This is the first time in years when I haven't seen the majority of the big Oscar-nominated films. One reason is that I've been too busy over the last two months - when all the "Oscar-bound" pictures are released - to catch them all. The other, bigger reason is that this year's crop is kind of uninspired. I mean, come on, The Aviator - who cares? Anyway, I still managed to see about sixty new movies in 2004. These are the performances that truly stood out.
- Isabella Rossellini in The Saddest Music in the World. The eternally strange filmmaker Guy Maddin has found his perfect leading lady in Rossellini, who, as David Lynch's former muse, is no stranger to strange. She has a ball in a completely over-the-top turn as a crazed legless beer magnate. She's a total thrill to watch.
- Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls. Though this agreeable comedy was meant as a vehicle for a certain overexposed teen starlet, it is the twentysomething McAdams who, as bitchy "queen bee" Regina George, steals the show again and again.
- Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. You might sense a theme here - that I dig nasty villainesses - and you'd be right. Hannah injects a 20-megawatt jolt of energy into an otherwise too-talky Tarantino movie.
- Anne Reid in The Mother. Fantastically subtle work from the British stage actress, as a widow in her sixties who enters into a red-hot sexual relationship with her daughter's bad boy lover. Reid's performance is brave and bitter in every sense.
- David Thewlis in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Long one of my favorite actors, Thewlis hasn't been getting many big roles in the last few years, but his poignant turn as the tragic Professor Lupin adds dignity to what is already the best film in the Harry Potter series.
- Yuuko Daike in Zatoichi. Playing a geisha out to kill the men who murdered her parents, this Japanese actress doesn't have a lot of lines in Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, but you can positively feel the hurt and vengeance written on her stoic face.
- Freddie Highmore in Finding Neverland. While the film itself was not overlooked by the Academy this year, young Highmore, as Peter Llewellyn-Davies, is so good in a tear-jerker role that costar Johnny Depp - no slouch himself - told Tim Burton to cast Highmore opposite him in the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He will go far - at least until puberty stops his career in its tracks.
- Cate Blanchett in Coffee and Cigarettes. Although Blanchett won Academy kudos for her Aviator turn as Katharine Hepburn, it was her dual role - as herself and as her bitter mess of a cousin - in Jim Jarmusch's so-so Coffee and Cigarettes that I'd pick as her best performance of the year, if not ever.
- Christian Bale in The Machinist. An altogether overlooked thriller made in Spain, The Machinist has already achieved cult status, no small thanks to Bale's alarming weight loss for his role. But while simply looking like a skeleton doesn't constitute acting (insert joke about supermodels here), it enhances Bale's already strong performance as a man driven insane by his own denial.