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Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
It pisses me off when I hear that if Bening snatches this award away from Natalie Portman it’ll be because she’s never won and it’s about time. Screw that. Bening’s performance as Nic, the tightly wound doctor in a long term relationship with landscaper Jules (Julianne Moore), stands on its own as the year’s best. Her subtle, non-show-off portrayal is an acting lesson in itself. Watch and learn, kiddies, watch and learn.
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Many avoided seeing this deeply touching film because of the subject matter: parents coping with tragedy after their four-year-old son is struck by a car and killed. If you’re one of them you’ve missed Kidman at her best, She’s fierce, brutally funny, tender when you least expect it, and battered by the feelings that hit her when she forgets to duck.
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Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone)
Lawrence, 21, is the new kid in the bunch. But, damn, she’s good. As Ree, the caregiver in a dirt-poor Ozark family, Lawrence’s performance is more than acting, it’s a gathering storm. Ree’s pride won’t allow her to beg. “Don’t ask for what should be offered,” she tells her siblings. Director Debr Granik makes Lawrence’s expressive eyes a roadmap to what’s tearing Ree apart.
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Portman plays Nina, a dancer who knows she can’t make it in the competitive world of New York City ballet unless she damn near kills herself trying. Nina’s obsessions have her tearing at her flesh, raging at her mother and ripping into frenzied girl-on-girl action. It’s not a role, it’s a tour de force. And Portman is up to it every step of the way.
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
As one half of a marriage coming apart after six tumultuous years (Ryan Gosling is her partner), Williams gives an explosive and emotionally naked performance that tears at your insides. From her wistful street dance with Gosling to a motel tryst that backfires, Williams gets every detail right.
Favorite: Natalie Portman. To watch her is to see an actress who knows she’s biting into the role of her career. Her portrait of an artist under siege is a showstopper so thunderous even Oscar voters can’t miss it.
Spoiler: That would be Annette Bening. Pay careful attention to her in the dinner scene in which she sings Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” as if Joni knew all her secrets—”Looking for something, what can it be/Oh I hate you some, I hate you some/I love you some/Oh I love you when I forget about me/I want to be strong/ I want to laugh along/I want to belong to the living.” In a few minutes, Bening creates a life in full.
Switcheroo: Julianne Moore. Her performance really does complete Bening’s in The Kids Are All Right. With no dis intended to Michelle Williams, her work seems impossible without Gosling, and the Academy stupidly didn’t nominate him. So I’m trading Williams for Moore. What nominee would you trade for one of the snubbed?