Best Actress B-Sides

The Best Actress race this year (and Supporting Actress for that matter) has been a rather static affair, with the likes of Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, and Reese Witherpoon turning up in the shortlist at pretty much every turn. That is not to say they are not deserving winners. All three exceptional ladies appear to dominate their respective movies (with illness, femme fatale, and redemption on the menu), and have more than enough gusto to continue the form.

So with familiarity comes perhaps the more refreshing discussion of the non-starters, the no-chances, and the ones that could have made it. There is, of course, a huge divide between great female performances or roles and the acknowledgement they get during awards season. That does not mean they are not valued or loved any less. Here are 10 (11) of them for your perusal.

Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip)


It is not the protagonist of the rich, intelligent Listen Up Philip you root for, no, you have to sympathise with his rather under-appreciated girlfriend Ashley. Warmly portrayed by the talented Elisabeth Moss (also fine in The One I Love), Ashley has to put up with Philip’s bursting ego and eccentric way of speaking. She is left to wonder why she might even be with this guy, and even in his absence Ashley let’s down her hair a little to shake him off for good. Moss brings some genuinely touching and bittersweet moments along the way (especially alongside her new cat).

Lisa Loven Kongsli (Force Majeure)


When Force Majeure’s dramatic premise kicks in early on (triggered by a controlled avalanche), the slow-burning strain shows more (and rightly so) with the wife and mother of the family of four. Lisa Loven Kongsli nails how one would perhaps react in that situation. At first bewildered, even laughing at the disbelief of it, this soon morphs into despair – she is no longer concerned with the holiday potentially being ruined, but far more aware of the dents that have suddenly emerged in her marriage.

Keira Knightley (Begin Again)


Someone else having a good year, Keira Knightley received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for The Imitation Game, but also warrants praise for acting and singing in Begin Again. A much more light-hearted movie, Knightley is still required to lend her voice to Greta, who is not quite crumbling and almost shining bright. She is a convincing lead throughout, but really stands out in a few of the film’s moments – realising what her rock star boyfriend’s new song is really about, and the final moments riding her bike alone come to mind. 

Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida)


So both Agata’s from Ida have been receiving high praise ever since this fresh-faced little movie came to us (so I am cheating a little picking them both). Although Trzebuchowska plays the withdrawn nun that the movie is primarily about, it is the more boisterous turn from Kulesza that tended to get the higher acclaim. And she was perhaps mentioned as a supporting role because of the plot-line, and screen-time would likely show Trzebuchowska the lead. The expanse in volume of the two characters certainly makes them about even. Both are superb, and would make any actress list for 2014 I would care to make. To pick one over the other, is like telling which is best, chalk or cheese. That, then, and the fact it is a non-English movie, may have contributed to these actresses not being huger contenders. 

Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)


Funny and moving. The terrific Jenny Slate is both of those to full capacity in Obvious Child. A comedy about potential abortion does not, as a concept, have them rolling in the aisles with laughter. But Slate is so brutally honest in her performance (as well as in Donna’s stand up comedy routines), you have to love her, from her rather vulgar opening rant, and general outspoken nature, through her attempts at self-control and the emotional tracks she steps on along the way.

Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)


Okay, great news, Marion Cotillard’s performance in Two Days, One Night was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. It did look like for a while that it would not translate into awards success like we thought it might at first. Less coverage has been given to The Immigrant, again Cotillard playing a character having a really tough time, but she is magnificent in it. Although quite a passive role with little dialogue, her actions and reactions are priceless. She shines brightly in both, very different roles – somehow bright, vivid, and unforgettable.

Essie Davis (The Babadook)


It is not often you find and cherish a genuine horror film, but more so it is unique to be impressed by an actress commanding the lead in such a genre (remember Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist?). As The Babadook turns out to be more psychological than all out monsters, Essie Davis’ grief-stricken single mother of unbalanced child just feeds off this. She is at first sweet and vulnerable, before the enigma of the title literally drives her crazy, and on the brink of fatal madness. You won’t forget how she proclaims that she is the protector of her house and family in triumphant style.

Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer)

With an already crackingly good filmography, Tilda Swinton added the likes of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Only Lovers Left Alive to an impressive year. It is the somewhat melancholy, but hopeful, action movie Snowpiercer where she has been getting the most discussion. Donning what could well be a Yorkshire accent, Swinton portrays the spokeswoman Mason as rather sinister and uncaring, but also has a touch of goof and vulnerability. It is a terrific performance, and one you remember long after – even with her limited screen-time.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is almost the definition of breakthrough this year. I can’t comment personally on her role in Beyond The Lights, but everything I have read or seen about it were positive. In the British movie Belle (set in the 1780s), Mbatha-Raw is a mixed-race daughter under her great uncle’s guardianship, having to live within those social restrictions at a time when issues of slavery were changing. Her fearless performance stands above everyone else in the movie, including Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson. 
Mia Wasikowska (Tracks)


Set mostly across various ranges of Australian desert, Tracks follows the true story of Robyn Davidson on her nine-month trek with mostly her dog and a bunch of camels for company. Usually popping in and out of movies, a lot these days (thankfully), Mia Wasikowska is given the whole landscape to herself, and is practically in every single moment of the movie. You feel her pain and determination, with sun burnt dust on her face and mangled hair, Wasikowska remains courageous and charismatic in every one of those scenes. The actress, as well as the character here, simply have to be taken seriously.
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One response to “Best Actress B-Sides

  1. Robin, your depth of films you see is far superior to mine. I have only seen Snowpiercer. I plan on renting Force Majeure when it becomes available on iTunes as of Feb. 10. I need to rent Begin Again, Obvious Child, and The Babadook. As for Gugu Mbatha-Raw, I have no interest in seeing Belle, but I do want to see Beyond the Lights.

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