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The 25 Best Actresses of the 21st Century

30 April 2017 | Features, People Lists | by Andre Watkins

The 21st century has provided some of the greatest performances in film history by master actresses from around the world. The following is a listing of actors that have made some of the most memorable and acclaimed performances of the century thus far.

 

25. Jennifer Lawrence

Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games, American Hustle, Joy, Passengers

Winter’s Bone

Perhaps the most famous American actress of the 21st century, Jennifer Lawrence is the first actress born in the 1990’s to receive an acting Oscar. Lawrence’s highest grossing role has been her work as Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” series. Lawrence’s best work however, may be from the 2010 low-budget independent film “Winter’s Bone”.

In the film Lawrence portrays a teenage girl in the rural Ozarks searching for her missing father in order to prevent her family from being evicted from their home. “Winter’s Bone” won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and received four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Lawrence starred in two additional Oscar nomination Best Pictures, 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook”, and 2013’s “American Hustle”.

Lawrence received a Golden Globe nomination for “Winter’s Bone”, and won Golden Globes for “Silver Linings Playbook”, “American Hustle”, and “Joy”. Lawrence received a BAFTA nomination for “Silver Linings Playbook” and won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for “American Hustle”. Lawrence received Oscar nominations for “Winter’s Bone”, “American Hustle”, and “Joy”, winning the Best Actress Oscar in 2013 for her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook”.

 

24. Rachel Weisz

Enemy at the Gates, The Constant Gardener, The Fountain, The Lovely Bones, The Deep Blue Sea, Youth, The Lobster, Complete Unknown, The Light Between Oceans, Denial

Rachel Weisz in The Fountain

British Actress Rachel Weisz racked up awards in 2005 playing an activist married to a British embassy official in Fernando Meirelles’s “The Constant Gardener”. In more recent years Weisz has provided a strong showing in 2015’s “The Lobster” and “Youth”, along with three films of note in 2016 with “Complete Unknown”, “The Light Between Oceans”, and the role of historian Deborah Lipstadt who works to prove that Holocaust actually occurred in “Denial”.

Weisz received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in “The Deep Blue Sea”, and won the Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in 2005’s “The Constant Gardener”.

 

23. Kristen Stewart

Twilight, Camp X-Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, Certain Women, Café Society, Personal Shopper

personal-shopper

Though she may be known primarily for her work in the commercial teen hit film series “Twilight”, Kristen Stewart has become an acclaimed actress in recent years for her work in independent and foreign language film.

Stewart’s recent notable work includes a performance alongside Julianne Moore in 2014’s “Still Alice”, two films with French director Oliver Assayas with 2014’s “Clouds of Sils Maria” and 2016’s “Personal Shopper”, and young lawyer teaching class on school law in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 “Certain Women”.

Kristen Stewart won the BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2010. In 2015 Stewart won Best Supporting Actress at the Cesar Awards in France for her performance in Oliver Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria”, making her the first American actress to win a Cesar Award.

 

22. Maggie Cheung

In the Mood for Love, Hero, Clean, 2046

Actress Maggie Cheung may have the smallest filmography of the actresses on this list, however her work in those few films warrants her inclusion. Cheung starred alongside Tony Leung in Kar-Wai Wong’s 2000 masterpiece “In the Mood for Love”.

In the film, Cheung plays Su Li-zhen, a secretary who moves into an apartment building with her husband at the same time as her neighbor Chow Mo-wan, a journalist. With their respective spouse away on work for long durations, the two neighbors form a bond after suspecting that their spouses are having an affair with each other.

“In the Mood for Love” has become the most acclaimed film of the 21st century, appearing as the #24 film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll. In 2015, the Busan International Film Festival ranked “In the Mood for Love” as the third greatest Asian film of all time on its “Asian Cinema 100” list, behind Yasujirō Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” and Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”.

