This is a continuation of our Top 25 Actresses Under 35 series. You can find the first part here.
Castor: Keira Knightley is an actress who was Oscar-nominated for her role in Pride and Prejudice relatively early in her career but really fell off the map in the past few years. Yes, she was in another acclaimed Joe Wright movie, Atonement, but she clearly wasn’t even the second best actress in the movie — both Romola Garai and Saoirse Ronan acted circles around her. I originally had her somewhere in the top 25 but it became quickly clear she wasn’t going to make it after more and more names were added to the list. Keira gets a lot of hate for being somewhat wooden but personally, I think that she is usually decent and credible. Nevertheless, you don’t get to be in my top 25 for being average… I do think she is quite limited in terms of range or depth and tends to resort to too much pouting and posing in her movies.
Red’s Take: I wasn’t even able to fit her into my top 40, so this is certainly a pick that Castor wanted to mention. Granted, I don’t think Knightley is completely talentless, but when she isn’t doing a film for Joe Wright, I find the rest of her performances almost comical (Castor: No punches pulled!). Her character in the Pirates of the Caribbean turned boring rather quickly, and I couldn’t even finish The Duchess. Her contribution to King Arthur was rather surprising, but that seems like ages ago.
20. Mia Wasikowska
Castor: For most, Mia Wasikowska was a complete unknown until she got the lead role in Tim Burton’s quirky Alice in Wonderland. But the 20-year old from Canberra, Australia was already making a name for herself in Australian films like Paul Goldman’s Suburban Mayhem and most notably in the HBO drama series In Treatment. Wasikowska also played a Jewish refugee in the Holocaust drama Defiance, appeared in the Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia, and played the daughter to Annette Bening and Julianne Moore’s lesbian parents in the indie comedy The Kids Are All Right. Mia will stay in the spotlight with upcoming roles as Charlotte Brontë’s classic character Jane Eyre and as a terminally ill teenage girl in Gus Van Sant’s Restless. It’s much too early to say where her career is headed but Mia Wasikowska is a promising young actress with some momentum going.
Red’s Take: Like most people, my first experience with young Mia was during the most recent version of Alice in Wonderland. While it wasn’t exactly a spectacular performance, I would place most of that blame on the script and how it restricted Wasikowska from really doing much more. Almost the same could be said for The Kids Are All Right, there was an obvious growth between the two films, and the latter would’ve been a much better film had it given Mia the proper focus that she deserved. She seems like she’ll be an actress who will keep herself devoted to creative films and not succumb to the rom-com curse that almost every actress of her beauty falls under.
19. Jennifer Lawrence
Castor: To be honest, I had never heard of Jennifer Lawrence until she appeared in Red’s ranking and then recently witnessed her star-making performance in Debra Granik’s highly acclaimed film Winter’s Bone. I will probably catch some flak for putting her in the top 25 after seeing only one performance out of her but this demonstrates how much she impressed me in that movie. Playing the central character Ree Dolly, Lawrence is a stunning revelation and an early Oscar contender for Best Actress (she would become the second youngest Oscar nominee in that category). Her resourceful, fearless, yet completely believable Ree is the most impressive female character in years and certainly made Winter’s Bone one of the standout films at the Sundance Festival.
Lawrence’s next role is in Jodie Foster’s film The Beaver starring Mel Gibson, Foster and Anton Yelchin. Unfortunately, given Mel Gibson’s recent antics, it is probably not going to be released in theater for quite some time, if ever. Jennifer was also recently cast in X-Men: First Class and is currently filming the horror movie House at the End of the Street so I expect her to start gaining some steam as casting directors become aware of what she can do. Jennifer Lawrence is an actress with a very promising future so remember her name.
Red’s Take: One of the most promising actresses that made compiling this list a bit trickier. Do you include an actress that only put up two performances that people have seen, or do you leave her off for someone else who has proven themselves over the years? Much like Carey Mulligan was getting the same label at this time last year, it’s hard to watch Lawrence’s fierce performance in Winter’s Bone and not think she is the “next big thing”. But it wasn’t just that feature that Lawrence has shined in. She also caught plenty of eyes in The Burning Plain, despite have a much more limited role. It’s also hard not to mention that Granik’s previous film, Down to the Bone, birthed the creation of one our generation’s finest actresses in Vera Farmiga. If Lawrence does in fact get an Oscar nomination, can you imagine how sought after Granik’s next female lead role will be?
