The 15 Best Female Performances of 2014

We’re back on track with the best of the year lists, and with only two left I expect them to be done by the end of the week, so that I can have proper time to prepare my Fifty Shades of Grey rant and/or love letter to Sam Taylor-Johnson (at this point, it really could go both ways).

With accusations of sexism floating around hollywood and dominating the awards coverage, nothing feels better than highlighting the exceptional work done by so many talented women last year. Some possibly notable performances I haven’t seen include Marion Cotillard in The ImmigrantSheila Vand in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Belle and Beyond the Lights, and Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon in Wild.

honourable mentions:
Tessa Thompson and Teyonah Parris in Dear White People
Rene RussoNightcrawler
Felicity JonesThe Theory of Everything
Imelda Staunton and Faye MarsayPride
Keira Knightley, Begin Again, The Imitation Game and Laggies
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods and Edge of Tomorrow
Lorelei Linklater, Boyhood
Kelly ReillyCalvary

Elizabeth Moss, Listen Up Philip
Viola Davis, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby


THE 15 BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCES OF 2014


#15 maggie gyllenhaal, IN frank
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s unsung role in Frank stands out for its inexplicable allure: as Clara she was weird, angry, and strangely sexy, shining the brightest when singing in positively ridiculous costumes.




#14 patricia arquette, IN boyhood
Love it or hate it, Arquette’s performance in Boyhood has an emotional pull that is simultaneously intense and effortless. As my friend Nikhat so well said, it’s easy to forget she’s even acting. 




#13 scarlett johansson, IN under the skin
Hypnotising and alien-like, without barely saying a word. How could we not follow her into the dark?
#12 emma stone, IN birdman
As if we didn’t love her enough, Stone goes ahead and proves once again that she has talent to give and sell (as we say around here). The whole ensemble was so spectacular that it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the rest, but Emma Stone in particular was a pleasant surprise, with all her turmoil and magnetic energy. 



#11 mia wasikowska, IN maps to the stars
One person in one frame and another in the next, this girl was a fake, manipulative, nerve-wrecking psycho that you just want to punch in face. The rare moments when she reveals her true self just further confirm her insanity. She was both victim and abuser, and Mia Wasikowska nailed that.




#10 LISA LOVEN KONGSLI, IN FORCE MAJEURE
Another woman that by the end of the movie was turned completely around. Kongsli deals with some pretty complex and divisive emotions here – you may even hate her character at times, as I did – and does so with great talent. Like with Arquette, it’s all about stark realism.  


#09 JENNY SLATE, IN OBVIOUS CHILD
Hilarious, brave, and unapologetic – Jenny Slate said out loud what a lot of women think and feel, and she did so candidly and with a unique sense of humour. Slate also carried the movie through its most delicate moments with grace, and I just feel like thanking her and Gillian Robespierre for that.

#08 MARION COTILLARD, IN TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
Yet again a very realistic performance, and this one I particularly loved for its spot on portrayal of depression: it’s not all screaming and sobbing, sometimes you just shut down and feel unbearably tired and numb. Cotillard dragged herself throughout the film from door to door, fighting for a job she could barely keep – and that’s the most honest thing I’ve seen all year. 


#07 uma thurman, in nymphomaniac vol. I
The best, most intense and most hilarious scene in the whole movie, all because of her. Just watch it. 

#06 agata kulesza, in ida
Yes I thought the other Agata was great, with her silent stares and her fleeting smiles and whatnot, but this Agata, this Agata… so sad, so mysterious. And kind of impressive, too.


#05 jessica chastain, in a most violent year
The daughter of a gangster from head to toe, the woman you want guarding your children (or maybe not), the perfect counterpart to Isaac’s character: Chastain was the ticking bomb you can’t get away from, embodying the kind of woman we want to be, even though we know we shouldn’t.


#04 tilda swinton, in snowpiercer and only lovers left alive
In Snowpiercer she was that, and it was impressive. In Only Lovers Left Alive she was a vampire who was more human than most of us, and I think it’s safe to say we all fell a little in love with her. In both amazing, Swinton is constantly at the top of every list, never missing a step.

#03 julianne moore, in maps to the stars and still alice
Her work in Still Alice is as devastating as the disease it portrays, and her character in Maps to the Stars is so goddamn well written, and her acting so believable, that it feels like you’re watching reality tv.

#02 ESSIE DAVIS, IN THE BABADOOK
Essie Davis slowly goes from depressed mother, to true nightmare, to the fiercest mother you’ve ever seen, and you believe it all in every second of The Babadook.




#01 ROSAMUND PIKE, IN gone girl
Another manipulative character that keeps changing faces. Pike makes you fall in love with Amy, defend her, admire her and hate her, feel bad for her, even scared of her – basically she does whatever she wants with us, and all we can do is beg for more.

so what were some of your favourites? have you seen all of these?


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  • Great list! I haven’t seen the performances of some women that you’ve chosen, but love that Julianne Moore is here for Maps to the Stars. She was good in Still Alice, but it was hard to look away from her portrayal in Maps.

    • Yeah I loved both performances but her part in Maps to the Stars was just so captivating.

  • What a great collection of female performances! And you even list a lot of great ones in the honorables (on top of missing Witherspoon & Dern who I’d rank highly). Our FTS top 5 are all on your list except Rose Byrne. I really need to see Moore’s performances.

    • Oh Rose Byrne, forgot her! Do, especially Maps to the Stars, I loved that movie.

  • Squasher88

    Love your list! It matches up quite nicely with mine. 🙂

  • Brittani

    Yeah, Rosamund! I agree with a lot of these (some I haven’t seen) These are some fantastic performances.

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal! What an inspired choice, I thought she was excellent too.
    And very happy you have Rosamund at No.1 🙂

    • Glad you liked Gyllenhaal! Rosamund was the woman of the year, period. 😀

  • Awesome list! I watched that scene with Uma (haven’t seen Nymphomaniac), and boy does that look intense! I didn’t realize she was in it, but her acting is great!

  • Josh

    Wonderful list! Cotillard, Kulesza, Pike, Johansson and Stone would be high on my list as well. Wasikowska had a terrific 2014. I loved her in Tracks and Only Lovers Left Alive, and she was great in The Double and Maps to the Stars, which I count as a 2015 release.

  • stan

    great, i like your list, awesome, thank you