5. Toni Collette – Best Actress, Hereditary
Hereditary is one of the most talked about horror films of the decade, not only because it’s one of the scariest films in recent memory, but because of its remarkable depiction of grief, tragedy, and family quarrels. Like its influences The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, the film isn’t about a scream queen, but about a mother whose tormented by unbearable situations that turn into supernatural circumstances. Toni Collette’s performance as Annie Graham is the type of emotionally vulnerable role that will make the audience squirm.
Hereditary becomes so effective because for the early moments in the film, the supernatural elements are subdued and the film functions purely as a family drama. The core tenants of this family and their relationships must be well defined before introducing the supernatural horror, and Collette doesn’t hold back in showing the lasting effects of grief. It’s hard to think of many Oscar winning performances from the last decade that are quite as memorable.
4. Angourie Rice – Best Supporting Actress, The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys is hands down one of the best comedies of the last ten years, with Shane Black producing an instantly iconic reinvention of the buddy cop duo that is brought to life by incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Generally, in a film like this the addition of a main character’s daughter would feel like an unnecessary distraction that pointlessly tries to add emotion to the story, but that isn’t the case with The Nice Guys. As Holly, the daughter of Gosling’s character, breakout star Angourie Rice is just as hilarious as the two leads and becomes an integral part of the mystery.
The relationship between Rice and Gosling is incredibly poignant on screen; while Gosling’s character feels like a complete failure, the audience learns of his redeeming values by seeing the skills he’s passed on to his daughter. Rice does a great job at showing the exasperation at her father, and possesses the same spirit of biting off more than she can chew throughout the course of the adventure. The Academy will occasionally nominate child actor performances, but it’s hard to think of a child performance from the past decade that is quite as dynamic.
3. Scarlett Johansson – Best Actress, Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson’s performance in Under the Skin isn’t the type of performance the Academy generally recognizes. It’s not even because the film is an existential sci-fi horror film, but because Johansson plays a character who is only beginning to understand humanity. In her performance as a mysterious extraterrestrial creature, Johansson bears witness to the banality of humanity as she experiments and seduces men in an effort to understand them.
While much of the film weaponizes Johansson’s sexuality as a means of trapping men, her character’s blank emotions are devoid of any inherent charisma. Instead, the creature begins to build an identity based on what she expects men to want from her, and Johansson does a fantastic job at building this character’s understanding of human nature. It’s a multifaceted performance that combines body horror and philosophy, and a role this demanding was certainly worthy of awards recognition.
2. Jessica Chastain – Best Supporting Actress, The Tree of Life
Jessica Chastain received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for a 2011 film, but it was for the dull, borderline offensive drama The Help. That nomination is all the more infuriating when considering the fact that Chastain was infinitely stronger in another film that year: The Tree of Life. In Terrence Malick’s masterpiece, Chastain plays the ethereal mother figure to Jack O’Brien as he grows up and confronts the more aggressive tendencies of his father (Brad Pitt).
Malick’s film combines realism and dreamlike qualities, and the performances must feel completely grounded in memory, yet surreal as it connects to the larger vision of eternity. Chastain has to play both a comforting mother figure who passes on a message of compassion and a metaphorical figure who transcends the coming of age story, and she succeeds at balancing the two with a magnificent performance.
1. Julie Delpy – Best Actress, Before Midnight
The Before trilogy is a landmark achievement in modern cinematic history, in that it is a rare movie franchise about the intimacies of a romance and how it is affected by time. The trilogy’s third film, Before Midnight, managed to take the story of the first two films and take it to its natural conclusion, all while preserving the magic of seeing these two beloved characters talk to each other. Julie Delpy’s character Celine must wrestle with the reality that their romance may have faded, and that she may have given up the best years of her life chasing a dream that would never come to fruition.
In an incredible sequence, Delpy finally lets loose on Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and explains in detail all that she has sacrificed and what her daily life is really like. The incredibly poignant words never feel staged because of Delpy’s conviction, and the dark comedy she frequently wields turns acidic in this moment of hostility. At the same time, the moments of pure love feel just as effervescent as they did eighteen years prior in Before Sunrise. Delpy never got an acting nomination for playing this character, and that’s a shame considering what a high note she leaves the character on.