Best Actress is a loaded category this year in terms that it was incredibly hard for me to narrow this list down to only five lovely ladies. Their performances were all striking in different ways, but they all very much deserve a place on this list. I’m sure I’ll ruffle a few feathers by not including some notable performances, but these were genuinely my favorites from the year.
Carrie Coon (The Nest)
The Nest came out of nowhere and was sadly underappreciated as one of the few movies that came out during 2020’s plague filled year. It’s a real shame, because Carrie Coon’s role as the matriarch of the family, our main character, is one of her best. You may remember her as Ben Affleck’s sister in David Fincher’s Gone Girl, but even that small, but great, role can’t compete with her role here. Her character Allison takes a ride on a wave of emotions throughout the whole film as her husband, played by Jude Law, creates one problematic situation after another. Coon is electrifying in this role, and furthermore, I really recommend this film.
Michelle Pfeiffer (French Exit)
Michelle Pfeiffer is long overdue for some awards love. I mean, she should have easily won for Batman Returns. She is the best Catwoman, after all. However, I don’t think 2021 will be her year, either. Though she gives a meaningful performance about the relationship between a mother and son, and more importantly, that relationship following the loss of the patriarch of the family, I can’t see her garnering a single nomination for her work. But even with that being said, I can’t deny how wonderful she was as Frances Price. The woman exudes elegance out of every pore of her body. Yes, Pfeiffer may see another missed awards season, but her performance in French Exit is a must-see!
Frances McDormand (Nomadland)
A tranquil performance when it comes to the down to earth, Fern in Nomadland. A nomadic lifestyle tale of one aging woman’s efforts to remove herself further and further from her past. A beautiful film, no doubt thanks to director Chloé Zhao’s talents behind the camera, but the film would not be the same without Frances McDormand’s performance. McDormand embraces Fran, as if an alter-ego of her true self. I said in my review that Fran was made for McDormand, and McDormand was made for Fran. There’s no surprise that McDormand’s “out of the spotlight” true-life persona blends into this role. To be honest, it makes it all the more realistic. She does an incredible job at portraying such a beautiful and quiet character. There’s something so personal about this performance that, even in the time since watching the film, I want to give Fran a hug.
Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)
I’m honestly surprised at the lack of appreciation for Vanessa Kirby’s performance in Pieces of a Woman. From the moment the film begins, Kirby is on a rollercoaster of emotions. We first see her as a woman glowing from her pregnancy — soon catapulted into a nightmare of anger and depression. It’s a shockingly deep look at the aftermath of a loss of a child, and Kirby puts every ounce of herself into this character. Kirby, as I’ve said before, has thrilled us with her portrayal as Princess Margaret on The Crown. She’s entertained us with her kick-ass performances in Mission Impossible and Hobbs and Shaw. This actress is not to be pigeonholed into one genre. But dare I say, her performance as Martha is by far her best. If Kirby decides to add more action films to her resumé, I will purchase my ticket opening weekend. However, I hope she expands more into this realm of characters, because she is absolutely brilliant!
Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman)
Carey Mulligan is on an awards spree, and is the clear favorite to come out the other end holding that coveted golden statue. Mulligan has shown her talents throughout her filmography with roles in Never Let Me Go, Shame, and The Great Gatsby. Her role in An Education led to her first Oscar nomination. But even with those extraordinary performances, nothing matches that of her Cassie in Promising Young Woman. Cassie is strong-willed, unwilling to take on the fragility that people often assume a woman in her situation would gravitate to. Mulligan portrays her so well in a role that we haven’t really seen from her. She has never puts herself in the position of portraying a weak female character, so Cassie shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. However, Cassie is a different breed. She’s not only strong, but she refuses to take the crap that people have tried to force on her for years. I’ve always classified myself as a fan of this British actress, and will gladly do so in the years to come. I couldn’t be happier for her numerous nominations, because Mulligan’s performance as Cassie is, no doubt, the best female performance of 2020.