1. Michelle Williams
-Surely the finest young actress of her generation. Michelle Williams has spit out some of the most powerful, most dynamic performances over a consistent period of years ever since she seperated from the hit teen melodramatic television series, Dawson's Creek. In which she played troubled Jen Lindley opposite James Van Der Beek as the title character. The show was what it was. It wasn't a total bomb. Hell, I actually found it quite entertaining. And the fact that Dawson was an aspiring filmmaker definitely boosted my motivation to watch it every week. Everyone seemed to love it, just Kevin Williamson's writing was a wee bit unrealistic and unnatural. But the actors, especially Williams, did what they could to flesh the unreal characters out. Once Dawson finished in 2003, Williams hit the ground running as if she had just graduated high school and was eager to travel the world. With supporting roles in films like The United States of Leland opposite another incredible 'best actor of his generation,' Ryan Gosling. Tom McCarthy's cult debut, The Station Agent, in which she played a young librarian who falls for a man with dwarfism (played beautifully by Peter Dinklage). As well as Imaginary Heroes and Prozac Nation. However it wasn't until 2005 when she really got to spread her wings and take quite a gut wrenching role as the wife of a closeted gay cowboy in Ang Lee's masterpiece, Brokeback Mountain. The role earned her an Oscar nod for best supporting actress. She was flawless. It was also on this very film that she met her future beau, Heath Ledger (who unfortunately died at the age of 28 in 2008). Williams continued to crank out more and more terrific independent films taking on daring and even at times quite risky roles. Pretty much telling the Hollywood system to fuck off and refused to be marketed as a sex symbol. But it seemed no matter how many films she took on, her recognition was still not being rewarded as well as it should be. But then she came back with a vengeance tackling a lead role teaming up her United States of Leland co-star Ryan Gosling once again in one of the finest films I have seen in a while, Blue Valentine, in 2010. A film which she signed on for back in 2002 and had almost a decade to prepare for. Her and Gosling spent an entire month together living in a house as their characters (who are married). The preparation sure paid off and it was like watching a two hour acting class. Truly the best work she has done since Brokeback. Only this time she was in practically every frame. An honest and raw performance that most young actresses nowadays would be too afraid to take on and would much rather go the easy route with brainless material like Jonah Hex or Transformers (I'm talkin to you, Megan Fox) and just show their tits and ass for a couple hours. Williams has decided to stand the test of time with her acting. Something we can see her excelling at well into her 80's. A class act. Not only is she beautiful on the outside, but incredibly beautiful inside. She should just keep doing what she's doing and not worry. Her time will come.
2. Gena Rowlands
-A Woman Under the Influence. Enough said. Buuuuuuuuuuuut I'll say a little more because this woman deserves nothing less. Being referred to as, at times, "Mrs. Cassavetes" (considering she was married to him from 1954-1989), Rowlands held her own. Yes, she was Mrs. Cassavetes, but also one of the (and still remains today) greatest living actresses of all time. Tackling some of the most exhausting, gut wrenching, soul ripping epic films like Opening Night, Minnie and Moskowitz, and her finest performance, A Woman Under the Influence (All written/directed by her husband). In which she played an unstable wife of Peter Falk who eventually gets sent to a mental institution. Rowlands is not only gorgeous inside and out, but she is also just totally pure. Someone who embraces her age each year (Rowlands is 81). There is a particular scene in A Woman where Peter Falk's character, Nick, has all his construction buddies over for a spaghetti lunch made by Rowland's character, Mabel (Nick's wife). Later they are all at the dining table eating. Nick on one end. Mabel on the other. The workers in between. Mabel begins to ask each worker what their name is, each and every one. Her whole objective is to try to make them all feel as comfortable as possible, but it does anything but. Especially for Nick. It may not sound like an incredible segment, but trust me, check out the film and you'll know what I mean. Though, I feel, that Cassavetes really brought out the best in Rowland's work with the films that he made in the 60's, 70's and even 80's (with her awesome, kick-ass performance in the title role of 1980's Gloria), Rowlands still had some strong work on the side which included Night on Earth, Machine Gun McCain and Woody Allen's Another Woman. And her son, Nick Cassavetes, who is also a writer/director, has put her in some interesting roles as well (Unhook the Stars, She's So Lovely). Her best one to date being 2003's The Notebook, playing the elder version of Rachel McAdams' character, opposite James Gardner (the elder version of Ryan Gosling's character). The film may not have been amazing (Nick called it his personal least favorite), but Rowlands brought tears to the eyes of practically every one from young girls in love to macho truck drivers with one of the most tearjerking endings ever shown on film. All in all, Gena Rowlands is a Goddess.
