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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!