18. Evan Rachel Wood
Castor: I’m not gonna lie, Evan Rachel Wood has always given me a weird vibe that I’m not sure I like, probably because of her involvement with Marylin Manson for so many years or maybe her general persona off the screen. Nevertheless, if you have ever watched her on-screen, she definitely is a promising young actress. I first saw her in the musical Across the Universe where she sung and acted remarkably well. Being only 22, her body of work is truly incredible and is more substantial than most actresses twice her age. The question is whether she will be able to transition from child prodigy to mature actress.
Red’s Take: Oh, Marilyn Manson, what have you done? Luckily for us, young Miss Wood and the rock star recently split up, so maybe she’ll be back to giving us the performances that we were used to years ago. Yes, I know, The Wrestler was just two years ago, but that’s hardly enough considering that it was just a supporting role after we had gotten used to her in lead roles after lead roles as a teenager. 2003′ s double whammy of Thirteen and The Missing marked her official arrival as someone to keep an eye out for. She proved that she could handle comedy in the criminally under viewed King of California, and then tackled a role in the musical Across the Universe that fit her to a “T”. Dear Evan Rachel Wood: Please get away from television material like “True Blood” and “Mildred Pierce” and come back to film. We miss you. Sincerely, Everybody on the interweb.
17. Zoe Saldana
Castor: Zoe Saldana came along a long way in the last two years. Her performance in Avatar was without question the strongest and most realized in the movie, combining a strong physical presence with a raw emotional undertone. The fact that it was a computerized representation shouldn’t take away anything from her outstanding work. Saldana is also rising quickly as a credible female action star with the aforementioned Avatar and the recent action thriller The Losers. She will have another chance to demonstrate her skills again in Columbiana where she will play a stone-cold assassin/vigilante as well as the upcoming Star Trek sequel.
Red’s Take: To me, this placing can simply be supported by her Avatar role alone. A fiery performance that made a countless number of men across the world fall in love in with animated blue alien named Neytiri. If that isn’t acting power, I don’t know what is. Having been a character actress throughout most of the aughts, Saldana has quickly moved herself into position to start grabbing lead roles at her will. While the role was still a supporting one, her casting in J.J. Abrams’ Star trek reboot was a match made in Sci-Fi heaven (as was most of the casting, but let’s not get sidetracked here). She certainly likes to keep her filmography diverse, mixing the action thriller The Losers and the comedy Death at a Funeral in there as well.
16. Abbie Cornish
Castor: Most people first began hearing about Abbie Cornish well before actually seeing her on-screen when she got involved into some good old Hollywood soap opera, wedging herself between Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon. Nevertheless, her emotionally raw and complex performance in Jane Campion’s Bright Star, for which she was in serious contention for an Academy Award nomination, finally got her in the right spotlight. Abbie has been a critical darling for years in her native Australia with award-winning roles on the Australian TV show Wildside and the 2004 hit Somersault. Cornish also received widespread acclaim for her role opposite Heath Ledger in the under-seen movie Candy and has slowly been building up her presence in Hollywood in movies like A Good Year and Stop Loss. Her upcoming movies include Madonna’s historical drama W.E., Neil Burger’s techno thriller The Dark Fields, as well as Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch, a stylistic action thriller which should be a nice change of pace for her. Abbie Cornish has a very bright future ahead of her.
Red’s Take: Unlike my pal Castor, I have yet to see Bright Star, so her most acclaimed performance has so far escaped me. This doesn’t necessarily mean I am a stranger with Cornish’s work, though. Small parts in movies such as Elizabeth: The Golden Age and A Good Year over the years have kept Abbie on everybody’s radar. Mix in a strong supporting role in the Stop-Loss as well as her Australian films, and that spells out promising future for Cornish.