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THE BEST 5 NOLLYWOOD ACTRESSES OF 2014
Last year, charlesnoviadaily.com instituted a reward system of sorts which gave to deserving recipients, citations of excellence based on the films released in 2013. Mercy Johnson was the top actress of last year and deservedly so.
As 2014 comes to an end, I and a few professional critics, keeping to the criteria we used last year, have drawn up a list once again for 2014. We watched quite a number of films which were considered outstanding and through a professional process of elimination, shortlisted names were finally arrived at. May I state here that these actresses on this list have been judged on universal templates for acting and not on what I term ‘perceived popularity’on red carpets, social media or feisty fan clubs. There is a clear difference between being an overt socialite with tepid performances in afterthought movies ‘just to be relevant’ and wholeheartedly taking the business of acting seriously.
In 2014, there was an improvement in the acting capacities of a number of actresses, both old and new. With special mention to Africa Magic’s Original Films and ‘Tinsel’, one could appreciate the trajectory of purpose many of such offerings gave to Nollywood. However, I believe those soaps, serials and films might just be tilting us away from the ‘Africanness’ in our acting styles. Many of the up and coming actors in such programmes act more Westernized and far removed from the organic characterizations which our early and classic Nollywood movies were known for. But that is an aside and one which I will leave poignant till I elaborate more on a later, incisive post.
Using criteria such as interpretation, characterization, internalization, enunciation, and actor’s visualization among others, the following are my top five Actresses for the year 2014.
NUMBER 5: KEMI LALA AKINDOJU
A lot of readers might not have seen Tunde Kelani’s ‘Dazzling Mirage’, a film in which Lala Akindoju plays a young, frail sickle cell patient, Funmiwo. I watched the movie at a film festival in November and I was impressed with Lala’s portrayal of the lead character. A true-to-type physical casting by the Director first draws some empathy from the audience towards Lala and as she goes through the emotional and physical demands of the movie, the viewer is taken in by Lala’s internalization of the character as we begin to see and understand what it is to be a Sickle Cell victim. Of course there were tentative moments when Lala seemed not to have fully measured up to the dictates of the role but one could also appreciate that those moments were few and far between. In ‘Dazzling Mirage’, the viewer laughs with her, cries with her, feels her pains and many could very well finish watching the movie believing that Lala is a Sickle Cell sufferer in real life. Such a performance should not go unnoticed.
Kemi Lala Akindoju, in her first major role in a feature length, is one to watch out for in the future.
NUMBER 4: QUEEN NWOKOYE
More-often-than-not, many tend to dismiss the ‘Asabawood’ genre of movies as crass, without structure and lacking in linear progression of plots. While a lot of movies from that axis, juxtaposed with the so-called ‘New Nollywood’ movies, can be a critics nightmare to watch, there is no denying that a few actors and actresses in that genre of movies have given us some performances which deserve applause. Queen Nwokoye is one of such worthy of mention for 2014. Whilst researching a bit more on her movies for 2014, I was authoritatively told that she is presently the most commercial actress in the Asaba movies, ever since Mercy Johnson went on maternity leave, with her movies selling in the millions. While such information does little to influence my artistic evaluation of her acting prowess, it was certainly important enough for me to file away in my memory bank that Queen must have something which appeals to the buying audience of such films. After watching her in a spawn of top-selling Asaba movies in 2014, I understood why.
In the movies ‘Adaura’and ‘Ada Mbano’ and their nebulously-plotted sequels, Queen Nwokoye’s performance as a typical village lass from an Igbo village speak volumes about her abilities for research, interpretation and characterization. I am told that she commendably speaks the Imo dialect in the movie, even though she is from Anambra state. Obviously, she put in a lot of hard work in that regard and if Oscars have been given in Hollywood to actresses who research accents and use effectively for characterization, there is no reason why Queen should not be given special mention for achieving this feat in these parts. The most interesting aspects of her acting in these spawn of movies is her intrinsic ability to make the viewer suspend disbelief when watching her in her comical tantrums. Borrowing from the popular street terminology, one can safely say ‘Queen finish work‘ in the afore-mentioned movies, within the scope of the Production ambitions.
