5. Amy Adams
Having earned five Oscar nomination in the past eleven years, Amy Adams is quickly rising to the top of the scale of reliable Hollywood actresses. She has shown on numerous occasions that she has a wide range in supporting roles with magnetic screen presences, but only recently has she cemented herself as a strong leading lady as well. With characters that are often endearingly virtuous while others are cunningly sharp, she brings a dynamism to each one that makes her continually interesting to watch. She also chooses excellent projects to work alongside other top-tier performers under the direction of some of the best filmmakers around.
She sprang to the industry’s attention with a knockout performance in Junebug, as a giddily optimistic pregnant woman amidst a very unenthused family. It may still be her best performance as she lights up the screen with a lifelike joy concealing a hint of regret, rendering a certain scene of emotional devastation all the more heart-wrenching to witness.
She had some more noteworthy roles in the 2000s, the best of which being an innately honest nun in Doubt. Then onto the 2010s, she showed a more dominant side as a sassy bartending love interest in The Fighter and as the brains of a faith-based cult in The Master. She nailed both parts, but thankfully did not totally abandon her softer side as demonstrated in her lovable performance in Her.
2016 was a great year for Adams, starring in two radiant mindbenders: Nocturnal Animals, in which she emulates the coldness of a passionless artist, and Arrival, in which she grounds the otherworldly elements of the story with a deep-rooted emotional emptiness that is slowly filled as her character progressively discovers a new life meaning. Adams’ maturity and maternity displayed in this part suggest a possible new and exciting phase of roles to look forward to in the future.
Adams is soon to revisit past characters she played in Justice League followed by Disenchanted, further making a name for herself as one of Hollywood’s most bankable actresses. There is no doubt that she will fill her resume with other great things along the way.
4. Kristen Wiig
Bring on the controversy. As the only actress on the list known primarily for her efforts in comedy, Kristen Wiig may seem like a very out-of-place inclusion amongst all these respected thespians. However, she is not only perhaps the funniest woman in the industry – which is a feat unto itself – but she also happens to be one of the most dramatically capable actresses in independent cinema. What makes her particularly exciting are the career choices she makes, and the risks she takes in her performances.
Since 2010, Wiig has appeared in 25 films. Many of them were comedies in which she carried over her hilarious talents from Saturday Night Live to steal every second she was on screen. When Bridesmaids came along, she proved that she could lead a feature film and be just as funny doing so, while also delivering the more dramatic beats with surprising believability.
But it was her work over the course of 2014-2015 that pedestaled her acting ability in a whole new light. In both The Skeleton Twins and Nasty Baby, Wiig shed her wacky persona to humanize her characters in a shockingly emotional way, whilst maintaining a natural sense of humor when permitted. Her performances in these two films are of as high a caliber as much of the best work done by any woman on this list. Though unlike everyone else here, Wiig’s total departure from how she is generally perceived is what makes these performances so exciting.
While she has had her share of the spotlight in mainstream films, her decision to help tell such intimate stories on a smaller scale totally separates her from other comedic performers. She is willing to enter absurdly strange territory such as in her darkly amusing conveyance of a mentally unstable woman in Welcome to Me, and she impresses as a supporting player in thematically risqué material like Diary of a Teenage Girl. She can always be relied on to give it her all, no matter what the nature of the role may be.
Next, Wiig will join Ms. Portman in The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards before starring alongside Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz in Alexander Payne’s new film Downsizing. It seems probable that she will keep up the pattern of balancing comedy and drama in awesome ways.
3. Tilda Swinton
Evading glamorous roles and welcoming the unexpected, Tilda Swinton’s ambition and flexibility with different characters is electrifying. Particularly in the last decade, she has avoided roles pertaining to normality, instead seeking out whatever she may find interesting to try with some of the most prolific filmmakers in the business. She fully commits herself to each one in ways that can be colossally satisfying or suitably harrowing.
Following smaller roles in 2000s films by such revered directors as Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze and Jim Jarmusch, Swinton landed a part in Michael Clayton which forced previously unfamiliar audiences to finally recognize her talent. Playing an antagonistic business executive plotting murderous strategies to save her corporation, she layers the nasty character with a panicked nervousness about the drastic illegality she falls deeper and deeper into. The performance led to an Oscar win, but it was only the beginning of a new chapter in her career.
She has given several praiseworthy performances so far in the 2010s, the best of which being her exhaustively distressing portrayal of a mother falling victim to an evilly conniving son in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Taking us through the gradually unsettling stages in which she helplessly watches her child’s sociopathy take hold, the drained psychological state of the character is felt with disquieting anxiety by the actress reflecting straight onto the viewer.
2013 was another strong year for Swinton, starting with a bloodthirsty role in another Jarmusch collaboration, Only Lovers Left Alive. More outlandishly impressive was her take on an exuberant (and possibly male) villain in Snowpiercer, which highlighted her ability to have fun with extreme characters in a glorious way. Since then, she has delved further into comedy with short and at times unrecognizable roles such as an elderly woman in The Grand Budapest Hotel, a cruel boss in Trainwreck and a pair of twin columnists in Hail, Caesar!. She just keeps on switching it up, and has yet to fall short of effectiveness.
