Saturday, September 27, 2014

AFI's 25 Greatest Actors, Part 3

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 numbers for Parts 1 and 2.

So far we've chronicled six of the biggest legends of cinema, and as a whole they were fairly uniform-the leading men of their eras, whether romantic, dramatic, or comedic.  Here we get a few more of the classic leading men, as well as someone who went on to become a character actor, and while we deceptively will get nine winners, it's really a dozen fellas.  Let's take a look at the final set of the AFI's 100 Stars honorees...

17. Kirk Douglas (1916-Present)

Oscar Nominations: Douglas would receive a trio of Oscar nominations in his career, all for Best Actor, but would lose every time (he probably came the closest to winning for 1956's Lust for Life).  Douglas would deservedly win an Honorary Award in 1996 from the Academy.
Probably Best Known Today For: Living forever?  Hopefully that's the case-it clearly helps your star exponentially to have some longevity around it (unless you do what the next guy on this list did, though that doesn't seem like as enjoyable of an alternative).  Douglas has been one of those great, enduring links to Hollywood's classical age, and as recently as 2010 (when he famously handed the Oscar over to Melissa Leo) he has been in the public eye (he still blogs for the Huffington Post).  Douglas also, of course, is known for his work in Spartacus and for being Michael Douglas' father.
My Favorite Performance: I have to admit that I like the idea of Kirk Douglas more than I like him in practice as an actor.  I love that there's still a great film actor out there from Hollywood's Golden Age remaining active and as a link for today's audiences into the Hollywood of the past, and I do hope that Kirk Douglas just continues living forever.  That said, I've never had that moment of adoration with one of his films (I admittedly have a few to go with this particular gentleman), so I'll go with his Oscar-nominated work in The Bad and the Beautiful for now.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: As I stated above, there's a few to go here, including his iconic work in Spartacus, his near miss with the Academy in Lust for Life, and his work in Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Paths of Glory.  Anyone up for a marathon (actually-that goes for any of these articles; in hopes of getting more comments going I'll offer up a weekend of reviews on some of the missing links on a few of these actors if we can get some discussion going)?

18. James Dean (1931-1955)

Oscar Nominations: 2 nominations, both posthumously, for East of Eden and Giant
Probably Best Known Today For: Being the quintessential "live hard and die young" star.  Eternally youthful (it's always a weird moment the first time you realize you're older than James Dean ever was), he made three classic movies, and then died in an automobile accident.  Since then, in a similar way to Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, he has become an icon of the 1950's, frequently featured in poster art and 50's nostalgia and becoming synonymous with being "cool."
My Favorite Performance: It's also a weird moment when you actually see Dean onscreen for the first time-it's kind of like seeing Marilyn for the first time in a movie.  It's an odd juxtaposition because you have become so used to seeing them, almost as cartoons in poster art for so many years that to realize that this beautiful creature actually was a person at one point-it's a tad bit jarring.  That said, my favorite performance of Dean's would be his troubled, sensitive young man in Rebel Without a Cause, a marvelous movie and one of the most nuanced performances of the 1950's.  It's one of those performances where you say "what might have been..."
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: While he technically had uncredited roles in a handful of movies (that's what happens when you become hyper-famous: they find the random tiny roles you did when you were just trying to make rent), he was only billed in three films: Rebel, East of Eden, and Giant.  The only one of these I haven't seen is East of Eden, so clearly that's the miss here.