NUMBER 3: OMONI OBOLI
Two movies which featured Omoni Oboli were enough to convince me that Omoni deserves to be on this list. They are ‘Render to Ceaser’ and ‘Being Mrs Elliott’. Watching the two movies, I could appreciate various levels of Omoni’s acting abilities. Artistically, she come across sometimes as being restrained in her delivery in some roles but she more than makes up for these pardonable inhibitions by her powerful ability to really, really act with her face. Her facial expressions reveal the right emotions which her lines try to convey. Few actors can achieve that in Nollywood as what we see mostly these days are bland expressions in the delivery of interpretative dialogue.
But it is in ‘Being Mrs Elliott’ that Omoni comes out smoking. Her character has various levels of emotional and perhaps repressed comical transitions and Omoni delivers when it matters most in aspects of such artistic requirement. A wardrobe malfunction at the Presidential Villa during a special premiere and the buzz it created made me curious to watch the movie and while aspects of its directorial ambitions were a bit arrested, one was not disappointed much by Omoni’s acting in the movie. Indeed, she gave her best in the movie. And her best is good enough to be on this list.
NUMBER 2: ONYEKA ONWENU
Despite my reservations about the film adaptation of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, one of the delightful comforts for me from the movie was Onyeka Onwenu’s fantastic role as ‘Mama’. With an elegant career in music which has spanned over thirty years, Onyeka’s moonlighting to Nollywood seems to have finally found its artistic rewards in HOAYS.
Her mannerisms, facial expressions, voice modulations and characterization as an over-protective mother are all almost flawless in the movie . It’s as if in HOAYS, she set out to prove a point and only the blind would argue that she did not achieve her artistic aim. It must be quite a fulfilling experience to straddle, and arguably successfully too, two important sectors of Nigerian Entertainment; music and movies. Onyeka Onwenu deserves our commendation. Well, at least she has mine!
NUMBER 1: NSE IKPE-ETIM
And my Number One Actress would be Nse Ikpe Etim (maritally known as Nse Sule). And why wouldn’t she be ? Having watched her in three movies released in 2014, there was little one could fault in her powerful sense of interpretation, internalization and ‘chameleonic’ characterization in the movies ‘Devil in the detail’, ‘ I Come Lagos’ and ‘Purple Rose’.
To the trained eye, when an actress does her research, it is easy and quite a pleasure to watch that thespian mesmerize the audience. Nse falls in that category of silent but sure actresses whose works speak more for her than anything else. In ‘Devil in the Detail’, she gives us a self-assured portrayal of a wife whose fidelity is called to question by her suspicious husband. Nse’s nuances, dramatic pauses and body language in the role leaves one awe-struck. This is a lady who knows her onions.
While some might view her acting in ‘I Come Lagos’as a bit exaggerated, given that she plays a village girl from Akwa-Ibom in the comic flick, I could see her obvious attempt to veer away from the intense, brooding roles she is sometimes known for. And in that comedy, she effortlessly shows us the other side of her skills and leaves no one guessing about her being in a distinguished class by herself when it comes to histrionics.
Indeed, Nse is an Actor’s Actor and I daresay she is an unsung method actor. And method acting is an elevated technique in acting which only the best strive to achieve. I could safely say Nse is Nigeria’s version of Cate Blanchett if one takes into consideration her incredible ability to absorb her characters and show us layers of talent each time she features in a movie.
When the real acting gems are sifted from the coarse stones in Nollywood, an Nse would undoubtedly be one of the few shining stones displayed on the shelf of excellence. Nse, my standing ovation.
*COMING NEXT: ‘THE BEST 5 NOLLYWOOD ACTORS OF 2014’. Watch this space.