Julianne Moore – Savage Grace
Oh, if the Academy had any balls, Julianne Moore would be the front-runner in the Best Actress race come winter, but Savage Grace is just too dirty and too risqué for Oscar; it's an Oscar performance in a film most Oscar voters wouldn't dare see. In a perfect world where Moore would be praised like crazy for her work as dysfunctional socialite Barbara Baekeland, she would hardly be the only actress to win a trophy for being the most (and possibly only) outstanding thing about a film (coughMarionCotillardcough), for director Tom Kalin owes it to Moore, who’s been striving for another commanding breakthrough role since her lousy deal with Sony, for single-handedly elevating Savage Grace from sleaze to magic. I don’t think any actress today (aside from Denise Richards, but that’s another story altogether) can utter the word “cunt” with as much ferocity as Moore, and after you see the film, try to think of another actress who would have even tried to pull of that scene.
Juliette Binoche – Flight of the Red Balloon [Le voyage du ballon rouge]
Juliette Binoche is a gifted actress, we all know this, but she’s so consistently good that sometimes we forget how talented she really is. She’s not given much to do in Michael Haneke’s Caché, which is fine, and I didn’t even bother with Dan in Real Life. However, in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon, Binoche absolutely immersed herself into the role of the single mother/actress in such a way that I almost didn’t even recognize her. And, no, it wasn’t because it was the first time I’ve ever seen the actress blonde. There’s a moment near the end of the film where, distraught, she tries to wipe away her tears to ask her young son how his day went. There’s so much feeling and complexity in such a small moment that it should come as no surprise that most major filmmakers want to work with her.
Asia Argento – Boarding Gate
Ms. Argento gets a lot of slack, and I can’t say I haven’t handed it to her before. Most of her performances in her father’s films are unfortunate, particularly in The Stendhal Syndrome and the most recent Mother of Tears. However, somewhere around the time of B. Monkey, she became a sex kitten, and with that, a lot (or maybe a little) can be deduced. Bruce La Bruce said about Asia (I’m paraphrasing) that she’s the essence of an Italian star, like Silvana Mangano and Anna Magnani. "She's extremely sensual, sexual, intellectual aggressive and rebellious. She's a hard fucking man in reverse. That's daunting for some men, I suppose." What La Bruce said about Argento can be best found in Olivier Assayas’ Boarding Gate, which gives the underrated (or at least poorly used) actress her finest role to date as a woman fleeing from her criminal past. Argento gives the film precisely what it needs to stick with you. Behind her naughty angel tattoo, black bra and panties, and raspy voice lies something shockingly human. Argento proves that a sex kitten’s best appeal is her mystery; however, in small suggestions in Boarding Gate, it makes her all the more complicated and alluring.
Béatrice Dalle – Inside [À l’intérieur]
Béatrice Dalle has been an obsession of mine ever since I saw Betty Blue at an age where I was too young to appreciate it. In many ways, she’s a precursor to Asia Argento, a sex symbol teamed with a dangerous carnality, both a male fantasy and a nightmare. In Inside, Dalle is the exception to the rule in regards to the other actresses listed here. Her power isn’t from being given a strong role as it is what she does with her role. As the mysterious woman who terrorizes a young pregnant woman on Christmas Eve, Dalle invokes utter terror and frightening sexiness to her role, which was probably far more than was demanded of her (even though the first-time directors stated that they always had her in mind, but never thought she’d agree to star). Dalle gives one of the most shiver-inducing performances I’ve seen in a horror film since the 1970s.
Inés Efron – XXY
I’m obsessed with Inés Efron and I didn’t even know it! It wasn’t until I looked her up after XXY, that I realized she was also in the absolutely splendid Glue. And that is quite the tribute as Glue was one of my favorite films of last year. In XXY, Efron plays a hermaphrodite named Alex, with both sex organs, whose parents chose female as her preferred outward gender. Alex is around fifteen and coming of age. In a way, XXY is the superior version of Teeth in which a blossoming young woman’s anatomy just multiplies the anxiety of sexual maturation. In XXY, Efron is perfect, in both her demeanor and chilling despair. It’s the sort of performance you see, without knowing much about the actress, and assume, “Well, the director must have found her on the street and knew she was exactly what was needed for the role.” However, XXY is her fourth film, and not only is her role sizable in its challenges, Efron is both delicate and rough and handles the conflicting femininity and masculinity like an actress twice her senior. Fabulous stuff.