4. Cate Blanchett, 'Blue Jasmine'
What does a slow-motion nervous breakdown look like? In our worst nightmares, we fear it resembles Cate Blanchett's comic/tragic portrayal of the recently widowed Jasmine in Woody Allen's dark comedy, which stands back with a mixture of restraint and horror as it observes a woman's painful unraveling. Blanchett has never been one to hide her characters' tics and mannerisms, but as Jasmine, who is trying to rebuild her life in San Francisco after some unfortunate circumstances in New York, the role requires an endless, fascinating litany of fried nerves, frantic justifications and barely-held-together posturing, combining to dramatize a life inexorably circling the drain. Winning her second Oscar, Blanchett is volcanically funny at times, but we never quite laugh at Jasmine: Her mental collapse is so complete that it's harrowing to watch.