19. Burt Lancaster (1913-1994)

Oscar Nominations: Lancaster received 4 Oscar nominations, winning for 1960's Elmer Gantry
Probably Best Known Today For: Being awash in the suds with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.  That image, of them making out in the sand, is one of the most iconic in film history, and if he hadn't had anything else in his career that alone would keep him forever in the public memory.  That said, he was an actor with an extraordinarily long career (spanning four decades), and he's also pretty memorable from his work in Field of Dreams and his late career comeback in Atlantic City.
My Favorite Performance: Like Kirk Douglas, I am missing a few pieces here but haven't been wild about what I've seen so far.  I actually quite liked his tiny role in Field of Dreams-it's probably my favorite performance in that movie.  I'll go with that, though From Here to Eternity is an appropriate if not all-together inspired choice (he's like the fourth or fifth best performance in that movie-the Monty Clift/Donna Reed story has always intrigued me more from that picture).
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: Elmer Gantry, clearly, with his Oscar win for that film, though seeing him with a young Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City is definitely keeping that movie pretty high up on my to-watch list.

20. The Marx Brothers (1887-1979)

Oscar Nominations: None of the Marx Brothers ever received an Oscar nomination in their careers, though Groucho won an Honorary Oscar in 1974.
Probably Best Known Today For: Being one of the great comic teams of classic cinema.  The brothers: Chico (1887-1961), Harpo (1888-1964), Groucho (1890-1977), and Zeppo (1901-1979) appeared in a number of classic comedies together in the 1930's and 40's and are famous for their madcap antics in some of the era's most celebrated comedies (there was a fifth brother named Gummo that was part of the act but left when he was drafted during World War I and didn't appear in any of their films; I couldn't find a quality photo with Zeppo, who isn't pictured to the left, but he wasn't as significant of a part of the Marx Brothers as his three older brothers).
My Favorite Performance: In my opinion you can't really go wrong with a Marx Brothers comedy, particularly with Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera (I will admit that I get these two particular films mixed up as the whole point of a Marx Brothers film is not the plot but seeing the madness that comes out of what's happening onscreen).  If forced to pick between the two...maybe A Night at the Opera.
Glaring Miss in Their Filmography: I have never gotten around to Animal Crackers-this is noted as one of Groucho's funniest performances, so I'd probably go with that.

21. Buster Keaton (1895-1966)

Oscar Nominations: Keaton would never win a competitive nomination or win from the Academy, but he did win an Honorary Oscar in 1960.
Probably Best Known Today For: ...not being Charlie Chaplin?  That's cruel, though it's worth noting that the rivalry that cinematic fans of their work have long fueled has decidedly come out in Chaplin's favor through the years, at least in terms of enduring fame (if it makes you feel better, Buster, Harold Lloyd clearly got the shaft of the three of you).  That said, his work as the great stone-faced comedian of the Silent Era is still known today and celebrated by many critics, a number of whom argue (vociferously) that he was better than Chaplin.
My Favorite Performance: I've only seen one Keaton film, and while I didn't love it (so far, I'm more on the Chaplin side of things), Sherlock Jr. is hard to argue with in terms of certain incredible scenes in the movie, particularly the scene where Keaton enters the movie during the dream sequence.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I mean, I haven't seen The General.  If I were going to create a list of classic movies that I haven't seen, the number one title on that list would be The General, so you know that my head is pretty damn low right now.  It's currently at Number 12 on my Netflix list-provided I don't get to re-arranging too much, we'll hit this by the end of the year.

22. Sidney Poitier (1927-Present)

Oscar Nominations: Poitier received two Oscar nominations in his career, winning Best Actor for Lilies of the Field (becoming the first black man to win Best Actor).  Poitier also won an Honorary Award in 2002.
Probably Best Known Today For: Being an iconic and celebrated figure in the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and along with Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, and Harry Belafonte, being one of the very first black movie stars (he's also Ambassador from the Bahamas to Japan, as he actually has dual citizenship with both the Bahamas and the United States-random fact!).  Poitier is one of the most widely-respected actors in the industry, and one of its most enduring stars.
My Favorite Performance: I know that some like to quibble about how Poitier never received an Oscar nomination for In the Heat of the Night, but part of me thinks it was more to do with vote-splitting (he also had Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, with Love out that year) than racism.  Still, he certainly deserved an Oscar nomination for his iconic Virgil Tibbs.
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've never actually seen the movie that landed Poitier his Academy Award.  For whatever reason Lilies of the Field has never made it to the top of my queue, though I've seen a lot of Poitier films through the years.

