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2. Emily Watson, "Breaking the Waves" (1996)
It was a tough decision not placing Emily Watson's stirring, near-perfect on-screen debut in Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves" at the top of the list. In many ways it was the prototypical Von Trier suffering female character, but Watson inhabited it to a degree never matched by his actress collaborators since. She plays a range of emotions with skill and ease, unflinchingly brave, undeniably moving. She was recognized with an Oscar nomination, but she deserved a win for this, the best performance of just about any year.