My current Top 5

My current Top 5

11/15/2018

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman (1978)
8. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
9. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
10. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)

11. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
12. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
13. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
14. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
15. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
16. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
17. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
18. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
19. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
20. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)

21. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
22. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
23. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
24. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
25. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
26. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
27. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
28. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
29. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
30. Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1932)

31. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
32. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
33. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
34. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
35. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
36. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
37. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
38. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
39. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
40. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)

41. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
42. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
43. Eleanor Parker in Detective Story (1951)
44. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
45. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
46. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
47. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
48. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
49. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
50. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)

51. Ruth Chatterton in Madame X (1928-29)
52. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Eleanor Parker as Mary McLeod in Detective Story


I don’t want to go into too much detail in this review as I have already written about Eleanor Parker’s nominated performance in Detective Story once before. Many of the things I have written still stand from my point of view but I still upgraded her performance a little bit, as I began to appreciate certain aspects of her work more.

What obviously did not change is the estimation that is an extreme case of borderline between leading and supporting – and I personally still see it as a supporting performance. Detective Story is populated with various stories that happen during one day in a New York police station and Mary’s story is just one of them. The screen time of Eleanor Parker is also likely to be found somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes (maybe a bit more, I didn’t time it…) so it is a very small part – however, the structure of the movie makes the presence of Mary very dominant during her screen time and puts all of the attention on her actions in the past, the present and the future so there are chances for Eleanor Parker to overcome the limitations by the script. Unfortunately, she only used them in very small parts.

In Detective Story, Mary life is suddenly turned upside down when her husband learns that she had a child out of wedlock in the past and from one moment to the other, he stops seeing her as an ideal woman and only as a “tramp”. It’s a part with a certain potential – there are various layers to the character of Mary and an actress can find different ways of interpreting them, hinting at an unknown side that hasn’t been visible and she can also decide how to react to the accusations of her husband.

Unfortunately, Eleanor Parker took a very limited approach in this aspect – her Mary is not only seen by her husband as the ideal wife because that’s how he wants to see her but rather because, in Eleanor Parker’s work, that’s what she also wants to be and is. When accused with the “crime” of her past, she immediately reacts with a never-ending stream of tears and begs to be forgiven for what she has done. Any possible depth disappears in this characterization – maybe Eleanor Parker did not want to be seen on the screen as a woman who is nothing less than appalled with her own actions or a woman who doesn’t understand the anger of her husband but it is a very frustrating realization of the role as it exists only on the surface and doesn’t go beyond tears and sorrow.

These complaints about the role have already been included in my initial review from a couple of years ago, so what made me upgrade her a bit? First of all, even if Eleanor Parker’s acting style often feels very theatrical in contrast to the rather modern work of her co-stars, she still demand attention and her emotional work still comes across a welcome change of pace in the movie. In this way, her (even if limited) approach sets her apart from the rest of the cast, which somehow works in the context of the story, while still setting up a strong relationship with Kirk Douglas – the two actors don’t spend a lot of time together but they succeed in establishing the patterns of their marriage very easily and make the drama of Mary understandable. But most of all, Eleanor Parker succeeds in the drastic turn-around her character makes at the end of the movie. In a way, her performance resembles the work of Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress, only on a much smaller scale. After the initial shock that her husband is apparently unable to forgive her, Mary makes the decision to leave her husband and during the conversation turns more and more bitter, finally telling her husband that she won’t be driven into an asylum like her husband’s father apparently did with his wife. Her voice in this scene is sharp like a knife and Eleanor Parker possesses a face that can change from sweet and confused to bitter and unforgiving in just a second. It is a short scene but it is the best one in the movie and even if most of her work is unfortunately rather forgettable, this one moment delivers an emotional punch that is enough to grant her this little upgrade in my ranking.

