Review of 2011: Women of the Year

As 2011 draws to a close, we take a look back at the women that made it a great year for film...
The fairer sex have had a great year in 2011. Taking stock of the past 12 months, it becomes clear that without some of the actresses listed below, it would have been a much greyer time.
We had the ensemble cast of The Help, some great supporting turns from Jessica Chastain and Rose Byrne, a fair few rom-coms that remembered to include a personality for their female leads, and a gross-out comedy that not only had the gags delivered by women, but was co-written by its leading lady.
It was hard to pick ten of our favourites, but we finally managed to decide on those that impressed us the most. As a disclaimer, we should mention that this list is not one of awards contenders or high-profile talent, but the performers who made 2011 a great year for movies, allowing for some unconventional choices.

10. Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
"Tilda Swinton seems like the only actress with the steeliness, intelligence and coldness required to play Eva, a character who sways between being deeply unsympathetic, even misanthropic at times, to being vulnerable, the victim of a tragedy." - We Need to Talk About Kevin
We all knew that Tilda Swinton was prone to picking off-beat or difficult roles, but her portrayal of the mother to a murderous son in We Need to Talk About Kevin is her strongest turn to date, and will be remembered long after 2011 is through.
Her place on this list is solely down to that turn, her only credit in 2011, and she's currently poised to take home various best actress awards once the gongs start being given out. It's an astonishingly honest and painful performance, and makes her one of the stand-out actresses of the year.

9. Kristen Wiig - Paul; Bridesmaids

had a good year. Co-writing and starring in Bridesmaids, the comedy actress is one of the most powerful people in Hollywood at the moment, and catapulted each of her co-stars (Rose Byrne can be found elsewhere on the list) up a few notches in the process.
She proved that women can pull off a joke just as well as blokes like Seth Rogen and Steve Carrel, and the film will no doubt be followed by multiple copy-cat comedies over the next couples of years. Paired with her amusing turn as love-interest in Paul, it has definitely been a great 12-months for .

8.  - The King's Speech, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

You can't get two roles more different than Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother to you and me, and the deranged, murderous Bellatrix Lestrange, but  inhabited both this year. Coupling the 'modes' of her filmography, buttoned up period pieces and power-mad women, she delivered two powerful performances that made her stand out as a supporting actress in both films.
She was Oscar nominated for The King's Speech, and was part of the final battle for Hogwarts school, where she was finally defeated by Mrs. Weasley in one of the stand-out scenes from the movie. There aren't many years when Mrs. Tim Burton doesn't make film better, but it's a rare 12-months where none of her parts were offered to her by her husband.

7.  - Black Swan;Friends With Benefits

"A hundred per cent smarter, more realistic and instantly relatable than a Jennifer Aniston or a Katherine Heigl, she holds the movie together with her frank attitudes and barely hidden vulnerabilities." - Friends With Benefits

She started the year as 'that girl' from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but she's now an A-list star in her own right, playing second fiddle to Natalie Portman in Black Swan before playing opposite fellow rising star Justin Timberlake in Friends With Benefits.

She was brilliant and charming in both, of course, and scored critical praise for her supporting turn in the former. Her slightly exotic looks and ballsy attitude sets her apart from the usual rom-com love-interests, too, making FWB one of the best of its kind in 2011.

Read why we love  here.

6. Carey Mulligan - Never Let Me Go; Drive
" illuminates whatever screen she’s on it seems, and is perfect here for her vulnerability and chemistry with Gosling.
February saw  emote as tragic Kathy in Never Let Me Go, haunting us all with her narration and longing looks throughout the adaptation. She'd already impressed us with her performance in An Education, but 2011 was Mulligan's year to branch out into Hollywood.
Her next move was Drive, one of the strongest films of the year and one in which she serves as the perfect companion to a Ryan Gosling on the top of his game. She's constantly described as an indie darling, but she's set to continue her streak in the mainstream with 2012's Shame and The Great Gatsby.

5. Natalie Portman - Black Swan; No Strings Attached; Your Highness; Thor

This year saw  win herself an Oscar, a dancer fiancé and a brand new baby. It's a wonder she had time to fit anything else in, but she's had a busy year on screen too.
Starting with her powerful and evocative performance as Nina in Black Swan, she went on to tackle a rom-com with No Strings Attached, a comedy with Your Highness and threw in a superhero movie with Thor to boot.
Not all of the films were great, but she has certainly helped make 2011 a good year with her willing to mix things up. She certainly wasn't the worst thing in either No Strings Attached or Your Highness, and she's added a compelling female lead to the Marvel universe with Dr. Jane Foster.

4. Rose Byrne - Bridesmaids; X-Men: First Class; Insidious

Before 2011, Rose Byrne had enjoyed more success on the small screen with her role Damages, but after her involvement with comedy juggernaut Bridesmaids this summer, people started noticing her much more as an actress to watch in the future.
Among an ensemble of male stars that included James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, most actresses would find it hard to stand out, but Byrne still manages to make an impression as the agent assisting them in X-Men: First Class.
Then there was her turn in superior horror Insidious, proving her place as one of our women of the 2011 with a range of roles most actresses would kill for.

3.  - Blue Valentine; Meek's Cutoff; My Week With Marilyn

"While Williams has never been a Hollywood starlet, she does a fabulous job getting to the core of Monroe's sadness and despair, and the comment on destructive celebrity culture is a particularly poignant one in our times." -My Week With Marilyn

Only time will tell, but this could be the year that  bags herself that elusive Oscar win. Her turn in My Week With Marilyn had all the ingredients; portraying a troubled real-life star without resorting to impersonation or cheesy TV-movie hallmarks.

It's truly a great role for an actress so adept at portraying tragedy and sadness on-screen and, taking little seen western Meek's Cutoff and romantic drama Blue Valentine, 2011 has seen Williams in her best light as an actress. The new Kate Winslet? Quite possibly.

Read why we love Michelle Williams here.

2. - Friends With Benefits; Crazy, Stupid, Love; The Help
"Skeeter’s rom-com storyline has been whittled down from the book, but adds interest enough, and Stone herself is as good as ever in the role."  
She nearly reached the top of our list, but just missed out on the cigar due to the sheer amount of films her rival red-head (see below) worked on this year. Emma Stone has also had a wonderful time this year, however, building upon her breakout success in 2010's Easy A with admirable grace.
A cameo in Friends With Benefits (as Justin Timberlake's crazy ex-girlfriend) linked her to previous success, before she moved on to cultured period piece The Help and classy romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. She was another of Ryan Gosling's leading ladies in the latter, and lit up every screen she appeared on throughout the year.
The sky's the limit for 2012, as Stone has bagged herself the role of Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spider-Man and will reunite with Gosling for Gangster Squad. For now, we thank you Miss Stone, for making 2011 a great year for movies.
Read why we love here.

1.  - Take Shelter; The Tree of Life; The Help; Texas Killing Fields; The Debt
"Previously seen in a quasi-angelic role in The Tree of Life and as a buttoned-up agent in Israeli thriller The Debt, Chastain suddenly shows she can do early Julia Roberts-verve, and be very funny to boot."  
How did she do it? Not only has been in more movies this year than any other lady on our list, but she's been a wonderful addition in each and every role. Chastain exploded into the lives of film fans in 2011, and lifted each film with her grace and talent for delivering honest performances.
It's hard to single out just one, but we thought she was particularly great in Take Shelter, a supporting role that meant she had to work harder against Michael Shannon's unravelling protagonist. That she has emerged with several award-worthy turns tells you something about her unique presence on-screen, and she takes our position as woman of the year without much trouble at all.