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. 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.