10/09/2018

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman (1978)
8. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
9. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
10. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)

11. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
12. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
13. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
14. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
15. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
16. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
17. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
18. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
19. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
20. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)

21. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
22. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
23. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
24. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
25. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
26. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
27. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
28. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
29. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
30. Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1932)

31. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
32. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
33. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
34. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
35. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
36. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
37. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
38. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
39. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
40. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)

41. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
42. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
43. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
44. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
45. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
46. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
47. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
48. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
49. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
50. Ruth Chatterton in Madame X (1928-29)

51. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Jill Clayburg as Erica Benton in An Unmarried Woman


If I should ever make a list of performances that feel the most “lived-in”, where I have the feeling that I am watching a real person on the screen and are not even aware that I am actually watching a movie at all, Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman would certainly be on that list. Considering my ranking, I don’t mean to say that these kinds of performances are automatically the best – I also appreciate the work of other actors where I know that I am watching a movie but I am still in awe of the finished product. In the end, it all comes down to the role itself and Erica Benton is certainly a dream role for any performer but it’s still breathtaking to see Jill Clayburgh inhabit her so completely from start to finish.

In my first ranking, I had already appreciated her work very much but for the life of me, I cannot understand why I didn’t value it as highly back then as I do now. Reading various sites on the Internet, I am also surprised to see that this performance is somehow divisive and actually has as many fans as it has naysayers. And I get the flaws of the film from, especially from today’s point of view – Erica may have lost her husband but she gets to keep her apartment with a view of New York, she continues to work at an art gallery from time to time when she doesn’t meet her friends and she can tell all of her worries and sorrows to an expensive therapist. Yes, it’s certainly not a realistic picture of how most women have to deal with a broken up marriage but it’s a single story told in a time when many movies didn’t yet tell a story that showed that life can go on without a husband. And even if the flaws of the movie are obvious, Jill Clayburgh more than makes up for them.

From her first moment jogging with her husband to her last scene carrying around a big picture through New York, she creates a wholly authentic and living character. She starts it on a very relaxed level, having a little argument with her husband, then making love before doing her famous dance in her apartment. It’s a picture of a very happy and satisfied woman and relationship and Jill Clayburg’s unique charm and personality help to make it very likeable and engaging instantly. She has the exact right attitude towards her husband, her friends or her daughter to create a three-dimensional portrayal.

When her husband finally leaves her, it is again a scene that feels overwhelmingly real – there is no grand emotion but Jill Clayburgh’s face can express a thousand feelings and thoughts in one second. And she later makes a believable journey as she finds herself – it’s a very subtle transformation, similar to co-nominee Jane Fonda in Coming Home as both women don’t change her character but still become new people.

I think one of my main reservations about this performance in the past was that it loses some of its sparkle when Erica starts dating again. I agree that her relationship with an artist isn’t the most interesting part of the picture but Jill Clayburgh again totally nails every aspect – when she tells him how she is just happy, it’s just another of many small moments that become absolutely unforgettable in her work.

I have to say that I am not too familiar with Jill Clayburgh’s filmography – I have seen some of her other movies but she never excited me on the same level as she did in An Unmarried Woman and even though she got another Best Actress nomination a year later, she was pretty much dropped again very quickly from awards races and critical acclaim. It just seems that everything fell right into place in this one performance but these cases do happen. In one scene, Erica and her friends are talking about movie stars of today and how they are not comparable to movie stars of the past such as Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. And while I certainly would not put Jill Clayburgh ever on the same level as those legends, there was one small moment in time when she was totally their equal.

9/09/2018

Who will be reviewed next?

I decided to give new hints this time. Do you know who will be next in my ranking?






Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
10. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

11. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
12. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
13. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
14. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
15. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
16. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
17. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
18. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
19. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
20. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

21. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
22. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
23. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
24. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
25. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
26. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
27. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
28. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
29. Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1932)
30. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)

31. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
32. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
33. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
34. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
35. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
36. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
37. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
38. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
39. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
40. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)

41. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
42. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
43. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
44. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
45. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
46. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
47. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
48. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
49. Ruth Chatterton in Madame X (1928-29)
50. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Helen Hayes as Madelon Claudet in The Sin of Madelon Claudet


When I look at my ongoing experiment to rank all Best Actress nominees and look back at my first trial many years ago, I suddenly realize that Helen Hayes’s performance is probably the one that I have downgraded the most. This actually hurts me as hers is a performance I actually like very much but trying to be as objective as possible, I now think that there are various aspects that I don’t admire as much anymore as I used to and the kind of role in this kind of movie is also not so highly on my list anymore.

