The Oscar 100: #5-1

This post marks Part 20, the final entry of the 20-part series The Oscar 100. Thank you for joining me in this celebration of the 100 greatest Oscar-nominated performances. 

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5. Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

His competition...

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Laurence Olivier, Rebecca
James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story (WINNER)

Fonda portrays Tom Joad, a parolee who ventures home, only to find his family's farm has been seized by the bank. Determined to find a better life, the Joads load up their truck and head west to California. On the road, they come across countless other families chasing the elusive dream of prosperity but, upon arriving in the Golden State, find the promised land doesn't exactly hold the riches they anticipated. The Joads' quest for success is made all the more challenging when Tom gets into trouble at one of the migrant camps they briefly settle in. This performance marked Fonda's first Oscar nomination.

You know what I sometimes forget and am always flabbergasted to rediscover? Fonda, despite one of the all-time great careers on the silver screen, was merely a two-time Oscar nominee for his acting (in addition to a nomination for producing 12 Angry Men and earning an honorary prize at the 1980 ceremony). He would of course go on to triumph on that second nomination, in Best Actor for On Golden Pond, but victory surely should have arrived four decades earlier, on his first Oscar appearance, for The Grapes of Wrath

Fonda as Tom Joad, like so many performances on this list, is hardly the most extravagant of portrayals, with one tantalizing "Oscar scene" after another. That is hardly to say, however, it's not a completely pitch-perfect, lived-in and sublime turn, which also has the great fortune of gracing one of the finest of all American pictures - so significant, it was among the first batch of films selected for preservation by the the Library of Congress. 

Brooding, yet headstrong, Fonda is a powerful presence throughout the picture, at once impossible to take your eyes off of, yet also allowing for his co-stars, namely the brilliant (and deservedly Oscar-winning) Jane Darwell, to shimmer alongside him. The picture sports one of the most splendid film ensembles from this era, with each masterful actor having a chance to shine. Even so, leading man Fonda is of course MVP. 

If Tom is exasperated over his family's exhausting ordeal, he buries such vexation and charges forward, desperate to at last land the Joads in a stable environment, with reliable work and pay. There is one daunting obstacle after another in these camps and, while the most strenuous of struggles, these experiences also instill in Tom a worldliness that will forever change his mission in life. 

Fonda has countless affecting moments in The Grapes of Wrath, the best tending to come opposite Darwell, like their heavenly final dance together and her unsuccessful pleading for him to stay with the family. He most soars, however, in his big monologue toward the picture's conclusion, as Tom tells his fellow Joads he will be leaving to join the social justice movement and support the limitless families, just like the Joads, who have been floundering in these impossible times. It is truly among the most inspiring scenes ever captured on film. 

As noted in my write-up of Chaplin, of the 1940 Best Actor nominees, critics were most fond of him and Fonda, with the former all but taking himself out of competition by protesting the ceremony. The winner, however, would be Stewart, no doubt helped by headlining not one, not two but four motion pictures that year. 

This was one heck of a line-up, with Stewart a delight, Chaplin phenomenal and Olivier in expert form too (Massey, while amusing, seems to think he's still playing to the last row of the balcony). None of those fine actors, however, can quite touch Fonda, one of the silver screen's most marvelous leading men, at the very, very top of his game. The performance and the picture are timeless.

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4. Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life (1959)

Her competition...

Hermione Baddeley, Room at the Top
Susan Kohner, Imitation of Life
Thelma Ritter, Pillow Talk
Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank (WINNER)

Moore portrays Annie Johnson, an African-American single mother who befriends Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), a white single mom and aspiring Broadway actress. Both of their daughters, Annie's Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) and Lora's Susie (Sandra Dee), are a handful. While Susie pines for Lora's dashing boyfriend Steve (John Gavin), Sarah Jane loathes being black and, given her light skin, is determined to pass for white. Her behavior leaves Annie consumed with shame and sorrow. This performance marked Moore's first and only Oscar nomination.

Over the 20 years prior to her gut-wrenching breakthrough in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life, Moore largely languished in film obscurity, on four occasions portraying a maid, three times a 'nightclub patron' and more than a dozen times roles so minuscule, she went uncredited. For Sirk's final Hollywood production, he took a chance on Moore, who to date hadn't been blessed with a role much flexing her acting muscles, for the pivotal role of Annie Johnson.

The result? The greatest performance ever nominated in Best Supporting Actress. 

The sad thing is, at the time, Moore didn't have much of a prayer for victory. Sure, there was some vote-splitting potential with co-star Kohner but more damaging, Imitation of Life wasn't terribly well-received by critics upon its theatrical release, with many writing it off as a saccharine soap opera. What probably got Moore and Kohner over the finish line for their nominations, in addition to Best Supporting Actress otherwise being a rather ho-hum affair in 1959, was the immense commercial success of the picture, which managed to outpace the likes of Anatomy of a Murder and North by Northwest at the box office. 

The Winters victory was scant surprise. Still looked upon as a blonde bombshell, she was lauded by critics and stunned audiences with her deglamming in Best Picture nominee The Diary of Anne Frank. Baddeley graced a Best Picture contender as well but was never going to win for a three-minute performance, nor was Ritter about to triumph for a fluffy romcom like Pillow Talk. Ritter, at this point on her fifth nomination, may have been plenty due for victory but Pillow Talk was not the vehicle seen as delivering that elusive win. 

Like other Sirk productions, Imitation of Life would not be deemed the masterpiece it's seen as today until much later in the 20th century, as contemporary critics reevaluated the picture and lavished praise upon its sumptuous look and feel and devastating performances. While marketed upon its release as a Turner film, nearly everyone today agrees Kohner and especially Moore completely steal the picture from under her, the Turner-Dee dynamic not a tenth as riveting as Moore and Kohner. 

On the page, Annie Johnson is written in a tenuous, mawkish way that, you would think, could translate to disaster on the screen - let's face it, the strongest parts of Sirk productions are never the screenplays. Yet, under his expert direction and with the overwhelming compassion and heartache Moore instills in the role, Annie emerges one of the most tragic sights ever seen on film. Moore shatters your heart in the most nuanced of fashions. It also sure doesn't hurt that she graces the screen for nearly half the picture and at times feels like a co-lead. 

Moore's Annie makes it her mission in life to please those around her. Such is an easy task with Turner's Lora, who comes to see Annie as an essential presence in her life. Less simple is satisfying Sarah Jane, an insufferable daughter who makes Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce look like a walk in the park.

Annie has the biggest of hearts, so it's downright traumatic watching her gradually whittle away, persistently sacrificing everything for her daughter and getting no love back in return. Her unconditional endearment for Sarah Jane evolves into a sea of emotions, from rage over her daughter's choices to concern she may forever lose her This culminates in their painful final scene together, in which Annie reiterates she will do nothing that gets in the way of Sarah Jane's happiness - she'll even pretend she's not her mother, if need be. 

Thank heavens for this performance. It's the quintessential example of an actor and director taking the wispiest of roles and turning it into gold. That Moore had spent her entire career to this point relegated to bit roles makes her accomplishment all the more astounding.

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3. Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun (1951)

His competition...

Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen (WINNER)
Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire
Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory
Fredric March, Death of a Salesman

Clift portrays George Eastman, the outcast nephew of wealthy industrialist Charles (Herbert Heyes) who abandons his destitute existence in Chicago to work for his uncle in California. There, he climbs up the company's ranks and becomes romantically involved with co-worker Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). At a lavish party thrown by his uncle, George falls heads over heels for the enchanting socialite Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), who introduces him to the area's high society. George is enraptured by his opulent new lifestyle and companion - a development thrown for a loop by Alice's revelation that she is pregnant with George's child. This performance marked Clift's second Oscar nomination.

Today, A Place in the Sun, director George Stevens' masterpiece and the career-best vehicle for stars Clift and Winters, is mostly, tragically a forgotten picture. Generally overshadowed by another big Oscar winner from 1951 (A Streetcar Named Desire), the film was dropped by the American Film Institute in its 2007 update of its list of the 100 greatest American motion pictures of all-time. No surprise, it is absent from IMDb's list of the 250 top-rated films. More stunningly, it inexplicably sports a mere 75 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

What is wrong with people?!

Upon its theatrical release, A Place in the Sun was in fact a mammoth critical and commercial success. Charlie Chaplin spoke for countless movie buffs when he proclaimed the film "the greatest movie ever made about America." While it lost the Best Picture Oscar to the decidedly splashier An American in Paris, it tied the Vincente Minnelli film in wins (six) and outpaced Streetcar's showing (four victories) on the big night. 

Catapulted into movie super stardom was Clift, who five years earlier moved out to Hollywood and secured one splendid project after another - the likes of Red River, The Search and The Heiress. He had dashing matinee idol looks with awe-inspiring acting chops to set him apart from the ordinary silver screen pretty boy. While Clift proved himself an exemplary screen presence in The Search, which earned him his first Best Actor nomination, it was A Place in the Sun that provided him the grandest opportunity to flex those muscles as an actor. The result would be the greatest male performance ever recognized by the Academy.

Clift sends you into a heavenly trance from the moment he graces the screen, his physical appearance striking as can be but with immense depth clearly present under the handsome surface. With Stevens' camera madly in love with the star, Clift's face shimmers and sparkles, oozing so much beauty that it's all too easy to overlook George's faults. And when Clift shares the spotlight with Taylor, who also has never looked more fetching, it's almost too much perfection to handle. 

For such an alluring man, Clift also exudes so much vulnerability as George, a lost soul who's ditched his poor life back home for a chance at prosperity many, many miles away. His lack of confidence makes the predicament he finds himself in all the more distressing. And though George may sometimes act in the most detestable of ways, Clift fills the character with ample warmth and heart. His sweetness stays with you, even as George skids off the tracks into oblivion. 

As Clift did with countless directors over his career, he had the occasional quarrel with Stevens, who sometimes craved from the actor showier displays of emotion. To Clift, however, that was all wrong - his portrayal of George needed to be restrained and natural. Instead, for instance, of chewing scenery at the 11-'o-clock-hour as George walks to his death in the electric chair, Clift looks all too convincing, solemn and vividly anguished with regret. 

Oscar night attendees, including ultimate winner Bogart, were said to have been convinced Brando had it in the bag. Even Clift said he cast his vote for the Streetcar star. Alas, the champion would be the sentimental favorite.

Perhaps Brando and Clift, the method actor newcomers, split the vote in some way. No doubt, Brando also wasn't helped by his refusal to campaign the picture for awards consideration and wariness of actors competing with one another for prizes. Three years later, Brando would campaign and emerge victorious for On the Waterfront

This was one hell of a category, with March in prime form too. But no one, in my humble opinion at least, comes close to Clift, not even Brando. He's the most mesmerizing of sights from start to finish, exuding boundless charisma while carefully crafting an absorbing character who, in lesser hands, could have been a far less compelling figure. Clift would go on to deliver several more great performances but none quite at the same unconquerable level as A Place in the Sun

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2. Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter (1946)

Her competition...

Olivia de Havilland, To Each His Own (WINNER)
Jennifer Jones, Duel in the Sun
Rosalind Russell, Sister Kenny
Jane Wyman, The Yearling

Johnson portrays Laura Jesson, a restless suburban housewife whose marriage to Fred (Cyril Raymond), while amiable, has left her emotionally unfulfilled. Amidst her routine of spending one day a week in a nearby town to shop and take in a movie, she meets Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), a kind and handsome doctor who, like Laura, is married and has children. Enchanted with each other's company, their casual friendship gradually develops into something much more as Laura and Alec realize they've fallen in love. The closer they get, the more agonizing their union becomes, knowing they'll surely never actually leave their respective spouses. This performance marked Johnson's first and only Oscar nomination.

Over the two decades prior to her awe-inspiring silver screen turn in David Lean's Brief Encounter, Johnson was the toast of the London theatre scene, appearing in a plethora of productions, including headlining the likes of Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca. She even briefly appeared on Broadway, taking on the role of Ophelia in a revival of Hamlet.

