Top 100 Best Performances by an Actress 2000-2010


I have always been transfixed with female performances. As an actor myself I tend to always get very attached to female’s on film. I hope to begin a Women In Film Column on Film Misery soon, which will celebrate a different actress every week. In honor of my obsession, I have compiled a list of the best 100 performances by an actress between the years of 2000-2010. These performances range from leading roles, to supporting ones, and even a few cameos. They range from all types of films whether it be drama, comedy, horror, and musical. The size of the part doesn’t matter, only the performance on its own. I also didn’t consider the movie as a whole, only the performances, as some of these films I believe are flawed. But the following 100 performances I could watch over and over. I am sure a lot of you will agree and disagree with my choices and I welcome your opinions as well as your own lists if you’d like! I have tossed and turned over this list, and have finally made my official rankings, enjoy! (You can click on any image to see the larger collage)

100. Maggie Gylenhaal – Sherrybaby
99. Catherine O’Hara – Best In Show
98. Samantha Morton – Morvern Callar
97. Melanie Laurent – Inglorious Basterds
96. Grace Zabriskie – Inland Empire
95. Dianne Wiest – Synedoche NY
94. Parker Posey – Personal Velocity
93. Lindsay Beamish – Shortbus
92. Ashley Bell – The Last Exorcism
91. Michelle Williams – Wendy and Lucy

90. Debbie Doebereiner – Bubble
89. Ellen Barkin – Palindromes
88. Michelle Williams – Brokeback Mountain
87. Zooey Deshanel – The Good Girl
86. Christina Ricci – Pumpkin
85. Sally Hawkins – Happy Go Lucky
84. Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
83. Gwyneth Paltrow – The Royal Tenenbaums
82. Annette Benning – The Kid’s Are Alright
81. Meryl Streep – Adaptation

80. Jennifer Connelly – The House of Sand and Fog
79. Helen Mirren – Gosford Park
78. Julianne Moore – Chloe
77. Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
76. Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
75. Barbara Hershey – Black Swan
74. Naomi Watts – 21 Grams
73. Nicole Kidman – The Others
72. Natalie Portman – Closer
71. Amy Adams – Enchanted

70. Emily Watson – Punch Drunk Love
69. Sharon Stone – Bobby
68. Samantha Morton – Synedoche NY
67. Amy Adams – The Fighter
66. Penelope Cruz – Vicky Christina Barcelona
65. Annette Bening – Running With Scissors
64. Maggie Gylenhaal – Secretary
63. Cecile De Franc – High Tension
62. Scarlett Johanssen – Lost in Translation
61. Shohreh Aghdashloo – The House of Sand and Fog

60. Marisa Tomei – In the Bedroom
59. Patricia Clarkson – Dogville
58. Felicity Huffman – TransAmerica
57. Catherine Keener – Capote
56. Joan Allen – The Contender
55. Julie Christie – Away From Her
54. Patricia Clarkson – Pieces of April
53. Marcia Gay Harden – Pollock
52. Toni Collette – The Night Listener
51. Amy Adams – Doubt

50. Courtney Love – Beat
49. Brittany Murphy – The Dead Girl
48. Elaine May – Small Time Crooks
47. Kate Winslet – The Reader
46. Glenn Close – Heights
45. Sissy Spacek – In the Bedroom
44. Jessica Lange – Don’t Come Knocking
43. Ellen Page – Hard Candy
42. Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler
41. Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton

40. Melissa Leo – The Fighter
39. Kirsten Dunst – Marie Antoinnette
38. Nicole Kidman – The Hours
37. Melissa Leo – Frozen River
36. Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole
35. Viola Davis – Doubt
34. Angelina Jolie – A Mighty Heart
33. Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive
32. Cate Blanchett – Notes on a Scandal
31. Gabourey Sidibe – Precious

30. Catherine O’Hara – For Your Consideration
29. Tilda Swinton – I am Love
28. Kristen Scott Thomas – I’ve Loved You So Long
27. Helen Mirren – The Queen
26. Vera Farmiga – Down to the Bone
25. Meryl Streep – Doubt
24. Charlotte Rampling – Swimming Pool
23. Judi Dench – Notes on a Scandal
22. Tilda Swinon – Julia
21. Charlotte Gainsbourg – Antichrist

