I’ve been doing a “best female actors on the planet” list for years now but this is my first attempt at doing a female actors of a decade list. Here we go:

  1. Emma Stone – Emma Stone runs away with the #1 slot here with only four films from the 2010’s decade in the archives. Four isn’t a lot (unless you’re Daniel Day-Lewis), but included in those four are Birdman, La La Land and The Favourite and she’s sensational in all of them. Those are three of the best sixteen films of the decade. Stone’s standout performance, the one she’ll be remembered for, Mia in La La Land, is one of the five best performances from an actress of the decade.
  2. Marion Cotillard – The talented French actress was in six films that landed in the archives from the decade including powerhouse performances with the Dardenne’s (Two Days, One Night) and James Gray (The Immigrant). She played the femme fatale to great effect twice with Nolan (Inception and Dark Knight Rises) and her work in Rust and Bone shouldn’t be overlooked either.  Sadly it’s been a bit of a quiet stretch as all of these six archiveable films for Cotillard were form 2010-2014.
  3. Amy Adams – Adams’ had seven archiveable films in the decade, was nominated for a whopping (and still probably not enough) four Academy Awards during that time. She’s easily among the best of the year in 2013’s American Hustle and 2016’s Arrival. She plays a small, but crucial, role in the second best film of the decade –The Master.
  4. Natalie Portman – Portman’s Knight of Cups, Jackie and Annihilation prove that her decade isn’t solely reliant on one film, but who are we kidding, she’s here because of her performance in Aronofsky’s Black Swan from 2010. It is the single strongest female performance of the decade.
  5. Charlize Theron – Theron’s turn as Furiosa is one of the 2-3 female performances of the decade that can seriously challenge Portman’s turn in Black Swan. It is an almost entirely silent performance—her eyes, the way she carries her height—it’s right there with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens for the best female performance in an action film period (and both of those would be on the short list regardless of gender). Not far down on that same list would be Theron’s work in Atomic Blonde (a film I just can’t shake either). You throw in Prometheus and a couple of very fine Jason Reitman films (Young Adult, Tully)—what a decade indeed for Theron.
  6. Jessica Chastain – Chastain made her archiveable debut in 2011 with a trio of films: Take Shelter, Coriolanus, and The Tree of Life. These were the first three of eight archiveable films for Chastain from 2011-2015—much like Cotillard it has been a quiet stretch since in the back-half of the decade but a run like she had in 2011-2015 can’t be sustained and it doesn’t come along often at all. She’s a tour-de-force in Zero Dark Thirty, quite brilliant in A Most Violent Year– but I think no matter what she does going forward she will be remembered for playing angelic mother in The Tree of Life.
  7. Tilda Swinton – Swinton is the art-house, international champion actor of auteurs working with the likes of Bong Joon-ho, Wes Anderson, Jarmusch, Lynne Ramsay, The Coen Brothers and Luca Guadanino. Swinton has two major things going for her for her resume this decade, her nine archiveable films is the most on this list, and she also has that big heavyweight performance—it’s in Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin– a haunting portrayal- one of Ramsay’s trademark post-trauma vessels.
  8. Scarlett Johansson – Scarlett had a strong 2000’s decade but she has two entries in the 2010’s that rival her best work in 2003’s Lost in Translation: Under the Skin and Marriage Story. They both are among the best female performances of their respective years (2013, and 2019) and although I rarely single out vocal work—her performance in Her is something extraordinary.
  9. Cate Blanchett – Blanchett’s 1-2 punch of Blue Jasmine and Carol in 2013 and 2015 respectively land her on this list. I was slow to warm up to her work in the Todd Haynes film but the film, and her nuanced performance, have grown on me over the years and repeat viewings.  
  10. Rachel Weisz – There are only four archiveable films on Weisz’s decade resume but The Deep Blue Sea, The Lobster and The Favourite are all exceptionally noteworthy and puts her name on the short list of the best female actors of 2011, 2015 and 2018.

Honorable Mention (alphabetical)

  • Greta Gerwig – Before Gerwig became an impressive auteur of her own, she had a tremendous decade as an actress with six archiveable films between 2010’s Greenberg and 2016’s Twentieth Century Women. In there are two truly magnificent and potential year-best-performances– Frances Ha and Mistress America (both with Baumbach).
  • Jennifer Lawrence – In 2013 after Winter’s Bone (2010), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle (2013) it felt like Lawrence might be destined to be #1 on this list. Years later she only had Aronofsky’s Mother! to add to her archiveable resume and ends up with only one film that lands on the top 100 of the decade (Hustle– and gun to my head she’s probably the 3rd of 4th best performance in that film).
  • Lupita Nyong’o – Lupita is certainly here off the strength of 2013’s 12 Years a Slave. It’s an unforgettable performance – one that lingers long after the film as you think back on it and some of the pivotal scenes (including the horrific tracking shot of her being whipped).
  • Saoirse Ronan – I did not expect to hear from Ronan this decade after a powerhouse child (13 years old) performance in Joe Wright’s tragically underrated 2007 Atonement. But Ronan have us five archiveable films in the 2010’s including a strong close to the decade in 2015-2019 (when it seems like so many of these other actors on this list dropped off) in Brooklyn, Lady Bird and, I believe, her career-peak performance to date– in Little Women
  • Michelle Williams – A strong seven performances from the decade here for Williams who started the decade off with an all-timer of a 2010 which includes Blue Valentine (her single best performance of the decade), Shutter Island (a few pivotal scenes) and Meek’s Cutoff. I may be a Kelly Reichardt study away (Meek’s, Certain Women) from putting Williams in the top 10 here. Williams is also outstanding in the key scene with Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.