Lists like these are quite hard to make. Basically it comes down to personal tastes most of the time. I tried to remove my biases as much as possible by looking at things like awards won, box office numbers, directors worked with, critical reception, and calibre of projects. It comes down to comparing roles they are playing and buzz they are generating along with reputation within the industry. You could argue that someone on my list is not rolling in the bucks when it comes to their films but I would counter with the impact they generated with superb performance. For instance, Black Swan did not make tons of money though it did feature a stunning performance by Natalie Portman.
So here goes – my list of the top ten actresses of the last twenty years in no particular order:
1) Natalie Portman: She has been a movie star for most of her life. She burst onto the scene as a very young actress in Luc Besson’s The Professional in 2004 and left quite an impression. It was a very mature performance for such a young actress. There is very little doubt that she will be able to maintain that for however long she chooses to. Some of her choices have led to so-so reviews like My Blueberry Nights and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Though she has counter every bad turn with a great one like Black Swan, Closer and Cold Mountain. Her commitment (physical and emotional) to her role as a ballerina in Black Swan was mesmerizing.
- 2) Cate Blanchett: She has that ability of when she is cast in role to make you think that no other actress could have done as good a job. For me her standout performance was as Bob Dylan (a man!) in I’m Not There. What other actress could play Bob Dylan, Queen Elizabeth and Katherine Hepburn?! Possibly one of the most versatile actresses ever. Couple that with strong performances in films like Elizabeth, Hot Fuzz, Babel, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Notes on a Scandal, and on and on. It seems like every one of her films has been wonderful. Has also been lauded for her stagework.
- 3) Charlize Theron: This is a woman who was no doubt originally cast in films because of her looks. Blonde, statuesque and stunning. She had to fight to get “serious” parts and not just play the beauty. Finally casting directors, directors and the rest of the filmmaking world realized that she not only is a looker but she backs that up with great acting skills. It is saying something that when she deliberately uglied herself up for a role and took her looks out of the equation Theron won an Oscar Award (for Monster). She is also quite talented in many films genres as she has not only done drama (Big Country, The Road, In the Valley of Elah), but also action (Hancock, Aeon Flux, The Italian Job) and comedy (television’s Arrested Development).
- 4) Kate Winslet: What can be said about her? Kate Winslet is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Just the fact that she did not let a monster film like Titanic “ruin” her career is reason enough to include her here. Every time out she just fades into the background and brings out the character. Never allowing her persona to dominate; she is a character actress who just happens to also be beautiful. Though she has never been the type to play the pretty girl roles. Winslet tends to gravitate towards strong, interesting characters. If you look down a list of her films you will see quite an eclectic array. Fearless she will do whatever it takes to stay true to her character. From her very first feature film role in 1994’s Heavenly Creature you knew she was something special.
- 5) Angelina Jolie: Daughter of Jon Voight. She made her film debut in 1982 at the age of 7 then her first lead role came in 1995 in the film Hackers. Another actress that has been hampered throughout her career by her celebrity and her extraordinary looks. It was finally in 1999 that she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her courageous turn in Girl, Interrupted. Not only strong in drama (Changeling, A Mighty Heart, Gia) but has become the premiere action actress of her generation due to her films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Salt, Wanted, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Off screen she has become quite well known for her work with the UN and refugees.
- 6) Julianne Moore: Though Annette Bening got all the glory for the film The Kids Are All Right, it was Julianne Moore’s performance that was the emotional centre of the film. She gives an incredible depth to whatever character she is playing. Hard to believe an actress of this kind of talent and who has been in a number of wonderful films (The Hours, Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven) has not won an Oscar yet. Must be a manifestation of the biases against redheads (kinda just kidding).
- 7) Jodie Foster: Another incredible talent who started off very young. She just exudes strong and smart in whatever role she has taken on. Getting the itch to go behind the camera she has also become quite a director as well. A multiple Oscar winner for her turns in The Accused and Silence of the Lambs.
- 8) Nicole Kidman: Is on everyone’s top actresses list. Hollywood’s top Australian import. Gives off that glamour like old time actresses did. Her range is as arresting as her red hair. Showed in Moulin Rouge that she is a triple threat who can act, sing and dance. Finally came into her own after her divorce from Tom Cruise. Best thing she has done for her career. Has received heaps of well-deserved critical acclaim. Won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as author Virginia Woolf in The Hours.
- 9) Meryl Streep: Probably not only on this list but on the top actresses of all time list. Has been nominated for an Oscar Award an amazing 16 times. Crazy! Has won twice. There seems to be no character type that she cannot play. She has played a young divorcee (Kramer vs. Kramer), the worst boss ever (The Devil Wears Prada), a stern nun (Doubt), a mother who in a time of war has to choose between her children (Sophie’s Choice), chef Julia Child (Julie & Julia), and a union activist (Silkwood). Next up she is to portray the iconic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Plus she can do any accent (Polish, British, Danish, Australian, Irish, Italian, and numerous American accents). Shows no signs of slowing down and just keeps adding to already impressive resume.
10) Jennifer Connelly: She began her career as a model. Has become one of the few models who have successfully made the transition from that profession to acting. She did put in the work required as she studied English at Yale and then drama at Stanford University. Has no aversion to, even though she is an Oscar Award winning actress (Best Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind), starring in low budget independent films. It is in these that she has gained plenty of critical acclaim. It was her breakthrough film, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, that really garnered her plenty of attention. She was no longer thought of by Hollywood as just another pretty face. The courage that role required to show her character’s descent into drug addiction and mental breakdown was astonishing. This mind blowing performance was followed up with films like Waking the Dead, A Beautiful Mind, The House of Sand and Fog, Reservation Road, and Little Children. She exudes smart, always seems with it and shows no signs of being your typical self-involved Hollywood actress.