Friday, September 26, 2014

AFI's 25 Greatest Actors, Part 2

This Article is part of a 15-Year Anniversary series commemorating the American Film Institute’s 25 Greatest Stars.  For the Actresses, click the numbers for Parts 12345, and 6.  For the Actors, click the number for Part 1.

I'm really enjoying this series, even if it's timeliness is questionable (I'm hoping you are too!).  Where last we left off, I had just finished discussing James Cagney's surprisingly high ranking on this list.  We're now going to discuss the next eight fellas on the list, going through their Oscar history, chief, fame, my favorite performances and the ones I've shamefully neglected (please play along with your own thoughts in the comments!).

9. Spencer Tracy (1900-1967)

Oscar Nominations: Tracy was one of the most beloved in the history of the Academy (he's probably the closest analogy to Meryl Streep amongst classic Hollywood, even better than Kate Hepburn or Bette Davis, since it seems like he ALWAYS was nominated, whereas Hepburn and Davis went through periods of their career where they missed).  He received nine nominations for Best Actor, winning for Captains Courageous and Boys Town.
Probably Best Known Today For: Being half of one of the most scandalous relationships in the history of Hollywood.  Though married, Tracy carried on a decades-long affair with actress Katharine Hepburn, to the point that they are generally considered one of Hollywood's most iconic couples, despite not discussing the relationship publicly during his lifetime.  Tracy was a bit of a cad, though, if we're being honest.  Amongst his other conquests were Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman, and Gene Tierney.
My Favorite Performance: Hmm-I've seen only one of Tracy's nominated performances (his films, if you look at them collectively, are not what you'd call "in my wheelhouse").  I'd probably go with Woman of the Year, one of the better pairings between he and Kate.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I mean, I'm missing eight nominated performances-that's pretty damn glaring.  Probably toward the top of the list would be Judgment at Nuremberg and Inherit the Wind, though-both seem like classic Tracy "actorliness."

10. Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Oscar Nominations: This is actually a bit tricky.  Chaplin won three Oscars in his career: one honorary one at the 1971 ceremony, a competitive one a year later for Original Dramatic Score for Limelight, and an Honorary Award at the very first Oscars for acting, writing, directing, and producing The Circus.  Chaplin received another trio of nominations, and possibly a fourth depending on if you count his nomination for Best Actor (which was later taken away) for The Circus.
Probably Best Known Today For: Being the quintessential Silent Era star.  With his cane and mustache and waddle he's the definition of an icon-most of the populace hasn't seen a Charlie Chaplin movie, but few wouldn't recognize him going through the gears of Modern Times or eating a shoe in The Gold Rush or charming a girl in City Lights or even parodying Hitler in The Great Dictator.  He is an icon of the cinema.
My Favorite Performance: You just can't beat City Lights, and I don't know that anyone could try.  I frequently debate with myself what my favorite Silent film is, but City Lights is in the Top 3, if not the top spot period.  It's one of the most romantic movies ever made.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've seen three of his four "major" films, but have never gotten around to The Great Dictator, the only film that Chaplin officially received an Oscar nomination for acting for (he lost to Jimmy Stewart).

11. Gary Cooper (1901-1961)

Oscar Nominations: Cooper received five Oscar nominations in his career, winning Best Actor for Sergeant York and High Noon.  Cooper also won a posthumous Honorary Award.
Probably Best Known Today For: Looking super duper.  While Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, The Pride of the Yankees, and High Noon are genuine, recognizable classics, it was Cooper's mention in "Puttin' on the Ritz" that has entered the lexicon most fully.  Cooper also was one of several men on this list that had a notoriously long list of romantic conquests: Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Anita Ekberg, and most famously (and tragically) Patricia Neal.
My Favorite Performance: I haven't seen High Noon in decades, and I remember not particularly caring for it when it first came out-I have a suspicion that would have changed quite a bit since then (I've seen clips enough to form that opinion), but I'll reserve that right until I re-view the film.  In the meantime, we'll stick with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: Cooper and Tracy are not what you'd consider my favorite actors (along with Burt Lancaster, these are kind of the trio of actors from this era that I respect but don't love).  That said, I know that I need to get around to seeing The Pride of the Yankees at some point to see Cooper become the luckiest man on the face of the earth (does anyone else always picture Bill Pullman whenever that quote comes up?).

12. Gregory Peck (1916-2003)

Oscar Nominations: Peck received five Oscar nominations in his long career, winning for To Kill a Mockingbird.  He also won the Jean Hersholt in 1968.
Probably Best Known Today For: His commanding and calming presence in the film To Kill a Mockingbird.  His work as Atticus has been celebrated by generations of young adults investigating the novel by Harper Lee and then coming to the movie.  Peck was also known to a number of people for his political causes, being a strong advocate for gun control and against President Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court (one of the rare Democrats on a list that is pretty Republican).
My Favorite Performance: I mean, To Kill a Mockingbird sort of has to be at the top of the list, doesn't it?  If not that, I've always been truly mesmerized by him in Spellbound and of course enchanted by him in Roman Holiday.  I will also take this opportunity to point out that I have long had a crush on young Gregory Peck (yes, it's the ears).
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I would probably have to go with The Yearling, one of those rare genuine classics of childhood that my parents didn't have me watch.

