Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Best Actress Nominees: My Favourites

Choosing a list of favourite nominees was eons more difficult than choosing my favourite winners…and I haven’t seen nearly all the nominees…so imagine how that would have turned out. I left off all Katharine Hepburn nominations, since she’d probably have taken up four spots or more…and that would have been kind of silly…and I already have two women with dual spots. So here it is. And don’t think the list is exhaustive, or that I don’t like the performances that are not listed. But I have to pick a select few and these are the few. My list of favourite Best Actress Nominees. The top 15…but before we go there here are…
The Runners Up…twelve in ascending order
#26 - Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal
#25 - Renée Zellweger in Chicago
#24 - Julianne Moore in The End of the Affair
#23 - Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
#21/#22 - Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in All About Eve [couldn’t differentiate]
#20 - Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment
# 19 - Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise
#18 - Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Tin Roof
#17 - Angela Basset in What's Love Got to Do With It?
#16 - Olivia DeHavilland in The Snake Pit

The Finalists [click on the links for more info]

#15– Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan
Does anyone out there like this film? Vanessa won her first of two Cannes Awards for this role. Yes, she won the Cannes twice. Leonie is a bit of a silly woman and Morgan…well Morgan is a mental case…but yet. But yet, there’s the awesomeness. You wouldn’t think she’s a talented comedienne…and maybe the performance isn’t that comedic; but it is funny. And it is well acted, and at the end of the day – isn’t that enough? The movie is a bit of a question mark since there really isn't any resolution...and it's become somewhat hated, so I guess it hasn't age that well. But it's worth your time. Especially for Vanessa.
#14 – Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give
I know everyone says that Charlize steamrolled the competition, but Diane and she went head to head that year for me…and after a long gruelling battle Diane came out on top. This is, in my opinion, the best thing that Diane has ever done…and she’s done some pretty awesome stuff. She even manages to make me appreciate Keanu [like another actress below] so that makes it that better. The mix between comedy and drama is so poignant and who can forget that extended crying scene? Forever Nancy Myers films will have this to live up to…and it’s a pretty tough bid. The film was ignored other than for Diane but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable flick [not only for chicks] and Diane leads it wonderfully. Quite a treat.       
#13 - Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice
I know Anahita would be screaming. It’s not the best she’s done…nothing will top Cecilia Tallis...but it’s still goddamn astounding. She was my favourite of the nominees…and only Joan Allen rivalled her that year. It’s rare, but reading the novel she’s everything Elizabeth Bennett should be and those line readings are just to die for. She goes head on against Judi Dench in those two scenes and totally sells it. As much as people may write her off, no other actress could have brought this legendary character to life as well. It is an outstanding performance and Jane Austen would be proud.
#12 – Emma Thompson in Sense & Sensibility
And another Jane Austen heroine. I’ll get it out of the way…she’s tool old for Elinor…but it doesn’t matter. She’s Emma Thompson…and she’s that good. I kind of worship at her British feet – and with reason. The lady is exemplary. She’s great at playing these somewhat introverted roles and that scene where she finally goes off on Marianne is worth it, and yet those quieter moments are beautiful in their own way. I was not very fond of Hugh Grant in this, but she makes up for the inadequacies of any co-stars. She’s the heart of the movie. Cliché but true.
#11– Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys
I can’t write much on this. What is there to say? In my head she won an Oscar for this. It’s hard to separate my lust appreciation of her from her prowess as an actress. But that doesn’t undermine her ferocious talent. She’s every bit a force in this film and is just wonderful. Those moments on the piano…va, va, voom. It’s just a truly satisfying performance.
#10 – Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day
That last scene as he departs and she stands there crying is a punch in the gut for me. No matter how much I watch this [a lot] it always gets to me. That’s good acting. I won’t hate though…Holly was fine…and she already had one. But this performance overwhelms me in its subtlety. I suppose it’s not really her film but at the end of the day aren’t the performances more cherished when with little time they’re able to tug at our heartstrings? And she does tug at ours. Her expressive face is put to good use and with only a one year difference she does something that is as good…perhaps better than Margaret Schlegel.
#9 – Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass

I wrote somewhat excessively in my review that this film depends on Wood’s performance. It’s more than just the typical teen role, her Deena is one of the most profound teenage women in this category – and that is saying much. She’s outstanding in her role, and I can’t say how good Sophia Loren was, but I can say that Natalie at least deserved her nomination. There’s a thin line between anguished and over-the-top and Natalie is able to tread it. Anyone with an inkling of doubt about her talents should take a look at this.
April will remain as my favourite work of hers but Clementine was close. Those moments on the train to Montauk are some of my favourites in the film, and just because of her impeccable timing. Clementine can be a bit of a bitch, but so can everyone else. We love her when she’s sharp and abrasive but those bathetic comedic moments and those sadder ones at the end all make the character fully rounded and real. It’s strange that someone so thoroughly British can be so thoroughly American.
#7 – Annette Bening in American Beauty
Discussion on the race has been run to the whole gamut so I won’t even go there, but I will say that I loved the performance. She is the quintessential repressed housewife and those few moments of true release she has – shooting, singing in the car, the affair – are all played so beautifully. Her reaction to Lester’s fate is horrific and at the end I don’t come out hating her. She is a tragedy of a woman and is so comfortable in the character that she’s not afraid to show the faults in the ostensibly seamless life she’s weaving. It’s a difficult role, more than she is accredited with.
# 6 – Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity
In addition to her unparalleled six Best Actress losses Deborah also endured three consecutive losing nominations of which this was one. This time for a Best Picture winner. Everyone remembers that adulterous embrace on the waves, but the performance is more than that. I suppose the role is more of a strong supporting, and perhaps she would have won if campaigned there...but it's all blood under the bridge. And I found her quite beguiling in the role.