Then came World War II. During this time, Johnson lived with her widowed sister and sister-in-law, assisting them in the care of their combined seven children. Now unable to devote time to eight shows a week, Johnson turned to radio and film. Taking a liking to the stage star was Lean who, at this early stage in his career, was known exclusively as a film editor. Lean cast Johnson in his directorial debut, In Which We Serve, which earned an Oscar nomination in Best Picture. 

Lean and Johnson would collaborate twice more during their lives, first on This Happy Breed and finally, most memorably, on Brief Encounter.

By this point, Johnson was completely swamped at home and more hesitant than ever to take on additional work. The script, however, adapted from Noel Coward's play Still Life, was just too sublime to pass up. And thank heavens she didn't. (Though, following Brief Encounter, moviegoers would need to wait five years to see Johnson again grace the screen.)

A far cry from the comedies Coward was so renowned for, Brief Encounter is the most devastating of affairs, sensitively directed by Lean (much in the same careful fashion he later approached Summertime) and exquisitely performed by Howard and especially the picture's leading lady.

Even in moments devoid of dialogue, Johnson is able to say so much through those big, captivating eyes, keeping us attune to the roller coaster ride of emotions Laura is going through - it's like watching lightning strike the moment we see her realization that she's fallen for Alec. This is one of those rare, magical performances that could have succeeded just as splendidly in a silent film as a talking picture.

Johnson paints Laura as a woman who, in a different environment, could be wholeheartedly thriving. Alas, she clearly loathes the spiteful women who socially surround her and isn't terribly keen on middle-class suburbia in general. Laura hardly hates Fred - he's a good-natured, honest man - but recognizes, tragically too late in their marriage, that there's no real romance there.

Laura has no doubt spent ages in this painful state of longing and only with the entrance of Alec, with whom she does share an intense sensual feeling, do those repressed emotions at last erupt to the surface. Like Hepburn in Summertime, the restrained nature of Johnson's performance makes it all the more powerful and heartbreaking.

With that said, what were Johnson's odds on Oscar night? Not bad, considering the category was without a real front-runner. With the exceptions of Jones, whose picture was lambasted by the critics (her recent divorce, the result of an affair with producer David O. Selznick, probably didn't help matters either), and Wyman, whose recognition rang of a coattail nomination, a plausible case could have been made for any of de Havilland, Johnson or Russell. 

Ultimately, the winner would be de Havilland who, by age 30, was already seen as an old pro in the business, at this point on her third nomination. De Havilland's in fine form, so you won't see me bashing her victory, other than to say Johnson is of course much better. 

Perhaps the quiet, small-scale nature of Brief Encounter did her in, or maybe her paltry name recognition in Hollywood, or a combo of both. Whatever the contributions to her loss, it's a damn shame Johnson did not emerge victorious on Oscar night. It's the most breathtaking of performances recognized by the Academy, second only to the greatest of them all...

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1. Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence (1974)

Her competition...

Ellen Burstyn, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (WINNER)
Diahann Carroll, Claudine
Faye Dunaway, Chinatown
Valerie Perrine, Lenny

Rowlands portrays Mabel Longhetti, a lonesome Los Angeles housewife who is desperate to please husband Nick (Peter Falk) and their three children. Nick loves Mabel but is concerned about her increasingly outlandish and unpredictable behavior. Convinced she poses a threat to both herself and the family, Nick reluctantly institutionalizes her. After a six-month treatment, Mabel returns home but is hardly prepared, emotionally or mentally, for a seamless reintegration. This performance marked Rowlands' first Oscar nomination.

Well, at last, here it is - for my money, the most extraordinary turn to ever earn an Oscar nomination. To know it was a miracle A Woman Under the Influence came to fruition at all makes Rowlands' tour de force one to even more treasure. 

The picture, after all, was initially designed by John Cassavetes as a play. The material, as challenging and intense as what would ultimately be seen on film, was deemed by Rowlands as just too much to pull off, without herself suffering a nervous breakdown, eight shows a week. So, Cassavetes tailored his tale of Mabel Longhetti to the screen.

Despite the critical success he and wife Rowlands earned on their prior collaborations - A Child Is Waiting, Faces and Minnie and Moskowitz - no studio was willing to bite on A Woman Under the Influence and its exploration of an unstable, middle-aged housewife. In part rescuing the project was none other than Falk, who loved Cassavetes' screenplay so much that he invested half a million into the production - and would, of course, go on to land the crucial role of Nick.

Without a distributor, it was up to Cassavetes to call theatre owners and art houses to get A Woman Under the Influence before an audience. Word about Rowlands' master class in acting spread rapidly and, by the end of Oscar season, even as she failed to win the Best Actress prize, the film made back more than six times its budget. 

While Cassavetes worked wonders in generating box office success for the film, the lack of an awards season campaign by a major studio perhaps played some role in Rowlands' Oscar loss (as, no doubt, did the traumatic nature of the film). Burstyn and her picture had Warner Bros. behind them, Dunaway had Paramount, Carroll was in a 20th Century Fox film and Perrine (who insisted on a Lead campaign when she surely could've won in Supporting) had United Artists. 

Instead of standing tall as category front-runner, which should've been the case, Rowlands was seen as being in a tight three-way race with Burstyn and Dunaway. Likely putting Burstyn over the top, in addition to being on her third Oscar nomination, were the raves she simultaneously received for her Broadway turn in Same Time, Next Year, the production which prevented her from attending the ceremony. It's conceivable New York voters came in strong for Burstyn, who would go on to also score the Tony that year. 

This may have been a fabulous line-up (Carroll is terrific too) but Rowlands is truly in a league of her own. If Burstyn wasn't in such fine form, I wouldn't hesitate in the slightest to classify this as among the all-time worst Oscar decisions. 

To merely label A Woman Under the Influence as depressing would be an understatement. It's perhaps the most taxing and devastating of cinematic experiences, a portrait of a woman and her family in pandemonium that rings both bizarre and all too true. Never before or after has mental illness been portrayed so vividly on the screen, its horror and ugliness on evocative display.

Rowlands, in a role that to the average actor, on paper, would seem all but impossible to effectively portray, is absolutely fearless as Mabel. Never is there a false note as Rowlands chaotically veers from terror to rage to revulsion to wholehearted love and devotion. At once, she can be both horrifying and irresistible. She's an erratic force of nature, with one surprise after another up her sleeve. For every moment she's thunderous and unhinged, there's another in which she is subdued to the point of speechlessness. 

A performance for the ages that continues to stun nearly 50 years since first gracing the screen, Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence is the crème de la crème, perhaps the most magnificent piece of acting ever captured on film and, at the very least, the finest turn recognized at the Oscars.

The Oscar 100:

1. Gena Rowlands, A Woman Under the Influence
2. Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter
3. Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun
4. Juanita Moore, Imitation of Life
5. Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath
6. Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker
7. Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day
8. Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba
9. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard
10. Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
11. Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird
12. Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street
13. Mary Tyler Moore, Ordinary People
14. Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People
15. Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
16. Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
17. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker
18. Jessica Lange, Frances
19. Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors
20. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
21. Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
22. Katharine Hepburn, Summertime
23. Montgomery Clift, The Search
24. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
25. Peter Sellers, Being There
26. Richard Burton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
27. Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
28. Judy Garland, A Star Is Born
29. Edith Evans, The Whisperers
30. Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II
31. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It
32. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce
33. Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
34. Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
35. Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
36. Roy Scheider, All That Jazz
37. Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
38. Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
39. Katharine Hepburn, Long Day's Journey Into Night
40. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
41. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
42. Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
43. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
44. William Holden, Sunset Boulevard
45. Robert Duvall, The Great Santini
46. Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
47. Joan Allen, Nixon
48. Nick Nolte, Affliction
49. James Coburn, Affliction
50. Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
51. Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County
52. Patricia Neal, Hud
53. Susan Tyrrell, Fat City
54. Teri Garr, Tootsie
55. Kim Stanley, Seance on a Wet Afternoon
56. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
57. Geraldine Page, Interiors
58. Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind
59. Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
60. Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies
61. Faye Dunaway, Network
62. Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
63. Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
64. Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
65. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
66. Natalie Portman, Jackie
67. Martin Landau, Ed Wood
68. Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show
69. Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show
70. Jane Alexander, Testament
71. Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
72. Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas
73. Sissy Spacek, Carrie
74. Piper Laurie, Carrie
75. Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons
76. Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer
77. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives
78. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
79. Bette Davis, All About Eve
80. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie
81. Jason Miller, The Exorcist
82. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters
83. Judith Anderson, Rebecca
84. Michael O'Keefe, The Great Santini
85. Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter
86. William Holden, Network
87. George Sanders, All About Eve
88. Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
89. Sally Kirkland, Anna
90. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
91. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
92. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
93. John Hurt, The Elephant Man
94. James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life
95. Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story
96. Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
97. Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria
98. Rosie Perez, Fearless
99. Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
100. Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married

The end :)

The Oscar 100: #10-6

This post marks Part 19 of the 20-part series The Oscar 100. Join me as I reflect on the 100 greatest Oscar-nominated performances and what made them so richly deserving of recognition.

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10. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) (WINNER)

His competition...

Walter Matthau, The Sunshine Boys
Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon
Maximilian Schell, The Man in the Glass Booth
James Whitmore, Give 'em Hell, Harry!

Nicholson portrays Randle Patrick McMurphy, a free-spirited criminal who, once again in trouble with the law, pleads insanity to avoid prison and is instead sent to a mental institution for evaluation. There, he befriends the hospital's motley crew of patients, winning them over with an unconstrained spirit sorely lacking in the facility. Not so fond of McMurphy's behavior is the frosty Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), wary of the new resident shaking up the stability she's established on her ward. This performance marked Nicholson's fifth Oscar nomination and first win.

By 1975, with a quartet of Oscar nominations and losses under his belt, Nicholson unbelievably found himself on the same track as the likes of Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole - without a win soon, he could very well end up among the all-time Oscar losers.

So, no doubt determined to at large emerge victorious, Nicholson signed on to not one, not two but four ambitious projects for '75. One, the screwball comedy The Fortune, was, despite the presence of director Mike Nichols and co-star Warren Beatty, an embarrassing flop. Another, Tommy, was a commercial success but merely found Nicholson in a cameo role, as "The Specialist." The Passenger was met to immense critical acclaim but failed to resonate with American moviegoers like it so splendidly did with attendees at the Cannes Film Festival.

Last, but most certainly not least, was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a picture that spent years struggling to get off the ground.

For nearly a decade, Kirk Douglas, who originated the role of McMurphy on Broadway and owned the film rights to the story, tried, to no avail, to get a movie adaptation going. There came a point when Kirk opted to pass the rights along to son Michael, who, unlike his father, was able to secure financing for the picture. By this point, however, Kirk was too old to reprise his role, so the search began for a new McMurphy.

Ultimately, the suggestion of Nicholson came from Hal Ashby, who'd earlier directed him to an Oscar nomination for The Last Detail and, with the success of Shampoo in 1975, was hot and influential as ever. Nicholson jumped on board and the rest is history. 

Not only would Nicholson deliver a career-best performance, at last taking home that elusive Oscar, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ended up steamrolling on the big night, staging the first clean sweep of the big five categories (Best Picture/Director/Lead Actor/Lead Actress/Screenplay) since It Happened One Night in 1934.

Over the decades to follow, Nicholson would turn in a plethora of memorable performances but none at the same sky-high level as Cuckoo's Nest.

The mere thought of Nicholson as McMurphy puts a big smile on my face...before sending a lump down my throat. It's a force of nature turn full of effervescent vitality, his jubilation and humanity making McMurphy's ultimate demise all the more devastating. Nicholson has one knockout scene after another with his remarkable cast, from Will Sampson as the daunting, perplexing Chief to the Oscar-nominated Brad Dourif as the sweet, fragile Billy. It's one of the all-time great ensembles of the big screen.

Of course, there is also Nicholson's stirring sparring with Fletcher, blood-curling as the inimitable Nurse Ratched, hellbent on sucking the life out of her new patient and bringing an end to the euphoria McMurphy suddenly instilled in the ward. Both actors wisely underplay their resentment toward each other, until it finally bursts to the surface in their savage showdown near the film's conclusion.

