in and out of sanity. You hate her most of the time, but every once in a while humanity shines through and you’re suddenly on Julia’s side again. That kind of versatility without sacrificing consistency of performance is awesome to watch.
Runners Up in No Particular Order:
Leslie Mann in Funny People
Bethany Whitmore in Mary and Max
Elle Fanning in Pheobe in Wonderland
Isabelle Fuhrman in Orphan
Sarah Polley in Splice