The 5 Best Leading Female Performances of 2013


Click here to check out my 5 favorite leading male performances of 2013.

On to the leading ladies!

One could plausibly argue 2013 was as strong a year at the top for leading women as it was for leading men, and one couldn’t plausibly argue that most other years. It was a great year for established actresses, but an even better one for up-and-comers. The Oscars would have you believe only big-name, previously nominated actresses had good years, but that’s why we shouldn’t fret too much about who the Academy chooses to recognize.

Honorable mentions in this category include Gravity‘s Sandra Bullock, American Hustle‘s Amy Adams, Enough Said‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints‘ Rooney Mara (who was pretty damn good in Side Effects, too.)

Brie Larson, Short Term 12
The film’s onion-like screenplay does her a lot of favors. Her Grace starts the film a hard-headed enforcer with a singular purpose, but she becomes someone—or more accurately, reveals herself to be someone—who needs as much as she’s needed. While she’s not exactly a newcomer, there’s no denying this is one of the year’s most incredible breakthrough performances. I’m really eager to see where she goes from here.

Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
I think Frances Ha is a film for a generation in the same way Annie Hall was, and to that end, I think Greta Gerwig’s performance can be compared to Diane Keaton’s in Woody Allen’s classic comedy. She’s a character we have no reason to love except for the fact that she’s utterly lovable. She’s flighty, frustrating, unrelatable, and undateable, but she’s utterly compelling, and Gerwig simply shines.

Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
I’m still surprised John Lee Hancock’s film fared so poorly with the Academy, particularly insofar as it missed out on a Best Actress nomination for the sublime Emma Thompson. I get why people dislike her character’s shortcomings and what they represent, but I found her turn utterly charming. I was particularly impressed with her in the film’s conclusion; never has watching someone watch a movie been so emotionally satisfying.

Olivia Wilde, Drinking Buddies
There are few things better for cinephiles than being surprised—surprised by a movie, by an actor you didn’t think was capable of something great. Drinking Buddies hit both of those notes. Joe Swanberg’s film stunned me with its patience and observational comedy. Olivia Wilde, too, stunned me for the way she realized her character’s fragility, feistiness, and uneasiness when it comes to realizing her happiness.

And my choice for the best performance by an actress in a leading role in 2013 is…

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
I wish my heart belonged exclusivly to a Gerwig, Wilde, or Larson, but no, it’s Blanchett’s and only Blanchett’s this year. I came out of Blue Jasmine only mild on it overall, yet I couldn’t shake Blanchett’s performance. It’s gargantuan. Her Jasmine is just a blubbering mess of a human being, and while her misery isn’t always compelling, she always is. Hers isn’t just my favorite performance by a leading actress this year, it’s my favorite performance of 2013, full stop.

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