64 women enter. One woman leaves.
A few words on the criteria: I'm only taking into account performances from the past ten years (1996 and onward). Film and television performances count. Match-ups will be judged on the following merits: (1) number of performances I've enjoyed (sheer quantity); (2) whose singular best performance is the greatest (quality); (3) if I had an Oscar ballot, how many nominations would the actress have received since '96 (fake Oscars); (4) if both actresses have co-starred in a film, who gave the better performance (spotlights stolen); and (5) who would win in a physical brawl between the two (girlfight factor).
Quantity: Total mismatch here. Winslet's spare shooting schedule has made her easy prey in this category for far less prolific actresses. She can't really be expected to compete with Linney and her can't-do-much-wrong-in-Joe's-eyes list of credits.
Quality: Tough match. Linney's Sammy Prescott in You Can Count on Me and Winslet's Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind both endeared themselves to me because they felt very natural and lived-in. While not being anything approaching similar characters, they both felt like you could happen upon them in your local coffee shop or book store. They were both difficult, yet sympathetic women. They both received career-best performances from their male leads. And they both should have won the Oscar. Alas. In a rather close call, I give the edge to Laura Linney, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I just liked it a liiiiiittle bit more.
Fake Oscar Nods: Linney: 3 (You Can Count on Me; The Squid and the Whale; Primal Fear); Winslet: 3 (Eternal Sunshine...; Holy Smoke; Titanic). Push
Spotlights Stolen: They co-starred in The Life of David Gale. Truly, nobody wins in that situation. But I really should choose. Linney's deceased death row activist was a manipulation, but that was more in the script than in the characterization. Similarly, Winslet had nothing to work with, and the performance showed it. Linney was at least partially memorable and came the closest to almost sort of redeeming the movie, kinda. That she did so by, you know, dying doesn't diminish that. At least not enough. Edge: Linney.
Girlfight Factor: Kate knows she's probably been beaten by the time she gets in the ring with Linney. But that only gives fuel to her fire. Kate delivers a great ass-whomping to Linney and achieves something of a catharsis in the process.
Winner: Laura Linney 3-1
Quantity: Allen comes to play with six great performances in a decade. Solid output, but not exactly prolific. She's matched exactly by Witherspoon, who took a while to master the "one for the studio, one for me" method of role-choosing, but once she did, she scored a $100 million hit and an Oscar. Not bad. Anyway, with the numbers being equal, we've got a push.
Quality: Reese's turn as Tracey Flick in Election gets pitted against Allen's Terry Wolfmeyer in The Upside of Anger. Both were fantastic star turns. Both saw an almost pre-destined matching of actress to role -- nobody could have played these parts better. I give the edge to Witherspoon. It made a more indelible impression on the pop-cult landscape.
Fake Oscar Nods: Allen: 4 (The Upside of Anger; The Contender; Pleasantville; The Crucible); Witherspoon: 3 (Walk the Line; Election; Pleasantville)
Spotlights Stolen: Oh, man. This is so hard. Okay, so they were both in Pleasantville, and I have to decide who gave the better performance. This is tough. When I first saw it, Allen's performance was the one that stood out. But in recent viewings (what? TNT airs it a lot.), it's been Reese who has made a bigger mark. Mostly because she took a role that didn't really require a great performance in order for the film to work (the film really does turn on Tobey Maguire, Allen, and William H. Macy), but she gave one anyway. And she managed to be sexy and funny in a way that didn't diminish her character. That being said...most of what makes that movie work, and transforms it from a high-concept fluff picture into something worth remembering, is contained in Joan Allen's performance. Without her, the film is lost, and she played her part so perfectly. I can't not recognize that. Edge: Allen
Girlfight Factor: It's Reese's toughest test to date. Joan can match her icewater-for-icewater, and in fact I think she might even get Reese to flinch a couple times with that steely glare of hers. So for the first time, Reese's cold, calculating side will have to give way to the sprightly southern girl within and let her win this one on athleticism and a little hair-pulling. She may end up a little more battered, but still victorious. Edge: Reese
Winner: 2-2. A TIE! I tried every which way to make this not the case. I couldn't do it with a clear conscience. These two are neck and neck. I need the readers to make the call. Vote wisely and once.