Thursday, September 7, 2017

Riske Business: My 20 Favorite Modern Day Actresses

by Adam Riske
Let’s give these gifted artists some due. Yes, I know I left off Meryl Streep. She’ll be ok.

This list is in alphabetical order because I’m not a monster and am not ranking these actresses. This isn’t Pixar or Nolan or Marvel.

I’m sure I forgot a lot of people (like Alison Brie, Lizzy Kaplan, Jane Levy, Taraji P. Henson…why am I doing this?) and this is my personal list. Be gentle in the comments. Let’s begin.

Amy Adams

Why? She can portray anything whether it be charming (Enchanted) to mean (Nocturnal Animals) and she always plays to the material instead of going for big actor moments.

Favorite Performances: Catch Me If You Can, The Master, American Hustle

Kathy Bates

Why? I love being surprised by what she’ll do in her performances and they’re often very emotionally resonant. Upset Bates equals upset Riske, usually.

Favorite Performances: Misery, Titanic, Primary Colors

Emily Blunt

Why? She’s equally great at playing intelligent, tough or vulnerable characters. Often, she’s all these in one. She also can elevate weak material (The Adjustment Bureau).

Favorite Performances: The Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario

Rose Byrne

Why? She was always a steady, dependable dramatic actress but in this current decade has proven to be one of the absolute funniest comedic actresses in movies today.

Favorite Performances: Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids, Neighbors
Jessica Chastain

Why? She seems so confidant and intelligent that it commands my attention. A terrific lead actress for a movie. She can also be sweet and good-natured when called upon, too.

Favorite Performances: The Tree of Life, The Help, Zero Dark Thirty

Kirsten Dunst

Why? She seems so deep and sad, even in lighter fare and blockbusters, not in a sad bastard kind of way but rather a fascinating fashion where you want to find out what makes her tick.

Favorite Performances: crazy/beautiful, Spider-Man 2, Marie Antoinette

Vera Farmiga

Why? She is such a WOMAN. I love her calm (The Conjuring) confidence and authority (Running Scared) and she just seems to perform effortlessly on screen to me.

Favorite Performances: The Departed, Up in the Air, At Middleton

Anne Hathaway

Why? At her best, she reminds me of a classic old-school movie star. She is very charming in lighter fare but also able to dig in and play damaged characters convincingly.

Favorite Performances: The Devil Wears Prada, Rachel Getting Married, The Intern
Scarlett Johansson

Why? Has gone from an interesting emo girl to a kick ass action heroine. She’s such a pro at this point and I love she’s doing a lot of out-there movies. I immediately feel more comfortable when she’s in a movie. Except for Ghost in the Shell. Because never Ghost in the Shell.

Favorite Performances: Lost in Translation, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Under the Skin

Nicole Kidman

Why? She has a real gravitas at this point and she does a lot quietly in both body language and speech. She’s been so good for so long that I took her for granted for many years. But no more. I see you, Nicole. I’m here to say “I see you.”

Favorite Performances: To Die For, Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge!

Keira Knightley

Why? She’s so British and classy. I love it. She’s also a beautiful singer and a terrific lead in romantic films.

Favorite Performances: Pride and Prejudice, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Begin Again

Jennifer Lawrence

Why? She’s usually good and always charismatic even though she’s constantly miscast for a person her age. At her best, there’s few better actresses at playing spunky characters.

Favorite Performances: Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle
Rooney Mara

Why? What a spooky, haunted lady. She’s always impresses me with how much she gets me to care about her characters even though they’re usually still and distant.

Favorite Performances: The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Side Effects

Rachel McAdams

Why? A classic girl next door type in romances, a funny actress in comedies and a valuable supporting player as well as lead.

Favorite Performances: Mean Girls, The Notebook, Spotlight

Elizabeth Olsen

Why? Good at playing both sympathetic and narcissistic characters and has eyes that will see into your soul.

Favorite Performances: Martha Marcy May Marlene, Wind River, Ingrid Goes West

Zoe Saldana

Why? She’s the queen of science fiction franchises and always a valuable team player in each of them. Great in action sequences and plays roles with depth and feeling.

Favorite Performances: The Terminal, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy
Kristen Stewart

Why? Much like a few other actresses mentioned already, she has a soulfulness that is compelling to watch. She has a magnetism that suits her well in both movies where she’s a tortured soul or a romantic lead. I also love her “cut through the bullshit” attitude.

