Let the kudos continue! It’s time to acknowledge cinema’s top five female performances (plus five honorable mentions) of 2011.

Honourable mentions

Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Melissa Leo (Red State), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Mélanie Laurent (Beginners), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin).

Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)

To say Kirsten Dunst’s sad-eyed performance as a bride suffering from depression in Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic wedding drama is the height of her career so far doesn’t come close to doing it justice. The seemingly has-it-all Justine, beautiful and married into riches, unravels before the audience’s eyes, exposing a heavyhearted soul lost inside herself. Dunst makes the performance intoxicatingly real even as the film slides into a nightmarish whirl of end of the world visions.

Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)

Comedian Kristen Wiig’s turn as the single-and-hating-it Annie in director Paul Feig’s box office smash Bridemaids, which she co-wrote, is the sort of crowd-pleasing performance the Oscar community rarely have the courage to acknowledge, presumably in fear of looking like multiplex plebs. Wiig’s comedic maneuverings are a perfectly timed concoction of physical and dialogue laf-making, spanning penis impersonations to goofy dancing, tense conversations and a show-stopping drugged and drunk scene on board a plane. On top of nailing gag delivery Wiig underpins it all with a multifaceted portrayal of a flawed character the audience care for and empathize with.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Buy the ticket, take the ride, and discover yourself pushed into an abyss of madness and mangled limbs c/o director Darren Aronofsky and star Natalie Portman, who gives a career-best all-in performance as a psychologically tortured ballerina who wins the leading role in a production of Swan Lake, and pays for it with her sanity. A rakishly thin Portman, who lost around 10 kilos and trained intensely for the role, scored an Oscar for her troubles, and it’s not hard to see why — she is dark and bewitching, headstrong and fragile, radiating a spellbinding psycho-sexual aura.

Emily Browning (Sleeping Beauty)

She may have headlined one of the year’s most brain-numbing action movies– Zack Snyder’s knuckle buster to the senses, Sucker Punch — but rising star Emily Browning made up for it with a cool and transfixing performance in writer/director’s Julia Leigh’s arty drama about desperate girls and weird old men who pay to sleep next to them. Browning omits a chilly alchemy, as if she’s veiling her true self not just from the audience but from her own character.

Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy

Radiant and warm yet highly strung and headstrong, Juliette Binoche plays an antiques dealer identified only as “Elle” or “She” who spends a day travelling to a small Tuscan village with an acclaimed author (William Shimell) she has eyes for in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. As her behavior gradually grows emotional and volatile, and their conversations wander into increasingly personal territory, it becomes clear that something oddly metaphysical and beyond post-modern is taking place: are the couple pretending they know each other, or pretending they don’t? In the meatier role, for which she won a Best Actress award at Cannes this year, Binoche’s tricky performance gets the variables exactly right.