23. Robert Mitchum (1917-1997)

Oscar Nominations: Mitchum received an Oscar nomination for The Story of GI Joe, but didn't win.  Mitchum is noteworthy on this list because, aside from James Dean who died at age 24, he's the only person to have never won either a competitive or an honorary Oscar.  Clearly AMPAS dropped the ball on that one.
Probably Best Known Today For: All right, I'm going to go there-Robert Mitchum is most well-known today for wearing his high-pants and being an "out-of-shape, in-shape" guy (you can thank Seth MacFarlane for introducing Mitchum to a new generation of filmgoers, albeit with a series of Mitchum cliches, and if you don't know what I'm talking about you don't watch Family Guy).  Mitchum was one of those great, enigmatic tough guys-frequently finding himself on the wrong side of the law but on the right side of a dame.
My Favorite Performance: Hands down this is Night of the Hunter.  Mitchum's creepy Harry Powell in this movie is one of the most chilling villains ever brought to the screen, and definitely a strong introduction to his work if you're not particularly familiar with him as an actor (he's one of the least known of this list of 25 men).
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've never seen Cape Fear, the original production with Gregory Peck and Polly Bergen-that would probably at the top just over his work in The Winds of War (a giant miniseries for ABC back when broadcast television invested in giant miniseries and it wasn't just something the History Channel and HBO created).

24. Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973)

Oscar Nominations: Robinson never received a competitive nomination in his long career, though he did win an Honorary Award in 1973 (though, sadly, it was given posthumously).
Probably Best Known Today For: Saying the phrase "see" a lot?  Robinson's persona is what is well-known today, most notably being parodied by Chief Clancy Wiggum on The Simpsons.  Robinson is also well-known as one of the cinema's most famous portrayer of gangsters, with Little Caesar coming to most people's minds.
My Favorite Performance: I actually would go with Double Indemnity, when he was starting to shift into supporting performances (he's one of those rare actors who did that shift during that era, rather than just petering out in terms of what work they were doing).  I love the calculating way that his character draws out scenes, getting more and more information (though there's not really a "bad" part of that movie).
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I can never remember if I've seen Little Caesar-I feel like I have, but that might just be because that is one of those films that you see so many clips of that you are sure you've seen it.  As a result, I'll go with Orson Welles' The Stranger here, though I should clearly probably re-view Little Caesar just to make sure I've enjoyed it.

25. William Holden (1918-1981)

Oscar Nominations: Three nominations, he won Best Actor for 1953's Stalag 17.
Probably Best Known Today For: Being face-down in a pool.  I always wonder if actors sort of hate the fact that they become most well-known for an early role, constantly living in its shadow.  If William Holden did, at least he can take comfort in knowing that his work as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard is a truly splendid piece of work, and established him as the easy-going, cool but potentially more below the surface handsome man that the 1950's desperately needed (as he became a major star as a result of that movie).
My Favorite Performance: I'll go with Sunset Boulevard.  With one big exception, I've actually seen most of the major movies of Holden's career, but I (like the public) liked him best early-on, charming Norma Desmond as a boy toy certain he'll be a great screenwriter, and then finding his way into a nightmare (this is also one of my all-time favorite movies just in general).
Glaring Miss in His Filmography: I've never seen the film that won Holden his Oscar, oddly enough. Stalag 17 has for whatever reason stayed off my radar, but as it was a major player in that year's Academy Awards, we'll get to it someday with the OVP.

And there you have it-we're done with the official entrants in the AFI's 100 Stars list.  We'll get into the also-rans tomorrow, but in the meantime-who are your favorites of these nine gentlemen?  Do you have a performance you gravitate toward?  Which of their films are you ashamed to admit you've never seen?  And which would you like me to discuss more in-depth on the blog?  Share in the comments!

No comments: