Amy Adams, Junebug (2005)
In this family drama, one of my favorite movies of the decade, Amy Adams stole the show as Ashley, a young Southern wife and expectant mother who is obsessed with her big city relatives. Adams crafts a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait, and became a star..
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator (2004)
I seriously deliberated whether to award Blanchett for her portrait of Katharine Hepburn in Scorsese's biopic, or as one of the versions of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes' sort-of biopic, I'm Not There. Blanchett is never better than when doing real-life portraits with heart (see Elizabeth, her breakout role). In The Aviator, Blanchett stole every scene she was in and was a true highlight of the film.
Patricia Clarkson, Far From Heaven (2002)
I think might vote for Clarkson as MVP of supporting actresses. She always shines without being showy, and she always puts her all into her roles, whether they be supporting or lead. In one of my favorite movies of the decade, Clarkson plays Eleanor, a loyal best friend to Cathy Whitaker until she finds out about an interracial romance.
-Clarkson was so great in many movies this decade, but particularly her supporting roles in Dogville (2003) and Pieces of April (2003) and her lead role in The Station Agent (2003). All in one year!
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
Remember when we mostly knew Cruz as Tom Cruise's girlfriend. In her bilingual role as fiery artist Maria Elena, Cruz was absolutely hilarious in Woody Allen's very enjoyable European comedy-drama. Her vitriol toward Scarlett Johannson in the following clip is hilarious....
-Also tremendous (not to mention stunningly beautiful) in the Almodovar films Volver (2006) and Broken Embraces (2009)
Viola Davis, Doubt (2008)
Davis has a very brief role, as Mrs. Miller, the mother of a boy who Sister Aloysius suspects is being abused by a priest, but man does she make the most of it. It's hard to steal a movie from Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but there's no doubt (pardon the pun) that Davis does it. She even allows her nose to get snotty in the process.
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air (2009)
As Alex, the female counterpart to Clooney's Ryan Bingham, Farmiga brings a grown-up sexiness to her role. I watched the movie a second time, and I felt that her performance even deepened knowing more about her character the whole way through. I'm hoping Hollywood finds more great roles for Farmiga, because she's a true treasure. I even wrote a blog post just on her performance.
-Also did excellent supporting work among all the boys in The Departed (2006)
Catherine Keener, Capote (2006)
As Harper Lee, best friend to eccentric author Truman Capote, Keener creates the soul of this great film and matches the masterful performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Keener can create all kinds of characters, from very good (such as here) to very mean (see Being John Malkovich)
-This indie queen was excellent in so much this decade. I particularly liked her troubled housewife in Lovely and Amazing (2001) and her surrogate mother in Into the Wild (2007).
Mo'nique, Precious (2009)
As a true mother from hell, Mo'nique puts her full heart and soul into her performance as Mary Jones, the abusive mother to a troubled teen. Many fine actresses could create a monster, but Mo'nique manages to show us flashes of humanity beneath the surface.
Meryl Streep, Adaptation (2002)
Streep, who is of course one of our greatest actresses, gives one of her top 2 or 3 performances in this movie. She's so simultaneously funny and poignant as a fictionalized version of author Susan Orlean. The scene where she gets stoned is absolutely hilarious.
-Streep was of course almost always amazing this decade. I particularly liked her forays into comedic performances, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), and Julie & Julia (2009). Looking back, who knew this master of the accent could be so damned funny.
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton (2007)
Swinton is a strange and terrific actress, and her performance as Karen Crowder, an opposing lawyer to Clooney's Clayton, is truly unique. She truly digs into the skin of her itchy, corrupt, insecure character and makes her so much more than a typical corporate villain. Major spoiler alert if you watch the clip.
-Swinton also turned in great leading performances this decade in The Deep End (2001) and Julia (2009).
Once again, Oscar did a not bad job with their awards this decade. Four of these women won the award (Blanchett, Cruz, Mo'nique, Swinton), and all except Patricia Clarkson were nominated (and even she got a nomination for Pieces of April).
It's very interesting to see how many of these women switch between supporting and lead roles. Blanchett, Cruz, Streep, Keener, and Adams are all more than able to carry movies on their own, yet have no problems lending their support in great roles.