Any time is a a splendid time to shout out to some of the finest performances by actresses. So for International Women’s Day it feels mandatory that we pluck some from the cinema-space. I chose five that have been stewing with me for some years now. And as an extra angle, these five also were not remarkably nominated with the Academy Awards.
But no matter, these iconic, compelling performances are standing the test of time, and still being spoken of highly irregardless of their awards success. In no particular order, we have:
Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise (1995)
In the mid-nineties, at the birth of what has become Richard Linklater’s timeless love story trilogy, Julie Delpy was relishing in roles that spotlighted so authentically her irresistible charms and beauty. I’m talking physically, spiritually and through her quirky demeanor. Here, in Before Sunrise, you can feel the genuine nerves of Ethan Hawke’s Jesse bumbling first impressions on Delpy’s confident French girl Celine.
Their romance blossoms through the adventure of seizing time and taking chances, and even as I re-watch this now I feel the butterflies of a smitten young man who really does not want to leave the lovely Celine on the train. Delpy’s naturalistic, alert performance is like a breath of fresh air, subtly funny and richly alluring from start to finish. The pretend phone conversation scene is a wonderfully engaging few minutes. So much depth of emotion to Celine at this stage, a magnetism, it is hard to imagine how you were not completely in love with Julie Delpy long before now.
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin (2013)
People may have forgotten how good an actress Scarlett Johansson can be. Take your minds back to Lost In Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring, and I would also add A Love Song For Bobby Long to that list. Following a shift in genre over the last ten years, Johansson gathered some much more credible attention with strong voice work in Her, a commanding lead role in Luc Besson’s return to form Lucy.
And as a man-skinning enigma in Jonathan Glazer’s eerie, but brilliant Under The Skin. Donning a convincing English accent, she creates a greater presence in the more silent, minimally expressive aspects of the role. And this should be seen as integral to the tone of the movie, rather than a lack of excellence in the performance. Johansson brings a familiar, chilling real-life isolation and anticipation to the persona – which makes her all the more human.
Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski (1998)
Prior to her Still Alice triumph, Julianne Moore was an actress who kept turning up in conversations regarding should-have-been-nominated for an Oscar. Same could often be said for the Coen brothers. Following the Academy’s partial love for them with Fargo, they decided to completely ignore The Big Lebowski. It is the wacky side of the Coens, sure, but many of their fans consider this their favorite. As do some critics I suspect.
Julianne Moore is just perfect here, in a rather peculiar role that requires her to deliver some juicy dialogue (no pun intended, honest). Moore is totally up for this, big time, and she devours this role in one gulp. An actress who can shift focus and tone with each given role, and seemingly at the blink of an eye. Easily versatile enough to be considered by the most dynamic, diverse film-makers.
Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire (1994)
What a firecracker Kirsten Dunst is in Neil Jordan’s gothic Anne Rice adaptation. I suspect there are not many that can blow the roof off the room occupied by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. Let alone a child. But in their company, youngster Dunst, as Claudia, is pretty mesmerizing, and really packs a punch. Bursting with ferocious energy and a blood-thirsty bite (figuratively and actually), Dunst blossomed like a prickly rose.
But, alas, kids rarely do well in the industry. I remember Jeremy Irons making some negative comment or other about children winning Oscars following Anna Paquin’s win the previous year. It was hardly a weak year though for actresses in supporting roles. Some consider Sally Field’s omission a bit of a shock too for Forrest Gump, a movie that was over-loved all the way to Best Picture. But Kirsten Dunst didn’t need the (well-deserved for the win) Oscar nod to project her into the acting limelight.
Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone (2012)
Marion Cotillard already had a well-earned Oscar on her shelf. It appeared that, in 2012, Emmanuelle Riva was the French woman of the moment for her performance in Amour. There was room for two. As a woman suffering a tragic accident that leaves her with the loss of her lower legs, Cotillard is in career-best form. Toughness and vulnerability, she demonstrates through her acting, the performance in Rust and Bone is a terrific example of her range.
The Academy missed a great opportunity here. Again. An excellent performance of an angry, aggrieved, suffering, strong women. Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone continues to demand our attention. We can’t imagine what it would be like to have your life turned upside down. Not just unrecoverable physical loss, but a sliding slope of emotional battery – Cotillard is so good here, we can actually see the pain.