Favorite Performances: Adventureland, Café Society, Personal Shopper

Emma Stone

Why? Very talented comedic and dramatic actress who can sing, dance and charm as good as any person in movies today. There’s nothing she can’t do.

Favorite Performances: Superbad, Easy A, La La Land

Marisa Tomei

Why? Another actress that is a pleasant addition to any movie she’s in. It’s hard to peg her because she can do so much from broad comedic roles to tortured romantics to broken women.

Favorite Performances: My Cousin Vinny, Alfie, The Wrestler

Kristen Wiig

Why? My personal choice for the funniest comedic actress working today. I love that she can be goofy and play caricatures at one moment, be bitingly sarcastic at another and play it straight in dramatic roles too.

Favorite Performances: Whip It, Bridesmaids, The Skeleton Twins

What modern day actresses do you love that you want to give a shout out? I’ll get to actors at some point later this year. Thanks for reading!


  1. Oh no I'm not gonna be able to stop thinking about this all day!! Off the top of my head: Juliette Lewis and Lucy Punch and Holly Hunter and Cameron Diaz. Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, annnd about a billion other actresses. Some on your list are interesting to me, like I wonder if they have a different appeal to men than to other women, who...are not as impressed. :)

    1. Ok wait, I realized that comes off sort of horrible, I'm sorry. THIS IS AN AWESOME POST, ADAM, and I share most of your favs because they're awesome actors!

    2. I sort of anticipated this so I want to address it. I do find many of the female actors on this list attractive (because movie stars are often beautiful) but I made a point in the article to not mention any of that instead focusing only on their performances like I would a male actor.

  2. I agree with basically all of these choices. Also, ditto to Meredith's suggestion above of Holly Hunter. The name I will also throw in is Tilda Swinton. She rules.

  3. I loved Kirsten Dunst in the second season of Fargo.

    I'd also love to see Gwendoline Christie in more films. I think shes fantastic in Game of Thrones but every time I see her in interviews I'm reminded how good she is at playing that part. Hopefully we see more of her in The Last Jedi and that she doesn't get type cast as the stoic warrior.

  4. I love Greta Gerwig. She seems like the girl you meet at a party and she asks you really interesting questions about yourself and is really interested in how you answer them. Then you exchange numbers and become best friends over coffee. Maybe I've thought about that too much.

    Also K-Stew. It's insane how much I've come to like her and Pattinson after working at Hot Topic during the 2008 Twilight craze. That's everybody's story with these two, but like, man, I had to pose with customers and a 7 foot tall cardboard Edward and Bella for months.

  5. No Phipps?!?!

    Tops off of the top of my head: Melanie Lynskey, Brie Larson, Lauren Ashley Carter, Anya Taylor-Joy, Theresa Palmer.

    1. Is it terrible that I forgot Grace "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" Phipps? I'm the worst. As for yours, good picks all around.

    2. Haha, Cheers man, right back at cha.

  6. Can't argue with most of the list here. I'd probably try to squeeze Eva Green and Laura Dern in there somehow even if they aren't always in the greatest movies and most of their best recent work has been on TV.

    Also just a quick shout out to Gal Gadot, Daisy Ridley, and Sofia Boutella. They don't have the filmography behind them to be in a top 20, but I'd like to see all three of them in more (and better movies). In looking up Boutella's filmography just now, I realize I have to rent something called StreetDance 2 at some point.

    1. My list is utter bullshit. How in the hell did I forget Laura Dern????? Last time I ever use the "People" tab on Box Office Mojo to judge the list of actors/actresses out there. This is so frustrating.

    2. Look at it this way, I'm pretty sure you could do a full column of Dern.

  7. Does Jennifer Connelly still count as a modern actress? Her output has slowed down considerably, but I always liked her.

    Judi Dench? Melissa McCarthy? (I've only seen The Heat, and Spy and she was great in admittedly similar parts). I'd love to continue to see Rose Byrne continue to do comedy.

    1. I don't think Jennifer Connelly is of Turner Classic Movies spotlight marathon vintage.

  8. Sounds like it's time for another round of F, Marry, Abraham.

    In addition to the women already mentioned I would add the Mara sisters and possibly Elle Fanning.

  9. Really very interesting to go through!