Tuesday, October 04, 2016

My Dozen Favorite Actresses

I am back to writing daily blog articles this week, and as a result of that, I want to do a few GTKY articles in relation to movies, as we're now entering the phase of the year where we weirdly overlap movies/politics.  The Oscars are picking up, the elections are in full-swing, and so I decided to do a series of three articles (we'll go one today, one Thursday, and one this weekend) where I count down my dozen favorite actresses, actors, and directors, of all-time.

I haven't really done this before, and I was debating whether to rank or whether to go alphabetical, and partially because of a cop-out, but mostly because I think it's darn near impossible to actually rank different actors/styles, I decided to go alphabetical below.  If I get enough comments (or at least a couple), I'll spill the beans about how I would have properly ranked these, but in the meantime, let's start with the ladies as they're always the most interesting.

Honorable Mentions: It has to be said that a lot of women were in contention here.  There are some that just missed (Cate Blanchett ignobly was positioned at thirteenth, with people like Tilda Swinton, Julie Christie, and Myrna Loy were not far behind).  There are a few actresses where I feel like they're poised for greatness, but haven't quite made enough movies yet (Chastain, Viola Davis, Cotillard, Weisz), while others I've always loved but can't quite claim to have seen enough of their filmography to warrant a spot (Stanwyck, Lombard, Hayworth, and Dietrich all spring to mind).  It also has to be said that I could name-check women that should be on this list until the end of time, while the men's list will not remotely approach this adoration.  This is an endlessly fun activity, though, so please berate, agree, and recommend in the comments (along with providing your own list).

Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982)

Oscar History: 7 nominations/3 wins (Gaslight, Anastasia, The Murder on the Orient Express)
First Impressions: I think my first experience with Ingrid Bergman was actually Casablanca-I want to say I saw it right at the same time as Anastasia so theoretically I could have seen her there first, but my gut is telling me Casablanca was the culprit.
Why the Love: I don't think that you can pinpoint exactly one reason to love Ingrid Bergman, for many years my easy answer for favorite actress (I'm not ranking here, but she'd be still be Top 5).  She has this instinctive, natural introverted glamour in every movie she makes.  Even when she's being funny or joyous, there's something mesmerizing in the way that she does it.  There are few actresses in the history of cinema I've felt more connected to the language of their eyes and faces-she is the sort of performer who would have been famous in every decade of the movies.
My Favorite Performance: Casablanca, most assuredly.  I know she didn't like that everyone pointed this movie out, but she's my favorite performance in my favorite movie, and the way she just effortlessly projects being the object of Rick's affection, and yet still striking in her own ways as a woman complicated by loving two men at once: it's to-die-for.
Missing Piece: Almost certainly the performance of hers I'm missing and most excited to see is Autumn Sonata.  I love both Bergmans, and so the idea of the two of them together is thrilling.

Juliette Binoche (1964-Present)

Oscar History: 2 nominations/1 win (The English Patient)
First Impressions: I think the first film I ever saw of hers was Chocolat, a film I remember quite enjoying when it came out even if it was a bit frothy (it's the sort of pleasant comedy that I tend to have a lovely time with even if it's not remotely Oscar-worthy), though I will save both my brother and I the embarrassment of sharing my initial thoughts of Binoche, particularly when she shockingly bested Lauren Bacall at the Oscars.
Why the Love: Binoche is truly a superb actress, one who finds the center in pretty much every characterization she's in, and who has been, in her forties and now fifties, continually growing.  Her early work as a young, earthy beauty has transformed into a mature, confident performer, one who continually amazes even decades after she first got onto our screens.  Honestly-Binoche is one of those rare performers I'll not only see all of their movies, I'd be willing to bet I'd like the movie that holds them.
My Favorite Performance: Surely it'd have to be (my favorite?-it competes with Casablanca on a steady basis) movie The English Patient.  The way she handles line readings as the optimistic, but consistently abandoned Hana is a work of pure poetry.
Missing Piece: I've never seen Blue.  I know, I have no excuse on that one.

