Friday, June 22, 2012

The Ten: Best Actresses of All Time Relay Race


The following is my contribution to The Ten: Best Actresses of All Time Relay Race Blogathon.  Originally conceived by Nostra of My Filmviews, and passed on to yours truly by Michaël Parent over at Le Mot du Cinephiliaque, the concept of this blogathon is as follows:

"I've cretaed a list of what I think are the best actresses of all time.  At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post.  This blogger will have to remove one actress (that is an obligation) and his his/her own choice and describe why he/she did this.  At the end, the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same.  The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actress.  We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actresses.  It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!"

Here is a list of the blogs that have participated thus far:


The ten best actresses as given to me:

First off there is the beautiful angel of mod cinema, Audrey Hepburn.  Some may have a problem with her being here as she has a reputation for being a bit on the fluffy side, and yes, perhaps she doesn't get as hard hitting as most of the talented ladies on this list, but hey, her ability to play the essence of cool while in the midst of some sort of emotional or social fiasco (Roman Holiday, Sabrina) or her acerbic take on love and marriage (Two for the Road, Breakfast at Tiffany's) or her way of decidedly yet unpretentiously showing up her leading men (Charade,  Funny Face) or simply genuine, flat-out acting (Wait Until Dark, The Nun's Story) made her a star and they keep her an icon of cinema to this day.  Always modest as to her talents ("I was asked to act when I couldn't act. I was asked to sing "Funny Face" when I couldn't sing and dance with Fred Astaire when I couldn't dance - and do all kinds of things I wasn't prepared for. Then I tried like mad to cope with it.") Hepburn was of course a force of nature when it came to her many many humanitarian efforts.  Perhaps being the winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her tireless work with UNICEF or having a breed of tulip named after her (how many can claim such a thing?) doesn't necessarily qualify the Belgian-born daughter of an English banker and a Dutch baroness for inclusion in a list of the greatest actresses, but damn sure her talent, overlooked as it may be in certain circles, most certainly does.

Next up we have my personal favourite of all time, the always wonderful and eternally pretty damn spectacular Miss Barbara Stanwyck.   From her early days in pre-code Hollywood to her tougher than nails persona of the forties and fifties to her latterday TV days, Missy Stanwyck is easily one of the most alluring and most dangerous actresses out there.  With great performances in films as varied as Mexicali Rose, Miracle Woman, The Purchase Price, Baby Face, Annie Oakley, Stella Dallas, The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire, The Lady of Burlesque, Double Indemnity, Sorry Wrong Number, The Furies, Clash by Night, Titanic, Executive Suite and Forty Guns, she has proven again and again and again that she is simply the greatest.  And it was not just talent, but also a professional attitude that made Missy so popular to work with.  Directors would come back multiple times to put her in front of their cameras.  Both Wellman and Capra would come back five times each to do such a thing.  The great lady was nominated for the Oscar four times but would never win it (she was awarded an honourary statuette in 1981) and this is a shame indeed.  My favourite anecdote about Babs is this:  When she was filming the western Forty Guns, one of the stuntmen refused to do a stunt, saying it was too dangerous.  Missy, being Missy, told the stuntman to step aside and the then fifty year old actress got on the horse and did the stunt herself.  My guess is that the stuntman was pretty much laughed out of Dodge so to speak.  It is this kind of attitude that made Stanwyck so powerful as both an actress and as a woman.

Our third great actress is that beautiful and hauntingly talented Swedish-born movie star icon Ingrid Bergman.   With her breakthrough Hollywood performance in 1939's Intermezzo: A Love Story, a David Selznick-produced remake of the actress's 1936 Swedish success, and her iconic performance as Ilsa Lund in the über-classic Casablanca, Bergman became one of the most sought after actress's in 1940's Hollywood.   With stellar, award-winning performances in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Gaslight, The Bells of St. Mary's, Joan of Arc and three Hitchcock films in Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn, Bergman was at the top of her game by 1950.  It was then that Bergman met and fell in love with Italian director Roberto Rossellini.  This affair and eventual pregnancy (which in turn would lead to their child Isabella Rossellini becoming a great actress in her own right) caused a scandal in the rather Puritanical US at the time.  Bergman was decried on the floor of the US Senate and Ed Sullivan even refused to have her on his show (a thing that Steve Allen remedied by boldly bringing her on his show).  This also led to possibly the richest performances of the actress's career in the Rossellini-directed Stromboli, Europa '51 and one of the greatest films of all time, Viaggio in Italia.  Bergman would make her triumphant return to Hollywood in 1956 with her Oscar winning performance in Anastasia.  With later performances in Murder on the Orient Express, for which she won her third Academy Award (only Katherine Hepburn has more with four) and Autumn Sonata, her final big screen appearance directed by her unrelated Swedish compatriot Ingmar Bergman, the great actress more than cemented her cinematic immortality.  