# 5 – Kristin Scott Thomas in The English Patient
Am I in K in your book? I think I must be. It’s one of my favourite line readings for her…and then I realise everything she says is great. And it’s not always what she says…but it’s that cliché about how she says it. She continues to do good work consistently in under seen French films but Katherine Clifton will always be who I see KST as. With such an extensive cast and so many stories it’s difficult for her to command our attentions but she does. There is no single dramatic moment, no conspicuous display of emotion. But it is wonderful.
# 4 – Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth
I’ve learned to live with Gwyneth Palthrow’s win and it’s a win I don’t mind [she was my second choice] but she could not have surpassed the wonder that was Cate as Elizabeth. Most people think of The Golden Age and write off the performance, but if she could make The Golden Age work [to some part] imagine what she did with a better film. Cate’s Elizabeth is a fierce and tender woman, and my favourite manifestation of the Queen.
#3 – Helena Bonham Carter in The Wings of the Dove
Something’s probably wrong with me but I end up finding her as the most sympathetic of all the characters. Yes, Millie is the dove and Merton has lost the love of the lives…but the things that drive us to do what we do – Kate Croy is a sad woman, and she will have to live with herself for the rest of her days. It forever remains as the perfect role for Helena Bonham Carter. She just was not as comfortable playing the ingénue and despite what Burton thinks she’s too humane to be a complete villain…but Kate Croy is somewhere right in the middle. If we turn away in disgust as she does what she does it’s only because we’re turning away from ourselves.
#2 – Annette Bening in Being Julia
People don’t really like this performance…but I think it’s possibly my favourite of her performances. It’s the role of a lifetime for any woman and she meets the challenge with such gusto it’s amazing. She sizzles on screen selling even the silliest of her lines, and when it’s time for that uproarious climax she gives it all she’s go. We can’t really say that the character comes full circle, though perhaps she is wiser than we started. But she’s emotionally stunted and this is not a introspective. It’s a shameless romp. No one has a chance to impress while she’s on screen and that final knowing look as the credits roll is all the reflection we need.
#1 – Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons
And la de da, Countess de Meurteill. This was a no brainer for me. Nothing can rival this as far as I’m concerned. Her Countess is one of the most chilling incarnations of all time. From the unsettling opening scene as she scrutinises her visage in the mirror to that now infamous final scene…also with her face and a mirror, but so different. And as good as she is without speaking she’s even more terrific with those lines. Her rapport with John Malkovich is priceless, and every line is quotable. Even Keanu Reeves’ horribleness cannot daunt her from giving the performance of a lifetime.
Whew. What a ride. That was a tough job. Three hundred women and I could only choose a few. Story of my life. What were the surprising inclusions? The surprising omissions? Who’ll make it onto your list?


Univarn said...

I really haven't seen half the films of these I probably should have. I've always been a Natalie Wood fan, and Glenn Close's awesomeness made Liaisons watchable for me so no argument there. I can't say unless i really hopped in what would make my list... soooo many choices.

Though Blanchett in Elizabeth would be a heavy contender.

Danny King said...

I really like Kristin Scott Thomas. She really got robbed of an Oscar nomination last year, she definitely deserved one.

P.S. Where's Swank? Haha.

joe burns said...

Thanks for posting this. Happy to see Keaton, Close, and Winslet on this list.

RC of strangeculture said...

What a challenging list to even think about making - such a variety of performances and actresses to chose from!

I would have loved to see Samantha Morton make your list for In America. Even if she was in the second tier.

Anonymous said...

I hated half of these, so I gotta go with no comment.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

RC I always prefer Morton when she's supporting [Minority Report, Sweet & Lowdown].

Sage who are the half you hate...I'd really like to know.

Danny KST was robbed last year, but she wasn't the first and she won't be the last...and Joe duly noted on Winslet,Close and the underrated Keaton.

Ryan...this is a hard list to make...but kudos on Cate.

joe burns said...

Sage, PLEASE don't say that Winslet is one that you hate. Mu guess is that you hated Kerr, Keaton, Benning (Both times), Bonham-Carter, and Redgrave . Am I right?

Iza Larize said...

I absolutely think that Natalie Wood's performance in Elia Kazan's "Splendor in the Grass" is one of the most sincere and passionate female performances. Ever.