Joan Crawford (1904-1977)

Oscar History: 3 nominations/1 win (Mildred Pierce)
First Impressions: Like most people younger than forty, my first impression of Crawford was clutching a wire hanger, being impersonated by Faye Dunaway in a camp classic (which I've never seen somehow, but we all know that rodeo even if we haven't caught the picture).
Why the Love: No Golden Age performer has grown more on me in recent years than Joan Crawford.  Seriously, for all of the Mommie Dearest jokes or the cracks about her shoulder pads, Crawford was a consummate movie star, and a damned fine screen presence.  Honestly-I have yet to find a film of hers where I didn't enjoy her, even if occasionally the films surrounding her border on the absurd (or more accurately in her grand guignol period, the camp).  Crawford is intensely watchable, perhaps even more so than her arch-rival (who, thanks to a fortuitous use of the alphabet, she sits right atop right now), and always holds the attention of every movie she's starring in (Joan Crawford doesn't do bit parts).
My Favorite Performance: I mean, I truly hope one of these isn't a horrible cliche, but I'm going to go with Mildred Pierce, where she's absolutely aces as a melodramatic mother (with a daughter from hell).  She won the Oscar in a bit of a surprise that year, but her victory was well-earned.  Truly, though-Joan Crawford's greatest role was pretty much always Joan Crawford.
Missing Piece: I haven't seen either of her other two Oscar-nominated turns in Possessed and Sudden Fear, so I'll go with those-arguably the two Best Actress nominations I'm most looking forward to from the late 40's/early 50's.

Bette Davis (1908-1989)

Oscar History: 10 nominations/2 wins (Dangerous and Jezebel)
First Impressions: The Kim Carnes song aside, my first introduction to Bette Davis was weirdly Jezebel.  When I first got into the Oscars I started randomly watching any film on AMC that had ever won a Big 6 trophy, which is why a twelve-year-old boy was watching a then sixty-year-old movie about a woman desperately (but unfortunately) in love with Hank Fonda.
Why the Love: Because Bette Davis doesn't take shit from anybody, and you have to admire someone like that.  You'll notice by now if you're peaking ahead that I didn't put her longtime Oscar rival Kate Hepburn on this list.  At one point she absolutely would have made this and if I expanded to 20 I probably would have found room, but Hepburn I almost never could get into when she did drama (1968 set aside).  Davis, on the other hand, was worth it whenever she was delivering a laugh or a dramatic line, and perhaps was best when she was trying to do both (Baby Jane Hudson, anyone?).  She was a consummate actress, even if the public toward the end of her career demanded a movie star, and one that echoed her tough broad persona even more than in her heyday.  Davis always delivered.
My Favorite Performance: I looked ahead-I don't always go with the cliche, so I'm here going to say the role that she was born to play (all do respect to the talented Claudette Colbert, but it wouldn't have been the same had the producers' first choice been available): Margo Channing.  Her throw-a-mink-like-a-wet-umbrella attitude was classic, and she sells all of the lines of (arguably) the best screenplay ever written with All About Eve.  A close runner-up is her desperate romantic nature in Now, Voyager, which is a much better movie than you remember it.
Missing Piece: I'm going to go with Dark Victory, the film she ended up in instead of Gone with the Wind, and the movie that many people suspect she would have clinched her third Oscar for had it not been for Vivien Leigh.

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993)