But even though, one thing is perfectly clear – coming right after Ruth Chatterton in a very similar role (the suffering secret mother), Helen Hayes seems at first almost like a revelation, simply because her work feels much more relaxed and modern in many moments and most of the time never feels as dated and over-melodramatic as Ruther Chatterton in Madame X. Even if there are exceptions. It’s clear that Helen Hayes, even though a stage actress just like Ruth Chatterton, understood the medium of film much better. But it has to be said that she also benefitted from better material. While both Madame X and The Sin of Madelon Claudet are no masterpieces, Madelon Claudet at least feels a bit more lively and entertaining and moves at a much better pace. It was a clear sign that movies had developed a lot during those few years.

But again, The Sin of Madelon Claudet is no masterpiece – far from it. It succeeds in telling an entertaining and touching story and it is, without a doubt, perfectly designed as a showcase for its leading lady. Already hailed as a true sensation on the stage and one of the most admired performers in the American theatre, Helen Hayes’s movie debut was certainly anticipated by critics at the time – and they weren’t disappointed. While the flaws of the movie were recognized right away (and according to Helen Hayes, even led to fear during the making of the movie that the whole thing would be cancelled at some point), Helen Hayes was able to survive all this and win the Best Actress Oscar, apparently earning more votes than her two co-nominees combined. The win did however not lead to an exciting movie career, even if she would win a second Oscar almost 40 years later. She mostly starred in forgettable movies (of course with some exceptions, mainly A Farewell to Arms) and later returned to the stage, acting only occasionally in movies. Her was a career that more defined by “respect” than by “stardom” – she was always valued very highly by critics and her peers (she was apparently Spencer Tracy’s favorite screen actress), of course later winning the elusive “EGOT” but she never turned into a true star. Audiences wept when they saw her suffering mother in The Sin of Madelon Claudet but Helen Hayes never had that certain star appeal. Apparently, she went on a promotion tour for the movie with producer Irving Thalberg with his wife and movie fans couldn’t push Helen Hayes out off the way fast enough to get a look at the glamourous Norma Shearer. Obviously, all this doesn’t matter when evaluating performances but it makes it easier to understand why she reached the top so quickly on the big screen but never achieved the same effect in movies as she did on the stage.

So, what about her performance in The Sin of Madelon Claudet? What’s the reason for me to downgrade her work despite liking it? I think the main factor why I still appreciate her work is that Helen Hayes was a lovely and relaxed screen presence and she handled many of the script’s faults very well and overall carried the whole movie on her small shoulders, making a story that should make me roll my eyes all the time bearable. My main reason for letting her slip down in my ranking is the fact that there are still many scenes that make her stage roots too visible and the script often also prevents her from going deeper and sometimes simply doesn’t allow her to go beyond the obvious plea for tears…

Helen Hayes’s work right away unfortunately starts on the wrong foot. Her first scene with her lover in her bedroom feels like a filmed scene on the stage and I would like to know if this was also the first scene that had been shot…Helen Hayes clearly feels much too limited here and the way she moves her body and her hands suggests a performance for the last row of the balcony – not overdone but too obvious. She becomes much more alive and natural in her next scene when she shares a little apartment with the man she loves. The way she puts his cold feet in warm water, tries to hide her tears or angrily talks to a man who insults his paintings are done very well and feel surprisingly modern – but again, with just a hint of “too obviously unforced” meaning that it’s so obvious that she tries to appear relaxed and spontaneous that the effect is sometimes destroyed. After this, life begins to go downwards for Madelon Claudet very quickly – her lover goes back to America and even though he promises to come back, he never does. But the “sin” of living with this man soon forces Madelon to pay a price when she gets a child. Helen Hayes does some of her best work in the scene right after giving birth – Madelon doesn’t want the child and doesn’t even want to see it but when it is put next to her, you can see her feelings change to a sudden and unconditional love. It’s a clumsy scene in itself but all credit goes to Helen Hayes for making it work and thus laying the base for the story that follows.