Number four on our list is the first of two French actresses on the the list.  It is the sensual and sexy and brilliantly talented Isabelle Huppert.   I remember the first time I saw the actress was in the 1983 French drama Entre Nous.  This Holocaust-era film, with its undertones of a lesbian love story was enough to get this then sixteen year old smart-aleck kid to fall in love with the freckled face beauty that is Isabelle Huppert.  Not a typical beauty queen, Huppert to this day, even nearing sixty, is one of the most beautiful and most sensual actresses to ever take the screen.  Granted, in films such as The Piano Teacher, School of Flesh, Ma Mère, Heaven's Gate, Madame Bovary, Amateur and Gabrielle, it is a rather dark and oft-times quite sinister kind of sensuality, but a sensuality nonetheless.   A thirteen time César Award nominee (she won the award in 1996 for her performance in the Claude Cabrol film La Cérémonie), Huppert has appeared in nearly 100 films, and the majority of them, from her breakout role in 1974's Going Places with Gerard Depardieu to her her old west madame, a la Belle Starr, in Michael Cimino's oft-maligned but quite brilliant fiasco Heaven's Gate to playing muse for every director from Godard to Jacquot to Haneke to Chabrol to her more recent performances in several American films such as the Wes Anderson-directed Fantastic Mr. Fox and the Wes Anderson-esque I Heart Huckabees to her singing and dancing performance in the adorable 8 Women to her brilliant recent performances in Gabrielle, Private Property and White Material (she should have gotten an Oscar nod for that last one) are ones that will live for the ages.  This beautiful and powerful red head will always have a place in my heart.

The next great actress up is another redhead - one of three on our list.  It is the wonderful Julianne Moore.  Getting her start in the late 1980's on the soap opera As the World Turns, for which she won a Daytime Emmy Award, the 1990's would bring Moore both critical acclaim (Short Cuts, Safe) and box office success (Nine Months, The Lost World: Jurassic Park).  Her performance in Safe, easily one of the finest of the decade, would prove to everyone out there that the actress was more (or Moore) than just a pretty face and a quirky character actor.  And if this wasn't enough to cement such an opinion in everyone's critical minds, then her performances in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and Magnolia and the Coen Brothers' cult favourite The Big Lebowski, damn well did.  After this, Moore would give what is so far her finest performance in Todd Haynes' brilliantly subversive Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven, and follow that up with powerful roles in Children of Men, Chlöe, The Hours, Savage Grace, Blindness, A Single Man and The Kids Are All Right.  She has also been a hit on the small screen with a guest star spot on 30 Rock and her portrayal of idiot former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin on HBO's Game Change.   A very active political activist, supporting same-sex marriage and taking a pro-choice stance, Moore is as free-thinking of a human being as she is a bravura thespian.  Her next role will be taking Piper Laurie's place as the evil Margaret White in the Carrie remake, due out next year.

Number six in our list of great actresses is our second French talent, and one of my favourite actresses working today, Miss Juliette Binoche.   The ironic part of my love for La Binoche (and yes, that is her nickname in certain French cinema circles) is that the two roles for which she is best known here in the USofA are two films that I actively dislike - Chocolat and The English Patient, the latter of which she was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  But hey, I am not going to hold these two roles against the woman.  Especially when she has more than made up for these two filmic errors (she does give good performances in these two poorly written characters) with a slew of performances that showcase the actress's powerful cinematic chutzpah.   The first time I remember seeing La Binoche, was waaay back in 1988 when I first saw Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, where she played opposite the best damn actor working today, Daniel Day-Lewis.   Binoche would go on to star in films by some of the best auteurs of the day.  Michael Haneke (Caché, Code Unknown), Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours), Patrice LeConte (The Widow of St. Pierre), Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Krzsztof Kieslowski (the Three Colours Trilogy) and Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy).   The great actress will continue this by starring in David Cronenberg's upcoming Cosmopolis.

Next up is our lone entrant from what many call the far east.  Hong Kong actress, and former Miss World semi-finalist, Maggie Cheung.  Perhaps for her performance in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood For Love alone should qualify her for this list, but she does actually have some other pretty stellar performances as well.  I remember the first I saw her on film.  It was Irma Vep, directed by her then husband, french auteurist Olivier Assayas.  Maggie was in skin tight leather running along rooftops as a modern day incarnation of the silent star of Les Vampires.  How could I not fall for her?  But still it was not just her sex appeal that made her so good in the role.  Her acting prowess was just as fierce as her sexuality.  She is probably best known upon these shores for her role in Zhang Yimou's brightly coloured wire-fu epic Hero, but still that is not even the half of it.  I am actually very excited, and a bit surprised to find Ms. Cheung on the list.  Thanks to Bonjour Tristesse for that addition.  I am not saying the actress does not belong on such a list, but that she is not that well known.  Hopefully such an addition will get her the recognition she so deserves.  If you have seen her in the aforementioned In the Mood For Love, or other works such as Irma Vep or Ashes of Time or Clean, you would surely agree with me.  Her performance in Clean made her the first Asian actress to win at Cannes.  As an actress she has not done much screen work since Clean back in 2004, which is a shame.  As with several others on this list, she has done a lot of charity work and is currently the UNICEF chairperson for China.  Hopefully she will get back to the whole acting thing though, as her presence in world cinema is surely missed lo these past eight years.