20. Uma Thurman – Kill Bill
19. Laura Dern – Inland Empire
18. Thora Birch – Ghost World
17. Maria Bello – Downloading Nancy
16. Patricia Clarkson – The Dying Gaul
15. Julianne Moore – The Hours
14. Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom
13. Imelda Staunton – Vera Drake
12. Natalie Portman – Black Swan
11. Marion Cotillard – La Vie En Rose

10. Julianne Moore – Far From Heaven
9. Ashley Judd – Bug
8. Amy Adams – Junebug
7. Nicole Kidman – Dogville

6. Nicole Kidman – Birth
5. Mo’Nique – Precious
4. Charlize Theron – Monster

3. Isabelle Huppert – The Piano Teacher
2. Ellen Burstyn – Requiem for a Dream

1. Bjork – Dancer in the Dark

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  • wow what a spectacular list, a great work.

    i don’t think i would be able to comment on everyone but i really want to see Dancer In The Dark, i unfortunately saw the ending of the movie on Youtube and now i just don’t feel ready to watch the movie because i know it will have a traumatic effect on me. it looks heartbreaking. but overall superb choices, i agree on 99%of them ;p

    • Oh no!!! I am so sorry you have had the ending ruined. But see the film anyway. You won’t regret it. I will fight til my dying day saying that Bjork in this film is pitch perfect. I also think the film as a whole is 5 stars!

  • Wow. Some great choices on here, and a number of performances I haven’t seen. Staunton, Hawkins, Moore, Portman… no brainers. But after that, a lot of really other strong and (in some cases) overlooked selections. Like seeing Johanssen in here for “Lost in Transltion”, since I adore every aspect of that movie. Watts for “Mulholland Drive”: strong choice. As is Uma Thurman. The performances in “Kill Bill” tend to get overlooked, hers most of all.

    Missing… not a lot, but a few big ones. Where’s Julie Delpy in “Before Sunset” and Abbbie Cornish’s stellar work in “Bright Star”? But the biggest omission has to be Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”, particularly since you have her on the list for several other roles.

    Liked this a lot. Some interesting films and performances I will have to see, especsince (and I’m embarrased to admit this) I haven’t seen any of your top 9. Zero. Lots of work to do, once I’m finished up with my “Cougar Town” catch-up.

    • Greg – thanks so much. And I agree people don’t give Uma credit for her awesome turns in both Kill Bill films.

      Julie Delpy in Before Sunset – good point. I did enjoy her performance.

      Abbie Cornish in Bright Star .. I hate to say I haven’t seen. I will be ordering it today. It’s on I don’t know why I always looked over.

      Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine I have seen. I love me some Michelle, and I thought she was great in this. But I had problems with the movie as a whole. I didn’t really understand why Michelle’s character hated her marriage so much. Ryan Gosling worked so well for me in that movie, that I fell in love with his character and couldn’t understand why she would give it all up. So that’s why I didn’t include her.

      I do hope that you, and others, will seek out some performances on this list you haven’t seen. And I will have to seek out an episode of Cougar Town!

      • mads

        To me the true greatness of Williams’ performance is exactly your reasons for leaving it out of your list! It is the inscrutability of Williams’ character that is the point for me, and Williams nails the ambiguities, or rather the numbness, of her character in a brilliant display of acting intuition. It is her single most impressive performance, if you ask me.
        The point of the movie, for me, is the fact that the female protagonist’s state of mind is mirrored by Gosling’s much more upfront, regular kind of character. He is confused, and ultimately destroyed from within, because of her failure to connect with him emotionally (or rather her disconnect with the world, really!). They should never have been a couple, obviously, but whereas Gosling’s character is not able to see that, Williams’ character cannot turn away from a disaster-in-the-making. At some unconscious level she wants it to end in a bad way.
        That Williams is able to convey this upsetting, fragile, yet stubborn, disenchantment from the world and her social milieu, is what’s so strong about the performance. She never once allows for any obvious interpretations of her character’s motives. That takes a strong script as well and a director who trusts his actors as well as his source material.

  • Jose

    Oh, High Tension, Had not seen that movie in years!

    Anyway, fantastic read, and surprisingly I’ve actually seen most of them. and I was bored so I counted to see who appeared the most.

    Nicole Kidman appeared 5 times.

