2011 Calvin Awards: Best Actress

February 17, 2011

It's easy to see why she's crazy. That mirror is whack.

In previous years, the category of Best Actress has been a source of frustration for our staff. We dislike the thought process that there are few good parts for women in major Hollywood productions yet there have been a couple of times over the past ten years when we could not argue the point. On these occasions, the bottom of our top ten has been a fight to complete. The most recent year did not have this problem as 15 different actresses earned a nomination-worthy number of votes from our staff. Thus, there was tremendous competition for the final few spots on the list. First place, on the other hand, was decided quickly as our selection had earned an insurmountable lead after just a handful of ballots.

Natalie Portman is our choice for Best Actress this year. Portman’s dazzling turn as a ballet dancer who takes Swan Lake too seriously left us spellbound. The vote for Portman was as emphatic as any we’ve ever had at The Calvins. Portman earned more first place votes than the rest of the field combined; even more impressively, each and every one of the voters named her on the ballot, a rare feat in and of itself. The most stunning aspect, however, is that only one voter placed her performance outside the top five in the category. On that ballot, she finished sixth. There was universal consent among the members of the BOP that Portman delivered one of the best acting performances of the year with the only dispute being where she ranked among the best of the best. For 96% of our staff to deem her worthy of top five placement is historically unprecedented. Even previous winner Helen Mirren did not manage this with The Queen.


Why are we so devoted to Portman’s work in Black Swan? If you have seen the movie, you know the answer to this. Portman plays against typecasting in one of the most effective ways anyone has done so in the 2000s. While Closer allowed her to discard the porcelain princess persona she was given by George Lucas, Portman returns to her roots as a breathtaking woman living a sheltered life. Then, she turns this premise on its head as she develops certain new characteristics, ones that are much less in line with the inexperienced ingénue way of life. From there, her story gets a little weird as she starts to develop new physical extremities, hooks up with someone who denies it later and gets a little stabby with the person who is the least likely victim of such an attack. Portman effectively utilizes her angelic appearance to enhance the electrifying series of events that reveals the depth of her descent into madness. Only after the movie reveals its true intent does the viewer fully appreciate exactly how brave her acting is in Black Swan. For these reasons, Portman is far and away our staff’s choice for Best Actress of the year.

Finishing a distant second is True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld. Given that six months ago, nobody knew who Hailee Steinfeld was and that she is just now 14-years-old, second place strikes me as quite good. The Academy Award nominee won a massive international search to play the role of Mattie Ross in True Grit. Like the Academy, our staff was torn over whether her screen time in the movie qualifies as Supporting or Lead, but in the end we made the determination that since the movie is ostensibly told from her point of view, she is the true protagonist.

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