I also enjoy a later scene when she plans to wed a man from her village – but he will only accept her as a wife without her child. Madelon refuses and her father plainly ask her “Have you no shame” to which she replies “Not about this”. She delivers these lines very matter-of-fact, even a bit amused and that way prevents them from becoming melodramatic. I can just imagine Ruth Chatterton, widening her eyes, shrieking “Not about”, changing her voice to a dramatic whisper “thissss”. After this, Madelon becomes the mistress of a rich man and while these parts of the movie offer the least interesting opportunities for Helen Hayes, I still appreciate that she never makes Madelon appear like a gold-digger – she evokes the feeling that Madelon appreciates the chances she gets but that she also truly cares for this man and wouldn’t be his mistress if she didn’t. Her weakest moments appear when it is revealed that he is actually a criminal and they get taken away by the police and he commits suicide in a full restaurant. The way Helen Hayes reacts to she shot is too over-the-top, wrinkling up her face in pain and screaming “Carlos!”

If you thought by now “Wow, there is a lot happening to Madelon but isn’t the movie about a prostitute?” Yes, that comes later. If you’re thinking now “Wow, there is really a lot happening to her in general”, again yes. This is also what is working against Helen Hayes. The movie rushes through the life of Madelon in little episodes, throwing her from one extreme to the other as if it never really knew what to do with her. In this way, it resembles another movie with an Oscar-winning lead performance, The three Faces of Eve, another movie that sometimes appeared like a test scene for an actress, not knowing what to do with her and therefore just letting her do everything. The same happened her more than 20 years earlier. Helen Hayes gets to play poor, she gets to play rich, she gets to play proper, she gets to play immoral – it’s thanks to her talent and screen presence that she was able to still tell this story convincingly but she cannot overcome many of the screenplay’s faults.

Helen Hayes's overall strongest scenes come when Madelon gets out of prison after 10 years. She feels more spontaneous and authentic in this moment than many other actresses of that era, famously touching the leaves of a tree, reacting amused to the new fashion style or being determined to walk the stairs of the prison down alone. When she later meets her son again, it’s another highlight for her – she truly shines when she doesn’t let him know her real identity and tells him his mother was dead; it’s obviously again meant to create tears but never feels manipulative.

Interestingly, the most famous part of the story – Madelon Claudet becomes a prostitute to support her son – only takes up about 5 minutes of the whole movie. After those 5 minutes, Madelon is an old woman who visits her son, now a successful doctor, one more time. Again, it’s a manipulative moment and Helen Hayes sometimes takes it a bit too far in her “old cute lady” act but you have a feeling that after all she endured, Madelone deserves that moment.

So, it’s a touching portrayal of a character and a plot that has been done countless times and when it comes to performances in talking movies, Helen Hayes was the first Best Actress winner who really felt “natural” in her acting and there are many moments where she truly shines but she is also obviously too new to the medium in some moments and the script never allows her to create a truly deep character – after following Madelon her entire life, you don’t see any noticeable change in her, even after all her hardships and tragedies and you never really learned anything about her as a character. Still, it’s a strong piece of work that elevates an otherwise forgettable film.

2/20/2018

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
10. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

11. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
12. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
13. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
14. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
15. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
16. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
17. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
18. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
19. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
20. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

21. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
22. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
23. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
24. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
25. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
26. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
27. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
28. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
29. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
30. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

31. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
32. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
33. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
34. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
35. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
36. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
37. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
38. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
39. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
40. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)

41. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
42. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
43. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
44. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
45. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
46. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
47. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
48. Ruth Chatterton in Madame X (1928-29)
48. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Ruth Chatterton as Jacqueline Floriot in Madame X


The second Best Actress race in Oscar history is so infamous for its infamous winner that the other nominees basically seem to have disappeared. Okay, I’ll admit that movies from 1929 are in general not too much talked about anymore…what I mean is that the focus on Mary Pickford’s “bad” performance is so strong that rarely anyone questions the qualities of her co-nominees. As you can see from my ranking, I don’t consider Mary Pickford the worst nominee ever – and I don’t even consider her the worst nominee that year.