Cheung received a Best Actress Cesar Award nomination, and won Best Actress at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Oliver Assayas’ 2004 “Clean”. Cheung became the first Asian actress to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

21. Penelope Cruz

Blow, Vanilla Sky, Volver, Elegy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Broken Embraces, Nine, To Rome with Love

Volver

Penelope Cruz’s 21st century work may best be represented by her work with two directors known for creating films with female driven stories, Pedro Almodovar and Woody Allen. Cruz received critical acclaim for her work with Almodovar for the films “Volver” and “Broken Embraces”, winning Best Actress at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “Volver”.

Cruz starred alongside Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson in Allen’s “To Rome with Love”, and provided an entertaining supporting role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”.

Cruz received a BAFTA nomination for “Volver”, and won the Best Supporting Actress BAFTA for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Cruz also received Oscar nominations for “Volver”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, and “Nine”, winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, becoming the first Spanish actress to receive an Academy Award.

 

20. Judi Dench

Chocolat, Iris, Pride & Prejudice, Mrs Henderson Presents, Casino Royale, Notes of a Scandal, Quantum of Solace, Nine, Jane Eyre, The Shipping News, My Week with Marilyn, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Skyfall, Philomena

With a career spanning six decades, Dame Judi Dench has established herself as one of the important actress in British theatre and cinema. Dench’s 21st century filmography includes acclaimed performances in films including “Notes on a Scandal”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, “Mrs Henderson Presents”, “Pride & Prejudice”, “Iris”, and “Philomena”.

Dench received 21st century Oscar nominations for her performance in “Chocolat”, “Iris”, “Mrs Henderson Presents”, “Notes on a Scandal”, and “Philomena”. Dench received BAFTA nominations in the 21st century for her work in “Chocolat”, “The Shipping News”, “Iris”, “Mrs Henderson Presents”, “Notes on a Scandal”, “My Week with Marilyn”, “Skyfall”, and “Philomena”, winning the BAFTA for Best Actress in 2002 for “Iris”.

 

19. Rooney Mara

The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Side Effects, Her, Carol, Lion, The Discovery

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Perhaps one of the most up and coming actresses of the 21st century, Rooney Mara has already established herself among film aficionados appearing in films for acclaimed directors including David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, Todd Haynes, and Terrence Malick. Mara’s most acclaimed performance to date may be that of an aspiring photographer who finds herself in a love affair with another woman in 1950s New York in 2015’s “Carol”.

Mara received Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her role in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, and BAFTA, SAG, Golden Globe, and Oscar nominations for her performance in “Carol”. Mara won Best Actress at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in “Carol”.

 

18. Scarlett Johansson

Ghost World, Lost in Translation, Girl with a Pearl Earring, A Love Song for Bobby Long, Match Point, The Black Dahlia, Scoop, The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, We Bought a Zoo, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Avengers, Under the Skin, Her, Lucy, Hail Caesar, Ghost in the Shell

Under The Skin (2014)

Scarlett Johansson’s 21st century filmography includes starring in two Best Picture Oscar nominated films “Lost in Translation”, “Her”, starring in multiple critically acclaimed films including “The Prestige” and “Under the Skin”, and becoming the highest-grossing actress of all time in North America.

Johansson has worked with acclaimed directors including Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen, Joel and Ethan Coen, Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Glazer, and Spike Jonze. In recent years Johansson’s work has delved more into the sci-fi genre of film with performances in “Her”, “Under the Skin”, “Lucy”, and “Ghost in the Shell”.

Johansson’s performance as an alien inhabiting the form of a young woman in Jonathan Glazer’s 2013 “Under the Skin” was particularly memorable as many scenes were ad-libbed with non-actors in Scotland, giving her performance as an alien preying upon unsuspecting men a particularly haunting feel. “Under the Skin” was included among the best films of 2014 by several critics and publications including the website rogerebert.com which named it as the top film of the year among its critics.

Johansson received Golden Globe nominations for her work in “Lost in Translation”, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, “A Love Song for Bobby Long”, and “Match Point”. Johansson also received a BAFTA nomination for “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, and won the BAFTA for Best Actress in 2003 for her performance in “Lost in Translation”.

 

 

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