I have to imagine audiences in the 1970s responded to Nicholson's work much in the same way moviegoers did Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift in the 1950s. It's as if he invented a whole new level of magnetism, never before seen on the screen. And much like Brando and Clift at their best, Nicholson at his finest, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, continues to feel fresh and revolutionary to this day.

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9. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Her competition...

Anne Baxter, All About Eve
Bette Davis, All About Eve
Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday (WINNER)
Eleanor Parker, Caged

Swanson portrays Norma Desmond, once a superstar of silent film but now isolated from the outside world, residing in her decaying mansion on Sunset Boulevard alongside protective butler and driver Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). Though she hasn't worked in ages, Norma is convinced she will someday make a grand return to the silver screen. So, when struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) enters her life and agrees to be script doctor on her dream comeback vehicle about Salome, Norma sees stardom on the horizon. It isn't long before Norma falls in love with her handsome visitor - an infatuation soon tested by Joe's affection for fellow young scribe Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson). This performance marked Swanson's third and final Oscar nomination.

"The greatest star of them all," indeed.

1950 Best Actress is a legendary affair for Oscar aficionados, the presumed Davis vs. Swanson barn burner instead upset by Holliday, gracing the one comedy of the quintet. It's tough to much bash Holliday's victory, given what a delight she is in Born Yesterday, but it's even harder to stomach Swanson not winning the prize for such a monumental performance.

On the big night, Holliday and Swanson were in fact together in New York, listening to the broadcast over the radio. Suffice to say, while she didn't go on a Norma Desmondesque tirade, Swanson was not very happy. Where a win would have propelled Swanson back on the Hollywood A-list for years to come, with no shortage of parts coming her way, a mere nomination resulted in negligible future success. She would have one more, final leading role in an American production - portraying, once again, a fading film star, in 3 for Bedroom C - before turning her attention to guest spots on the small screen. An attempt to get a Sunset Boulevard musical off the ground for Broadway never came to fruition for Swanson, though would of course much later see the light of day through Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sunset Boulevard may not have paid the dividends for Swanson as she may have hoped but such hardly diminishes the fact that this is one of the most electrifying performances ever captured on film, a riveting, all too convincing portrayal of a woman who is both deranged and irresistible. 

Incredibly, Swanson was not writer/director Billy Wilder's first or even second choice for Norma. Wilder first approached Polish film star Pola Negri for the role and later Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. When they didn't pan out, Wilder sought the counsel of director George Cukor, who suggested Swanson for the part - she was, after all, like Norma, a once-beloved star of silent film who struggled to make the transition into talking pictures.

Swanson was hardly a demented lunatic like Norma but, over her countless appearances on the screen, had more than showcased her acting chops (and earned a pair of Oscar nominations in the process). Much to her chagrin, Swanson was forced to do a screen test for Paramount. No surprise, however, it went splendidly. She was everything Wilder, producer/co-writer Charles Brackett and the studio dreamed of for Norma.

Unlike Davis' Margo Channing in All About Eve, a woman who fears facing reality, Swanson's Norma is altogether incapable of seeing it. She's wrapped up in her own world of make-believe, convinced she's still worshiped by countless fans, who supposedly write her one adoring letter after another (all of which, in actuality, are penned by Max). Secluded from the world and living out her days watching old movies headlined by herself, Norma has driven herself into delusional madness. 

Swanson's approach to Norma couldn't be more perfect. She wholeheartedly gets what Wilder is going for, that blend of Hollywood satire and jaw-dropping drama that, in other, lesser hands, could have played as overwrought and unconvincing. Swanson towers over the proceedings with a performance that, while elaborate and larger than life, always feels just enough grounded in reality. One moment, Swanson commands the screen with an awe-inspiring fierceness that feels unconquerable. The next, however, she can instill Norma with a sad fragility that makes her look anything but immortal. Her experience in silent cinema works wonders here, with those big, bulging eyes and batty facial expressions making Norma all the more captivating and bizarre a sight to behold. Wilder also provides Swanson no shortage of opportunity to show off both her comic and romantic sides, her chemistry with fellow Oscar 100 inductee Holden potent as ever.

When Norma returns to Paramount for the first time in years, convinced she'll be meeting with Cecil B. DeMille about her Salome project, she is swarmed by cast and crew, particularly the older studio employees, delighted to see her back where she belongs. As a viewer, you're liable to try jumping into the screen to join them, not to fawn over Norma but rather worship Swanson, who as Norma delivers one of the most outrageously brilliant performances to ever grace the screen.

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8. Shirley Booth in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear
Bette Davis, The Star
Julie Harris, The Member of the Wedding
Susan Hayward, With a Song in My Heart

Booth portrays Lola Delaney, a woman who masks her intense misery with the most cheerful of demeanors. She's in an increasingly passionless marriage to Doc (Burt Lancaster), who's resented Lola ever since she got pregnant and he dropped out of medical school, only for her to suffer a miscarriage. Not only has Lola never fully recovered, she's also anguished with grief over the recent loss of her beloved dog, Sheba. The entrance of young new tenant Marie (Terry Moore) and her dashing boy toy Turk (Richard Jaeckel) brings the couple's long-suppressed emotions bursting to the surface. This performance marked Booth's first and only Oscar nomination and win. 

From the moment Daniel Mann's film adaptation of William Inge's acclaimed play Come Back, Little Sheba was announced, Booth was the heavy favorite to triumph in Best Actress at the Oscars. She had, after all, scored the Tony for originating the role of Lola and, though a novice to the big screen, was a titan in New York acting circles.

By the big night, Booth was not the mere front-runner but a legit shoo-in for the win. Crawford wasn't about to score a second Best Actress prize for the titillating thriller Sudden Fear, while it was a miracle Davis somehow made the cut for the critically lambasted The Star. Like Booth, Harris was making her film debut, reprising a role she began on Broadway, but The Member of the Wedding did not enjoy the commercial or critical success of Come Back, Little Sheba. Hayward, on her third nomination, was likely runner-up, albeit not a terribly close second.

What makes Booth's triumph on the screen all the more remarkable is the lackluster nature of the proceedings around her. A master in theatre but rarely one who excelled on the screen, Mann, in his feature film debut, keeps the picture looking and feeling perpetually stagebound. In a way, such claustrophobia makes Lola's suffocating all the more palpable but otherwise, Come Back, Little Sheba just never much pops beyond Booth's harrowing turn.

Likewise, given the inferiority of her co-stars, Booth all the more towers over the picture. But this also means we're stuck watching a miscast Lancaster (nearly 20 years younger than Sidney Blackmer, who played the role on Broadway and also won the Tony) and the insufferable, somehow Oscar-nominated Moore. As for Jaeckel, he provides no shortage of eye candy but otherwise has the acting prowess of a brick wall.

Such qualms aside, Booth is magnificent in this film. Rarely has a middling picture been made such an absolute must-see by a single performance.

Lola is a tricky character to ace and Booth finds precisely the right way to bring her to life. This is the most despondent of people, ravaged by sorrow over the loss of her precious Sheba, her miscarriage and the disintegration of her marriage. Yet, Lola refuses to let any of this anguish show, instead covering up her agony with the most merry of manners. Her attitude is aggressively ebullient to the point of lunacy and she's desperate to form a connection with anyone who crosses her path and willing to pay her the attention Doc no longer awards her. Lola has managed to make herself entirely oblivious to the heartache eating away at her from the inside.

Where Booth no doubt filled the entire Booth Theatre during the Broadway run of Come Back, Little Sheba, she masterfully tailors her portrayal for the screen, conveying Lola's mania without resorting to bombastic histrionics. With the camera zoomed in on Booth's gloriously expressive face, we see in Lola all of the anxieties and suffering that she refuses to let others recognize from afar. She's the most heartbreaking of sights, a compassionate woman who was abandoned by her own family and is now consumed with fear that the one remaining love of her life (Doc) is en route to giving up on her too.

For a woman so lost in desolation, Booth's Lola is also full of vitality - just watch her dance in that beautiful scene with Doc in the living room. For a moment, an all too fleeting one at that, life is grand again, and there are glimmers of bliss like this scattered throughout the picture that serve as proof of the love Lola and Doc, deep down, still feel for each other. Even if Lancaster never seems quite right in this role, Booth's performance is more than affecting enough to make the Lola-Doc dynamic work.

Following her Oscar victory, Booth dabbled a bit more in film, perhaps most memorably as Dolly Gallagher Levi in The Matchmaker (which later, of course, became Hello, Dolly!), but otherwise found greater success back on Broadway, winning another Tony (this time for The Time of the Cuckoo, which later became Summertime for Katharine Hepburn on the big screen), and later in television, where she scored a pair of Emmys for her iconic turn as Hazel

Talk about one hell of a career but even so, nothing she did afterward came close to touching the brilliance on display in Come Back, Little Sheba. It's a legit master class in acting and, for my money, the greatest performance to ever take home the Best Actress Oscar.

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7. Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day (1993)

His competition...

Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father
Laurence Fishburne, What's Love Got to Do with It?
Tom Hanks, Philadelphia (WINNER)
Liam Neeson, Schindler's List

Hopkins portrays James Stevens, a dedicated English butler who, in the years preceding World War II, serves the Nazi-sympathizing Lord Darlington (James Fox). Stevens' intense focus on the duties of his position is tested by the arrival of new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) who, while just as efficient as Stevens in tending to the household, exudes the compassion and humanity he has long repressed. Over time, Kenton develops feelings for the detached Stevens, who tragically cannot bring himself to reciprocate. This performance marked Hopkins' second Oscar nomination.

When Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day landed on book shelves over the summer of 1989 to widespread acclaim, a film adaptation was imminent.

Initially, however, it wasn't to be a Merchant Ivory production. Director Mike Nichols, then on a hot streak with lighter fare (Working Girl and Postcards from the Edge), and the much-celebrated playwright and screenwriter Harold Pinter were first attached. Nichols ultimately left the project as director, remaining on as producer, while Pinter, despite having finished the screenplay (some of which would be retained for the final product), completely disassociated himself from the production.

In came that divine trio of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - the pitch-perfect fit for this material - and the rest is history. The result, for my money at least, is the greatest of all Merchant Ivory productions, which also happens to sport a career-topping performance from the exquisite Hopkins.

A far cry from the mouthwatering camera mugging of The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins in The Remains of the Day is among the most powerfully subdued portrayals to ever grace the screen. Never has there been a more devastating sight of emotional suppression than Stevens, the all-too-loyal butler who abandons his own father on his deathbed in the name of serving a buffoonish man who is decidedly on the wrong side of history (and Stevens knows it).

The introduction of Thompson's Miss Kenton turns Stevens' world upside down - not that he'd allow those around him, especially Kenton, to know of his feelings. The most startling scene in the picture comes when Kenton catches Stevens reading a romance novel in his office. Stevens claims he's merely reading it to improve his vocabulary, understandable given the onslaught of politicians and aristocrats visiting Darlington Hall but, looking at his face and those sad eyes, it's all too clear to us what's really going on in his head. 

About 20 years later, with Darlington dead in disgrace and Stevens now serving the kind U.S. Congressman Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve), the butler seeks out his beloved Miss Kenton, who at this point in her life is a divorced woman, with a daughter. Stevens requests that she return to Darlington Hall with him - supposedly, to serve the Congressman but, in reality, we know he desperately longs for his old companion. Kenton declines, wishing to remain close to her daughter, and one final time they share that gut-wrenching moment where she is anything but unemotional and he, despite the passion so clearly burning within him, just cannot bring himself to express his affection back.

1993 marked a gangbusters year for Hopkins, who turned in not one but two Oscar-caliber leading performances, in this and in Shadowlands (both of his leading ladies, Thompson and Debra Winger, were nominated in Best Actress). Had he not just triumphed two years prior for The Silence of the Lambs, odds are he could have taken home the trophy as an honor for both of these tremendous turns. (When the critics' awards honored Hopkins, as most of them did this year, it was for both performances.)