Oscar History: 5 nominations/1 win (Roman Holiday)
First Impressions: Like so many, I remember loving My Fair Lady growing up, thinking it absolutely loverly.
Why the Love: Audrey Hepburn has also been someone that I've said for years is "my favorite actress" and depending on the day probably still is.  There's a quiet grace in her work, something that's hard to pinpoint but evident when she's at the top of her game.  It's not just the waif-like beauty, but also the way she presents her heartbroken self as genuine, and genuinely lonely.  I see something like Sabrina, and am flabbergasted at how good her performance is in an era where she was more likely to go into histrionics over a lost man than simply sustain a subdued facial expression.  Hepburn largely disappeared from the cinema after she set it afire for most of the 1950's and 60's, but she left a wonderful footprint.
My Favorite Performance: Sabrina Fairchild is actually pretty close to the top-it's one of those romantic comedies that works better if you slightly change the ending (Sabrina never really needed any man-just her Paris cookbooks), but I can't deny the impact that Holly Golightly has had on me.  I spent years after Breakfast at Tiffany's emulating her deep, distant love for Fred, to the point where I once walked in front of Tiffany's with a croissant, playing "Moon River" on my iPod.  Yes, that happened-the movies are my life.
Missing Piece: Arguably Hepburn is the actress I do the best on in terms of seeing all of the important works.  I am missing her Oscar-nominated turn in The Nun's Story, and while I haven't heard great things (it seems to be the weakest link in her AMPAS quintet), it's the only major film she ever made I haven't caught, so I'll go with that one.

Diane Keaton (1946-Present)

Oscar History: 4 nominations/1 win (Annie Hall, though Keaton better step it up if she's going to continue her strange only-once-a-decade Oscar streak).
First Impressions: One of my mom's all-time favorite films is Baby Boom, and we would watch it as a family on a regular basis for many a movie night-I probably still know most of it by heart.
Why the Love: Keaton's the quirky girl you desperately hope to be while forcing yourself to fit into a group of people you don't really like.  The actress is strangely good in drama (oddly enough, despite her multiple successful forays into comedy, she's actually best as a dramatic actress), imbuing her characters with a wide-eyed forcefulness, even if they don't match her actions.  She's spent years creating a honed, eccentric (and besuited) persona offscreen, but my love for her comes in the quieter, honest moments she brings to the big-screen.
My Favorite Performance: I told you I'd go off the beaten path here.  I love Annie Hall, don't get me wrong, and what a wonderful thing that she got her Oscar for Woody's magnum opus, but for me this has to go to Reds, one of the most romantic films ever made and almost certainly Warren's magnum opus as well.  I might even put Annie in third, behind Louise and then Kay Corleone, in the second installment of the series (I may or may not have done the "it was an abortion" speech every single time my brother and I were washing dishes as a kid).
Missing Piece: Here's a strange case where I've seen most of her work, including a lot of her stuff with Allen.  Perhaps Looking for Mr. Goodbar, the film that many people thought helped carry her Academy Award across the finish line?

Nicole Kidman (1967-Present)

Oscar History: 3 nominations/1 win (The Hours)
First Impressions: I believe that Nicole Kidman was one of the first actresses to ever really underscore what a sexy woman was for me, which is a weird thing for a very gay man to proclaim, but her work in Batman Forever was so glamorous, and I maintain to this day that I'd probably be into blonds if I were straight (fortunately for me I'm gay...and into redheads).
Why the Love: Kidman, after a decade of being married to Tom Cruise with only a spattering of success, managed to have one of the great second acts of movie history, pushing out a series of fine, pitch-perfect performances for auteur after auteur.  She is courageous as a performer (witness The Paperboy), gamely finding herself in pretty much every vision that is put in front of her, and is occasionally lightning in a bottle when she finds the right match for her icy, grand talents.
My Favorite Performance: Oh Satine, you are breathtaking, but I will always be looking to Virginia Woolf, waiting for the train.  I am that person who actually thought she deserved the Oscar for The Hours even in hindsight.
Missing Piece: The 2004 duo of Birth/Dogville stick out in my mind, or perhaps even the dark comedy of To Die For.  Either way, Kidman is that rare recent actress where I actually have some room to grow.