Ruth Chatterton is certainly an interesting case. Everything about her acting style in movies screamed “RESPECT THE THESPIAN!”. Hers was the kind of acting that, especially in the early years of the talkies, must have seemed like a revelation to many – she used her voice truly like an instrument, playing high and low notes often in the same sentence or slowly losing an accent over the course of a story. Yes, even without knowing too much about her, you just feel that you are supposed to admire her dedication and I think that if it had not been for the star power of Mary Pickford and Norma Shearer, Ruth Chatterton probably would have won an Oscar for one of her two nominated performances.

Okay, getting that out of the way – wow, has time not been kind to her. What I imagine must have seemed impressive in 1929 appears sometimes almost to be a parody. I get that Mary Pickford’s work is not exactly a timeless product of elegance and grace but at least she possessed the star power to overcome her acting style. Ruth Chatterton unfortunately lacks this and everything she can offer is this fake aura of “importance” that ruins her work almost from start to finish. Ruth Chatterton’s work appears to be the product of a clash of the worst tendencies of melodramatic acting choices with an early “method” that existed only for its own sake and not in relation to the story or the character. Her vocal work seems to be the best example for this – at the beginning, she talks with a high-pitched voice that is often uncomfortable to listen to and then, during her life’s journey, lowers it down to an almost James Earl Jones-level. But this does not mean that this symbolizes her aging process because at the end, she is back to that high-pitched voice, so the question is – which is her real voice and who in the world changes it so drastically all the time?

Most of all, Ruth Chatterton’s acting style suffers from an extreme tendency for theatrical posing combined with total lack of energy and life – but to be fair, not in all moments. She has some moments (of which I will talk about later) where she suddenly finds the right tone and voice and which prevented her from the overall last position in my ranking. Ruther Chatterton has lower lows than Diana Wynyard but she has some heights and at least manages to be the driving force of the story while Diana Wynyard also has an outdated acting style but never manages to become at least interesting or engaging.

Ruth Chatterton’s first big scene in Madame X might display some of the worst acting ever by a Best Actress nominee – after Jacqueline has left her husband for another man, she is an outcast in his life and that of her little son whom she only watches occasionally when he is out for a walk with his nanny. When she hears that he is seriously ill, she visits her former husband’s home and begs him to let her see her son – a plea which he denies. In this scene, Ruth Chatterton is not able to display a single genuine emotion. She moves in front of the camera for the right angle, she delivers lines as if she is reading them for a script and acts her worries and desperation in such a theatrical manner that would not even have been allowed on the stage. When she learns that her husband told their son that she is dead, she gasps noticeable, turns her head to him, whispers dramatically “You told him…”, shakes her head and then whispers “that?” I’m not sure if it so bad it’s funny or just plain bad but I don’t think that any other categories are possible. She also speaks with a too affected voice, pronouncing words such as “cruel” as “cuelle” and when she is finally turned away, she dramatically walks to a wall, puts her arm dramatically against it, puts her head dramatically against her arm and cries dramatically. Of course, Madame X is a horrible movie with a horrible script but this single scene is almost an insult to professional movie acting.

Strangely enough, what might be her best scene in the movie follows right after. After she is denied to see her son, Jacqueline becomes a world-travelling prostitute (because what else can one do?). In her next scene, she apparently enjoys a high position in some exotic country and is courted by a young sailor. In this moment, she lowered her voice to what might even be Ruth Chatterton’s real voice and appears strangely relaxed, even a bit modern in her amused way of rejecting the advances of this young man (even though she’s doing too much winking with her eyes) and this is one of those moments where I get the feeling that Ruth Chatterton might have been an intriguing screen presence if she had just stuck to a more natural acting style which she apparently was capable of. Alas…

She then becomes more theatrical again as she displays how Jacqueline sinks lower and lower, turning into a miserable drunk where she again has some moments that manage to captivate even if she fails to create any excitement about her acting. Her most famous scene is probably when she shoots a man who knows about her past to save the reputation of her husband and her son (of course she does) – she displays the anger at him and her despair for once in a rather believable manner and the way her body shakes after she committed the murder again feels surprisingly modern. Another highlight (in a positive meaning) is her scene in court when the lawyer who defends her turns out to be her son (of course he does) and she tells her story to the court but always insisting that she will not say any names. Her voice is again rather high-pitched but she finally manages to be moving without overwhelming you with her acting style.