Alas, despite his raves and the healthy eight nominations for The Remains of the Day, he was a bit of an underdog going into the big night. While Philadelphia itself didn't earn the critical notices of the Ivory picture, it was far more commercially successful (and sitting atop the box office as ballots came in) and Hanks' dramatic turn was lauded, especially coming on the heels of one frothy comedy after another. While hardly a shoo-in, Hanks was well-positioned to prevail, which indeed came to fruition.

Moving as Hanks is (I'm also awfully fond of Fishburne), Hopkins is for me the crystal clear winner here, a quiet tour de force, at the absolute top of his game. Watching this and The Silence of the Lambs (a delicious, if inferior performance) back-to-back would serve as an awe-inspiring testament to Hopkins as one of the finest, most multifaceted actors of the past half-century. 

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6. Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker (1964)

His competition...

Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou (WINNER)
Laurence Olivier, Othello
Oskar Werner, Ship of Fools

Steiger portrays Sol Nazerman, a morose and lonesome Jewish pawnbroker, haunted by his past. Though he survived Auschwitz, Sol witnessed his family's murder at the hands of the Nazis and ever since, has lost all faith in God and humanity. Consumed by horrifying daydreams and exclusively focused on making money, he refuses to let anyone get close to him, not even his enthusiastic assistant Jesus (Jaime Sanchez) or the friendly social worker Marilyn (Geraldine Fitzgerald). This performance marked Steiger's second Oscar nomination.

If Steiger and director Sidney Lumet were not already on the Hollywood A-list by 1964, their collaboration on The Pawnbroker firmly cemented that status. 

Both first burst onto the scene around the same time, in the mid-1950s. Steiger earned himself a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for On the Waterfront and graced several other successful pictures too, among them The Big Knife and Oklahoma! Also garnering some Oscar love around this time was Lumet, who received a Best Director nomination for 12 Angry Men and subsequently went on to earn additional positive notices for the likes of The Fugitive Kind and Long Day's Journey Into Night

Their paths had once crossed before, on the small scene, yet Lumet wasn't initially keen on Steiger for the anguished role of Sol Nazerman. The director wanted James Mason, hot as ever on the heels of Lolita. Mason never quite panned out, however, and, after additional discussions with the actor, Steiger, who was willing to take a significant pay cut for the role, was in. 

The result marked the first American production to focus on the Holocaust, from the viewpoint of a survivor. Reviews for Steiger were unanimously glowing, even from Pauline Kael, who gave The Pawnbroker one of its few (only?) negative notices. Over the years to follow, despite having later won his Oscar for In the Heat of the Night, Steiger would always cite The Pawnbroker as the strongest work of his storied career. 

And he was right - not only is his turn as Sol a more compelling performance than his other Oscar-nominated/winning efforts, it's one of the very best turns ever recognized by the Academy, in any category. It's a stunningly committed portrayal of the most tormented of figures, a man who may have physically survived the horrors of the Holocaust but has lost everything that meant anything to him, including his confidence in mankind. 

If the burying of feelings has Hopkins' Stevens of The Remains of the Day drowning in sadness deep down, it leaves Steiger's Sol consumed with bitterness, which he has no qualms about spreading around to those around him, even the friendliest of faces.

Fitzgerald's Marilyn, for instance, visits the pawn shop not for business but because she recognizes Sol's sorrow. By rejecting her outreach, he is alienating himself from the few people who see in him the benevolence that once existed (and is plenty on display, all too briefly, in the picture's opening scene). Alas, Sol is an irreparably broken man, no longer capable of such human connection. Steiger is made all the more glum in appearance by Boris Kaufman's evocative black and white photography. 

Inexplicably, despite the universal acclaim for his performance, Steiger was not triumphant at the Oscars, nor was the brilliant Burton (who, for what it's worth, clocked in at #111 on my Oscar 100 shortlist). Instead victorious was Marvin, doing a goofy dual role in Cat Ballou.

No doubt, two things helped Marvin - one, he was the sole comic performance of the quintet and two, he also had a prominent role in Best Picture nominee Ship of Fools. No disrespect to Marvin, who had no shortage of memorable turns on the big screen, but there's just no comparing his buffoonish work in Cat Ballou to the genius of Steiger in The Pawnbroker.

I guess we can at least take some solace in Olivier not winning?

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

6. Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker
7. Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day
8. Shirley Booth, Come Back, Little Sheba
9. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard
10. Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
11. Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird
12. Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street
13. Mary Tyler Moore, Ordinary People
14. Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People
15. Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
16. Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
17. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker
18. Jessica Lange, Frances
19. Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors
20. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
21. Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
22. Katharine Hepburn, Summertime
23. Montgomery Clift, The Search
24. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
25. Peter Sellers, Being There
26. Richard Burton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
27. Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
28. Judy Garland, A Star Is Born
29. Edith Evans, The Whisperers
30. Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II
31. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It
32. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce
33. Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
34. Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
35. Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
36. Roy Scheider, All That Jazz
37. Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
38. Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
39. Katharine Hepburn, Long Day's Journey Into Night
40. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
41. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
42. Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
43. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
44. William Holden, Sunset Boulevard
45. Robert Duvall, The Great Santini
46. Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
47. Joan Allen, Nixon
48. Nick Nolte, Affliction
49. James Coburn, Affliction
50. Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
51. Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County
52. Patricia Neal, Hud
53. Susan Tyrrell, Fat City
54. Teri Garr, Tootsie
55. Kim Stanley, Seance on a Wet Afternoon
56. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
57. Geraldine Page, Interiors
58. Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind
59. Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
60. Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies
61. Faye Dunaway, Network
62. Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
63. Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
64. Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
65. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
66. Natalie Portman, Jackie
67. Martin Landau, Ed Wood
68. Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show
69. Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show
70. Jane Alexander, Testament
71. Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
72. Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas
73. Sissy Spacek, Carrie
74. Piper Laurie, Carrie
75. Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons
76. Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer
77. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives
78. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
79. Bette Davis, All About Eve
80. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie
81. Jason Miller, The Exorcist
82. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters
83. Judith Anderson, Rebecca
84. Michael O'Keefe, The Great Santini
85. Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter
86. William Holden, Network
87. George Sanders, All About Eve
88. Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
89. Sally Kirkland, Anna
90. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
91. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
92. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
93. John Hurt, The Elephant Man
94. James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life
95. Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story
96. Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
97. Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria
98. Rosie Perez, Fearless
99. Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
100. Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married

Next week - the Oscar 100 reaches its bittersweet end with the best of the best, the five greatest performances ever recognized by the Academy. They may be a quintet of losers but they're all clear winners in my book. I've got two pairs of Best Actor and Best Actress nominees, plus the finest turn to grace Best Supporting Actress. Who do you think will tower over the field?

The Oscar 100: #15-11

This post marks Part 18 of the 20-part series The Oscar 100. Join me as I reflect on the 100 greatest Oscar-nominated performances and what made them so richly deserving of recognition.

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15. Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator (1940)

His competition...

Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath
Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Laurence Olivier, Rebecca
James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story (WINNER)

Chaplin portrays a Jewish barber who, in the two decades following World War I, has spent his life in an army hospital, plagued by memory loss incurred from battle wounds. Long isolated from the outside world, he has been unaware of the rise of fascist dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) and the anti-Semitic policies ravaging his old neighborhood. Upon leaving the hospital, he is appalled by these developments and, alongside a neighbor (Paulette Goddard) and old friend from the first war (Reginald Gardiner), determined to rebel against the power-hungry tyrant. This performance marked Chaplin's first Oscar nomination (he was also up in Best Original Screenplay).

Two years prior to the release of Ernst Lubitsch's legendary To Be or Not To Be and nearly three decades before Mel Brooks' The Producers saw the light of the day, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced and headlined the anti-Nazi satire that would forever tower over all anti-Nazi satires (and nearly all political satires, for that matter). That Chaplin delivered The Great Dictator at a time when the United States was still on formally peaceful terms with Nazi Germany makes his effort all the more astounding. 

Chaplin's picture was nearly the first Hollywood parody of the Third Reich, beaten to theaters only by the Three Stooges' short film You Natzy Spy!, which actually went into production two months after The Great Dictator began filming. The film was a box office smash, the second-highest grossing picture of 1940 (behind Rebecca), and also resonated overseas. Besides the Lubitsch picture, however, there would hardly be an onslaught of Nazi-themed comedies over the coming years. Once the horrors of the Holocaust came to light, the industry shied away from the subject until the likes of Brooks and Stanley Kubrick (with Dr. Strangelove) had the chutzpah to bite. 

While Dr. Strangelove and The Producers are among the greatest comedies to ever grace the screen, The Great Dictator is, for my money at least, an even more awe-inspiring accomplishment, an expert, immensely influential blend of comedy and drama that finds its star at the top of his game, both in front of and behind the camera. 

For film buffs seeking slapstick at its finest, The Great Dictator, no surprise, delivers all of the goods. Chaplin is devastatingly funny as Hynkel, portraying him in a fashion that is buffoonish, yet also uneasily grounded in reality. Hynkel's ballet with the globe balloon is an unimpeachable master class in comedy.

It's with the barber, however, that Chaplin really provides himself the opportunity to display his chops as an actor. As this quiet man, who yearns for a serene existence back home after years of recovery in the hospital, Chaplin is absolutely enchanting. He's often quite funny in this role too but it's a far more restrained brand of comedy. Chaplin gets to play a romantic too and has lovely chemistry with Goddard, playing the beautiful neighbor and apple of the barber's eye. 

The real gut-punch of The Great Dictator comes in its conclusion, in which the barber, disguised as the dictator, delivers a public speech proclaiming that Hynkel has had a change of heart and urges kindness. It's an intensely affecting moment, beautifully written and performed, that ends the proceedings on a wholly satisfying note. 

Now, did Chaplin have a prayer of winning the Best Actor prize in 1940? Not really.

While Chaplin would, more than 30 years later, attend the Oscars to accept an honorary prize, he protested the entire 1940 awards season, lamenting the concept of actors competing with one another for prizes. Critics were partial to him and Fonda but it's scant surprise Stewart prevailed in the end. Not only did he have The Philadelphia Story, he also headlined three other pictures in 1940, including the beloved The Shop Around the Corner

In a dynamite year for leading men (Fonda and Olivier are so fabulous too), Chaplin would have made a richly deserving winner.

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14 and 13. Timothy Hutton and Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People (1980) (WINNER - Hutton)

Their competition...

Judd Hirsch, Ordinary People
Michael O'Keefe, The Great Santini
Joe Pesci, Raging Bull
Jason Robards, Melvin and Howard

Ellen Burstyn, Resurrection
Goldie Hawn, Private Benjamin
Gena Rowlands, Gloria
Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner's Daughter (WINNER)

Hutton and Moore portray Conrad and Beth Jarrett, a son and mother reeling from the loss of the family's eldest son Buck in a sailing accident. While Conrad remains ravaged with anguish and guilt over Buck's death, and has just returned home from the hospital following a suicide attempt, Beth is focused on maintaining perfect composure and unable to connect with her despondent son. In the middle is Calvin (Donald Sutherland), also drowning in grief and desperate to hold his strained family together. These performances marked Hutton's first and only Oscar nomination and win and Moore's first and only Oscar nomination.

Sorry, Raging Bull fans, but Ordinary People (my favorite of all Best Picture winners) wholeheartedly deserved to steamroll on Oscar night 1980 - and even more so than it ultimately did.

Terrific as Spacek is taking on Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, I don't hesitate for a second in throwing my support behind Moore (and, for what it's worth, Burstyn would be my runner-up). No doubt, under a different campaign strategy, Moore would have triumphed down in the anemic Best Supporting Actress field (crazy as it sounds, her screen time only clocks in at about half an hour) but I happen to think all three of the Jarretts, Best Supporting Actor winner Hutton included, warranted pushes up in Lead.

