January 14, 2007

MOVIES: Best of 2006 -- actress

Very easy to separate the top five from the runners-up this year, but very hard to choose a single winner from that strong top group.

The runners-up:
  • Maggie Cheung, Clean
  • Penelope Cruz, Volver
  • Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page
  • Keke Palmer, Akeelah and the Bee
  • Jodie Whittaker, Venus

The finalists:

  • Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal -- a role that could easily have toppled into Withered Repressed Lesbian Schoolmarm cliche (and certainly never loses those elements entirely) is salvaged by Dench's precise attention to detail and her insistence on presenting Barbara as a complete person; we may never be told exactly what in Barbara's life has warped her personality so badly, but there's no doubt that Dench knows.
  • Queen Latifah, Last Holiday -- admittedly the most eccentric choice on any of my lists this year. Yes, the movie's got a tired, predictable plot; and yes, the supporting cast looks like the cast of next year's Surreal Life (LL Cool J! Timothy Hutton! Gerard Depardieu!), but when Latifah's on screen, none of that matters. Georgia is a fully rounded character, and Latifah brings fresh life and energy to the most hackneyed moments; even a shopping montage, for instance, is filled with joy and charm.
  • Helen Mirren, The Queen -- Mirren's Elizabeth is trapped between the old world of quiet dignity and the new world of celebrity culture, and struggling frantically to find some way to satisfy the public without betraying what she believes it is to be royalty; it is astonishing how much Mirren communicates with very small gestures, facial expressions, and inflections.
  • Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada -- like Mirren, a performance of subtle gradations; every "That's all" and every tossed-aside overcoat means something different. I admit that I have never been a fan of Streep's Tormented Women with Foreign Accents, but I adore her as a comic actress.

And the winner:

  • Ellen Page, Hard Candy -- a very close call over Dench and Mirren, but Page's ferocious work deserves to be singled out. She's so completely convincing as both the innocent young girl and the avenging beast that we're never entirely sure which persona is the real Hayley, or if we've even seen the real Hayley.

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