Hollywood’s 9 Best Actresses Under 30

From Anne Hathaway to Zoe Kazan.

Michelle Williams has said that she will take a break from acting at some point to spend time with her daughter. Savor each new release, people. In Take This Waltz, opening tomorrow in Philadelphia, Williams plays a young married woman who develops a misguided infatuation with a handsome, hip neighbor (Luke Kirby). Writer-director Sarah Polley’s riveting portrayal of domestic discomfort—and the fallacy of fantasy— doesn’t carry a whiff of Hollywood sentimentality. 

The actress carries the movie on her slender shoulders. Like her best work, Williams displays no persona created by a marketing team, no where’s my Oscar nomination? histrionics. And no one uses her face to convey a full gamut of emotions better than the 31-year-old, which infuses real world authenticity to everything from movies full of raw emotion (Blue Valentine) to creaky prestige pictures (My Week With Marilyn). When I tell people I’d pay to watch her run errands for 90 minutes, I’m only half-joking.

Whenever she takes a sabbatical from the big screen, it will sadden me—but only temporarily. It’s not as if once Williams steps aside we’re stuck with the limited likes of Kate Hudson and Julianne Hough. One of the great joys of being a moviegoer these days is the bounty of first-rate actresses. Nine of the best, in my opinion, are under the age of 30.

Mila Kunis, 29. A smart, completely at-ease actress, Kunis make date movies appealing for the next 10 years because she oozes low-maintenance cool. That quality appeals to both men (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and women (Friends with Benefits). What she shouldn’t do is play disappointed girlfriends like she did in Ted.

Emma Stone, 23. In 2010’s Easy A she steals scenes from old pros Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Malcolm McDowell and Thomas Haden Church. Her charisma and comedy chops almost make you forgive the film’s insufferable smarty-pants attitude. And in The Amazing Spider-Man, her rapport with Andrew Garfield almost justifies the reboot. I like to think of her as a combination of Diane Keaton and Elaine May.

Carey Mulligan, 27. For all the talk of Michael Fassbender’s—ahem—performance in last year’s Shame, one of 2011’s most memorable moments is her forlorn rendition of “New York, New York.” It establishes the lonely, desperate world Fassbender’s sex addict inhabits. Like Williams, Mulligan plays fragile, sad souls (An Education, Never Let Me Go) with staggering ease.

Ellen Page, 25. Juno, the product of Diablo Cody’s pedantic cleverness, soured me on Page’s most popular role. Then I saw her in Super, where she played a dangerously overzealous sidekick to Rainn Wilson’s homemade superhero. Somehow, she took a swirl of quirk—bloodthirsty, horny, puppy dog enthusiastic—and created something entirely human. It was a stunning performance.

Anne Hathaway, 29. When you hold your own against Meryl Streep in your early 20s and play Jane Austen with conviction, everything else is gravy, even if “everything else” includes Love and Other Drugs and Valentine’s Day.

Emily Blunt, 29. Hathaway’s versatile Devil Wears Prada co-star is classy without being chilly (The Young Victoria, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) and completely comfortable jumping genres. Right now, she’s starring in the low-budget, highly improvised character study Your Sister’s Sister.

Zoe Kazan, 28. “Yeah, sure, you have to be recognizable in some way in order to make a name for yourself,” she told me in a 2010 interview. “But the truth of the matter is, I’d much rather be a chameleon than be a movie star. I don’t look up to people who are the same in every movie; I don’t have any curiosity about that.” Thank you. Her profile should grow with the endearing, insightful comedy-drama Ruby Sparks (opening August 3rd in Philadelphia), which she also wrote.

Greta Gerwig, 28. You think the Arthur remake was bad? Imagine the winsome, willowy blonde not stealing scenes as Russell Brand’s love interest. (Typing “Russell Brand’s love interest” just reminded me how bizarre that movie was.) For a less trying experience, watch her wonderful performance as a misguided young adult trying to survive Los Angeles in Greenberg.

Jennifer Lawrence, 21. Charlize Theron has had an extraordinary career because she’s stressed being an actor over being a sex symbol. Here’s her successor.