As I'm sitting here watching What's New Pussycat? I realized two things. 1, Woody Allen is one of the greatest writers in movie history. 2, It's about time I wrote a new edition of Out of the Past. As you read in the title, this week I'm the picking the top ten greatest performances by female actors(or actresses as everyone calls them). The idea for this column came to me about two months ago went I wrote my guide to Martin Scorsese's catalog. You will notice that I'm not including any males in my selections because, well, that's for next time. So, here you have it -
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's
10. Faye Dunaway, Network
Those of you who haven't seen many older films probably don't know that at one time Faye Dunaway was capable of giving as good of a performance as has ever been given. Sadly after she won her Oscar for Network she seemed to fade with a series of bad choices in roles, but one could argue from about 1965 to 1975 Faye Dunaway was the best actress around. In Network she plays a neurotic television executive and is hilarious, intimidating and flat out creepy in the process. So, despite that the majority of her acting career may have been mired in mediocrity, at least in Network, Faye Dunaway was one of the all time greats.
9. Machiko Kyō, Rashomon
Machiko Kyō is without a doubt the least known actress on the list, but for fans of Akira Kurosawa, she's very memorable. Rashomon is a series of stories about a single story. The basis of the stories is that a newly married couple were traveling through the country side in feudal Japan and were attacked. The attack left the husband dead. Now how it happened is what the movie is about. You see three versions of the same event. One from each of the wife, attacker and the ghost of the husband. Machiko Kyō is the wife and plays virtually three different people in the stories. Each version has her being portrayed in a different light. Machiko takes a very difficult role and completes it with beauty. In my opinion, it's one of the most underrated performances of all time.
8. Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story
Katherine Hepburn is the most honored actress in movie history. She gave many great performances, but I have to go with her comic portrayal as a would be bride dealing with 3 suitors on the days leading up to her wedding as her best. The role in The Philadelphia Story could be said to have saved Hepburn's career. Released in 1940, The Philadelphia Story was a huge hit. The exact thing Hepburn's career needed after she been labeled "box office poison" by the media. It was believed in the 1930's that if Katherine Hepburn was in a movie no one would go see it. The
Philadelphia Story proved all of Katherine Hepburn's critics wrong. She would go on to make hits for about another 40 years.
Bette Davis in All About Eve
7. Anne Bancroft, The Graduate
Is there any more of an iconic female character in movie history than Mrs. Robinson? Mrs. Robinson is a bored housewife who decides to have an affair with a young college student. That becomes a problem when that young college student falls in love with Mrs. Robinson's daughter. Any performance that should be listed on a "greatest" list should be of a role that is owned by the performer who gave it. In plays across the globe many have tried to be Mrs. Robinson, but Anne Bancroft, in the performance of her career, will always be remembered for being the true Mrs. Robinson. Well, that and being married to that short guy that's kind of funny.
6. Bette Davis, All About Eve
"Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a very bumpy night!" That, one of the most memorable lines ever, was uttered by Bette Davis in All About Eve. Bette Davis plays a famous stage actress that must sit and watch as a one-time fan and title character, Eve Harrington(Anne Baxter), eclipses her star. Both Anne Baxter and Bette Davis were nominated for Oscars for their performances in All About Eve(both lost to Judy Holiday, who won for her performance in Born Yesterday). When Anne Baxter was asked about Bette's nomination she simply replied "the movie was entitled All About Eve wasn't it?". Well, Anne Baxter was right. The title of the movie was All About Eve, but any one who has seen the 1950 Best Picture winner knows it's all about Bette.
5. Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's
Audrey Hepburn gave some enchanting performances in her career, but none come close to being as fondly remembered as her portrayal as Holly Golightly. Director Blake Edwards' view of Holly in Tiffany's is about the nicest incarnation of prostitute you're likely to find. While the story of the movie may suffer from a little sugar coating, who wants to see Audrey Hepburn as a full on prostitute anyway? Despite her being so regal, Audrey's most famous role is that of a shallow and deeply flawed country girl. Even if Holly is a liar, thief and a prostitute you still fall in love with her. It's what Audrey Hepburn did best, make an audience fall in love for two hours.
4. Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Liz Taylor may have lost her mind about 25 years ago, but in her prime she was absolutely beautiful. With that, the best performance of her career came as a skanky wife of a broken down college professor. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the original character driven
movies. Much like what you see in films like Closer today, Woolf is a look at people and their relationships. Every member of the four character cast was brilliant, but Liz stole the show with her performance as one of the nastiest characters in screen history!
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
3. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard
I've heard people say that the best performances come when the actor brings truth to the role. Well, when Gloria Swanson plays a faded silent movie star in Sunset Boulevard you could say life was imitating art. Gloria Swanson's career was in it's heyday during the silent era, but sadly she didn't make the transition to sound very well. In hindsight, it doesn't really matter. The biggest achievement of her career came as the insane former movie star, Norma Desmond. Apparently she was ready for her close-up. Okay, that was a little cheesy.
2. Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind
This was the toughest selection I had to make on the list. Both Vivien Leigh's performances in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire could easily hold a spot on the list. Originally I had selected Leigh's performance as Blanche DuBois from Streetcar, but the more I thought about the two roles, I realized Scarlet O'Hara beats Blanche. Scarlet is as famous of a character as Rick in Casablanca or Vito Corleone in The Godfather. No one besides Vivien Leigh could have ever been Scarlet. So, when thinking of the word "greatness" I came to the conclusion that as great as Leigh was on a Streetcar, she was just a little greater in the wind.
1. Maria Falconetti, The Passion of Joan of Arc
Maria Falconetti has one screen credit, and you guessed it, it's for The Passion of Joan of Arc. In the title role, Maria gives one the most touching portrayals you'll ever see. We see Joan while she's on trial as she faces torture and disenchantment from her God. We follow her from the court room to the torture chamber and finally to the stake where she is burnt alive. Maria Falconetti as Joan of Arc was the easiest selection on the list. The subject is very tragic and Maria makes you feel as if the tragedy is happening to you as well. It's a performance that is as moving as any I have ever witnessed. So moving it had to be #1!
There you have it! Some college kid's ramblings about what he considers good movies. In two weeks I will be posting part two of this series. So look forward to Top Ten Performances: Actors in two weeks! Until then, go watch The Passion of Joan of Arc. I know very few of have seen it, if it any. I promise it's the greatest silent movie ever.
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Andy is a life long movie fanatic. The first movie he saw in the theater was Back to the Future, Part 2 at the age of 3 and he has loved movies ever since.|
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