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: Frances is one of the most consistent women in this competition. Not a whole lot of City By The Seas or Aeon Fluxes on that resume. In fact, those two are just about it. Unfortunately (for Frances, not for us), Streep's just more prolific. In case it hasn't been mentioned yet, only Streep could turn a movie like Music of the Heart into a check mark in her favor. Edge: Meryl Streep.
Quality: Sherriff Marge Gunderson versus author Susan Orlean. They're both incredibly confident and layered comic portrayals. They were also both career turning points, as McDormand became a viable female lead, while Streep began a late-career renaissance that could end up in her third Oscar if things go well with her Devil Wears Prada campaign. I've gotta give the nod to McDormand, though. The defining performance in one of the defining movies of our generation? Yep.
Fake Oscar Nods: McDormand: 3 (Fargo; Almost Famous; The Man Who Wasn't There); Streep: 3 (The Hours; Adaptation; One True Thing). PUSH
Spotlights Stolen: They've never shared the screen.
Girlfight Factor: I have to say, this could be a fight for the ages. No pun intended. Think of their roles for a second. McDormand's been a scary-ass mom in Almost Famous, an unscary sherriff who nonetheless got the job done in Fargo, and a tough-as-nails mine worker in North Country. I wouldn't mess with her. Streep's got the Anna Wintour analogue in Prada, as well as the steely double dip of Mormon and Jewish widows in Angels in America. But just as often, she plays characters that fall to pieces: in The Hours, in Adaptation, in Lemony Snicket. It's a weakness you can't have when Frances McDormand is looking for the killshot. Edge: McDormand
Winner: Frances McDormand 2-1
Quantity: Linney's résumé has been fairly unstoppable throughout this competition. What performances of hers haven't I commented on? Her conflicted mom in The Squid and the Whale? Loyal wife in Kinsey? Fiercely determined prosecutor in Primal Fear? Coldly judgmental townie in The Laramie Project? Acidic socialite in The House of Mirth? Hysterical actress in The Truman Show? Lady's done a lot in a decade. Allen's awesome, but she can't keep up in this category. Edge: Linney
Quality: Terry Wolfmeyer versus Sammy Prescott. Battle of the single moms, not that they have a whole lot in common beyond that. Allen's a blast to watch in Upside of Anger; absolutely balls-out hilarious. Linney in You Can Count On Me is a bit more special, I think. It hits an emotional spot few performances do. This, by the way, is one more rematch where Laura dispatches a competitor from the 2000 Best Actress race. Edge: Linney
Fake Oscar Nods: Allen: 4 (The Upside of Anger; The Contender; Pleasantville; The Crucible); Linney: 3 (You Can Count On Me; The Squid and the Whale; Primal Fear).
Spotlights Stolen: Both starred in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Allen played the young chess prodigy's mother. Linney had a small role as a schoolteacher. Small role or not, it'd be tough to top Joan's work in the film. The entire cast is great, and she's no exception. Her big scene that everyone remembers -- the "you think that he's weak" scene -- is enough to win the category for her. Edge: Allen
Girlfight Factor: Wow. You know, I did not see this one coming, I'm going to be honest. That's the beauty of arbitrary and not-necessarily-fairly-calibrated categories like these. I've tried to wank my way out of this, but it's not happening. The truth of the matter is Joan Allen kicks the everloving CRAP out of Laura Linney. I'm sorry, but you and I both know she does. Dammit, Laura. You couldn't have taken ONE role as hard-nosed CIA director? Ah, well. I love Joan to pieces anyway. As many pieces as she's left Linney in. Edge: Allen
Winner: Joan Allen 3-2
Okay, so here's the deal. We already know our matchup for the finals. Joan Allen versus Frances McDormand. We also know that they've never been in a movie together. So I figure, why not get the reader vote component on this ahead of time? That way this doesn't end with an anticlimax. So hit up the comments here. It's pure preference, so don't feel that you're bound by any criteria. Who do you like better? Vote wisely and once...for the last time!