    • Yeah I loved High Tension.

      And interesting that Nicole Kidman was on it the most, because she’s not my favorite actress. That would be Jessica Lange – hands down. But, she was not active on film in the past decade much. (She was brilliant in the HBO movie Grey Gardens, from the amazing documentary) But Kidman, when she gets it right, I think is absolutely BRILLIANT!

  • Alright, well you definitely got the two performers I told you your list would be completely and utterly worthless without, so kudos! :-P

    (For the record, those two actresses were Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett).

    For the record, my favorite performance of the last decade – male or female – belonged to Julianne Moore in “Far From Heaven.” I’m so happy to see it in your top ten! Great list Casey! Not only did you pick a lot of great performances worth highlighting (I COMPLETELY defend your #1 choice), but you left out enough performances for me to self-righteously quibble over (all in good fun, of course)!

    Some performances I likely would have included (Alphabetically):

    — Penelope Cruz, ‘Volver’ – Absolutely radiant from beginning to end. This was the movie where I discovered her talent. She should have won her Oscar for this movie, not that overrated watered-down Woody Allen flick.

    — Felicity Huffman, ‘Transamerica’ – an underutilized movie actress who treats her role as more than a cheap gender-bending gimmick.

    — Nicole Kidman, ‘Moulin Rouge’ Kidman occupies 1/20th of your list, yes somehow you glossed over her best performance ;-) **though I’ve yet to make it through Dogville**

    — Anamaria Marinca, ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ – That dinner table scene alone warrants inclusion for this masterfully understated performance

    — Ellen Page, ‘Juno’ – Yeah, yeah… I know this one has detractors. But I say she’s the reason the Diablo Cody dialog works as well as it does.

    — Noomi Rapace, ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – say what you want about the movie, but I have a hard time thinking Rooney Mara can top the work Rapace does here.

    — Kate Winslet, ‘Little Children’ – Yes, she was great in the Reader, but she is wonderful here as a lonely, depressed housewife

    — Michelle Yeoh, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ – it’s one of my favorite movies of that decade, and her character breaks my heart the most.

    On a side note, bravo for including Isabelle Huppert! Have you seen her in White Material? She’s great there too.

    • I am glad I got your 2 choices! And, as you may know I also love Julianne Moore (shes on the list a bunch) and thought Far From Heaven was her best too!

      As far as the one’s left out (BTW I love this, love talking about this and hearing everyone’s opinions!)

      Penelope – Volver – This is another that I may have missed. When I think about it now, I think there is a spot for her on my top 100 for this. I did LOVE her in Vicky Christina. I love when a supporting actor can steamrole and movie and make it about their interesting character – which she easily did. But you’re right. In a re-vision I would include her for Volver, as she was amazing in that.

      Felicity – She is on my list. #58! Love her, very underused.

      Nicole in Moulin – I just didn’t care for this film at all. I know I am in a minority. I didn’t like much about it, and that sadly included Nicole. And you know, from the list, I do love her.

      Anamaria Marinca – I did love this film. .. You know what, you’re right she probably should be included. Good call. But I would hate to get rid of someone on my list, but I should for her.

      Ellen Page – I love Ellen Page. Loved her in Hard Candy. I liked Juno, I did. But I didn’t like it THAT much. But she is surely charming in it, and a great actress

      Noomi – She is great. I will be excited to see what Mara can do. I don’t think I would put her in top 100, but she was great.

      Kate Winslet – I did love Little Children, but besides Jackie Earle Haley none of the performances blew my socks off. Kate is so wonderful in everything though. I know a lot of people disagree, but I think her performance in the Reader is actually her crowning moment.

      Michelle Yeoh – I was never a huge fan of this movie either, but I am a huge fan of hers. I desperately want to see her in “The Lady”

      And Isabelle Huppert – White Material – just ordered. A revision is sure to come.

      Thanks so much for replying Justin!

      • Nicole Kidman :) i thought that too. a friend of mine is a great fan of Moulin Rouge but i just didn’t liked the movie that much not any of the performances. any modern musical that stands out is Chicago.

        and Justin, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is on my all time favorite movie too.

  • Absolutely LOVED your list. Kind of wish you’d elaborate on your thoughts a bit, but none the less impressed. I haven’t seen more than half the films on this list, sadly. But most of the names I approve of, not to mention your #1. I nod in complete agreement.

