I’m still in awe of how incredible 2018 was. I went to Sundance and SXSW for the very first time as press, shared my writing across multiple different websites that I adore, and attended Women in Film’s Crystal + Lucy awards where I listened to Frances McDormand, Alexandra Shipp, Brie Larson, and so many others vocalize for change and champion women working in entertainment. It makes me emotional thinking back on all of it – I never would have thought I’d be doing all of this four years ago.
My favorite part about Sundance and SXSW was how much I learned while watching a variety of different films. Each one had a different message, tone, and perspective that only enhanced my love of storytelling and indie movies in general. As expected, I focused most of my viewings on female-directed and female-led stories. This year, in particular, I felt so empowered by women both in front of and behind the camera. I saw women on screen that were beautifully complex. They were passionate, vicious, selfish, loving, angry, emotional, and so much more. There are STILL so many movies I have yet to see – take Mary Queen of Scots and The Favourite for example (I KNOW. I'M SORRY, GUYS.) So, I wanted to take the end of this year to talk about a few of my favorite female performances in film from 2018. This list is in no particular order, and will definitely be growing throughout December, but it’s ones that I believe are worth watching and admiring.
5. Lady Gaga in A Star is Born
Can you imagine being a pop star and then having to pretend that you’re not and act like it’s an entirely new field for you? Lady Gaga actually, successfully, DID THAT. One scene, in particular, captures this perfectly. When Ally first arrives at Jackson’s concert, per his invitation and after their whirlwind of a first night together, Jackson pulls her on stage to sing “Shallow” with him. From this moment on, her entire demeanor changes. This globally known popstar has to pretend that she’s never performed in front of a crowd before – and she nails it. Gaga’s not afraid to dig into Ally’s emotional, flawed, and impassioned persona – especially in regards to her love for Jackson. It made me excited to see where her acting career takes her next!
4. Literally Every Female Lead in Annihilation
No, I can’t choose just one person out of this insanely talented group. There’s no way. Annihilation is a sci-fi film about a team of military scientists, led by Natalie Portman’s Lena, that venture into a mysterious environmental phenomenon coined “The Shimmer” to see what’s occurring inside. The best part about this team of scientists is that THEY’RE ALL WOMEN. Natalie Portman explained in an interview with Collider how rare it is to see a movie like this and how it feels almost radical. She said: “having multiple female leads allows women to be taken for their personalities or talents or ideas as opposed to just being ‘the woman’.” Alongside Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny each brought something different to the table. Not only are their characters incredibly brilliant, but they are complicated and filled with different emotions that only add layers to the already investing story.
3. Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade
This was easily my favorite film from SXSW. Was it because of comedian-turned-director Bo Burnham? Yeah, definitely! Was it also because of Elsie Fisher’s showstopping performance as an awkward pre-teen? HECK YEAH. Fisher is so real and genuine that there are moments when you sit back in awe and have to remind yourself that you’re still watching an actor in a movie. There are scenes that are painfully relatable to almost everyone’s eighth-grade experience – and if it isn’t then you clearly have lived a boring, awkward-less life – and Fisher radiates that energy off-screen for everyone to feel and relive those same, weird memories. Burnham crafted a female character so delicately that, while being incredibly well-written, also gave Fisher plenty of room to make Kayla her own. And to that I say… Gucci. 👌
2. Laura Dern in The Tale
I will scream from the rooftops for hours about how Laura Dern deserves an Oscar for her role in this film. Even though it’s an incredibly difficult one to watch, Dern handles Jennifer’s character with love and the utmost care. The movie is based on the memoir from The Tale's writer/director Jennifer Fox, so Dern had a lot on her plate to handle. It’s a harrowing story that requires vulnerability and an understanding of the story’s contents. Dern convincingly portrays Fox in a way that puts the viewer in her shoes. Even while recounting memories from her past, we feel her pain, frustration, and unwillingness to revisit those horrid events. You immediately become emotionally invested in Fox’s story, and Dern is determined to keep your attention up until the final minutes.
1. Toni Collette in Hereditary
Even if you’re not a horror fan, this film is worth viewing simply for Collette’s phenomenal turn as an artistic grieving mother who, after the passing of her mother, quickly begins to unravel the dark secrets that have been hidden away in her family tree. It’s 1,000% Oscar-worthy and I will fight all who disagree. Similar to what I said about Elsie Fisher’s performance, director Ari Aster crafted characters that gave the actors plenty of room to dig deep into their respective roles and soak up every last drop of their juicy personas. It’s a performance that’s overwhelming and powerful all at the same time. Collette is fearless and biting and emotional and terrifying all at once. You crave seeing more of her once the credits roll. After the success of Get Out last year, it could be another rare turn of events where we see a horror movie wind up on The Academy’s watch list.
This year has been filled with incredible female performances, these were just a few of my favorites. A couple honorable mentions are in The Kindergarten Teacher, A Simple Favor, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and Crazy Rich Asians to name a few. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for women in film. The future shines bright, and I’m forever thankful for performances like these!