3. Laura Dern
-One of the most underrated actresses of her time and never has gotten much credit considering she is the daughter of two acting giants (Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern). But this woman is so incredibly talented and edgy that I find her to be better than both her parents combined to be honest. Most people know Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler from Spielberg's 1993 dinosaur classic, Jurassic Park. But Dern's resume spawns much deeper and edgier than you could ever imagine. Working with some of the most interesting independent filmmakers, especially in the 90s. Including a few David Lynch films (Wild at Heart, Blue Velvet, and Inland Empire, in which her mother also appeared in). As well as one of the great indie artists, Alexander Payne, taking on the title role in 1996's underrated abortion comedy, Citizen Ruth. A role completely snubbed by the Academy Awards (but lets not get into that game...). She played Ruth Stoops, a drug addicted train wreck who recently gets impregnated and finds herself in the middle of an abortion debate caused by pro-lifers and choicers. The film is hysterical, but the performance is dynamic. From then on, Dern appeared in a few guest spots on some television shows, live and animated (King of the Hill, Frasier), more interesting indie pictures (Focus, We Don't Live Here Anymore) and even reprised her role as Dr. Ellie in the totally unnecessary shit fest, Jurassic Park III. Thankfully she only appeared for a couple of short scenes. Her most recent work was in another God awful unnecessary threequel as Prudence, the Headmistress, in 2010's Little Fockers. So unfortunately it seems at this point casting directors and filmmakers just don't see the brilliance and versatility in this woman and have treated her like she's just another fading actress falling by the way side, but there absolute morons if they think that. Because this woman's acting is far from predictable and has a razor's edge that can never be duplicated. Long live Laura Dern.
4. Greta Gerwig
-One of the most honest, remarkable and plain ole just real actresses of this generation. Starting early in her career with lead and supporting roles in the heavily improvised experimental films of the Mumblecore movement. Working with indie directors like the Duplass Brothers, Mary Bronstein, T.I. West, and Joe Swanberg, who gave her one of her only lead roles in the delightful 2007 edgy rom-com, Hannah Takes the Stairs. In which Gerwig played a young woman juggling three different men mainly because she just doesn't know what she truly wants. There's also Joe Swanberg's 2008 dramedy, Nights and Weekends, in which she also co-wrote and co-directed with Swanberg. The film centered on Gerwig and Swanberg, who star, as a couple who struggle with their long distance rleationship. Thanks to Noah Baumbach however, Gerwig finally got her chance to play a crucial key role opposite Ben Stiller in 2010's dramedy, Greenberg. This finally showed audiences who this woman is and what she can truly do with her acting. Having done nothing but shoestring budget indie films that pretty much only found themselves into really small, indie film festivals and/or Netflix Instant Watch. Greenberg was a theatrically released picture that did fairly well. If anything else, it opened casting directors' eyes and made them take notice of this brilliant young actress. Now you can see Gerwig appearing in multiple studio features, unfortunately mostly bad films, (these include No Strings Attached and the remake of Arthur) but still, she's getting more and more exposure which will lead to bigger and better things. I mean, this woman's paid her dues, so she's allowed to have a little fun with some light, silly pictures, as apposed to her earlier work where she was just pouring her soul out in practically every scene she was in. Look for Greta Gerwig in the new Whit Stillman picture (director of Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco) called Damsel in Distress, which is set for release later this year. Gerwig + Stillman = nothing but magic.
5. Judy Davis
-Underrated 'no-nonsense' Aussie giant of an actress (who sometimes gets mistaken for Annette Bening), has tackled some of the most daring, some of the most intense, and some of the most remarkable performances and films spawning over her terrific career over three decades. Having started out in multiple Aussie films in the 70's and 80's including My Brilliant Career (might as well sum up Judy Davis' own), Hoodwink (no relation to the 2005 animated picture) and Winter of our Dreams. As well as giving a tour de force epic performance as an Englishwoman, Adela, in Sir David Lean's India based masterpiece, A Passage to India. Finally Mr. Woody Allen discovered Davis and realized how fantastic and truthful she was on screen (even calling her "the most exciting actress he had ever worked with") and put her in 1990's Alice, as well as Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity and her finest most daring performance in a Woody picture, Husbands and Wives. This was where audiences really noticed this woman's versatility. Davis played the wife of Sydney Pollack, who both tell their friends (played by Woody himself and Mia Farrow), at the beginning of the film, that there getting a divorce. Which leads to Woody and Mia beginning to start analyzing their own marriage. Davis played the role with pitch perfect unpredictability. She was a borderline psychotic, but in a way that people could relate to and understand and sympathize with even. Her character didn't know any better. She just wanted to be happy. That was all. Even though Davis is a bit of a chameleon (just watch her play Judy Garland in the TV biopic), no one plays unstable housewife better than her. I mean, her performance in Ted Demme's The Ref is surely one for the books. Classic scene where Davis is piss drunk at the Christmas party and Kevin Spacey (her husband in the film) says, "Why don't you eat something, dear." In which Davis responds with, "Lloyd? Why don't you eaaaaaaat meeeeeeeee?" The line was delivered so beautifully and perfectly, that you can't stop going back to that scene whenever you discuss the film. Even makes you fall in love with her. It did for me. Anyway, Davis then appeared in some strong and some not so strong films like Absolute Power, and the Bob Fafelson/Jack Nicholson film, Blood & Wine, which was supposed to be the finale of Rafelson's 'Jack' trilogy. The other two of course being Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens. Judy Davis may not have had a whole lot of great films come out in the past decade (though her performance as the snobby, protentious owner of an art gallery, Marilyn Dean, in 2005's The Break-Up is classic), but her body of work from the 80's and 90's is more than enough. An actress who has raised the bar to the top.
1. Parker Posey
2. Juliette Lewis
3. Amanda Plummer
4. Penelope Cruz
5. Chloe Sevigny
"It's unfortunate but our society is such that, for women in Hollywood, you get to a certain age and just fall off a cliff. But in my case, I refuse to die. I will hang on, by a little finger if necessary." - Ellen Burstyn