Vivien Leigh (1913-1967)

Oscar History: 2 nominations/ 2 wins (Gone with the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire)
First Impressions: Strangely, it's not Scarlett, but Blanche that first made my acquaintance.  I was eleven-years-old, and I credit that screening of A Streetcar Named Desire as the exact moment that I permanently became a fan of the movies, someone who didn't just go casually but was willing to devote their life to them.
Why the Love: Because Vivien Leigh is perfect, and not just because she gave two of the world's most iconic performances.  Leigh is glamorous steel, a weird conglomerate of pixieish beauty and a dangerous, ardent performer's heart.  She also may be one of the cinema's most underrated performers.  I mean, look at some of the work that she's done-even if she just had her two most iconic creations, that'd probably be enough to be on this list, but she also found time to make a slew of romantic heroines in the 1940's that were continually excellent.
My Favorite Performance: Leigh's made some of my all-time favorite films, and while Gone with the Wind is a titanic achievement (word-choice quite purposeful) and Waterloo Bridge is one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen, nothing compares to Streetcar.  I've seen thousands of movies, tens of thousands of performances, and this is my favorite in all of film history.
Missing Piece: I'd probably go with The Deep Blue Sea, a film that I absolutely loved Rachel Weisz in a few years (I would have given her the Oscar), as I think the tortured soul having a love affair is a part Leigh was born to play.

Shirley MacLaine (1934-Present)

Oscar History: 6 nominations/1 win (Terms of Endearment...though it's worth noting one of her nominations was for directing the documentary The Other Half of the Sky)
First Impressions: My first impression of Shirley was actually not a film, and not even her belief in channelling or UFO's, but instead an ardent need to see the film Guarding Tess, which looked delightful when I would constantly pass it at our local video rental store, but I never was able to rent it (it had to have been rated PG-13, which was forbidden in my household).  Either way, I loved the sly grin she had on all of those posters and was convinced it could be a favorite movie.
Why the Love: MacLaine is one of those performers I've come to more passionately as the years have gone by, an actress that is so consistent it's hard to remember she's also consistently refreshing.  I honestly can't think of a Shirley MacLaine performance I didn't love.  I've seen other actresses on this list upstaged, but I genuinely can't remember a single MacLaine film where she isn't the best part about it-it's the fact that she's always a trouper.  While other actors of her generation slid into the laziness of playing themselves over-and-over-and-over again (cough, Al Pacino), Shirley continues to make interesting films whenever she gets the chance well into her eighties.  Man do I wish filmmakers would take advantage of her still solid timing and ability.  We deserve a Shirley moment for the ages just one more time.
My Favorite Performance: Aurora Greenway-it's that perfect combination of terrific movie, marvelous movie star turn, and damn fine acting.  It was probably a victory for MacLaine at the Oscars because "how the hell hasn't she won yet?" but it's likely she would have won anyway even if she was hunting for a second trophy as she was just that good.
Missing Piece: I'll go with The Turning Point, a film that stars not only Shirley, but actually gets her to act opposite an actress I haven't seen her with (Anne Bancroft).  Shirley's always at her best starring opposite other women (Debra Winger, Meryl Streep), so this feels like an easy answer to investigate.

Maggie Smith (1934-Present)

Oscar History: 6 nominations/2 wins (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and California Suite)
First Impressions: Maggie Smith is that rare performer who, especially for Millennials, is littered with performances you remember from childhood.  My first impression of her was actually in Hook, though, as an aging Wendy.  I thought she was wonderfully creepy and old in the role (which is saying something for the makeup department, who made her look older than she was), and it was kind of a love affair whenever I found her later on in any picture.
Why the Love: Smith's voice is where it starts.  That crisp, precise accent that only she can achieve (though countless comedians are constantly trying to parody), is so marvelous and exact.  But she's an actress that can rely on more than just her dialect.  She's someone with great feeling.  It might shock a generation of people who watched her do her "Maggie Smith schtick" in things like Downton, Harry Potter, and Best Exotic Marigold, all prim and upper-crust, to know that she once-upon-a-time was an actress that was quite sexual in her role choices and would fling herself into affairs in my favorite of her works.  Smith is the sort of presence, even if the film's not on the top of its game, I'm always more than joyful to see show up on an opening credits line.
My Favorite Performance: Undoubtedly this would have to be The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, one of those rare Best Actress wins that not only totally deserved the win, but was the exact right moment for an actor who was actually a bit of a surprise victory at the time.  It's a towering achievement if you've never had the chance to catch it, and one of my personal favorite movies.
Missing Piece: I somehow have never seen the other film that won her an Oscar in California Suite, which I'll obviously hit sometime in the OVP, but impatience may get the better of me one day and I'll move it to the top of the queue.