    Although, I can only assume you haven’t seen “White Material” yet. Isabelle Huppert is brilliant in that one!

    • Thanks so much!

      I started off writing blurbs about each performance, I got to about #81 and figured no one would take time to read it all and wouldn’t go all the way down the list. Trust me I could have gone on and on and on about each performance.

      I hope you’ll check out some performances you haven’t seen and let me know your thoughts! And thanks for solidarity on Bjork.

      I just ordered White Material online. Cannot wait! You’re not the only one to mention it to me.

  • Daniel B.

    Great list – interesting and unpredictable!

  • Brandon Cooley

    That’s quite a list. A lot of good choices. Ellen Burstyn wouldn’t have been that high if it were me, although that might just be because I really dislike Requiem for a Dream (it’s a good performance nonetheless). Charlize Theron in Monster would be my number one pick followed by Amy Ryan from Gone Baby and then maybe Naomi Watts for Mulholland Drive.

    • Thanks so much Brandon.

      Ellen just breaks my heart. Her performance is a mixture of so many things, brilliant acting, physical transformation, everything.

      There was a time when Monster came out that I had Charlize in my top spot as well, it truly is brilliant. (As are Amy and Naomi)

  • Brandon Cooley

    Also I forgot about Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. She would be in my top five as well.

  • Genadijus

    Great TOP 100 Best Actresses!
    I suppose that Naomi Watts is the prime actress of this decade. She created so strong and powerful performance as Betty in “Mulholland Drive”, Rachel in “The Ring”, Cristina in “21 grams”, “Ellie Parker”, Ann Darrow in “King Kong”, Kitty in “Painted Veil”, Ana in “Eastern Promises”, Elizabeth in “Mother and Child”, Valerie Plame in “Fair Game”. Mostly of these performances deserve Oscar nomination. But I know that she’ll win the award in the nearest future. Hopefully, next year for “Impossible”.
    Now it look like Carey Mulligan can be the stare of the new decade. It’s only a couple years, but she created so extraordinary performances like in “An Education”, “Never Let Me Go”, “Shame” and “Drive”. Next year’s “Great Gatsby” can be a good chance for another recognition.

    And now can’t wait for TOP 100 actors for 2000-2010. Main names we all know… L. di Caprio, J. Bardem, J. Depp, C. Firth, D. D. Lewis, V. Mortensen and new-star M. Fassbender.

  • Great list. Only actress not there that I would put is Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in Almost Famous. :)

  • I can’t think of any off the top of my head that you missed that haven’t already been mentioned in the comments. There are also a lot on here that I haven’t seen. One that I would add would be Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.’ A popcorn performance, yet, but also one of the most terrifying cinematic villains of the decade.

    • I hate to admit that I gave up on the Harry Potter films after #3. But I know I need to sift through and finish them. And I LOVE Imelda Staunton, once she entered the picture I wanted to watch that one but was afraid to be out of order.

  • I didn’t expect to see Bjork on #1. I haven’t seen the film, but this list is really great to include some minor and forgotten roles.

    Love Nicole Kidman, Marisa Tomei, and Julianne Moore appear on this list.
    Yeah, on top of my head from recent movies would be Carey in An Education and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine.

    • It is my bad for the Carey Mulligan exclusion – I, for some reason, thought it fell outside of the date range when it was in fact 2009. My bad.

      Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine – I didn’t love the performance, had major problems with the character. But I do love her.

  • Gautam

    List is majorly okay … the only complaint … Naomi Watts for Mulholland Drive should have topped the list .. the range of emotions she showed in the movie .. is insurmountable … Infact few months back a list compiled out of opinion from many top critics called it the best performance of the decade !!
    A great performance missing is Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind … you have missed it altogether … when it should have been in top 10 !!

    • Naiomi Watts I think is brilliant – in a lot of things. ESPECIALLY Mulholland Drive. I do think its a fantastic performance, but not the best of the decade.

      Also I didn’t care for Eternal Sunshine at all. I know I am in a minority here.

  • Gautam for your reference … some of the roles which you might have missed .. and how Naomi Watts leads by a good margin…

    • I looked over that list – its a great one.
      #1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, and 24 all appear on my list (in different orders).

