Best Actress

One of the most talked about categories at this year’s Oscars, and one of my personal favorites, is the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  This year features one of the most unique fields the category has ever known.  Not only does Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) become the oldest Best Actress nominee of all time (85 years, 321 days), but Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) also becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee of all time (9 years, 135 days).  An even more impressive fact about Wallis’ nomination—she was actually only six years old when the movie was made!  The rest of this year’s group features actresses that have previously been nominated for Academy Awards.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany Maxwell, an eccentric widow with emotional issues due to her husband’s death.  In every way possible, Lawrence gives a performance that everyone will remember for a long time.  She plays a character that is oddly twisted and severely bizarre, but the emotion and dexterity she brings to this portrayal is something I watched in absolute awe.  In a year with some startlingly remarkable female performances, Lawrence stands out and deserves this great honor.  Lawrence was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone (2010).

2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

In Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA agent that devotes a decade to hunting down the world’s most dangerous man—Osama bin Laden.  Even though this film has been met with great criticism over the content, one thing that has not received anything but sheer admiration is the performance Chastain gives as the determined agent.  I went back and forth about who I thought truly gave the better performance this year, but even though Chastain would probably win this Oscar in any other year, I concluded that it was not as dominate as Lawrence’s performance.  Chastain was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011).

3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva plays Anna, a retired music teacher that suffers a stroke.  After her incident, she is never quite the same, and the enduring, loving relationship with her husband is tested in every way.  As the oldest nominee of all time for Best Actress, Riva takes on one of the most complex roles of the year.  The role is not just multifarious for the emotional requirements of the performance but also for the physical characteristics that it mandates.  I was more than impressed with her portrayal, and as a fan of film, I am lucky to have seen Riva’s astounding performance this year.  Riva has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a 6-year-old girl living with her father Wink in an area known as “The Bathtub” below the levee in southern Louisiana.  A deadly storm is on its way to the region, and Hushpuppy and her father must fight to survive.  Wallis gives one of the brightest performances of any actor or actress this year, and it is amazing to think someone so young could provide us with a gem like this.  Some absolutely stellar performances will more than likely beat out Wallis for this Oscar, but if her future portrayals are anything like this one, she is sure to be back at the Academy Awards many times in the future.  Wallis has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

In The Impossible, Naomi Watts plays Maria Bennett, a woman on vacation in Thailand with her family when a devastating tsunami comes ashore and demolishes everything in its sight.  The film is based on the true experiences of the Belón family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  While Watts does give an emotional performance, and arguably one of the better portrayals of her career, I was more than surprised when she received a nomination.  She did a good job, but it was nothing spectacular by any means.  There were a handful of non-nominated performances this year that justifiably should have received a nomination in her place.  Watts was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 21 Grams (2003).

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 9 – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a film directed by Benh Zeitlin, with a screenplay written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar.  The story follows 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a young girl living with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in an area of southern Louisiana below the levee known as “The Bathtub.”  A fierce storm is making its way towards the Bathtub, and the reality that Hushpuppy thought she knew is shifted upside down in an abrupt rage.  The storm leaves her house under water, and Hushpuppy must learn to survive while also taking care of her father who becomes gravely ill.  With the help of the tight-knit Bathtub citizens, coupled with her keen sense of imagination, Hushpuppy fights to conquer these catastrophes.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is by far one of the best films released this past year.  It is fantastical, creative, and enjoyable in every sense of the word.  Part of my fascination and appreciation for this movie is the fact that no one associated with this project is anyone I have ever heard of before.  Remarkably, this is Zeitlin’s very first feature film, having only created short films in his days as a filmmaker.  The screenplay he and Alibar wrote was also adapted from a one-act play (Juicy and Delicious) originally written by Alibar herself.

Aside from the little-known director and writer, some absolutely awe-inspiring acting performances are showcased in this film, and the two lead actors were complete amateurs entering the production of this movie.  In fact, Dwight Henry was simply a local business owner in New Orleans, and after developing a relationship with Zeitlin and the other members of his film crew prior to production of the movie, he was offered the role due to his own emotional experiences during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Before viewing the film, I had no knowledge Henry’s pure lack of acting experience, and quite frankly, he fooled us all.  The passion and power he brings to the role of Wink is done in a way that only veteran actors could do—but here stands Henry, someone who had never acted before, giving viewers an enthusiastically exquisite portrayal of a man that has fallen on hard times of epic proportions.

The most breathtaking performance in the film, however, is that of Quvenzhané Wallis.  Wallis, now nine years old, was only six when the movie was filmed.  That fact alone makes her brilliantly astonishing portrayal of Hushpuppy even more impressive.  In the film, Hushpuppy is driven by her creative imagination and her fascination with animals, and Wallis’ emotional depiction makes you think it is truly Quvenzhané on the screen in these disastrous circumstances and not Hushpuppy.  Her interpretation of this character has not gone unnoticed—she has been nominated for many significant awards, including Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards.  After seeing this film, Wallis’ nomination is more than justified.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is rated PG-13 for thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language, and brief sensuality.

Academy Award nominations for Beasts of the Southern Wild:

Best Picture (Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, and Michael Gottwald, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Quvenzhané Wallis)

Directing (Benh Zeitlin)

Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo