Friday, August 15, 2014

AFI's 25 Greatest Actresses, Part 2

Yesterday we started in on the AFI's 25 Greatest Actresses, chronicling my favorite performances and the biggest missing parts of their respective canons.  We'll continue on with the next eight women on the list right now (if you haven't read the first half, make sure to click here for a rundown).

9. Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992)

Oscar Nominations: Dietrich would only receive one Oscar nomination in her career, for Morocco, but would lose to Marie Dressler in Min and Bill.
Probably Best Known Today For: This is one of those cases where I just don't think Dietrich is known today (aside from being in the "Vogue" lyrics) to the general populace.  Dietrich's face is likely recognizable and highly distinctive, but her work and films are pretty much non-existent to today's audience, and they probably confuse her with Garbo (which is a pity, but this is the "being honest" portion of these write-ups-if you don't know her or haven't seen one of her movies, get thyself to your Netflix queue and put off watching another season of a television show and watch a movie...or better yet, share your love of her in the comments!).
My Favorite Performance: I have tragically never seen any of her work in the Josef von Sternberg films, so I will go with her wonderful extended cameo in Touch of Evil, where she gets to say those immortal words "he was some kind of man...what does it matter what you say about people?"
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: So many of the von Sternberg classics, chief amongst them would have to be The Blue Angel, which really made Dietrich into a major star.

10. Joan Crawford (1904-1977)

Oscar Nominations: Crawford would receive three Oscar nominations in her career, winning for her first in Mildred Pierce.
Probably Best Known Today For: Faye Dunaway's portrayal of her in the camp classic Mommie Dearest.  More people associate Crawford with wire hangers than anything in her extremely long cinematic career.
My Favorite Performance: Crawford was actually quite a fine actor, never better than in the classic soap opera Mildred Pierce, where she played the most devoted of mothers to the daughter from hell (a bit of an inverse to what Christina wrote about her in her infamous biography).  Deliciously, Crawford's longtime nemesis Bette Davis was originally supposed to have the part, but turned it down; Crawford went on to win her only Academy Award for the role.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: I have seen almost all of the iconic Crawford films (Grand Hotel, The Women, Mildred Pierce, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), so I'll probably go with her other two Oscar-nominated films: Possessed and Sudden Fear.

11. Barbara Stanwyck (1907-1990)

Oscar Nominations: Stanwyck would receive four Oscar nominations in her career, but never actually won any of them.  She would receive an Honorary Oscar, however, in 1982 for her body of cinematic work.
Probably Best Known Today For: It depends on whom you ask.  If I'm saying my generation, Stanwyck is not a particularly well-known star, but she did have enormous success in the 1980's so the generation a bit older than me would surely say her work in The Thorn Birds.
My Favorite Performance: I'm going to go cliche two times in a row here.  There's no beating Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce and there's no beating Barbara Stanwyck as the scheming femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.  Stanwyck owns the screen in this performance-frequently trading that biting wit that she shared so well in a movie like The Lady Eve in for a crackling, cruel evil.  Spellbinding for anyone who loves noir.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: I have never seen her work in the classic King Vidor weepie Stella Dallas, nor have I seen her in her acclaimed television performance in The Thorn Birds.

12. Claudette Colbert (1903-1996)

Oscar Nominations: Colbert would receive three Oscar nominations in her career, winning for her classic It Happened One Night in 1934.
Probably Best Known Today For: Those gams of hers.  Seriously-you'd be hard-pressed to find a more famous scene in pre-Golden Age cinema than Claudette Colbert lifting her skirt and showing her legs while hitchhiking with Clark Gable.
My Favorite Performance: Most definitely her work in It Happened One Night.  Few people can easily make chemistry look so effortless and smitten as Colbert and Gable do in this film, and this is really one of the high points in the romantic comedy genre.  If you haven't seen it, make sure to add it to the top of your To Do list.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: With all due respect to Ms. Colbert, nothing else in her filmography really compares to her work in the Frank Capra classic, at least in terms of critical acclaim. I would probably go with one of her sexually suggestive Cecil B. DeMille roles, since Colbert would always be a bit more innocent in the years that followed onscreen (perhaps 1934's Cleopatra, a Best Picture nominee).

13. Grace Kelly (1929-1982)

Oscar Nominations: Kelly would receive two Oscar nominations during her career, winning in 1954 for The Country Girl.
Probably Best Known Today For: Almost certainly best known today for her romantic relationship with Prince Rainier of Monaco, and as his consort of over 25 years.  Grace Kelly has also become incredibly well-known as the ideal of pristine beauty and poise, and is one of the most emulated stars of her era.
My Favorite Performance: I'm not wild about Grace Kelly as an actress (as a celebrity, she has few equals), but far-and-away my favorite bits of her work are in Hitchcock's films, particularly Rear Window, where she's the perfect untouchable beauty for a wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart to obsess over.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: Kelly has one of (if not the) shortest filmographies of any of these 25 women, and I've seen most of the classics (High Noon, To Catch a Thief, Rear Window, The Country Girl), so I'm going to have to go with her other Oscar-nominated performance in Mogambo for my selection.

14. Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)

Oscar Nominations: Rogers would only receive one Oscar nomination in her career (for Kitty Foyle), though she had the good sense to win for it.  This was the first year that they didn't announce the winners ahead of time, and so she didn't know she was about to top Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, Numbers 1 and 2 on AFI's list.
Probably Best Known Today For: Her longtime dancing partnership with Fred Astaire, which kept the champagne flowing at RKO and made her a fortune, even if they both mildly resented the fact that the public demanded them be together (both would enjoy long careers outside of their ten films together).
My Favorite Performance: You can't really beat Top Hat or Swing Time, and I've always felt picking between the two to be a bit of a chore.  I'd probably go with a slight tip toward Swing Time for Rogers work, though I think Top Hat may be the better picture.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: I have stunningly never seen Rogers' 1933 classic 42nd Street, where she plays "Anytime Annie" (and which made her a star).

15. Mae West (1893-1980)

Oscar Nominations: West, much like Marilyn Monroe (who clearly borrowed a bit from her look), would never be nominated for or win an Academy Award.
Probably Best Known Today For: Being synonymous with sex and sexual come-ons.  Her "why don't you come up and see me sometime" is a pick-up line for the ages, and no drag queen's oeuvre is complete without donning Mae West's platinum blonde hair and bodacious plunging necklines.
My Favorite Performance: None of the Mae West pictures (which are very few, I must confess) that I have seen are particularly good, but her real triumph was always being Mae West.  Some of these women are on her because they are great actresses or because they are great movie stars.  Mae West is on here because she is one of Hollywood's best ever celebrities, which is a performance unto itself.  If I had to pick a film, it would be She Done Him Wrong (she's by far the best and only reason to see the movie, and it stars Cary Grant so that's saying something), a film at the peak of her fame and one that likely kept the lights on at Paramount.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: Definitely Klondike Annie, generally considered to be her finest work and another film from her early-mid thirties period of peak fame.

16. Vivien Leigh (1913-1967)

Oscar Nominations: Leigh would receive just two Oscar nominations in her career, but boy howdy were they earned for Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire (she won for both).  It's hard to imagine an actor ever winning a pair of Oscars and being more deserving.
Probably Best Known Today For: Her role as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, one of those rare classics that keeps its luster decade-after-decade, and her role at its center keeps her permanently in the public consciousness.
My Favorite Performance: Leigh is one of my all-time favorite actors, and part of me could just sit here going on-and-on about her brilliance in Gone with the Wind or how anyone who wants to spend a couple of hours watching a forgotten masterpiece should give Waterloo Bridge (I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!!) a shot, but you cannot beat Blanche DuBois.  This is, in my opinion, a tie for the greatest performance ever captured on film (oddly enough, the other greatest performance ever captured on film is also in this movie, which is why I forgive myself for a tie).  A Streetcar Named Desire is the reason I first fell in love with the cinema, and will always be my favorite Leigh performance.
Glaring Miss in Her Filmography: Her two Oscar-winning films are really the reasons she's on this list, but Leigh did make a number of other pictures, and probably the most notable of the ones I'm missing is The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.

And there we have our middle eight on the list.  We'll finish up the list tomorrow, including getting to the lady that inspired this countdown, Ms. Lauren Bacall (and I have a couple of other articles in mind before we close out this actress love-in), but first, there are eight brilliant women listed above-which is your favorite performer, what are your favorite performances of them, and most importantly, what film are you going to see next that stars one of them?  Share in the comments!

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