Sex and the City‘s Women

Take away their coital conquests, smutty confabs, and drop-dead wardrobes and what do you have? Four perfectly pitched, subtly nuanced, damn good actresses. We teared up as codependent slave-to-fashion Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) ricocheted between love and hate for Mr. Big; were shocked to see prissy shoe fiend Charlotte (Kristin Davis) let loose with a Hollywood boy toy; stood in awe as resident Mrs. Robinson, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), actually turned down sex; and were positively slack-jawed when power pussycat Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) — how should we put this — took one on the nose in an unforgettably explosive scene. Boy, do we ever respect them in the morning. — Jamie Bufalino

Kevin Spacey

Already toting an oscar for his lethally deadpan role in 1995’s The Usual Suspects, Spacey topped himself twice this year: as American Beauty‘s lustful, angry, and acerbically disillusioned Lester Burnham; and as brutal, truth-telling Hickey in the acclaimed Broadway revival of The Iceman Cometh. ”Fiendishly mesmerizing” is how The New York Times described his stage performance, and the same can be said of Spacey’s work in general. Mining his characters for both brutality and humor, he gives the audience vicarious thrills, venting our frustrations, reflecting the dark. — JC

Samantha Morton

Argue as you wish about the feminist subtext of Woody Allen making the heroine of his newest movie sexually hungry and mute. What’s inarguable is that Morton wordlessly conveys a full vocabulary of emotions in Sweet and Lowdown. As an unpretentious laundress with the bad fortune to love a difficult jazz musician, the British actress is by turns funny, ardent, wounded, and blithe. And if she gives off the same happy-sad, child-woman poignance-ferocity as Fellini’s muse, Giulietta Masina, well, isn’t that high praise in a film by one of his disciples? — Lisa Schwarzbaum

Margaret Colin & Eric Close

Movie actresses on the other side of 40 rightfully complain about the constant on-screen matchups between young women and older men, but on the magically offbeat CBS drama Now and Again, the endearing Close and wryly witty Colin invert the equation. In a fantasy millions of housewives can get behind, he plays the brain of her middle-aged husband transplanted into a young-stud body; true love and a transcendent appreciation of firm pectorals lead Colin to be attracted to this man in a way she cannot explain. Their hesitant, instinctive surrender to l’amour scientifique makes for the most compelling odd couple (and the best goose-bump TV) since Mulder and Scully. — KT

Matt Damon

Actors like to talk about stretching, but very few of them ever discuss shrinking. In The Talented Mr. Ripley, the talented Damon sheds pounds and says goodbye to muscle mass; in addition, he strips away his image in ways that should make his Frat Pack running buddies, not to mention the Academy, sit up and take notice. It’s not just that he plays a meekly bespectacled gay man going through a rather bloody identity crisis — it’s that he does it with such minutely nuanced emotional shifts that moviegoers may feel trapped inside his creepy head. It takes a good actor to play a role like Ripley — but it takes a great one to underplay it; in a season of scenery-chewing, Damon’s restraint is just the holiday gift we hoped for.

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Craig Bierko,
Sonia Braga,
David Eigenberg,
Mikhail Baryshnikov,
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