Number eight on our list is almost always listed among the greatest actresses of all time.   It is four time Oscar winner, and our third redhead (at least sometimes) Katharine Hepburn.  One can hardly speak of the history of American acting, and the history of Hollywood, even though she shunned much of the latter, without mentioning the Connecticut-born actress.  With great performances in such films as Morning Glory, Little Women, Alice Adams, Bringing Up Baby, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib, The African Queen, Pat and Mike, Summertime, Desk Set and Long Day's Journey into Night, she is an icon of acting and of cinema.  Even in lesser films like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and On Golden Pond, one can see how great a lady she really is.  Be it on stage or on screen, Katharine Hepburn is one of the finest thespians the world has ever seen.  Sure, notorious wit Dorothy Parker may have said she runs the acting gamut from A to B, but she was a bitter woman after all.  Film Historian Jeanine Basinger said of the brash, trend-setting actress, "What she brought us was a new kind of heroine—modern and independent. She was beautiful, but she did not rely on that."  Basically what I am trying to say here is that no list such as this would be complete without Katharine Hepburn on it.  Hell, the woman has had streets named after her.

Our ninth great lady is the only person who has ever surpassed Katharine Hepburn in garnering Oscar nominations.  With seventeen of them to her name (and with three victories) as well as twenty-six Golden Globe nominations (winning eight of those babies) and a record fourteen BAFTA nods (and two wins) it is that queen of dialects, the always great Meryl Streep.  Born Mary Louise Streep in New Jersey (but don't hold that against her), not only is the actress the most awarded star in the Hollywood realms, she is probably the most well respected thespian working today.  Sure, the great lady has been in her share of what we would call utter crapola (Mamma Mia! anyone?  She-Devil?), but who hasn't.  Just take a look at her quite stellar performances in both good and not so good films like The Deer Hunter, Kramer vs. Kramer, Manhattan, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, Plenty, Out of Africa, Heartburn, Ironweed, A Cry in the Dark, Postcards From the Edge, Defending Your Life, The River Wild, Adaptation., The Hours, Prairie Home Companion, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt and Julie & Julia, and you will see why La Streep belongs on this list.  What would it be without her?  A role model to so many younger actresses (so many count her among their idols) Streep, a star of both stage and screen, is probably not only the most well respected actress around today, but also very possibly the most important actress working in Hollywood today. 

And last but certainly not least is the newest member of our list (added by M. Parent at Le Mot du Cinephiliaque on baton toss prior) and ironically the eldest.   It is legendary silent film star Lillian Gish.  The first actress to earn a million dollars in one year, Gish was one of the very first celebrities in Hollywood.  Known for a slew of moppets with moxie roles, where the psychically diminutive Gish had to persevere through unfathomable perils and heartaches, Gish was the epitome of the tough-as-nails waif during the silent era.  The legend made many of her films with that stalwart Victorian director David Wark Griffith - a man who changed the way movies were made.  Much of this change came not only through the filmmaker's prowess as a forward thinking storyteller and game-changing techniques, but also through acting of his muse.  Miss Gish, in a day and age of oft-times ridiculous looking theatrical over-acting, had an almost unheard of realism to her ability that she probably did as much for acting as Griffith had done for directing.  But it was not just her silent era films that give Miss Gish the right to be on this list.   Her performances in the masterpiece The Night of the Hunter and her final film role, at age 93, in The Whales of August, will not soon be forgotten.  Her final acting performance was in a studio version of Show Boat, where the actress had a cameo to close the show out.  Lillian Gish's final words in her long long career were "Good night, dear."

My subtraction:

Here is where it gets kind of difficult.  As I am sure you have ascertained from what I wrote above, I like all ten of these actresses.  Perhaps only three would make my personal top ten, but still, there is not a bad egg in the bunch.  If only there were a Gwyneth Paltrow or a Sandra Bullock in here, things would be a lot easier, but alas, there is not.  Which means, according to the rules, I must kick someone I like and respect to the proverbial curb.  Well, before I do it, let me tell you I am doing this quite begrudgingly.  I suppose, much like a band-aid, I should just do it quick.  So here goes.  If for no other reason than there are too many potentially crazy redheads in the pot (and anyone who has ever dated a redhead, knows of whence I speak), I am going to have to send Julianne Moore packing.  Sorry Julianne, but they forced me to do it.  Don't cry, I am sure someone will put you back in sometime soon.  Whew, glad that is over.