      I will admit that I think in an acting showdown between Bjork and Naomi in their perspective movies – I stand on Bjorks side hands down. Both amazing performances but I will stand by my choice of Bjork as the best performance in the past 10 years.

      As far as the one’s that aren’t on my list:

      Maggie Cheung – Ive never seen this performance. I shall now.
      Kate – in Eternal Sunshine – I just didn’t like this movie – at all. (i know i am in a minority)
      Penelope in Volver – yep I overlooked this. Brilliant.
      Laura Linney in YCCOM – a good movie, but it didnt blow me away.
      Summer Pheonix – I havent seen this performance either. I shall.
      Julie Delpy – Yep, I may have overlooked this as well.
      Emmanuelle in Kings – Haven’t seen this either.
      Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading – Really? Wow. I enjoyed the movie, but them listing it in the top 25 performances of the decade. Bold. I do love her though.

      This is why I LOVE lists!
      Because of that list I now have some new movies to see right away!
      I hope some of you will seek out some of the performances on my list that you haven’t seen as well.

      • Gautam

        @ Casey
        Loved the way you sportingly took the list … but come on you have to agree Naomi can’t be placed at 33 .. that’s in a way disregarding such a masterful act … at least she deserves to be within top 10 .. infact the list which I referred to has been compiled by taking opinions from several critics so it isn’t a individual viewpoint and hence less ambivalent and more just !! Anyways … I want you to reconsider because when people see this list they will definitely wonder why is Naomi so low and how the heck Kate missed for Eternal Sunshine …
        Simply put .. it will add more trustfulness to your already tenacious list ..

  • I do think Naomi Watts is brilliant in pretty much everything she does. And I think Mulholland Drive is her best performance to date. Granted, Mulholland Drive as a movie, would place higher than #33 on my list of best movies 2000-2010. Because as a whole it is one of my favorites (Lynch being a favorite director of mine).

    But I looked over my list, at everyone above Naomi, and at this point I agree with how I ranked them – based on my own personal list.

    I respect all critics viewpoints and opinions, but when it came to my list – I didn’t look at other lists to influence what I liked. I created the list based on the performances that touched me the most in one way or another. As stated in my intro, I knew a bunch of people would disagree with me. But thats what I like about lists. I am hoping that you would perhaps take a look at any performances #32-#1 that you haven’t seen and watch them to see what you think. Just as perhaps I will need to rewatch Mulholland Drive. But the most exciting part about these comments (and hopefully my list) is that it will open up some performances from films that people have not seen. Such as White Material for myself, among others.

    Thank you so much for your comment and for standing up for your favorite performance. I know I would do the same thing for mine, Bjork in Dancer in the Dark. I love people like yourself who get so passionate about film. Thanks and hope you understand where I am coming from too.

    • @Gautam I wonder, have you seen Lynch’s Inland Empire? What did you think of Laura Dern’s performance? If you haven’t seen it, check it out. There are vague similarities to Watts in Mulholland but its a different rodeo altogether. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      • Gautam

        I can understand .. tht it’s more of a personal list .. and wen u create such a list u dont have to worry abt wat others think … but the only point I wanted to make here was ..since the list is posted on a public forum read by so many … smtimes u have to consider .. if the list respects public opinion …
        Having said that I believe u have done a wonderful job … if only u had mixed ur personal choices also with what in general the belief abt a certain role is …. because at the end of the day it makes ur list more wholesome as I said in my previous post … nyways again its ur personal choice how u want ppl to perceive it !! no qualms…
        Now to answer ur question I have seen 27/32 performances above Naomi including Dern’s and Bjork’s .. both excellent !!
        The thing that appears stark to me is … in terms of the role itself .. Dern’s , Naomi’s and Portman’s were somewhat similar … but if u compare them [ which will be easier to do .. rather than comparing a Nicole’s and Naomi’s perf.] … Naomi is the benchmark for the other two .. infact I read in many reviews of Black Swan … that Portman is excellent and comes close to Naomi’s performance of Mulholland Drive … tht in itself proves how gud Naomi was … !!
        At the end of it .. well u might be going against the majority opinion but then it’s personal list so u have the powers :) and nyways list are supposed to create disagreements … and if it doesn’t tht means thr is sth wrong with it !!

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