After all, how on earth is Hutton on the same level as Hirsch - and likewise, how could Moore compete for a Supporting nomination with the picture's Elizabeth McGovern? Of course, Paramount, Ordinary People's distributor, didn't want to see Hutton face the most uphill of battles against the juggernaut that was Raging Bull's Robert De Niro. (Not that Sutherland even mustered a nomination in Best Actor - one of the all-time most egregious Oscar snubs.)

In the end, Hutton had scant awards season trouble down in Best Supporting Actor, though critics were awfully fond of Pesci too. Moore, on the other hand, didn't muster much traction against Spacek but was surely runner-up. 

For my money, Ordinary People is among the most affecting pictures to ever grace the big screen, an masterfully acted, written and directed film that marks the finest work of its stars, screenwriter (Alvin Sargent, adapting from the Judith Guest novel) and filmmaker (Robert Redford, in a remarkable directorial debut). Stunningly grounded in reality and packed with one gut-punching moment after another, the picture continues to intensely resonate, nearly four decades since its release.

At the heart of the film is Hutton's Conrad, the fragile, grief-stricken brother who struggles to get on with business at usual, at home and at school. He is on fine terms with his kind and understanding father but can never get through to Beth, who shared with Buck a special bond she never quite had with Conrad. The entrance of Hirsch's Dr. Berger, Conrad's new psychiatrist, is welcomed by Calvin but hardly embraced by Beth, who doesn't care for her son discussing family matters with a stranger. 

The scenes opposite Hirsch provide Hutton the license to flex his acting muscles as Conrad is sent on an emotional roller coaster ride that only heightens in potency as he digs deeper into how the events of that tragic day with Buck have affected him. Hutton also has the chance to show off a lighter, sweeter side in his moments with McGovern, who portrays Jeannine, the apple of Conrad's eye. 

Hutton's most startling scenes, however, come opposite Moore, who takes emotional suppression to sky-high heights as family matriarch Beth.

By having the most frigid and uneasy of chemistry, Hutton and Moore have an absolutely pitch-perfect rapport (or lack thereof) that is unmatched. The nervousness of their early scenes together - at breakfast and dinner, out in the backyard reflecting on Buck, setting the kitchen table - eventually turns explosive when Conrad makes changes in his life, like leaving the swimming team. Where Conrad believes he's helping himself, on the advice of Dr. Berger, Beth finds his behavior inexplicable. 

Moore is at once robotic and indisputably human as Beth. While Beth goes through the motions of her life, hitting up the mall, attending swanky functions with Calvin and so on, there is scant doubt about the pain eating away at her deep down.

Beth may be cold and often exasperating, and our hearts are certainly with Conrad and Calvin from start to finish, but Moore instills her with a palpable, if masked humanity that makes it difficult to view Beth as some one-note, irredeemable ice queen. Instead, as Moore herself described the character during the production and in interviews over the years, Beth is a victim. Moore slays in one scene after another, perhaps most notably Beth's big breakdown on the golf course, where she lashes out at Calvin for merely suggesting the idea of checking in on Conrad while they're away. And that sight of Conrad's attempt at a hug with his mother late in the picture...yikes.

Redford was said to have had Moore in mind to portray Beth from the get-go - an incredible feat, given the star's reputation as America's sweetheart and a queen of comedy on the small screen. Ultimately, however, Redford was spot-on and Moore turned in the performance of her career.

It's really a shame then, looking back, that more film roles of this incredible caliber didn't follow. When her subsequent picture, the drama Six Weeks with Dudley Moore, flopped, that was pretty much it. Likewise, while the occasional sparkling script would cross his path, albeit none on the level of Ordinary People, Hutton too didn't have the most illustrious of runs on the big screen.

Perhaps Ordinary People didn't send Hutton and Moore soaring to big screen super stardom like it should have but that hardly diminishes the fact that these are two of the most devastating performances ever recognized at the Oscars, with Hutton the greatest of all Best Supporting Actor winners. I have watched this sublime film annually for so many years and undoubtedly will continue to do so 'til the end of time.

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12. Ida Kaminska in The Shop on Main Street (1965)

Her competition...

Anouk Aimee, A Man and a Woman
Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl
Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!
Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (WINNER)

Kaminska portrays Mrs. Rozalie Lautmann, the Jewish owner of a button shop in Nazi-occupied Slovakia. Old and hard of hearing, Mrs. Lautmann is disconnected from the ever-changing world outside. So, when carpenter Tono Brtko (Jozef Kroner) is recruited by authorities to be "Aryan comptroller" of her store, Mrs. Lautmann, convinced the friendly Tono is a nephew interested in helping the shop, welcomes him with open arms. Over time, Mrs. Lautmann and Tono strike up a friendly rapport, which leaves him guilt-ridden and later faced with the worst of moral dilemmas when all Jews in town are ordered to be turned in. This performance marked Kaminska's first and only Oscar nomination.

A titan of the stage in Poland - the Jewish Theatre in Warsaw is named in her honor - Kaminska found her 15 minutes of fame before American audiences with this breathtaking performance in The Shop on Main Street, which deservedly took home the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Serious kudos to the Academy for recognizing a Ukrainian-born stage actress in a Czechoslovakian picture hardly seen by a vast domestic audience. Voters easily could have gone for a safer, inferior selection, like Julie Andrews in Hawaii or Natalie Wood in This Property Is Condemned. Instead, they produced one of the all-time great nominations in Best Actress.

The Shop on Main Street is among the finest pictures about the Holocaust, refreshingly devoid of the mawkishness that plagues the likes of more contemporary fare like Life Is Beautiful and The Reader. Sensitively directed by Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos and beautifully photographed by Vladimir Novotny, it also happens to sport two magnificent performances, from Kaminska and leading man Kroner, whose distressed Tono is every bit as absorbing as her disoriented Mrs. Lautmann.

Mrs. Lautmann, gradually losing her grip on reality, lives in her own little world. She's oblivious to the revolutionary events going down around her, instead clinging to her old memories and traditions. Pitiful as Mrs. Lautmann is, Kaminska also makes her a wholly endearing and irresistible old lady - it's no wonder Tono takes such a strong liking to her and is so consumed with grief when the inevitable rears its tragic head. She makes Mrs. Lautmann a sweet, grandmotherly figure but also a painfully honest one - she hardly hesitates to bring Tono down a few notches when he deserves it. Also, for a picture that ends on such a heart-wrenching note, Kaminska has moments where she is outrageously funny.

At age 65 during production, and still full of the energy necessary to do eight one-woman stage shows a week, Kaminska is completely convincing as the frail, 78-year-old Mrs. Lautmann. She portrays senility more vividly than any other performance I can think of and, though she in actuality only graces the screen for about a fifth of the proceedings, is never not on your mind once Mrs. Lautmann makes her entrance (which isn't until about half an hour in).

Sublime as Kaminska's performance is, she really didn't have a prayer against Taylor, the overwhelming favorite in Best Actress. Kaminska and Kroner shared honors at the Cannes Film Festival for their turns but otherwise, Kaminska failed to earn a single mention from the critics' awards, which would've been essential to her having a prayer on Oscar night.

Ultimately, she may have come up short but the raves for her performance propelled her all the way to Broadway for the first time, where she headlined and directed a well-received revival of Mother Courage and Her Children. Kaminska remained in New York for the remainder of her life and got under her belt one American film, The Angel Levine, opposite Zero Mostel and Harry Belafonte. Such would prove her final motion picture.

Kaminska in The Shop on Main Street is a jaw-dropping performance sorely in need of rediscovery.

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11. Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) (WINNER)

His competition...

Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz
Jack Lemmon, Days of Wine and Roses
Marcello Mastroianni, Divorce Italian Style
Peter O'Toole, Lawrence of Arabia

Peck portrays Atticus Finch, a revered attorney in small town Alabama, circa 1932. A widower, Atticus is raising two young children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Phillip Alford), who spend their days playing games and spying on their mysterious neighbor Arthur "Boo" Radley (Robert Duvall). When Atticus is appointed to defend an African-American man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), against fabricated rape charges, Scout and Jem are exposed to the vile racism plaguing their beloved Maycomb. This performance marked Peck's fifth and final Oscar nomination and first and only win.

When Peck earned his Best Actor nomination in 1962, despite formidable competition, he was a sure bet for victory. Not only was To Kill a Mockingbird a commercial and critical smash, Peck was at this point on his fifth appearance in the category and, unlike O'Toole (whose Lawrence of Arabia won Best Picture and was the highest-grossing film of the year), viewed as overwhelmingly due for victory. Having another terrific performance under his belt this year (Cape Fear) certainly didn't hurt.

Despite his storied career, packed with one fantastic turn after another, Peck will rightfully, always be most associated with this picture. Not that the actor ever tired of this recognition - he wanted the role the moment Alan J. Pakula (the film's producer) approached him about it and, over the years to follow, would reflect on the picture with the utmost positivity. Critically offering her ringing endorsement was author Harper Lee, who viewed Peck as the pitch-perfect choice for her Atticus Finch.

Peck is Atticus, through and through, exuding immense warmth and kindness while also towering as an imposing figure in the eyes of his children. When, in the courtroom, the Reverend Sykes (William Walker) says to Scout, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up, your father's passing," we're liable to join her on our feet. Peck's presence is so powerful and strapping, it demands respect, and every moment he graces the screen, we feel as though we are beholding a genuine superhero. He avoids the mawkishness that could have easily ravaged an adaptation done in the wrong hands, yet delivers a performance so packed with heart and tenderness. Peck also instills in Atticus a palpable sense of vulnerability, both professionally and personally. Though we as an audience may feel to the contrary, this Atticus hardly views himself as a hero or a perfect father.

The trial of Tom Robinson of course provides Peck with the grandest opportunity to have a field day in the role and feast on Horton Foote's dialogue. And indeed, in his final summation to members of the jury near the conclusion of the trial, Peck is downright spellbinding. Yet, I'm even fonder of Peck's quieter scenes opposite Badham, who's a natural pro on the screen. They have a warm, lived-in chemistry that is essential to the picture's success.

Is it possible to be quietly larger than life? Well, if so, Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird is the definition of this.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

11. Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird
12. Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street
13. Mary Tyler Moore, Ordinary People
14. Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People
15. Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
16. Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
17. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker
18. Jessica Lange, Frances
19. Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors
20. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
21. Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
22. Katharine Hepburn, Summertime
23. Montgomery Clift, The Search
24. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
25. Peter Sellers, Being There
26. Richard Burton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
27. Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
28. Judy Garland, A Star Is Born
29. Edith Evans, The Whisperers
30. Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II
31. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It
32. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce
33. Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
34. Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
35. Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
36. Roy Scheider, All That Jazz
37. Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
38. Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
39. Katharine Hepburn, Long Day's Journey Into Night
40. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
41. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
42. Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
43. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
44. William Holden, Sunset Boulevard
45. Robert Duvall, The Great Santini
46. Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
47. Joan Allen, Nixon
48. Nick Nolte, Affliction
49. James Coburn, Affliction
50. Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
51. Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County
52. Patricia Neal, Hud
53. Susan Tyrrell, Fat City
54. Teri Garr, Tootsie
55. Kim Stanley, Seance on a Wet Afternoon
56. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
57. Geraldine Page, Interiors
58. Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind
59. Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
60. Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies
61. Faye Dunaway, Network
62. Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
63. Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
64. Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
65. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
66. Natalie Portman, Jackie
67. Martin Landau, Ed Wood
68. Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show
69. Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show
70. Jane Alexander, Testament
71. Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
72. Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas
73. Sissy Spacek, Carrie
74. Piper Laurie, Carrie
75. Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons
76. Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer
77. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives
78. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
79. Bette Davis, All About Eve
80. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie
81. Jason Miller, The Exorcist
82. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters
83. Judith Anderson, Rebecca
84. Michael O'Keefe, The Great Santini
85. Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter
86. William Holden, Network
87. George Sanders, All About Eve
88. Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
89. Sally Kirkland, Anna
90. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
91. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
92. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
93. John Hurt, The Elephant Man
94. James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life
95. Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story
96. Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
97. Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria
98. Rosie Perez, Fearless
99. Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
100. Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married

Next week - top 10 time! With the best of the best lurking around the corner in just two weeks, we'll first take a look at the highest-ranking winners in Best Actor and Best Actress; two quietly devastating turns from actors perhaps better known for more animated work; and at last, "the greatest star of them all."