Meryl Streep (1949-Present)

Oscar History: 19 nominations/3 wins (Kramer vs. Kramer, Sophie's Choice, The Iron Lady)
First Impressions: I genuinely don't know what the first film starring Meryl Streep I ever saw was-I want to say it might have been Kramer or The Deer Hunter-that sounds about right as I would have seen both of those films when I was first starting to watch Oscar-winning pictures.  My first impression of her, though, was that she was an actress that was treated as something of a deity, as I remember reading an Entertainment Weekly Oscar issue in 1995 where they talked about how she could upset Susan Sarandon's expected victory as she had legions of fans at the Oscars who always voted for her (they may have been onto something there).
Why the Love: I mean, at this point naming Streep as one of your favorite actresses is like naming Michael Jordan one of your favorite basketball players-everyone has to do it.  But the point of the matter is that Streep deserves her spot in the pantheon.  Some of her work, especially when she's at the top of her game, is unmatched.  She can develop a naturalism onscreen like few others can achieve, and she's that rare multi-talented performer where it's almost hard to tell what she's best at-she can make you laugh, make you cry, she can sing like an angel and forebode with just the slightest of inflections.  All-in-all, Streep is worthy of all the hype.  After all, she can live up to it.
My Favorite Performance: For years I would have said The French Lieutenant's Woman, but I've actually had something of a resurgence this year of Streep roles (I've seen three of her Oscar-nominated turns for the first time...four if we think Florence Foster Jenkins gets there, which is looking increasingly plausible), and one of them has taken the top of the heap: Silkwood, where Streep casts aside pretty much any pretenses we have about her and just, scene-after-scene, is marvelous and exact and nails it.  A brilliant piece of work.
Missing Piece: Like I said, I'm working my way through all of Streep's Oscar-nominated turns quickly and swiftly, but I still have two left: A Cry in the Dark and One True Thing.  So I'll go with those two, but the Streep filmography gaps are closing quickly.

Kate Winslet (1975-Present)

Oscar History: 7 nominations/1 win (The Reader)
First Impressions: I actually most remember my mom talking about how much she liked her.  The 1995 Oscars were the first Academy Awards I really got into (it helped that there were several films like Apollo 13, Batman Forever, and Babe that I had actually seen which were up for a number of awards), and I recall my mom looking at the Supporting Actress lineup and proclaiming Kate Winslet the one that should have won.  As my mom dictated a lot of the movies I could see, that instantly added a huge weight in wanting to see Winslet in more films.
Why the Love: Winslet is the youngest actress on this list by nearly a decade, and so I teetered whether to include her or thinking perhaps she was still too new (and hadn't yet entered the treacherous-for-actresses period of her 40's).  Yet I can't deny the love is there, and pretty much always there.  I've seen most of Winslet's filmography, and she's one of the few women on this list I can genuinely claim I've seen every one of their Oscar-cited turns.  She's a vision, consistently, onscreen-someone who is rarely judgmental of her characters, which gives imperfect creations like Rose or Marianne or Hanna so much more weight as she portrays them on the big screen.
My Favorite Performance: I'm torn.  I think arguably her best acting role ever was Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a truly wonderful and special movie, one that will probably never be duplicated (it feels like the kind of film you only pull off once in a career), but the other half of me is screaming "TITANIC!" at the top of my lungs.  As she's the last actress listed here, I'll just say both and cheat and bravo for getting through one of my lengthier blog posts.
Missing Piece: Like I said, Winslet's a rare performer I've actually seen most of her major movies.  I'll go with her big break, though, which I haven't caught yet which is Heavenly Creatures.

There you have it-my twelve favorite actresses!  Like I said, please take some time to visit the comments section, as I'm positive you have your own list of favorite actresses, or thoughts on mine!  There's a plethora of comments directions to take, so I encourage you to do so!

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