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. Simone Signoret in Room at the Top (1959)
18. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
19. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
20. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)

21. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
22. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
23. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
24. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
25. Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie (1998)
26. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
27. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
28. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
29. Meryl Streep in The Devil wears Prada (2006)
30. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

31. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
32. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
33. Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1932)
34. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
35. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
36. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
37. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
38. Joan Crawford in Sudden Fear (1952)
39. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
40. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)

41. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
42. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
43. Martha Scott in Our Town (1940)
44. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
45. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
46. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
47. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
48. Eleanor Parker in Detective Story (1951)
49. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
50. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)

51. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
52. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
53. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
54. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
55. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
56. Ruth Chatterton in Madame X (1928-29)
57. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil wears Prada

Ranking this performance was particularly difficult for me for two reasons. One, because The Devil wears Prada is a highly entertaining movie with a very entertaining performance by Meryl Streep – and entertaining performances are always difficult to rank because it’s difficult to separate your own pleasure in watching it from an objective opinion on the actual performance. And second, because the moment The Devil wears Prada was released, Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly has entered the canon  of the most iconic performances that were ever nominated in this category. Love the movie or hate the movie, Miranda has become a part of pop culture and is probably by now the most famous performance from Meryl, one that introduced her to a new generation and kept her career going at an age when most actresses hardly find any work at all. And judging a performance that is so well-known and popular is always difficult because you always feel like an outsider if you don’t share the same level of enthusiasm – and it’s even more difficult because I am actually split in my opinion: compared to all the drama and tears in this category, The Devil wears Prada feels like a breath of fresh air and I, too, love Miranda for all her bitchiness and one-liners and it’s certainly one of the most easily digestible performances in this category. But loving a performance for its entertainment and judging it as objectively as possible are two different things and I tried to do my best here. But even if I may sound like I don’t like her performance from an acting point of view, that’s not the case as there is a lot to appreciate in her work, even if I sometimes think that the entertainment factors hold her down.

As I already said, I think that The Devil wears Prada is a very entertaining entry in this category – not only Meryl Streep’s performance but the whole movie are very easy to digest and it’s overall a picture that can easily be seen over and over again. Yes, I agree with everyone that Andy’s friends are the worst and I always skip their scenes but everything that happens at Runway remains highly entertaining even when I see if for the hundredths time. And that is mostly due to the highly enjoyable ensemble – not only Meryl Streep but also Stanley Tucci, the unfairly maligned Anne Hathaway and especially Emily Blunt do a lot of hard work to make the movie work and they all contribute to the success of the story equally. But of course, the structure of the movie naturally puts all the attention on Meryl Streep’s Miranda – even if Andy is the clear leading character of The Devil wears Prada, Miranda is its raison d être and the fact that everything in this movie happens around her and that Andy’s complete life is taken over by her demands and needs (and therefore keeping focus on her even when she is not on-screen), make her the natural centre around which everyone and everything revolves. Therefore, I am also fine with her placement in the leading category even if a nomination in the Supporting category wouldn’t have been complete fraud in my eyes either…

So, what makes Meryl Streep’s Miranda such a memorable character? Mainly there are two reasons – one the one hand, it is the aforementioned structure of the movie and on the other, it is simply due to Meryl Streep’s unique acting style that can use a calm exterior and a cool voice to terrorize an entire office building. The magic of Miranda comes from the fact that Meryl Streep avoids every typical cliché that might be expected from this character (loud, bossy, exaggerated, constantly stressed) and instead presents a woman who is at the top of her profession, who knows what she wants and when and from whom and who expects the same sort of professionalism from everyone around her. Of course, Miranda is a horrible person (at least in my opinion) but Meryl Streep lays the groundwork for seeing her different as well and for understanding what drives her. And by underplaying both the character as well as the comedy, she creates a woman that is both endearing as the kind of villain you “love to hate” and terrifying in that she remains completely unpredictable and you always keep expecting the worst from her. This balance, the fact that you want to see more of Miranda, that you don’t actually hate her but that she makes this character fit so perfectly into the world of The Devil wears Prada as a comedy is the biggest achievement in Meryl Streep’s performance and another prime example of her ability to handle comedy with the same ease as drama.