The Oscar 100: #20-16

This post marks Part 17 of the 20-part series The Oscar 100. Join me as I reflect on the 100 greatest Oscar-nominated performances and what made them so richly deserving of recognition.

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20. Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise
Laura Dern, Rambling Rose
Bette Midler, For the Boys
Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise

Foster portrays Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI's training academy. She is recruited by Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) of the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit to interview the notorious psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), who Crawford suspects may have insights into Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), another serial killer pursued by the Bureau. As Clarice strives to gain Lecter's confidence, she finds herself increasingly manipulated by the imposing inmate, who demands a quid pro quo - he'll only provide information on Buffalo Bill in exchange for details from Clarice's personal life. This performance marked Foster's third Oscar nomination and second win.

The tale of the pre-production on The Silence of the Lambs is nearly as compelling and dizzying as the masterpiece that ultimately emerged after years of negotiations and financing issues. This post isn't about that, of course, but let's just say the film was initially slated to feature Gene Hackman...as its director (and possibly in the role of Crawford to boot).

By the time Hackman was out (he reportedly wasn't enamored with Ted Tally's brutal screenplay) and Jonathan Demme in, it was Michelle Pfeiffer out in front for the role of Clarice Starling. Demme had just directed her in Married to the Mob and, no doubt, Pfeiffer would've been aces in such a reunion. Alas, like Hackman, Pfeiffer had reservations about the gruesome nature of the picture and ultimately passed.

Demme's subsequent preferences either rejected the offer (Meg Ryan) or were turned down by Orion Pictures (Laura Dern). To the great hesitation of Demme, who wasn't thrilled with her Oscar winning turn in The Accused, Orion wanted Foster all along and, unlike Pfeiffer and Ryan, she loved the part. In the end, with his top three out of contention, Demme caved, Foster was in and the rest is movie history. 

Fabulous as Hopkins is, sinking his teeth into his delicious role with giddy vigor (Levine is incredible too), Foster is absolutely the heart and soul of this picture. She has us under her spell from the moment she graces the screen, starting with that brilliant shot of Clarice hopping aboard the elevator with her male colleagues, and is an absorbing, enchanting and exciting sight throughout her blood-curdling journey. 

Once a poor orphan from the backwoods of West Virginia, Clarice has worked so valiantly to reach this fulfilling point in her life, both personally and professionally. Only Lecter seems to recognize the vulnerability and trembling self-confidence that in fact lies deep beneath the surface. As Lecter chips away at Clarice's armor, forcing her to recall one tragedy after another, Foster is a heartbreaking sight, yet never loses that sense of determination that is necessary to survive and win at Lecter's mind games. The actors' stirring rapport generates goosebumps in practically all of their scenes, even when it's a mere phone conversation. Foster thrives in their scenes apart too, including in the picture's petrifying cat-and-mouse conclusion. 

On Oscar night, The Silence of the Lambs was well-positioned for an impressive showing, yet not quite a shoo-in in Best Picture or Best Director, where the likes of Bugsy and JFK were ready to put up a fight. Such wasn't the case down in Best Actress, where Foster, despite having just triumphed three years earlier, was the shoo-in of shoo-ins. Voters were never going to decide between Davis and Sarandon and for Dern and Midler, the nominations themselves were the prizes. 

Every year, I revisit The Silence of the Lambs around Halloween time. As time passes, Foster's fabulous performance just seems to get better and better.

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19. Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) 

His competition...

Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing
Dan Aykroyd, Driving Miss Daisy
Marlon Brando, A Dry White Season
Denzel Washington, Glory (WINNER)

Landau portrays Judah Rosenthal, a man with a seemingly perfect life. One of the top ophthalmologists in New York, he is a preeminent member of the community and adored by his family. Only one problem - he's been having an affair with flight attendant Dolores (Anjelica Huston) and, convinced Judah will never leave wife Miriam (Claire Bloom), she is determined to reveal their liaison to his family. Desperate to prevent this, Judah turns to his gangster brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) to hire a hitman to take out Dolores. When the deed is done, Judah finds himself consumed with grief and becomes convinced God is watching him. This performance marked Landau's second Oscar nomination.

In 1988, director Francis Ford Coppola rescued Landau out of direct-to-video hell for an Oscar-nominated supporting turn in Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Landau's performance was a lovely one, albeit somewhat lost in the otherwise bloated picture, one of Coppola's many productions that floundered at the box office. 

The following year found Landau in even better form, in a decidedly superior film. Not only does Crimes and Misdemeanors mark the finest work of the actor's career, it is also one of the very best Woody Allen films, an exquisitely crafted blend of drama and comedy that especially comes to life in the Landau half of the proceedings. (The Allen half, opposite Mia Farrow and Alan Alda, is more familiar, amiable territory for the filmmaker, albeit still plenty enjoyable.)

Judah is a contemptible figure, no doubt, concerned exclusively with himself and his standing with his family and colleagues, but Landau manages to elicit surprising empathy for the man as he suffocates under his sorrow, anguished with the decision he's made to knock off the woman he fell in love with. There are little glimpses of flashbacks to the Judah-Dolores romance that are sweet and all too convincing and ultimately make her demise all the more heartbreaking.

Landau and Huston have a remarkable chemistry as they make Judah and Dolores a wholly winning pair during earlier times and then bitterly at odds in the present as she makes her tell-all plans clear. Dolores of course wins all of our sympathy in the scenes leading to her death but it's tough to not get emotionally caught up in Judah's tribulation too, as he faces his moral dilemma and is drawn back into the religious teachings he rejected into adulthood.

There are moments in Crimes and Misdemeanors in which Landau graces the screen in silence and yet says so much through his eyes and face, his Judah vividly consumed with torment over the tragic events he has set in motion - just look at him, dazed and distressed, as Judah returns to Dolores' apartment after learning she has been killed. Landau also works wonders with Allen's sublime dialogue, like in the haunting scene in with Judah has a trembling conversation with an imaginary rabbi and of course in the final scene opposite Allen, whose Clifford Stern has also been having a tough go at life, albeit at a far less grueling level.

With another, lesser actor, Judah could have emerged a one-note embodiment of evil. Instead, Landau, the most gifted of character actors, adds layer upon layer to this complicated man, at once reprehensible and altogether human.

Despite the brilliance of his performance, Landau was never considered a threat for the Best Supporting Actor win, nor even a clear contender for a nomination, as critics proved partial to Alda, who portrays the pompous playboy in the Allen half of the picture. Landau, Brando and Aykroyd had to sit on the sidelines as Washington towered over the field as front-runner, with Aiello seen as the greatest threat.

Landau, of course, would at last emerge victorious just a few years down the road, back in Best Supporting Actor as he steamrolled the awards season with Ed Wood - a fabulous turn, albeit a slightly inferior one to his career-topper in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

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18. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)

Her competition...

Julie Andrews, Victor/Victoria
Sissy Spacek, Missing
Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice (WINNER)
Debra Winger, An Officer and a Gentleman

Lange portrays Frances Farmer, the brilliant, beautiful and famously rebellious actress whose modest stardom on the stage and screen in the 1930s was gradually derailed by substance abuse, a reputation as impossible to work with and the quintessential Mother from Hell (Kim Stanley), who cruelly institutionalized her daughter following a nervous breakdown. This performance, alongside Tootsie (in Best Supporting Actress), marked Lange's first Oscar appearance. 

Talk about terrible timing.

Had Universal Pictures released Frances in nearly any other year, Lange surely would have triumphed for her tour de force as the tragic star of the silver screen. Alas, in 1982, she was forced to face the most undeniable of Oscar contenders, the legendary Streep, tearing it up in Sophie's Choice, a film that proved a far greater commercial success than Frances. Hardly helping Lange's cause was Universal being the distributor for Sophie as well (ditto Missing), so, when Streep started to steamroll with awards and Frances faded at the box office while Sophie soared, Universal was understandably more focused on getting Streep across the finish line.

The compromise was predictable and not entirely satisfying - voters would throw Lange a bone down in Best Supporting Actress, a consolation prize not only for the loss up in Best Actress but for Tootsie itself, which would fall short in every other category.

Beyond the powerhouse that is Lange, Frances is a rather sloppy, haphazard picture, all but devoid of subtlety and riddled with inaccuracies. Yet, as a showcase for two dynamite actresses, Lange and the horrifying Stanley, it emerges an absolute must-see.

When these two titans of the screen go at it, it's about as riveting as cinema can get. Moreover, Sam Shepard, as Frances' on-and-off lover Harry, may be portraying more of an enigma than an actual character, but his chemistry with Lange is smoldering and the final scene of the picture, in which Harry crosses paths with Frances for the first time since an involuntary lobotomy turned her into something out of The Stepford Wives, is positively devastating.

Lange remarkably portrays Frances over a nearly 30-year span as the up-and-comer evolves from an apprehensive, unworldly girl from Seattle, to a larger than life, drop dead gorgeous starlet of the stage and screen and ultimately to an disorderly, disillusioned woman whose declining mental health is only exasperated by an industry and a mother who have scant compassion for her. When Frances is sent to the asylum, Lange descends into deranged madness that rings of Liz Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer and, like Taylor, expertly walks that fine line between bombast and all too convincing tragedy.

Among the stormiest, most startling performances to ever grace the screen, Lange in Frances continues to mesmerize, even if the film around her is vastly inferior to its headliner. It's the turn that forever put her on the map as one of the great American actresses, washing away all animosity critics back in the day may have felt toward Lange for the clunky King Kong remake that first sent her soaring into super stardom.

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17 and 16. Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (1962) (WINNERS)

Their competition...

Mary Badham, To Kill a Mockingbird
Shirley Knight, Sweet Bird of Youth
Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
Thelma Ritter, Birdman of Alcatraz

Bette Davis, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Katharine Hepburn, Long Day's Journey Into Night
Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth
Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses

Duke and Bancroft portray Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, a blind, deaf and mute girl and the half-blind tutor hired, in a last ditch effort before Helen's parents institutionalize her, to help the child. Helen, exasperated by her inability to communicate and prone to violent outbursts, is initially resistant to Annie's efforts but, through determination and tough love, the tutor is gradually able to connect with her and show Helen ways of reaching others. These performances marked both Duke's and Bancroft's first Oscar nominations and wins.

Good heavens, imaging being an awards season prognosticator in these races!

There was no clear front-runner in either of these categories, nor Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor for that matter. The case was the same up in Best Picture and Best Director, with Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird battling it out in dead heats. 

If there was a favorite in Best Supporting Actress, albeit a soft favorite at that, it was Lansbury, who earned raves for her chilling turn in The Manchurian Candidate. No doubt, however, the star, now on her third Oscar nomination in the category, wasn't helped by the otherwise lackluster reception from voters for her picture. The Miracle Worker, while absent in Best Picture, was up in both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and certainly a less anxiety-inducing endeavor than the Lansbury film. 

Events were more intriguing up in Best Actress.

Bancroft had won a Tony for the original Broadway production of The Miracle Worker, so she was of course in serious contention from the get-go - well, that is, after director Arthur Penn shot down United Artists' proposal to cast Liz Taylor of all people as Annie Sullivan.

Among Bancroft's opponents in Best Actress in a Play at the 1960 Tonys was none other than Page for Sweet Bird of Youth - despite her loss, however, Page was also seen as a viable winner. She won the Golden Globe and, now on her third Oscar nomination, was perhaps the most "due" of the contenders. Hepburn triumphed at Cannes for her turn but wasn't seen as a real threat, nor was newcomer Remick.

The heavy sentimental favorite was Davis, who hadn't won an Oscar since Jezebel in 1938 and whose comeback with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was a sizable commercial success. Fellow leading lady Joan Crawford, who had a frigid production experience with her Baby Jane co-star, took it upon herself to wage a behind-the-scenes whisper campaign to damage Davis' Oscar bid.