So, this is a performance that really reaches lows that most likely few others in this category have seen but there were enough interesting moments to prevent her from being dead-last in this ranking. But only by a hair…
And as previously voted on, the next winning performance to be discussed will be:


2/19/2018

Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
10. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

11. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
12. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
13. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
14. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
15. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
16. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
17. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
18. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
19. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
20. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

21. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
22. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
23. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
24. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
25. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
26. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
27. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
28. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
29. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
30. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

31. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
32. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
33. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
34. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
35. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
36. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
37. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
38. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
39. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
40. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)

41. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
42. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
43. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
44. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
45. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
46. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
47. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
48. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington in All about Eve


Few performances in the Best Actress category are as difficult to evaluate for me as Anne Baxter’s turn as an aspiring but also scheming actress in All about Eve. It’s hard to deny that the part itself is a true showcase, written to perfection like almost everything else in this classic Best Picture winner. And Anne Baxter does find various great moments in her performance – but as my ranking shows, I am not completely convinced that her approach was overall successful or that she was even the right actress for the part.

I do have to say what I find very interesting that, despite my reservations about Anne Baxter’s performance, there is never a moment in All about Eve where I think that she is actually hurting the movie or threatens to destroy its flow. Instead, she completely integrates herself into the outstanding ensemble and contributes to the success of the story – but looking back on it, I think this has mostly to do with the fact that the remaining actors possess the necessary aliveness to compensate for her often stoic acting choices. I get that Eve is an outsider, even when she is welcomed into this group of theatre folks – but I still don’t think that Anne Baxter got everything out of the role that was possible. And I think that it is Anne Baxter’s sometimes lacking acting style that is responsible for one of the most discussed questions around this movie: leading or supporting? To this day, movie fans debate if Anne Baxter’s choice to compete in the Best Actress category is the reason that Bette Davis lost the award for her iconic role as Margo Channing, thus paving the way for Judy Holliday’s win for Born Yesterday. Personally, I agree with Anne Baxter – Eve is a leading role. But somehow, Anne Baxter’s performance doesn’t feel the same. What I mean is that both Eve and Margo were given the same chances by screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz – both are given an intriguing arc, both are dominating the story and both are given material that can easily lead to performances that are proclaimed “all-time great”. But only Bette Davis fulfilled this. Her performance is so dominating, so effortless and so memorable that she made Margo Channing naturally the center of attention. All about Eve became all about Margo, as also the later musical version Applause demonstrated. But as I said, this was a result of casting – if an actress who could have held her own against Bette Davis had been cast as Eve, then history might have been very different but Anne Baxter simply too much disappears next to Bette Davis, even with a role that, on paper, has the same potential.

Maybe the part of Eve actually had even more potential than Margo – the apparently innocent and devoted fan who turns out to be a scheming manipulator, trying to take everything away from her idol (her parts, her friends, her lover) is a dream role that demands an actress to do a complete turnaround in her performance and constantly act on different levels for different targets. And I won’t deny that Anne Baxter possessed the instinct for this – she knows when to appear innocent, when to crack an evil smile and when to completely let go of her carefully constructed protection. But still, the outcome does not convince me. First of all, what I think, is that Anne Baxter quite simply was too mature for the role of Eve. I realize that she was only 26 years old when she played the role but something about her was too “grown-up”. She simply lacks that quality that would make Margo Channing say that she feels an urge to protect her, she never really comes across as that devoted, wide-eyed fan who only lives for her idol. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to come up with an actress who might have been more suited for the part – I just think that an actress with more spark and youth could have portrayed the naivety of the character better. Because of her maturity, Anne Baxter, at least for me, destroys her entrance completely – she feels much too secure when talking to Karen (does anyone really think that it took all her courage?) and her scene in the dressing room also feels too calculated. I get that Eve is acting at this point but she unfortunately doesn’t do it convincingly. Barbara Bates later gives a much more believable performance of the same character as Phoebe at the end of the movie – I am not saying that Barbara Bates would have been a better Eve but I can imagine that she would have given her opening scenes the needed charm and plausibility.