My Addition:

Now this one is pretty difficult as well.  There are so many great actresses one could easily include on this list.  I am sure you can figure out who I am adding by looking at the picture right beside these words, but please allow me to ramble on just a bit longer.  First off, I am rather upset that two of my all-time favourites, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe have been kicked off the list.  Sure, they never get the respect they deserve, but still.  Yes, Judy was a drunk and a pill popper, but where would you be if these things were forced on you by the studio at age fourteen or so?  And as for Ms. Monroe, she gets a bum rap because of her dumb blonde schtick, but she was far from dumb.  She learned acting at the smae place that James Dean, Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando learned their craft, and she could hold her own against the lot of 'em.  But I will resist re-adding either of them, instead going forward with someone fresh and new.  Now, I am also rather flabbergasted that Bette Davis has not even been mentioned as of yet.  Really, no Bette Davis!?  But her too I will resist adding, in lieu of her worst enemy (again, see pic to the right).  I too will resist adding such obvious names as Deborah Kerr, Mary Pickford, Marion Davies, Greta Garbo, Olivia De Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Susan Hayward, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Gena Rowlands, Jessica Lange, Glenn Close, Emma Thompson, Kim Basinger, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams.  There are a whole bunch more that I have left out for not wishing to ramble on any longer.  So, in ending this, I add Joan Crawford onto the list.  From her early precode days to the heights of Mildred Pierce to my personal favourite, Johnny Guitar, Crawford may not have a reputation as mother of the year, but damn could that lady act.

Well that's it folks.  I am sure there are some who are already typing out some nasty comments about my choices, but too bad.  I now will hand the baton over to Natalie at In the Mood.  Here ya go kid.  Do what you must.

15 comments:

Page said...

Kevyn,
This is the first I've heard of this. I'll be sure to check out the other posts.
Love your list! Especially that you've added Lillian Gish. Not sure if you've seen Son-Daughter with her and Ramon Novarro but it's hands down my favorite of her work. I would also add Jessica Lange and Joan Fontaine if I were to make my own list. : )

Have a great weekend!
Page

Natalie said...

Oh my goodness, Kevyn. Being handed any baton (especially this one) by you is such an honor - you're my hero as far as writing goes so I almost passed out when I read your comment. The fact that you have enough faith in me to pass this my way is not only shocking, but quite foolish on your part. Nevertheless I'll probably Have a reply up sometime tomorrow... And thanks a million.

Kevyn Knox said...

Page - Actually I added Joan Crawford. The writer before me added Miss Gish.

Natalie - I am sure you will do fine. And do not forget to pass the baton on after you.

Michaël Parent said...

Great addiction Kevyn. You have done an amazing job with the list too! Except The Unknown and Johnny Guitar I haven't much of Crawford Ithink I'll have to get to see some of her films soon.

Anonymous said...

yes i agree with blogger stanwyck is easily the best,but you also have to give it up for ida lupino.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Wow, I love the effort you put into the list Kevyn, seriously great job.

I also like that this relay is getting passed to blogs that are new to me.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. I do tend to ramble on a bit. And as for Ida Lupino, she is indeed pretty great.

Dave Enkosky said...

This might seem like a really mean thing to say about Audrey Hepburn--though I really don't mean it as such--but I think her haircut in that picture makes her look like Jerri Blank.

Nostra said...

Wow, I'm stunned by your addition to the race, impressed by all the effort you have put into writing this.

Sad to see Julianne Moore go, but like you said I did force you to remove one ;)
I like that the list now includes some of the classic actresses. I must admit I might not have seen too much of her work, so this is a good reason to search out some movies of her.

Dan said...

Kevyn, amazing job with all the write-ups! You went above and beyond for this post.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx to everyone. I am not sure how much is effort and/or above and beyond and how much is just me never knowing when I should shut up and stop writing.

Anonymous said...

A few days after her arrival in America the press says: "Compared to her our actresses are wax dummies compared to a human being." Time magazine writes: "Divine, simply divine. ANNA MAGNANI IS THE BEST ACTRESS EVEEER...it is like Maradona in the soccer...

Anonymous said...

Maggie Cheung will come to NYC to participate "En Evening with Maggie Cheung" held by the Modern School of Film (MSF) in Jan 2013. Hopefully she will come. In the Mood for Love will be shown and a discussion with her thereafter.

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