5 Marion Cotillard
Best Performances: La Vie en Rose, Two Days One Night, The Immigrant, Rust and Bone
Hailing from Paris, Marion Cotillard has always mixed English and French roles, particularly from 2003 onwards. She announced herself on the global stage in 2007 by winning the Oscar for best actress for her portrayal of singer Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, becoming the first person to win an Academy Award for a performance in French, and just the second actress to win for a part spoken in a foreign language. Able to slip seamlessly between English and French language roles, her versatility is further exemplified by the broad range of roles she has played: a whale trainer who becomes a double amputee, a factory worker plagued by mental health issues and desperately fighting to keep her job, a devious World War II spy, a Polish immigrant in 1920s New York and Lady Macbeth. Cotillard is able to play the weak and the strong with equal poise, each and every one of her characters laced with a mystery. We never quite know what’s going on beneath her expressive eyes, and that’s because she is always in such control of that information – a puppet master posing as an actress.
4 Julianne Moore
Best Performances: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Safe, Far From Heaven, Still Alice, The Hours
Julianne Moore first grabbed critics’ attention in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, and managed to establish herself as a leading lady in Hollywood in the late nineties, with her best performances coming under two very different filmmakers: Todd Haynes and a young Paul Thomas Anderson. Specialising in portraying sensitive, troubled women, Moore was perhaps at her best in 2002, when she garnered Oscar nominations for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, for Far From Heaven and The Hours respectively. She has continued to almost always be the best part of the films she was in throughout her career, working with prestigious directors in Anderson, Altman, Haynes, the Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, and David Cronenberg. She had a second peak of sorts in 2014 when she won the best actress award at Cannes for Maps to the Stars, and then finally claimed an Academy Award at the fifth attempt for Still Alice. Moore plays seventies porn stars, paranoid housewives and ailing professors with equal aplomb, and her own unique voice.
3 Nicole Kidman
Best Performances: To Die For, Birth, Dogville, Moulin Rouge!, The Others, The Hours
Born in Hawaii, Australian Nicole Kidman is one of the busiest actresses in the world, and is at the peak of her powers right now in 2017. Her career began in the early eighties, and she made her Hollywood debut opposite Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder in 1990. The two would fall in love and were quickly married. While there were some good performances from Kidman in the nineties, most notably her Golden Globe-winning turn in Gus van Sant’s To Die For and another role with Cruise in the great Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut, it was always felt that she was performing within herself, and that she was capable of much more. It was only following her divorce from Cruise in 2001 that she really began to explore the depths of her talent. While still starring in commercially successful films, Kidman branched out into daring independent dramas with interesting international filmmakers, working with the likes of Lars von Trier, Jane Campion, Park Chan Wook, Werner Herzog, Sofia Coppola, and Yorgos Lanthimos. This brave attitude gave her instant success, earning back-to-back Oscar nominations for Moulin Rouge! and The Hours, and winning for the latter. She is currently enjoying a renaissance, and in the last year alone she has dominated television with Big Little Lies and Top of the Lake, as well as returning to the academy circle with a supporting actress nomination for Lion. At the Cannes film festival this year she had three films debut, as well as a television series, leading her to receive a special award for its 70th anniversary, in recognition of her incredible form.
2 Cate Blanchett
Best Performances: Carol, The Aviator, Blue Jasmine, I’m Not There, Elizabeth
Aussie Blanchett gained international recognition in the late nineties for her lead role in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth, a role she would later reprise in a 2007 sequel (incidentally the film played at Cannes that year, where she also appeared as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, a mark of the range of her astonishing talent). In between these films, Blanchett proved most adept in supporting roles, most notably in her Oscar-winning turn as Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator. Since then she has gone from strength to strength, and delivered two of the finest lead performances in recent years with 2013’s Blue Jasmine, for which she won a second Academy Award, and 2015’s Carol. Though she has dabbled in more commercial work with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, as well as recently joining the Marvel universe as another poorly written villain in Thor: Ragnarok, Blanchett is renowned for working with some of the finest filmmakers in the world, including Martin Scorsese, Todd Haynes, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Steven Soderbergh, Terrence Malick, and Ron Howard.
1 Isabelle Huppert
Best Performances: The Piano Teacher, Elle, Things to Come, Happy End, White Material, 8 Women
Huppert is the most revered actress in world cinema. She is also one of the most prolific, having appeared in more than 110 films since her debut in 1971. The superlatives continue ringing, with Huppert also the most successful actress in the history of France’s Cesar Award, with 16 nominations, as well as the most nominated in history for its theatre equivalent, the Molière Award, with 7 nominations (Huppert is actually a very prominent stage actress too, and appeared in a 2014 Sydney Theatre Company production of The Maids opposite Cate Blanchett, which just sounds to die for). 2016 was the year that Huppert came to prominence with mainstream audiences, following up her role as professor redefining herself in the face of divorce, with one of the greatest performances of the century as the ‘post-feminist’ owner of a video game production company who refuses to allow her rapist control her life and shape her world, fighting back to devastating effect. Huppert’s filmography is intimidatingly brilliant – this woman is literally capable of anything. It is well known that she is as influential over her projects’ final product as the director, and that is saying something when she has worked with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Haneke, Otto Preminger, Michael Cimino, Andrzej Wajda, and David O. Russell. Remarkably, Huppert shows no signs of letting up, with no fewer than seven films out this year. Long may she continue.