“Would it be alright if I showed the children the whoring bed?” With that one passive-aggressive request, the long-absent Uma Thurman forced her way back into our hearts, playing – for only a few minutes – a spurned wife in Lars von Trier’s four-hour sex extravaganza (sextravaganza?) Nymphomaniac. She wasn’t the only actress who returned from the metaphorical professional wilderness in 2014: Rene Russo enjoyed a comeback as the morally-questionable news producer in Nightcrawler; Laura Dern, following the axing of TV show Enlightened, and Reese Witherspoon, whose viral video of a police stop was her biggest cultural contribution of the past few years, impressed as mother and daughter in the otherwise unremarkable Wild; Rosamund Pike, twelve years after her disappointing debut in, erm, Die Another Day, made good on her acting promise as the Machiavellian puppet-master in Gone Girl; and Patricia Arquette, preoccupied for too long on Medium and soon to be preoccupied until the end of human existence on CSI: Cyber, found time over twelve years to shoot a career-defining role in Boyhood.

2014 also showed us new sides to known quantities. Rose Byrne took to her part in Bad Neighbours with relish, demolishing preconceived notions of the “movie wife” by cutting looser than her dunderheaded husband (and with her original Aussie accent to boot). Scarlett Johansson pays the bills with Marvel sequels, but she finally earned her rep as one of our bravest performers with the hypnotic art-house oddity Under the Skin and Luc Besson’s genius confection Lucy, playing in one an alien who discovers humanity, and in the other a human who discovers omnipotence. Marion Cotillard and Kristin Wiig flirted with suicide and fought against inner frailties in Two Days, One Night and The Skeleton Twins, respectively. Jenny Slate, one of the funniest women alive, proved her chops as a young comedian awaiting an abortion in Obvious Child. And Essie Davis – as the tortured, maybe-infanticidal mother in Australian horror sensation, The Babadook – stole the year out from under everyone with 2014’s best turn, period.

For two years running, the ladies in cinema have outshone the men; this despite female actors having to operate in an industry that largely skews male and banishes to the outskirts women between the ages of 35 and 60. (Sarah Snook meanwhile cried “challenge accepted,” crisscrossing genders in Predestination.) There has been much written about the dearth of potential Best Actress Academy Award contenders this season. To that I say: hooey. Below you’ll find twenty-six performances that all deserve Oscars, in features as diverse as 22 Jump Street and Snowpiercer.

Honourable Mentions:

Marion Bailey in Mr. Turner, Jillian Bell in 22 Jump Street, Suzanne Clément in Mommy, Laura Dern in Wild, Anne Dorval in Mommy, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Nymphomaniac, Maggie Gyllenhaal in Frank, Rinko Kikuchi in Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Lorelei Linklater in Boyhood, Amy Poehler in They Came Together, Rene Russo in Nightcrawler, Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer, Mia Wasikowska in Tracks, Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Robin Wright in The Congress.

10. Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1
9. Rose Byrne in Bad Neighbours
8. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
7. Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
6. Sarah Snook in Predestination
5. Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
4. Kristin Wiig in The Skeleton Twins
3. Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin/Lucy
2. Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
1. Essie Davis in The Babadook