Swinton will appear next in David Michôd’s War Machine with Brad Pitt, followed by Joon-ho Bong’s Okja with Jake Gyllenhaal. She will then dip her ballet foot in some horror with Suspiria before lending her voice to Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.
2. Julianne Moore
Skillful in enriching the humanity of her characters while never afraid to bare all and aim for the fences, Julianne Moore has made a point of not being pinpointed as a specific type of actress. She can be “big” in small roles and “small” in big roles, always succeeding at grabbing the viewer’s attention whenever she appears. She is clearly full of personality that shines through in her performances in ways that only hers can.
Starting out in the 90s, Moore quickly introduced her total absence of fear as an actress that sets her apart in Short Cuts, then gave her most haunting performance to date in Safe, her first of multiple collaborations with the aforementioned Todd Haynes. She again stood out in one of her very best and most iconic roles in Boogie Nights as a troubled yet motherly figure in the porn industry, for which she garnered her first Oscar nomination.
The only character that might challenge this as the most popular one she has played came a year later in The Big Lebowski, as an outrageously frank and oddball artist with an accent of royalty that can’t quite be placed. None of these performances share any resemblance, but they each represent one of her various wonderful capacities as an actress.
2002 was a landmark year for Moore, as two of her roles – both being 50s housewives – led to Oscar nominations. One was in the form of Douglas Sirk melodrama in another Haynes film, Far from Heaven, while the other portrayed a more realistic take in The Hours, one of her most impactful pieces of work to date.
Jumping ahead a decade, 2014 was another milestone for the actress, bringing her an Oscar statue for her crushing performance in Still Alice, illustrating the unfathomable despondency of slowly losing one’s mind to Alzheimer’s Disease. That same year, Moore was equally memorable in an extravagant fashion as a damaged and bombastic washed-up actress in Maps to the Stars. The strength of these performances as total opposites underlines the unique boldness that makes her so joyously titillating.
This year, Moore will team up with Haynes yet again alongside Ms. Williams in Wonderstruck. She will then star in George Clooney’s directorial effort penned with assistance by the Coen brothers, called Suburbicon. Finally, she will take on the role of a villain in the sure hit sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Her fearlessness will always keep us wanting Moore.
1. Marion Cotillard
As a French actress whose filmography consists of as much foreign-language films as it does English, there’s a case to be made that placing Marion Cotillard in the #1 spot of a list of Hollywood actresses is… cheating a little bit. However, she is technically working in Hollywood, and even her performances in foreign films have been heavily embraced by the most prestigious awards bodies in America.
What qualifies her the most is that she is utterly entrancing to watch in nearly every part she plays, ranging from movie star roles akin to those of A-listers in the golden age, to more grounded and emotional characters of such authenticity that is indeed rare to find in American actresses.
Cotillard was first introduced to U.S. audiences in a monumental fashion when she won a much-deserved Oscar for her seamless portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, making her one of the few performers in history to win for a foreign-language performance. She then dazzled in smaller roles within popular films like Public Enemies, Inception and Midnight Paris – often leaving a stronger impact than her famous co-stars with longer screen times. She has uniquely managed to dabble in both English and French films over the past decade, the latter of which have even better showcased her transcendently powerful talents.
In Rust and Bone, she conveys painfully real hardship as a survivor of an accident that took her legs, and her slow process of coping through a new romance is deeply touching due to Cotillard’s lived-in performance.
In 2014, she gave two of her very best performances, both dripping with genuine despair that pierces through her ineffably emotive eyes. First was The Immigrant, an American film starring the French actress as a Polish immigrant separated from her sister and forced into a life of prostitution. She not only sells the nationality of her character to a tee but also carries a weight of desperation and compromised innocence that is shattering to watch.
Next came what may be her most devastating work to date in Two Days, One Night. Rightfully Oscar-nominated for the second time in a foreign-language role, her grounded portrayal of a woman fighting her depression as she tries to maintain employment is heartbreaking. There is a scene in the film where a casual moment of humor causes her character to briefly smile through the sadness. The purity in Cotillard’s performance during this fleeting sense of warmth amidst an emotionally exhausting situation rings so profoundly true that it becomes the most affecting moment in the film.
Following another memorable performance in Allied which marked her first leading role in a major studio release, Cotillard will again return to her French roots as a deceased former lover in Ismael’s Ghosts before playing herself in the music comedy Rock ‘n Roll. Each upcoming entry into her filmography shall likely continue to legitimize the notion that she is Hollywood’s best and therefore most exciting contemporary actress.
Author Bio: Ryan Jamison is a first-year film student from Vancouver, Canada who loves to watch, discuss and make films. Right now, he works at a movie theater, but in the long term he aspires to become a writer/director on a more public level.