'Rabbit' thesp looks for guilt release valve

Annette Bening
“The Kids Are All Right”

Determined not to be the holdout anymore about welcoming her kids’ sperm donor in their lives, Nic forgoes wine — her usual social lubricant — in favor of loosening up by bonding with Paul over Joni Mitchell. The happiness is short-lived, though, when she comes upon evidence of her partner’s infidelity. She returns to the table, tight-lipped, and in taking a long swig of grape, Bening silently communicates a proudly controlling matriarch’s privately shattering embarrassment.

Nicole Kidman
“Rabbit Hole”

Disconnected from her husband’s way of grieving over their son’s accidental death, Becca looks to a chance encounter with the teenage driver who hit their child as a route to recovery. Sitting with the boy on a park bench, Kidman gingerly shows how the normally brittle Becca finds a sense of grace and engagement again, with gently mothering inquiries, small talk, and even comforting words about his own feelings of guilt.

Jennifer Lawrence
“Winter’s Bone”

Both calmed and energized by having to take care of her younger siblings — especially in the wake of her father’s ominous disappearance — eminently responsible Ree tries to show them how to skin and prep a squirrel for stewing. But when her brother gets squeamish, her mettle quickly rises to the surface as she admonishes him, “There’s a bunch of stuff you’re gonna have to get over bein’ scared of.”

Natalie Portman
“Black Swan”

When rage at her imagined nemesis turns to shockingly bloody action, Nina must gather herself to go on as the black swan in “Swan Lake.” What washes over this perfectionist ballerina, however, is something less like transformation and more like possession. Portman brings every scary fissure in Nina’s journey up till that point to a kind of crazily metamorphic deliverance, in woozy, surging close-ups that capture an artist both lost and found.

Michelle Williams
“Blue Valentine”

Back home with her hotheaded husband after he instigated a violent scene at her place of work, Cindy, still in her nurse’s scrubs, lets loose a teary explanation why they should divorce. “No, no, no, no, no,” she pleads when he tries to embrace her, fearful of how susceptible she is to his promises. After relenting, she breaks free of his arms, and Williams squints and pinches the bridge of her nose, as if Cindy had been dosed with something she knows isn’t good for her.

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