This acting style of Anne Baxter in my opinion also ruins the effect when she finally turns out to be something completely different. Anne Baxter never seems to hide her true intentions. I know that by now we are all aware of Eve’s true plans but watching the movie, there is no reason to immediately assume just how far Eve went to get to that award show. The beginning of the movie is intriguing and makes you wonder just what happened between these characters and if Eve had been a more likeable and sympathetic character, the question would have been going on for much longer (even when she tries to seduce Bill, she does it with such a clearly evil agenda in mind that it's surprising she would think that anyone would fall for it). But Anne Baxter’s acting style and Bette Davis’s performance don’t make it very difficult to side with Margo right away and begin to expect the worst.

But as I said, the acting of Anne Baxter does not diminish the success of All about Eve – I just think the movie and the role could have succeeded on a more intriguing level. Other scenes when Eve is fooling (or trying to) those around her also suffer from her melodramatic acting style, from convincing Karen to make her Margo’s new understudy to lying to Addison about what happened in the ladies’ room. But I would expect that a woman whose acting style is called “fire and music” would be more convincing in her schemes. Anne Baxter mostly puts on a melodramatic whisper and turns her head away from her scene partners to look into the open space which makes it impossible to imagine that she can seriously rival Bette Davis’s Margo on the stage – or off.

This was a lot of negative talk so far which could pose the question why Anne Baxter is then not lower on my list. Well, first of all, as I said, despite her acting choices she does not harm the movie but still fits into it and still manages to make her journey captivating. But most of all, Anne Baxter succeeds when Eve finally drops her niceties and shows her true self. She is absolutely mesmerizing in the scene with Celeste Holm in the ladies’ room and later when she is defeated by Addison in her hotel room. Again, I wish her approach in these scenes would have been a bit deeper (just how true is her love for the theatre? Is it only about awards and fame? Or about acting, too? Just what is her true personality in the end anyway?) but it works to bring her performance full circle.


So, there remains a certain frustration as the role itself certainly had the potential to become a 5 star performance but I think that Anne Baxter was not the right actress to do so. Still, it’s a captivating performance that works within the structure of the picture.  

And a hint to the next performance that will be ranked:


11/30/2017

Best Actress Ranking - Update

 Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
10. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

11. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
12. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
13. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
14. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
15. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
16. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
17. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
18. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
19. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
20. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

21. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
22. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
23. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
24. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
25. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
26. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
27. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
28. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
29. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
30. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)

31. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
32. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
33. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
34. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
35. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
36. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
37. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
38. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
39. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
40. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)

41. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
42. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
43. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
44. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
45. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
46. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
47. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind


Finding a position for Kate Winslet’s performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was difficult for two reasons: One because my opinion on her performance did not really change as you can see from her position (and somehow when you re-rank something you always expect everything to turn out completely new) and second because it’s a performance that is held in such high regard that it just becomes extremely difficult to remain objective about it. It’s easy to judge performances that won Oscars or critics awards because everyone has different opinions – but Kate’s turn as Clementine is so many times mentioned as one of the greatest performances of all time, one that constantly turns up on ‘All-time best’ lists and one that is in general so beloved by everyone that you start feeling guilty when you not join 100%.

As you can see from her position, I do admire her work very much, however. I might not join the “best of all time” group but it’s definitely a performance that sparkles with creativity and originality. And this might even be the biggest achievement of Kate Winslet: the “manic pixie dream girl” has by now become such a cliché that it might appear to be just another addition to this group. But Kate Winslet always makes it clear that her Clementine doesn’t behave out the way she does out of the screenplay’s intentions but by her character’s own choosing. Her work is as natural as it can get – considering the type of role she plays, certainly not an easy task.

As I don’t really have a lot of new things to say about this performance, I will keep this review short. I just want to highlight what I admire most about this performance is Kate Winslet’s ability to add so many different sides to her character while never changing her nature. You can clearly see the unlikable sides of Clementine in Joe’s early memories, how she can begin to repel everyone around her with her behavior. But the further Joe goes back, the more relaxed and sympathetic Clementine becomes even though she never actively tries to win the audience’s or any other characters sympathies.

While I would personally say that Jim Carrey gives the best performance of the movie, I have no problems admiring Kate Winslet’s performance of a stereotype that rises above any clichés and creates an unforgettable character (pun intended).  

And a hint to the next performance that will be ranked: