Sci-Fi Fridays, Episode 43: The Best of Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror 2014 (The Actresses, Part 2)

emily blunt again

How’s it going, fellow readers? Last week I suffered some technical difficulties with my laptop so I was unable to post the new Sci-Fi Fridays article, but now that things are in semi-working order I can officially present to you my personal ballot for the best female performances in a science fiction, horror, or fantasy film. Please enjoy and comment away after reading!

scarjo under the skin

5. Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin – Focused, vulnerable, eerie, audacious and calculated, Scarlett Johansson puts all her naysayers to rest with a dialogue-lite performance that will first intrigue…then horrify. As the mysterious alien placed on Earth to collect human…whatever…Johansson uses her seductress charms to pull one over on unsuspecting men she meets during her travels, who enter her lair willingly and with one thing on their mind that she simply does not share. Johansson reveals how humanity takes itself for granted, how being detached is almost a tragic form of human evolution, which in turn makes her second-guess her own value to this strange species. Alien or human, it does not matter – Johansson is simply an object of lonesome desire. The subtlety on display from Johansson is simply astounding, as is her ability to transform herself during any human interaction while still maintaining a type of robotic composure. Johansson shows us a darker, more vulnerable side of her talent, one both surprising and refreshingly welcome.

essie davis

4. Essie Davis in The Babadook – Although the changes this possessed mother undergoes seem awfully familiar to horror aficionados, Davis overcomes predictability by believably internalizing her struggle of a lovesick woman on the edge of pure rage. Davis knows the audience has seen this type of film and performance before, so instead of falling back on cliché character beats to keep her performance afloat, Davis gets under our skin by combining repressed sexual desire with maternal incompetency. The weirdness of her character — specifically in how she views her young son — sits right on the edge of being massively inappropriate, which only adds to the horror and nuance of this particular crazed victim of demonic possession.

emily blunt edge

3. Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow – I’m not sure I completely agree with some of my colleagues that the character of Rita Vrataski AKA “Full Metal Bitch” is the feminist solution to action heroines (she’s still largely lusted after from a male POV). However, the exquisite Blunt sure knows how to shut down any doubt I may have with one piercing stare of steely resolve, not to mention an iconic pushup for the ages that will stop anyone in their tracks. As Rita, Blunt’s strength is internally derived, thus letting her exterior badass moves and armor get-up seem more authentic than simple window dressing. I can’t remember the last time a female actress opposite Tom Cruise has matched him scene-for-scene with as much screen presence as the aforementioned action star. Blunt made sure those exiting the theater remembered her just as much as Cruise, and low and behold she was all anyone could talk about upon dispersal. Emily Blunt, welcome to the A-list.

tilda swinton snowpiercer

2. Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer – There is character, then there is caricature, and then there is Tilda Swinton. As the repulsive and haughty Mason – the warden of sorts for the back of the Snowpiercer train – Swinton is at her most cartoonishly delicious. With her fake teeth, fur coat and giant spectacles, Swinton puts on a marvelous act of sinister cruelty dashed with an abundance of comedic timing. There’s truly never a dull moment when Mason pops on screen, as Swinton twists her Cruella de Vil-esque persona into a hideous portrait of proxy dominion. You will laugh, you will shudder, and because Swinton is so great at swirling every facet of her characters’ attributes into one performance, you will end up pitying the most pathetic of law enforcers. Swinton brings out the devil and we in turn fail to resist her charms.

anne hathaway interstellar

1. Anne Hathaway in Insterstellar – More than any other female performance in a science fiction film from this year, Hathaway’s was the one that most resonated with me in ways I would’ve never expected. I figured Hathaway would just come in, collect a massive check as a personality-deprived astronaut and be on her merry way once the film’s buzz had died down. While I still fully disagree with the campaign categorization of “Best Actress” (this is Matthew McConaughey’s story, through and through), I cannot discount how compelling Hathaway was as Amelia Brand, a woman who let her experiences shape her choices without fighting that persuasive feeling we call “love.” She provided such a glorious counterbalance to Cooper’s machismo and cold, methodical rationale that I was instantly seeing a battle of the sexes play out in front of me in realistic fashion. Ultimately it turned out Brand’s character was right to trust her heart – after all, love is the only intangible entity connecting humans across time and space – proving once and for all that to set aside emotion is to deny our innate human nature. Hathaway never played Brand too helpless, too overpowering, or too detached from the action at hand. This was Cooper’s journey, yes, but every scene showed Hathaway’s equally fierce passion and commitment to the mission. No way did she allow Brand to take a backseat to the male crew members, even though at times they would democratically outvote her during a crucial pow-wow. Much like Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, Hathaway never felt the need to harden her femininity – she simply tapped into Brand’s inner desire to love and preserve life, which in turn drove her strength. Honestly, heroines don’t get more nuanced and real than Hathaway’s multifaceted portrayal of the courageous and emotionally unafraid Amelia Brand.

Well folks, those are my nominees for “Best Female Performance in a Sci-Fi/Horror/Fantasy Film.” Please list your own personal ballot below! Stayed tuned next week when we tackle the other side of the gender coin!