This was another crowded field to winnow down, and I’ll start by acknowledging some great performances that didn’t make the cut: Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye), Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter), Alana Haim (Licorice Pizza), Rachel Sennot (Shiva Baby), and Tessa Thompson (Passing).
And the nominees are…
Jody Comer – The Last Duel
Little Monsters were outraged when Lady Gaga missed out on an Oscar nomination for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. But the real outrage is that the best performance in a Ridley Scott film last year wasn’t even in the conversation.
Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges, a real-life French noblewoman who publicly accused a prominent knight of rape. The tale is told from the perspective of the accuser, the accused, and the accused’s husband, meaning Comer has to play variations on the role while maintaining a through line of her character’s inherent righteousness.
Comer plays those shades beautifully, and really cuts loose in the third segment — her own — by showcasing Marguerite’s wit, guile, dignity, and fury.
Emilia Jones – CODA
I’ve sung the praises of CODA once already, and you can expect it to turn up again over the next few weeks of movie posts. It’s that good.
And it would not have worked without the exceptional lead performance by Emilia Jones. The English actress, who shot this movie at just 17 years old, had to learn American Sign Language and adopt a New England accent. She also trained as both a singer and a fishing trawler to embody this unique character.
Give her points for all that prep work, but the true testament to her talent is the deep well of emotion she taps into as Ruby. So much invisible craft overwhelmed by even more heart.
Taylour Paige – Zola
Paige did a different kind of prep for her first lead role, working for a month as a stripper to bring authenticity to the title character in Zola.
The movie is such a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of sex, violence and depravity that it would never work without a powerful center of gravity. Paige provides that anchor, putting on a brave face amid the insanity while her expressive eyes betray the fear and uneasiness below the surface.
I was thrilled to see Paige take home the Indie Spirit Best Actress award this past weekend.
Renate Reinsve – The Worst Person in the World
As Worst Person‘s Julie, Reinsve is smart, funny, heartbreaking and real, a millennial Annie Hall who isn’t sure what she wants from life or whether she’s worthy of getting it.
Appearing in every scene, she embodies the spirit of a movie that isn’t afraid to be awkward, challenging, sobering and surreal. She feels at once like a symbol of her generation and a woman you could run into at a corner café.
Rachel Zegler – West Side Story
Imagine being 16 years old and landing your first movie role. Imagine that role is Maria in a remake of West Side Story by Steven friggin’ Spielberg.
Zegler took on that challenge with grace, delivering a definitive take on the lovestruck teen that felt all the more real because of her own age. And she unleashed a gorgeous singing voice perfectly suited to the Leonard Bernstein tunes.
I didn’t plan it this way, but all five of my nominees are young actresses embarking on very different and very exciting careers. I can’t wait to see what’s next for each and every one of them.
And the winner is… Emilia Jones. For the level of difficulty and the fact that nobody this year moved me more.