My current Top 5

My current Top 5


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. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
16. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
17. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
18. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
19. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
20. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)

21. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
22. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
23. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
24. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
25. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
26. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
27. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
28. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
29. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
30. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)

31. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
32. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
33. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
34. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
35. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
36. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
37. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
38. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
39. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
40. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)

41. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
42. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
43. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
44. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Susan Sarandon as Louise Sawyer in Thelma & Louise

Ranking Susan Sarandon’s performance in Thelma & Louise has been both fun and exhausting. Fun because it had been ages since I had watched that movie and it’s always a thrill to take a closer look at one of the few truly iconic performances that the Oscars recognized over the years. Exhausting because this iconic status often makes it difficult to approach the performance with an open mind and fresh eyes. As always, it took me a while to decide but now I feel quite comfortable with the position.

Re-watching Thelma & Louise for the first time in God knows how many years, it surprised me how well the central plot of this friendship between two women held up and how amazingly both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon sell this story, navigating the picture between buddy drama, road trip movie, adventure story, comedy and satire. The trailer for Thelma & Louise (officially one of the worst trailers I ever saw) tried to promote the movie as a feel-good comedy, jumping between Thelma’s criminal activities and her husband’s puzzled reactions – but as awful as the trailer may be, watching it made me realize how fantastic Thelma & Louise is when it simply focuses on Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis and how quickly it can fall apart when it doesn’t. The movie lives from its two leading ladies because they add the necessary realism to the proceedings that most of the male actors cannot. Don’t get me wrong, this is no “I am an angry male because Thelma & Louise represents men as bad people” rambling – I get that Thelma’s husband, the truck driver and Harlan are more noteworthy for what they stand instead of what they are but it’s still frustrating that they are played and presented in such easy-to-dislike ways (seriously, that angry rant of the truck driver after his truck is blown up is so over-the-top that it takes me out of the whole story for a couple of minutes). The characters are certainly necessary to show exactly why Thelma and Louise are doing what they are doing and why their friendship is so important – but they don’t improve the movie itself. But in the end, this does not matter because a) I only judge Susan’s performance and not the movie and b) I only watched the scenes between Susan and Geena anyway and always skip all the rest.

So, let’s come to Susan’s performance. The main reason why the story of Thelma and Louise is so iconic and popular today is most likely the famous ending shot but beyond that it’s because their names have become synonyms for an unbreakable bound between two women fighting against a world of men. But what I most appreciate about the work of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon is the fact that they do not play a broader theme but instead focus on what’s happening to these two specific women at this specific moment. Many of the male characters might represent a wider topic but Thelma and Louise do not. This helps both Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis to play all the tasks they are given, the drama, the romance, the comedy, the adventure and the horror. And if Thelma & Louise is iconic for its presentation of a great friendship, this only comes down to both leading actresses (by the way, if the movie came out today – who would go supporting?): from the first moment on, they share such a genuine chemistry on the screen, their joking and laughing always natural, every discussion authentically in the moment. Both actresses display a believable affection towards each other without which the movie could not succeed.

It’s interesting to think about the timing of Thelma & Louise in both Geena Davis’ and Susan Sarandon’s career – for Susan Sarandon, it was an Oscar-comeback and the begin of her ‘four nominations in five years’ period that ended with a win for Dead Man Walking a couple of years later. For Geena Davis, it was a nod that showed that the Academy did the right thing by giving her an upset Oscar a few years earlier. So, in 1991, Geena Davis might have had the edge when it comes to ‘Oscar veteran’ but Susan Sarandon edged her out in the end as she is much more remembered as an Oscar caliber actress today while Geena Davis’ win is often forgotten nowadays.

So far, I have mostly focused on both Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis and it truly seems to be impossible to talk about them separately. But I’ll try as I think, despite the importance of their relationship, there is still a lot that each actress contributes to the movie by herself. Geena Davis was given the bigger arc by the screenplay and also the wider variety of emotions – she goes from suppressed housewife to crime-loving runaway and also sometimes works a comic-relief. Susan Sarandon’s Louise is a more developed person right from the start and she also won’t change in the same way but Susan Sarandon’s work is responsible for successfully setting the tone and for balancing the personalities of both characters. Susan Sarandon possesses a very mature and responsible aura on the screen and she uses it so immediately establish Louise as the more grounded, earthy and leading personality – she can be as much fun as Louise but she is more experienced, has seen and endured more and is the one who is used to make the decisions. There is something flawless about Susan Sarandon’s way of establishing this personality, laughing at Thelma’s news that she didn’t ask her husband to go on vacation, being surprised by her behavior in the bar, enjoying a good time while still not letting herself go, always on guard and in control of the situation.

With her focus on Louise’s strong side, Susan Sarandon makes the relationship between Thelma and Louise work and she also becomes the driving force of the movie as well as the audience's point of reference in many moments. But beyond this, Susan Sarandon also expertly displays the different layers of Louise’s personality – the breakdown on the phone when she talks to Jimmy and begins to realize the proportions of her problems, her fury when she rescues Thelma from Harlan and already hints to the fact that Louise is not only outraged for Thelma’s sake but also due to her own experiences in the past, the tenderness in her scenes with Jimmy in the hotel and her calls with the police all deepen her portrayal in different direction and create a complete, authentic person. And if the friendship between Thelma and Louise feels so deep and true, Susan Sarandon can also be complimented here – there are many moments in the movie when you would expect Louise to hid Thelma over the head and go on alone due to her often careless behavior, but Susan Sarandon shows just how strong their connection is and always makes their ongoing journey believable.

So, while the story and the final shots of Thelma & Louise may have given the movie its iconic status, the performances of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are responsible for giving it life and creating the basis for its reputation. And as Louise, Susan Sarandon used her screen personality with wonderful results and crafted an unforgettable character that stays with you long after the final freeze frame.

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


Deiner said...

She's amazing. I really love her and Davis. I recall liking the film a lot, but it's been a couple of years since I watched it. Great review Fritz. The next performance is Joan Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve.

Anonymous said...

She was great but I prefer Davis.