Of course, Meryl Streep also benefitted from the screenplay that gave her the kind of attention-stealing scenes that help her to leave a lasting impression and dominate everything around her with ease. This is also what sometimes lessens my appreciation – in a lot of aspects, Meryl does not really rise above her material but instead is risen above by the movie around her. Her first scene is as iconic a movie entrance as you will ever get but the whole build-up to this moment makes it extremely easy for her – when the entire office is in panic because they know that Miranda is on her way, the audience is immediately prepared for the worst and all that Meryl Streep has to do is to fulfill those expectations. Of course she does so with ease but I also think that in later scenes, her performance always works better when she is supported by her surroundings – her legendary “blue sweater monologue” works not only so well because she can intimidate you without ever raising her voice but also because everyone around her always communicates just how disastrous the whole situation is. A later scene, when Miranda scolds Andy for not organising a flight for her, has a lesser impact because they are alone in this moment.

Beyond the comedy, there is also Meryl Streep’s attempt to present Miranda as a deeper and three-dimensional character – I say attempt because her approach sometimes work but sometimes also doesn’t. First of all, Meryl Streep obviously worked hard to present Miranda not as a monster but as a business woman – it’s very easy in movies to present women in power as some sort of domineering monster and that is surely what The Devil wears Prada could do as well but Meryl Streep is too smart for this and shows that she is simply a woman in power with a lot of responsibilities who needs people around her on whom she can count 100 percent every second (she can constantly remember all the to-dos that need to be done, she can design an outfit while giving her “Blue Sweater monologue” at the same time and is basically responsible for every single detail in every issue of Runway) but the screenplay also puts her in positions that undermine these efforts (“hire the smart fat girl”, the obviously glee when Andy has to tell Emily about Paris, the obvious disregard to the feelings of Nigel) and that way Miranda does not always feel like a real character and Meryl Streep can only get so far in her efforts to humanize her. Besides this, Meryl Streep also has problems to create the private side of Miranda – many people seem to have a problem with the “crying scene” as it seems more like an obvious attempt to add a more human side to Miranda but I don’t mind the scene itself because I never think that Miranda is ‘not human’ but I feel like this scene doesn’t really do anything for the characterization – the end of her marriage, her feelings for her daughters, all this is gone in the next scene when we basically learn that Miranda thinks that “everybody wants to be us” and apparently also believes this, too. The Devil wears Prada only allowed Meryl Streep to go short distances in her characterizations of Miranda beyond the comedy – when she sees that Andy visits a private moment between herself and her husband, Miranda is visible shaken but also this importance to keep her private life private is not explored any further. Instead, Miranda gives Andy an almost impossible task and after it is completely, apparently forgets about it completely (and to be honest, Miranda would have asked Andy to find that Harry Potter book anyway, right?). Meryl Streep is therefore often also held back by the screenplay in the relationship between Miranda and Andy. Miranda obviously enjoys seeing Andy become more and more professional but you just know that she would throw her out again any moment. Miranda seems to understand the problems of her own, work-dominated life but is also unwilling to change it because she obviously prefers her work to her private life – which is fine, but it makes her scenes crying about her daughters simply less effective and make you wonder why she would push Andy in the same direction. In the end, when Miranda smiles in the car, I also fail to fully understand where that smile comes from – is she happy because Andy chose her own life even though Miranda considers her life the best possible outcome?

Most of my criticism is obviously directed more at the screenplay than at Meryl Streep but it underlines who the script simply often holds her back. As a pure comedy performance, Meryl Streep is very enjoyable and her approach to the part very unique and it’s easy to understand why it became so famous. But from a pure acting point of view, I think the part and the performance lack depth and reason (again, this is more the script’s fault than that of Meryl Streep) to place her higher in my ranking. Still, the fact that a character like this in a movie like this was even included in the Oscar race at all and managed to get a still very good position in this ranking shows how Meryl Streep still got the most out of this role and took it much further than most other actresses might have even dreamed of.