Part of this strategy was calling up Davis' opponents to offer herself up to anyone who couldn't make the ceremony and needed someone to accept the prize on her behalf. Both Bancroft and Page were no-shows, so, when the former ultimately won, Crawford gleefully waltzed upon the Oscar stage, taking grand delight in both being front and center at the ceremony (which wasn't the case the night she won for Mildred Pierce) and rubbing salt in Davis' wound. 

Now! Onto the performances themselves...

Both Duke and Bancroft are absolutely pitch-perfect in two exceedingly difficult roles. Helen Keller, the infuriated girl suffocating in a world of silence, is a rather one-note role, providing its actress scant opportunity to convey any sort of evolution. Yet, Duke completely, flawlessly disappears into this role - it's the definitive portrayal, conveying the child's ferocious temper and untamed voice and facial expressions, while also making Helen a wholly sympathetic figure. 

That Duke makes Helen both so disorderly and also so full of heart makes Annie's own exasperation and desperation to reach the girl all the more convincing. Duke and Bancroft have an intense rapport during their quarrels but there's also a deeply affecting sensitivity to other moments, like the legendary water pump scene.

Both actresses expertly reign in their portrayals from the stage to screen - Bancroft especially is impressive, given the histrionics that would so often emerge in later performances. She instills precisely the right amounts of toughness, compassion and vulnerability into Annie, a headstrong figure on the outside who in reality has no shortage of doubts. 

In different hands, The Miracle Worker could have been a mawkish TV Movie of the Week. Instead, under Penn's expert direction and headlined by these two performance, it's a fiery, wholly absorbing endeavor, full of moments both heartwarming and frightening. 

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

16. Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker
17. Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker
18. Jessica Lange, Frances
19. Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors
20. Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs
21. Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
22. Katharine Hepburn, Summertime
23. Montgomery Clift, The Search
24. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
25. Peter Sellers, Being There
26. Richard Burton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
27. Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
28. Judy Garland, A Star Is Born
29. Edith Evans, The Whisperers
30. Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II
31. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It
32. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce
33. Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
34. Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
35. Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
36. Roy Scheider, All That Jazz
37. Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
38. Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
39. Katharine Hepburn, Long Day's Journey Into Night
40. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
41. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
42. Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
43. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
44. William Holden, Sunset Boulevard
45. Robert Duvall, The Great Santini
46. Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
47. Joan Allen, Nixon
48. Nick Nolte, Affliction
49. James Coburn, Affliction
50. Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
51. Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County
52. Patricia Neal, Hud
53. Susan Tyrrell, Fat City
54. Teri Garr, Tootsie
55. Kim Stanley, Seance on a Wet Afternoon
56. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
57. Geraldine Page, Interiors
58. Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind
59. Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
60. Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies
61. Faye Dunaway, Network
62. Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
63. Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
64. Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
65. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
66. Natalie Portman, Jackie
67. Martin Landau, Ed Wood
68. Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show
69. Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show
70. Jane Alexander, Testament
71. Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
72. Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas
73. Sissy Spacek, Carrie
74. Piper Laurie, Carrie
75. Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons
76. Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer
77. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives
78. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
79. Bette Davis, All About Eve
80. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie
81. Jason Miller, The Exorcist
82. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters
83. Judith Anderson, Rebecca
84. Michael O'Keefe, The Great Santini
85. Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter
86. William Holden, Network
87. George Sanders, All About Eve
88. Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
89. Sally Kirkland, Anna
90. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
91. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
92. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
93. John Hurt, The Elephant Man
94. James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life
95. Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story
96. Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
97. Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria
98. Rosie Perez, Fearless
99. Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
100. Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married

Next week - as the top 10 lurks around the corner, I've got two Oscar winners, one in Best Actor and the other Best Supporting Actor; the all-time greatest nominee from a foreign language film; a funny lady slaying in a rare dramatic screen turn; and perhaps the funniest actor to ever grace the silver screen.

The Oscar 100: #25-21

This post marks Part 16 of the 20-part series The Oscar 100. Join me as I reflect on the 100 greatest Oscar-nominated performances and what made them so richly deserving of recognition.

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25. Peter Sellers in Being There (1979)

His competition...

Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer (WINNER)
Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome
Al Pacino, ...And Justice for All
Roy Scheider, All That Jazz

Sellers portrays Chance, a simple-minded gardener who for his entire life has resided in the Washington, D.C. home of his employer. He has never left the property, instead spending his days tending to the garden and watching heaps of television. When his benefactor dies, Chance is ordered to move out and, while aimlessly wandering the streets, is struck by the car of elderly business mogul Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). The Rands, who mistakenly believe his name is Chauncey Gardner, take Chance in and are won over by his refined demeanor and appearance. Ben, an adviser to the President of the United States (Jack Warden), introduces Chance to D.C. society, where he quickly becomes the talk of the town. This performance marked Sellers' second and final Oscar nomination.

The release of Hal Ashby's Being There over Christmas 1979, and the across-the-board raves it earned for its leading man, marked something of a comeback for Sellers, who'd spent much of the decade more or less on autopilot. Sure, the Pink Panther sequels made money but the non-Clouseau vehicles more missed than hit. His earlier 1979 release, The Prisoner of Zelda, was an embarrassing failure that in fact earned Sellers some of the worst reviews of his career. 

Thankfully for Sellers, Burt Lancaster, who Ashby first eyed for the role of Chance, was not interested, nor was Sir Laurence Olivier, who passed on the project to instead take supporting turns in A Little Romance and Dracula. It's hard to fathom either of these gentleman, superb actors as they were, being as pitch-perfect a fit for this charmingly oddball role as Sellers proved.

Under the magnificent direction of Ashby, then on the hottest of hot streaks after The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory and Coming Home (all Oscar-nominated pictures), Sellers has never been in better form. To the surprise of no one, he, the ultimate method actor, disappeared into the role of Chance the moment he stepped foot on set, both in front of and behind the camera. There isn't a single moment in which Sellers doesn't wholeheartedly convince in this most peculiar of roles.

If Sellers is perhaps a tad off-putting as Being There first opens, it isn't long before he makes Chance an entirely fascinating and endearing character. He doesn't have much in the way of dialogue - few of his lines run longer than a sentence - yet more than holds his own as Douglas and MacLaine, who do lots of talking and are absolutely fabulous, also triumph in their respective roles. Sellers puts meticulous effort into Chance's every manner and movement. It's a strange and offbeat performance and yet also a gentle and enchanting one.

While his life dramatically changes, Chance himself doesn't much evolve throughout Being There, nor does he show a great deal of emotion (sans in his final, devastating scene opposite the dying Ben). Yet, there's undeniable heart and sensitivity in Sellers' portrayal. His scenes opposite MacLaine are often uproariously funny ("I like to watch"), while there's a subtle poignancy to his moments with Douglas (who deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor prize). 

Despite the film's critical and commercial success and Sellers' more than three decades in show business, he was an underdog on Oscar night, albeit almost surely the runner-up. Hoffman, as expected, triumphed for the Best Picture-winning Kramer vs. Kramer. Sellers didn't even bother to attend the ceremony, nor did Pacino or Scheider.

Sellers would make one final, decidedly inferior film, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, before his death at age 54 in the summer of 1980. No one may remember that last picture but we'll surely never forget his sublime penultimate performance in Being There.

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24. Orson Welles in Citizen Kane (1941)

His competition...

Gary Cooper, Sergeant York (WINNER)
Cary Grant, Penny Serenade
Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster
Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Welles portrays Charles Foster Kane, the legendary, elusive newspaper tycoon who on his deathbed utters one final word - "Rosebud." Reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) is tasked with discovering the meaning behind the mysterious term and, through interviews with Kane's friends and associates, uncovers the man's awe-inspiring rise from obscurity to sky-high fame and subsequent decline into isolated oblivion. This performance marked one of three 1941 Oscar nominations for Welles, who also earned a Best Director nomination and the win in Best Original Screenplay.

Citizen Kane is hardly a film starved of acclaim. It is, after all, perhaps more than any other motion picture in the history of cinema, the film most most consistently found atop lists of the all-time greatest movies, among them the American Film Institute's ranking in 1998 and subsequent update in 2007.

With that said, if anything is perhaps underrated about Citizen Kane, it is Welles' performance in the titular role. In reading essays on and reviews of his picture, you're liable to find heaps more focus on his direction and screenwriting than Welles' acting, which I would argue is a tad unfair. Yes, Welles' contributions on the page and behind the camera are undeniable but his is also is a complex, convincing, all-around magnificent performance that is tough to imagine another actor pulling off. 

Perplexing as it is to fathom today, Citizen Kane, while an instant smash among critics, was not a commercial success upon its theatrical release in 1941. Many theatres feared being the victims of a libel lawsuit by William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for the picture who was hellbent on suppressing its release, and thus refused to show the film. The film earned modest receipts in major cities but was a complete non-starter in more rural areas and ended up losing money overall.

This underwhelming reception extended to the Oscars, where Welles' film was nominated for nine prizes, including Best Picture. Critics, head over heels for the picture, forecasted a grand evening for Citizen Kane and expected the film to prevail in most categories, including Picture and Best Director. Instead, the film found itself mostly steamrolled by John Ford's fine, if inferior How Green Was My Valley. Ultimately, Citizen Kane would land only one prize on the big night, for the Welles-Herman J. Mankiewicz screenplay, which did not face How Green Was My Valley in its category. In Best Actor, Welles lost, as expected, to Sergeant York's Cooper.

What's particularly remarkable about Welles' performance is the stunning transportation of Kane through the decades. He instills effervescent vitality into Kane as a twentysomething, at last securing control over his trust fund and determined to leave a mark on yellow journalism. As Kane rises to power by hiring only the best journalists and manipulating public opinion, Welles is the most euphoric of sights - which only makes Kane's downfall to come all the more affecting. 

As the film proceeds through the years, Kane looks and sounds more worn down and exasperated. His first marriage disintegrates as he becomes romantically involved with wannabe-songstress Susan - an affair which ultimately ends his political career ambitions. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of Citizen Kane is his yearning to be closer to young son Charles Foster Kane, III, which becomes exceedingly difficult as the world around him disintegrates. His son, no doubt, recalls to Kane a simpler, more fulfilling time, which remains on Kane's mind all the way through to his death. 

In the picture's final chapter, Welles is stunningly convincing portraying Kane in his old age. Disillusioned by the world outside his imposing, isolated estate, Kane is at this point an unhappy and unpleasant old man, driven to a violent breakdown following the desertion of his second wife. While Welles is a desolate and even frightening sight in these scenes, the final shot of "Rosebud" brings the proceedings full circle and delivers the ultimate gut punch - while it may not grace the screen, don't be surprised if Kane's extraordinary life suddenly flashes before your eyes.

Citizen Kane is a miracle of a motion picture, somehow Welles' directorial debut, and essential to its success is the towering performance of its leading man.

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23. Montgomery Clift in The Search (1948)

His competition...

Lew Ayres, Johnny Belinda
Dan Dailey, When My Baby Smiles At Me
Laurence Olivier, Hamlet (WINNER)
Clifton Webb, Sitting Pretty

Clift portrays Ralph 'Steve' Stevenson, a World War II-era American soldier who befriends Karel (Ivan Jandl), a young Czech boy and concentration camp survivor. Steve takes Karel in, teaches him English and even considers bringing him back to the United States but the boy is determined to find his mother Hannah (Jarmila Novotná), who became separated from him at Auschwitz. All the while, Hannah has been looking for Karel, a search made exceedingly difficult by the boundless number of refugee children in the region. This performance marked Clift's first Oscar nomination.

By age 25, Clift had appeared in a dozen Broadway productions and worked alongside the legendary likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Fredric March and Dame May Whitty. While established on the New York stage, he was a nobody when he made the move to Hollywood...not that this lack of name recognition would last terribly long. His first film role was a significant one, opposite John Wayne in Red River, but that picture wouldn't hit theatres until late summer of 1948. Instead, moviegoers would first be introduced to this stunning young actor that spring, in Fred Zinnemann's The Search

The Search, one of the first motion pictures to address the Holocaust, made Clift an overnight sensation, the great new male star of the silver screen. Not until Marlon Brando in The Men and especially A Streetcar Named Desire a few years later would the industry behold such an awe-inspiring (and strikingly naturalistic) introduction. 