13. John Wayne (1907-1979)

Oscar Nominations: 3 nominations (one for producing), he finally won in 1969 for True Grit (a film that would later garner Jeff Bridges an Oscar nomination as well).
Probably Best Known Today For: Being Hollywood's quintessential cowboy.  Few people were so perfectly typecast as John Wayne, an actor who was occasionally brilliant but always a star.  I would assume that if you asked my generation about Wayne, they'd reply with some variation of "I remember my grandpa sitting around watching John Wayne movies all the time."  Wayne's filmography doesn't have a classic that stands out so fully that he's associated with it (Stagecoach may come the closest), but he himself is a universally recognized legend even today.
My Favorite Performance: You'd be hard-pressed to find a better Wayne performance (and he gave a LOT of them) than his work in The Searchers, which is to Wayne what Vertigo is to Jimmy Stewart.  An absolutely astoundingly good piece of acting from an actor that traded pretty hard in typecasting.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: Wayne made SO many movies (he starred in 142 films, and from what I can tell was almost always the lead).  I will probably go with his Oscar-winning work in True Grit, but I've oddly both seen a lot of the essentials (Stagecoach, Red River, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and yet missed quite a few more (Sands of Iwo Jima, Rio Bravo, True Grit, The Shootist).  Wayne's the sort of actor where you never really finish his filmography it's so long.

14. Laurence Olivier (1907-1989)

Oscar Nominations: 13 nominations for producing, directing, and acting, he won Best Picture and Best Actor for Hamlet, as well as Honorary Awards in 1947 and 1979.  Plus, Kenneth Branagh would be nominated for playing Olivier in My Week with Marilyn!
Probably Best Known Today For: Being the ultimate Shakespearean actor of the 20th Century.  Olivier brought Shakespeare to the silver screen in a way no other actor ever has, and was amply rewarded for it at the Oscars (four of his acting nominations were for playing the Bard).  Olivier is well-regarded as one of the first and most successful actor-directors, and for his long relationship with actress Vivien Leigh.
My Favorite Performance: Which of his stoic romantic leads is it easier to fall in love with?  I'll probably go with Maxim de Winter in Rebecca just slightly over his work in Wuthering Heights (Henry V isn't as much my cup of tea, I have to admit, even if it's his most well-regarded work).
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: If I'm being honest, this would probably be Marathon Man-his villainous dentist has always seemed like a hammy but memorable-looking performance.  The film buff in me knows, though, that Hamlet with its pair of Oscars for Baron Olivier should probably be up there.  I'll eventually get to both though.

15. Gene Kelly (1912-1996)

Oscar Nominations: Kelly won the Honorary Award at the 1951 Academy Awards, but only received one competitive nomination in his career for Anchors Aweigh.
Probably Best Known Today For: Laughing and singing in the rain.  His Don Lockwood puddle-jumping is one of the most memorable and celebrated scenes in the history of the movies, ranking up there with Janet Leigh's interrupted shower and Judy Garland clicking her heels.  Kelly would of course celebrate multiple dances on-screen, and while he wasn't quite as personally popular as Astaire off-screen (Kelly was apparently a bit of a tyrant on the set), he was effortlessly graceful onscreen.
My Favorite Performance: The sheer joy that is Singin' in the Rain.  It's so weird that in an era where the Academy was honoring some of the very best in musicals (just the year before they'd honored the Kelly vehicle An American in Paris with Best Picture) they for some reason couldn't get more excited for what is basically a perfect movie.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I'm going to go with the "last" of the great MGM musicals It's Always Fair Weather as the movie I'm most intrigued by seeing.  There's really no topping Kelly dancing, but Cyd Charisse is a good way to try.

16. Orson Welles (1915-1985)

Oscar Nominations: Welles was nominated for acting in, writing, and directing Citizen Kane (he won for writing), then had to wander through the wilderness of filmmaking until his Honorary Award at the 1970 Oscars (it's fascinating thinking about how many legends of the movies ended up with Honorary Oscars even though they already had one-I think we should make that a rule that if you've already won, you can't take the Honorary Oscar).
Probably Best Known Today For: Creating what is considered the go-to reference for the great American film, Citizen Kane (which, for the record, is one of the finest motion pictures ever put to a projector).  Welles would become rather large and a bit of a sell-out later in his career, but there was no denying the man was a genius and Citizen Kane remains a towering, complete triumph.
My Favorite Performance: After Marlon Brando, Welles is my favorite actor, so I've not only seen most of his movies, I've genuinely loved them.  I would probably put Charlie Kane at the top of the list, but Harry Lime (The Third Man) and Hank Quinlan (Touch of Evil) would be worthy choices as well.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: The Other Side of the Wind (kidding...kind of).  I'd surely have to go with his mesmerizing noir The Lady from Shanghai opposite Rita Hayworth.

And those are the second round of gents.  Considering the clip I'm on, there's a decent chance we'll have another actors' list this weekend, but these are eight of the most famous men in the history of cinema-any opinions to share?  The comments await!

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