Critics’ Choice Movie Awards Countdown: Best Actress

The Critics’ Choice Movie Awards will air live on VH1 on Thursday, January 12th with hosts Rob Huebel (Children’s Hospital) and Paul Scheer (The League.) Along with awards for Best Picture, Actor and Ensemble Cast, special awards will be given to director Martin Scorsese and actor Sean Penn.

In honor of the upcoming awards I am profiling the nominees in the major categories.

Today: Best Actress

Viola Davis – The Help

A little girl cries and chases after the only woman who’s ever shown her love. That this woman is not her mother but her mother’s maid doesn’t matter; the child has known no other adult figure with so much warmth and care.

How an actress plays this heavy, emotional scene, carrying with it the burden of the history of race in the American south, is something only a rare actress could do well. Viola Davis delivers in this scene in The Help and gives an emotional wallop that audiences will never forget.

Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

I wasn’t the biggest fan of Martha Marcy May Marlene. That said, Elizabeth Olsen is a beautiful woman whose acting technique and simple crowd appeal is far more interesting than the movie she’s in. In a better movie her work might be transcendent; the kind of role that puts an actress on the map. As it stands with Martha Marcy May Marlene, Olsen’s work is admirable but somewhat stunted.

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Here again is a performance restrained by a lesser movie. The Iron Lady is an achingly conventional biopic about an extraordinary historic figure. Meryl Streep offers a revealing take on the once most powerful woman in the world, a take that will earn sympathy from even the most ardent of Margaret Thatcher’s critics.

The only thing that holds Streep back is director Phyllida Lloyd’s predictable approach to telling Thatcher’s story. It also doesn’t help that Clint Eastwood made a very similar but superior biopic of another controversial historic figure and really, The Iron Lady pales in in comparison to Eastwood’s skillful J. Edgar.

Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin

Is there any actress working today who physically embodies sadness as well as Tilda Swinton? Ms. Swinton seems to demonstrate her depth of emotion with every inch of her body and the effect is haunting in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

There were two movies about the parents of teenage killers in 2011 but we remember We Need to Talk About Kevin because Tilda Swinton is simply unforgettable.

Charlize Theron – Young Adult

People will forever underrate the work of Charlize Theron in Young Adult because it happens to be a comedy. It’s a dark comedy but the laughs the film earns, regardless of the scathing and bellicose place from which those laughs emerge, will forever keep some from taking Theron’s performance seriously.

And it’s too bad because it’s their loss. Charlize Theron is as brilliant at raising nasty laughs from bad behavior as Tilda Swinton or Meryl Streep are at making you want to weep in sympathy.

Michelle Williams- My Week with Marilyn

In a slightly different way Michelle Williams’ performance in My Week with Marilyin faces the same uphill battle that Charlize Theron faces with her performance in Young Adult. Many will not take serious enough Ms. Williams’ work because they see her playing Marilyn Monroe as mere mimicry or homage.

That being said, there is so much more going on here than that; Michelle Williams cuts right to the heart of the tragic figure that was Marilyn Monroe with an insightful and understanding performance that captures the magic of Monroe’s star persona and the sadness of the missing pieces that once made up Norma Jean Mortenson.

The Critics’ Choice Movie Awards airs live Thursday, January 12th on VH1. Vote for your favorite Best Actress candidate at

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