As Steve, the compassionate American G.I., the unknown Clift was so seamlessly convincing, Zinnemann found himself approached by critics and audiences alike, impressed the director would hire a real soldier without acting experience for the role. Of course, in reality, moviegoers were not only unfamiliar with this dashing leading man but also relatively unacquainted with such an unaffected, lived-in style of performing. Many future actors, among them Clint Eastwood, would later cite Clift in The Search as a performance that left a significant influence on them. 

Never has Clift been as irresistibly affable as he is in The Search, devoid of the character flaws so many of his later roles would be consumed with - not that Clift has ever proven truly unlikable in anything either, given his intense charisma comes through in even the shadiest of characters. His rapport with Jandl (who is terrific and would win a specific juvenile Oscar for his turn) is affecting in a very subdued way, never succumbing to mawkishness or ringing the least bit false. 

Clift's best and most heartbreaking scene in the picture comes when Steve, having searched for Karel all night and with reason to believe Hannah was executed, tells the boy his mother has died. The actor, having quarreled with screenwriters Richard Schweizer and David Wechsler throughout the production, convinced Zinnemann to eliminate their ham-handed dialogue and keep this conversation at a sensitive and genuine level. The way Steve gently replies, "no, dear," when Karel asks if his mom will ever come back, is absolutely gut-wrenching.

Despite the actor's reservations with the film's screenplay, Clift would rightfully go on to label The Search as one of his finest's screen turns. The picture itself may not be the masterpiece that say, A Place in the Sun or Judgement at Nuremberg are in their respective filmmakers' libraries, but it's nonetheless a must-see, both for Jandl and to behold the breathtaking wonder that is Clift. 

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, Olivier was the shoo-in of shoo-ins.)

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22. Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (1955)

Her competition...

Susan Hayward, I'll Cry Tomorrow
Jennifer Jones, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo (WINNER)
Eleanor Parker, Interrupted Melody

Hepburn portrays Jane Hudson, a lonesome Ohio secretary who has all but resigned herself to spending the rest of her life in solitude. She has saved enough money for her dream vacation - a picturesque summer trip to Venice. There, she at last meets the man of her dreams, the dashing and refined antique store owner Renato de Rossi (Rossano Brazzi). Jane falls head over heels but is soon tested by the revelation that her new beau is leading a double life. This performance marked Hepburn's sixth Oscar nomination.

Before David Lean's sublime Summertime, there was its inspiration, The Time of the Cuckoo, a play written by the great Arthur Laurents for the inimitable Shirley Booth. Booth would win the Tony Award for her performance but, despite scoring the Best Actress Oscar in 1952 for Come Back, Little Sheba, was not viewed by Hollywood as the ideal leading lady to bring the piece to the big screen. After an arduous pre-production in which the likes of directors Daniel Mann and Roberto Rossellini and stars Olivia de Havilland and Ingrid Bergman were loosely attached at various points, it would ultimately be Lean and Hepburn headlining the picture.

And thank heavens for that as, for my money at least, neither Lean nor Hepburn ever before or after shined as luminously as they did on this slice of cinematic heaven. Summertime is a legit miracle of movie magic, the finest actress to ever grace the screen and one of the all-time great filmmakers working in pitch-perfect harmony. This may not be the most extravagant of Hepburn performances and no, it didn't win her the Oscar (Magnani was way out front, though Hayward had a passionate base of support too and was starting to look overdue), but that doesn't mean it's not her best.

The great Kate can be deliciously daunting when she pleases but she's really at her most enchanting when exuding a palpable sense of vulnerability, which is most certainly the case in Summertime. Hepburn would portray the occasional spinster but never a figure as timorous as Jane Hudson. To the public, Jane seeks to establish herself a proudly independent woman, perfectly content with wandering the world alone. There is scant doubt to us, however, of the loneliness consuming Jane inside. We feel her sadness and we also feel just as swept off our feet when she draws the attention of the handsome Renato.

Not to knock Brazzi, who certainly has an appealing screen presence, but what's particularly special about Summertime and so unlike most other Hepburn pictures is the proceedings completely belong to her, front and center. If there was ever something of a one-woman Hepburn show, this is it, and she's absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish. Also, somehow, she's never upstaged by the sumptuous beauty of Venice around her.

Refreshingly, Summertime avoids a saccharine ending and instead ends on a note that more recalls the bittersweet conclusion of Lean's other masterpiece, Brief Encounter. When Jane arrived in Venice, desperate for emotional fulfillment, she presumed such heartache could be washed away by a male companion. Ultimately, she Jane discovers she isn't an insufficient woman without a man by her side - she has proven herself more than capable of charming and pleasing a man but hardly needs one guy for the long term. She is perfectly, genuinely content with leaving Venice alone.

Toward the end of his life, Lean repeatedly cited Summertime as the picture he was most proud of. Hepburn seemed less inclined, instead always reflecting on how she performed her own stunt in the scene in which Jane falls into a canal - and how that day of filming, jumping into water full of disinfectant, resulted in her having eye issues that beset Hepburn for the rest of her life.

I'd like to think, however, Hepburn revisited the picture at some point. I hope she saw what I see - the most splendid actress in all of film history, shimmering in the finest and certainly most underrated role of her career.

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21. Robert Forster in Jackie Brown (1997)

His competition...

Anthony Hopkins, Amistad
Greg Kinnear, As Good As It Gets
Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights
Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting (WINNER)

Forster portrays Max Cherry, a forlorn bail bondsman, all but sleepwalking through life until the entrance of the beguiling flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier). Jackie, caught smuggling money from Mexico into Los Angeles for the hotheaded arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), is picked up from jail by Max, who instantly falls in love with her. Max isn't the least bit hesitant to get caught up in Jackie's games, as she plots to double-cross both Ordell and the law enforcement agents (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen) who want to use Jackie to bring Ordell down. This performance marked Forster's first (and to date, only) Oscar nomination.

By the mid-1990s, Forster's career was all but on life support. All too briefly on the A-list in the late 1960s with acclaimed turns in the likes of Reflections in a Golden Eye and Medium Cool, Forster struggled in the coming years to land projects worthy of his talents, instead slumming in B-movie fare like The Black Hole, Alligator and The Delta Force and eventually relegated to nothing but direct-to-video offerings, which generally found the actor in a mere cameo role.

Enter Quentin Tarantino, suddenly the hottest of filmmakers after the smashing success of Pulp Fiction, and Forster's career woes were about to change. The two had actually crossed paths earlier, with Forster auditioning for the part of Joe Cabot in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. The director ultimately cast silver screen legend Lawrence Tierney but Tarantino, who worshiped Forster's turn in Medium Cool, was not about to forever forget the floundering actor.  

Tarantino, after Pulp Fiction working on a film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch, bumped into Forster at a Los Angeles coffee shop. At this point, the actor was without an agent and taking any role he could possibly get, the latest being a small part in the direct-to-video slasher flick Uncle Sam. So, when Tarantino floated to Forster the key role of Max Cherry in the adaptation, it was like a gift sent down from the heavens. 

Not only did Forster get his comeback and Oscar nomination, he also managed to turn in the greatest performance to grace a Tarantino picture (well, tied with co-star Grier, who inexplicably found herself snubbed in Best Actress after a healthy precursors run) and also one of the finest turns ever up in Best Supporting Actor. 

Forster's turns in Reflections in a Golden Eye and Medium Cool are fantastic but not quite indicative of his sky-high strengths as an actor displayed in Jackie Brown. His portrayal of Max Cherry might just be the least showy performance to grace the Oscar 100, so, no doubt, some will greet his inclusion with a scratch of the head. With that said, I happen to see Forster in Jackie Brown as one of the most quietly soulful and beautiful performances of the past half-century of cinema. 

When Max first enters Jackie Brown, approached by the overbearing, fast-talking Ordell, he may be the consummate professional but there's scant doubt about his loneliness and the restlessness he feels toward the job he's spent decades doing. The moment he encounters Jackie, however, as she exits jail and Bloodstone's heavenly "Natural High" fills the air, Max looks not only immediately, head over heels in love with her but suddenly instilled with a far greater purpose than the usual routine.

Max may keep his affections to himself but the chemistry between Forster and Grier couldn't be more enchanting as both actors sink their teeth into the most sparkling dialogue Tarantino has ever written. Forster has a giddy blast as Max partakes in Jackie's convoluted game of survival but by the two-hour mark, a feeling of melancholy sets in - the Max and Jackie union will inevitably come to an end, and it does, as Forster and Grier share one of the most bittersweet scenes ever captured on film.

At last, Max and Jackie reveal their feelings for each other and share the most tender and genuine of kisses. The phone in Max's office rings as Jackie hits the road and says her final goodbye. Max, distraught and suddenly questioning his decision to stay behind and not join his soulmate, ends the phone call and heads to his office to be alone. He's the most sorrowful of sights. 

Much as I worship this performance, Forster's award was really the nomination itself, with critics' favorite and Golden Globe winner Reynolds in a dead heat with SAG Award winner Williams. Forster may not have prevailed but Jackie Brown still rescued his career and he's gone on to emerge a reliable character actor on both the big and small screens. He even has a possible Oscar bid this year, opposite Hilary Swank and Blythe Danner in the drama What They Had

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

21. Robert Forster, Jackie Brown
22. Katharine Hepburn, Summertime
23. Montgomery Clift, The Search
24. Orson Welles, Citizen Kane
25. Peter Sellers, Being There
26. Richard Burton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
27. Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
28. Judy Garland, A Star Is Born
29. Edith Evans, The Whisperers
30. Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II
31. Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do with It
32. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce
33. Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel
34. Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter
35. Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter
36. Roy Scheider, All That Jazz
37. Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
38. Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
39. Katharine Hepburn, Long Day's Journey Into Night
40. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
41. Whoopi Goldberg, The Color Purple
42. Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl
43. Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront
44. William Holden, Sunset Boulevard
45. Robert Duvall, The Great Santini
46. Anthony Hopkins, Nixon
47. Joan Allen, Nixon
48. Nick Nolte, Affliction
49. James Coburn, Affliction
50. Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
51. Meryl Streep, The Bridges of Madison County
52. Patricia Neal, Hud
53. Susan Tyrrell, Fat City
54. Teri Garr, Tootsie
55. Kim Stanley, Seance on a Wet Afternoon
56. Thelma Ritter, Pickup on South Street
57. Geraldine Page, Interiors
58. Dorothy Malone, Written on the Wind
59. Olivia de Havilland, The Heiress
60. Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies
61. Faye Dunaway, Network
62. Jane Darwell, The Grapes of Wrath
63. Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire
64. Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment
65. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
66. Natalie Portman, Jackie
67. Martin Landau, Ed Wood
68. Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show
69. Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show
70. Jane Alexander, Testament
71. Jean Hagen, Singin' in the Rain
72. Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas
73. Sissy Spacek, Carrie
74. Piper Laurie, Carrie
75. Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons
76. Elizabeth Taylor, Suddenly, Last Summer
77. Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives
78. Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice
79. Bette Davis, All About Eve
80. Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie
81. Jason Miller, The Exorcist
82. Michael Caine, Hannah and Her Sisters
83. Judith Anderson, Rebecca
84. Michael O'Keefe, The Great Santini
85. Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter
86. William Holden, Network
87. George Sanders, All About Eve
88. Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
89. Sally Kirkland, Anna
90. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
91. Maureen Stapleton, Interiors
92. Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons
93. John Hurt, The Elephant Man
94. James Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life
95. Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story
96. Kathy Bates, Primary Colors
97. Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria
98. Rosie Perez, Fearless
99. Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
100. Kathleen Turner, Peggy Sue Got Married

Next week - as the Oscar 100 winds down to its bittersweet end, I've got the final Woody Allen-directed performance to grace this list; the youngest Oscar 100 inductee; two sublime Best Actress winners; and a leading lady who lost but surely would've won in nearly any other year.