Emma Stone (1)- Stone would be number one on this list if we combined both male and female and it feels like it’s been a long time since you could say that. In the past five years she’s been dazzling in three masterpieces (Birdman, La La Land, and now The Favourite). That’s two more than any other actress during that stretch. I love Amy Adams and the others on this list but Stone is far and away the best actress in the world right now.
Amy Adams (2)- Adams was great in Vice and that’s an archiveable film so 2018 wasn’t a waste for Adams. She doesn’t give one of the 5-8 best female performances though and certainly with how good Stone was in The Favourite the gap widened here between one and two.
Charlize Theron (HM)- The gap closed here between Theron and the #2 slot. I finally caught up in Atomic Blonde– the film is excellent and so is Theron in it. And then there’s Tully– sort of a second or third tier auteur/muse combination with Reitman—but the actresses in the top 10 were very quiet this year for the most part so this combination made for a very strong case for Theron. Of course her iconic turn in Fury Road is still in that recent rearview (2015).
Rachel Weisz (not on the list)- She had The Light Between Oceans with Cianfrance in 2016 but her rise here is due to her brilliant performance The Favourite. She’s higher than Olivia Colman on this list (even if it’d give Colman the very slight edge in the film) because of her previous work with auteur Yorgos Lanthimos in 2015’s The Lobster. She’s fantastic there as well.
Joanna Kulig (not on the list)- Kulig is a small part in Pawlikowski’s two previous efforts this decade, but Cold War here in 2018 is where she made her mark. She’s magnificent in a masterpiece—few actresses on this list can say they’ve done that.
Natalie Portman (9)- Portman left us after Black Swan for quite a while but it seems like she’s back with Jackie in 2016 and Annihilation in 2018.
Olivia Colman (Not on the list)- Like Kulig there isn’t the resume her before her 2018 breakout to warrant this—but on the other hang—performances like this, in masterpieces, do not happen often. Amy Adams has never been in a film this good—Michelle Williams has never been in a film this good either- two of the great actors of their generation.
Marion Cotillard (3)- The Immigrant in 2013 and Two Days, One Night (2014) feel like a long time ago.
Viola Davis (not on the list)- She’s more of a recognizable face and household name than Colman or Kulig but I don’t think much of Fences or The Help so really we’re just talking about Prisoners in 2013 and her great work in Widows of course in terms of recent arcvhiveable films.
Isabelle Hubbert (HM)- adds Haneke’s Happy End (which I caught in March 2018) to her recent string of good films and performances (Elle, Things to Come, Louder than Bombs
- Toni Collette- A veteran actress who I never thought I’d see do what she did last year in Hereditary—reminded me of Mia Farrow and Ellen Burstyn in Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist
- Tilda Swinton– Her third collaboration with Guadagnino (Suspiria) didn’t quite land like the first two (I Am Love and A Bigger Splash) but I look forward to revisiting
- Margot Robbie- Only non-cameo (but boy her spot in Big Short is great) in the last five years is I, Tonya
- Saoirse Ronan- Perhaps I’m being too hard on Ronan- but Lady Bird has faded on me a little
- Michelle Williams– I feel like we’re ready for another Kelly Reichardt collaboration
Fell off last year’s list
- Jessica Chastain (6)
- Greta Gerwig 7)
- Scarlett Johansson (10)