The 15 Best Actresses of 2008

Meryl Streep DoubtTime and time again, we hear that actresses have it much harder when it comes to finding good parts in Hollywood. It’s true, as year after year I usually have to scrounge to find truly stand-out actresses. This year, for whatever reason, it was not difficult at all. Funny enough, some big names like Penelope Cruz, Marisa Tomei and Angelina Jolie are not included on this list… because I didn’t think they were worthy.

Here is a list of the best leading and supporting actresses in 2008, ranked in order:

  1. Meryl Streep, Doubt
    Streep is all but expected to turn in Oscar-worthy performances, though we can forgive her for Mamma Mia and only hope she struck up a revenue sharing deal for that film. Playing an ultra conservative, fiercely authoritative nun in Doubt, she is wonderfully wicked in this play adaptation. Her scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman is downright mesmerizing, and as great of an actor as Hoffman is, you know who will win the battle.
  2. Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
    Hathaway turns in a career-defining performance as an alcholic who, fresh out of rehab, has arrived to create chaos at her sister’s wedding. The movie is depressing and Hathaway’s character is the main contributor, as she time and time again makes every scene as painful as possible. She, in many ways, is like the serious, realistic and more damaged version of Michael Scott from “The Office,” and should be commended for it.
  3. Kate Winslet, Revolutionary Road
    Winslet is required to show up on lists such as this one, and she does not disappoint in 2008. Her performance as a depressed housewife and mother in the 1950’s is tragic. While she isn’t my #1 pick, I would be quite content if she took home the Oscar this year – and in fact would be quite surprised if she didn’t.
  4. Amy Adams, Doubt
    Adams is hot, but she’s also an excellent actress. People may not have noticed, but she’s starting to rack up a respectable career in just the few years since she sneaked into the spotlight, and her performance as an innocent, naive nun proves just how strong of an actress she really is. Even though Streep chews scenery in every scene she’s in, Adams holds her own and establishes herself as the perfect counterbalance to the stronger-willed character.
  5. Melissa Leo, Frozen River
    Frozen River is a good movie, but it’d be a forgettable B-grade drama-thriller without the performance of Melissa Leo. Leo plays desperate and tough at the same time, and never for a second do we question her motives for engaging in illegal, risky behavior. Everything about her is perfect in this movie – too bad she has such stiff competition.
  6. Viola Davis, Doubt
    Viola Davis only has one scene in the entire movie, but boy is it a doozey. While neither Adams’ or Hoffman’s characters can stand up to Streep’s, Davis’ puts the head nun in her place with a tear-jerking and downright disturbing speech that essentially condones pedophilia when it comes to her own son. That’s messed up, but brilliant.
  7. Frances McDormand, Burn After Reading
    McDormand is one of the best actresses working today; she can do drama, comedy and anything in between – or often at the same time. As a gym employee who is desperately trying to save up for cosmetic surgery, McDormand delivers a stellar performance, even when matched against the likes of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, both of whom tend to steal the spotlight.
  8. Gwenyth Paltrow, Iron Man
    Everyone has been praising director Jon Favreau and actor Robert Downey Jr. for making Iron Man the massive blockbuster that it is, but Gwenyth Paltrow who, in what could have been a thankless and forgettable role, made her character anything but. She has great chemistry with Downey Jr. and looks as hot as ever.
  9. Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married
    Anne Hathaway is the one everyone’s talking about in regards to Rachel Getting Married, but her on-screen sister – the title character, no less – is nearly as good. Though not nearly as frustrating or depressing as Hathaway’s character – and thus not nearly as noticeable – DeWitt manages to portray the more reasonable sister with just as many flaws and issues as her alcoholic sibling.
  10. Kate Winslet, The Reader
    I didn’t really like Winslet’s performance when I first saw The Reader – and I am not a huge fan of the movie itself – but she has grown on me. After all, when you think about how unlikable, flawed and ugly she is in this movie, you realize that with just a touch of makeup this actress transformed herself into an enigma of a character, one whom the main character cherishes and loves, yet who others despise for the atrocities she committed.
  11. Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Dark Knight
    The praise has been all about Heath Ledger, and if people play it safe they mention Morgan Freeman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine. Still, Gyllenhaal turns in a great supporting performance here. I’m one of the few who didn’t mind Katie Holmes in the original, but when you watch one film right after the other – like I did the other night – you realize what an upgrade director Christopher Nolan pulled off when replacing one with the other. Gyllenhaal’s final scene is as emotional as it is due to the actress’s ability to reveal to the audience her sudden, momentary shock that everything is not going to end happily.
  12. Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    Interestingly, when people think of this movie, their minds immediately go to Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz making out. Mine does, too, but it also goes to the third actress who, in fact, plays the main character. Rebecca Hall, the least-known name in the entire movie, was hardly marketed at all, but not only is she prettier than Johansson and Cruz (a very, very hard feat), she also delivers a compelling performance.
  13. Evan Rachel Wood, The Wrestler
    Marisa Tomei has been getting all the attention when it comes to supporting performances, but maybe I was too focused on her incessant nudity throughout the film. No, my praise lands on Evan Rachel Wood, who once again delivers a strong, emotional performance as the estranged daughter of Mickey Rourke. She only has a few scenes, but those scenes are the most powerful of the movie.
  14. The ladies of Sex and the City: The Movie
    OK, so I wouldn’t give any of these ladies Oscars, but they should be commended for bringing their TV counterparts to the big screen in a funny, sentimental and believable way. Thanks to the chemistry these women have with one another, Sex and the City catapulted female-oriented movies into arenas normally reserved for adrenaline -filled action flicks.
  15. Nicole Kidman, Australia
    Kidman isn’t amazing in Australia, but she fits the part perfectly. Her performance in the first third of the movie is particularly memorable, as she plays a surprisingly funny, Scarlett O’Hara-esque Brit who doesn’t know the first thing about life down under. There’s a reason why she’s at the bottom of this list, but she still is worthy of recognition.
By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Top 10 Movie Lists
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