Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold.
1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
3. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
4. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
5. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)
6. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
7. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)
8. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
9. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
10. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
11. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
12. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
13. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
14. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
15. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
16. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
17. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
18. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
19. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
20. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
21. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
22. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
23. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
24. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
25. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
26. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)
27. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
28. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
29. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
30. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)
Mary Pickford as Norma Besant in Coquette
So, how is Mary Pickford not last? To be honest, I actually decided to rank Mary Pickford now because I wanted a performance that would be easy to place and I thought that her position at the bottom would be a fairly easy task. But to my surprise I actually did not put her at the bottom…so what happened?
As you can see from my ranking, I surely do not consider Mary Pickford’s performance an artistic highlight. And from a purely neutral standpoint it would probably be fair to consider her the worst Best Actress nominee ever (although I cannot comment on this yet). But after all, nothing about this is neutral or objective – and when I rank the performances, there are other factors that come into play for me. And even if Mary Pickford is very often dreadful in Coquette, she always remains watchable – and that is a big plus for me.
What is noticeable in Coquette right away is one thing – the star power of Mary Pickford. I know absolutely nothing about her apart from Coquette but I can believe that this actress was once the most famous woman in the world. There is something about her that draws you to her even when her acting pushes you away. I also don’t mind the fact that she was much older than her character – Mary Pickford spent her whole life playing children and teenagers so I can buy her as a young, flirty girl, especially since her delicate features help to strengthen this impression.
Well, so much on the negative side. But what is it that I like about her performance? Do I actually like something? As shocking as it sounds – yes. There is the aforementioned star power that, despite all the setbacks, makes me believe in Mary Pickford’s Norma. Yes, I can actually believe that a woman like this would exist, that she would be as shallow but also sometimes as true and she also works well with her cast members as I believe her to be a bigger sister, a faithful lover and a devoted daughter. And so she somehow pulls me right into her personal misery – at the end, I actually feel for her, I feel sad when she witnesses her lover die even if Mary Pickford again adds too many bizarre acting choices and I feel personally engaged in her story. I care more about Norma than I do about Diana Wynyard’s Jane, Irene Dunne’s Sabra or Shirley MacLaine’s Deedee. And as I also mentioned: Mary Pickford always remains watchable. Even when she is bad I like to see her. She adds energy into her performance that the other three actresses lacked – her scenes of sorrow and grief might be overdone but they still keep me interested. Watching her performance is like watching a bad painting – it might be bad but it still makes you look. The performances of Diana Wynyard, Irene Dunne and Shirley MacLaine on the other hand are rather like watching paint dry. These performance might be better acted (though in the case of Diana Wynyard I might actually disagree – just because her outdated acting is quieter than that of Mary Pickford it doesn’t mean that it is better) but I just don’t care about their characters. And for me, this is also a factor in my ranking.
So, the performance is certainly not great, not good, not OK – yes, many parts are bad but personally I can find some moments that compensate for it and Mary Pickford still possesses enough charisma and energy to keep me watching. And so I decided to not put her at the bottom of my ranking as I would rather watch her Norma than Diana's Jane, Irene's Sabra or Shirley's Deedee.