The Oscar 100: #35-31

This post marks Part 14 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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35 and 34. Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968) (WINNER - Hepburn, tied with Streisand)

Their competition...

Alan Arkin, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Alan Bates, The Fixer
Ron Moody, Oliver!
Cliff Robertson, Charly (WINNER)

Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses
Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl (WINNER - tied with Hepburn)
Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel

O'Toole and Hepburn portray King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine who, over Christmas 1183, are at their most estranged. He's got a young mistress, Princess Alais (Jane Merrow), while she's been imprisoned - not that such exile has in the least numbed her sharpness. Eleanor is temporarily released for a key occasion - Henry's announcement of his successor to the throne. He's determined to ensure John (Nigel Terry), their youngest son, will take over. She, however, favors Richard (Anthony Hopkins), their eldest child. With Henry and Eleanor at odds and the rest of the family hardly shy about manipulating their way to success, a whole lot of scheming is about to go down. These performances marked O'Toole's third Oscar nomination and Hepburn's 11th nomination and third win.

In recent years, Oscar aficionados have looked back in perplexing awe at O'Toole's 0-for-8 record in Best Actor. Sure, in 2003, he picked up an honorary prize for his legendary body of work but such didn't seem to quite compensate for losses for the likes of, among others, Lawrence of Arabia, Becket and The Lion in Winter - his first three Oscar appearances. By 2006, O'Toole was still viewed as overdue for competitive Oscar glory, so much so that his turn in the little British dramedy Venus was championed as a vehicle that could at last take him all the way (it didn't).

In 1968, however, such urgency to award O'Toole hadn't quite yet come to fruition. (It wasn't really until the 1980s that O'Toole was talked up as overdue for victory - alas, he hadn't a prayer of prevailing for inferior, if still memorable turns in The Stunt Man or My Favorite Year.) O'Toole was the front-runner to triumph for The Lion in Winter but a soft favorite at that.

The critics were partial to Arkin and behind the scenes, Robertson and ABC Motion Pictures were waging the sort of aggressive Oscar campaign later spearheaded by the likes of Harvey Weinstein but at that time rarely conducted - in fact, the Robertson campaign was deemed so unusual and overbearing, the Academy later released a statement condemning what they saw as the "outright excessive and vulgar solicitation of votes" and a "serious embarrassment." 

Despite such sentiment, however, Robertson and his cloying turn indeed triumphed on the big night - in hindsight, one of the all-time worst Best Actor wins, not merely in terms of quality of performance but inferiority vis a vis his competition. 

While Arkin and Bates are quite splendid as well, this should have been a slam dunk for O'Toole, who seems a tad more at-ease here in the role of Henry than he did a few years back in Becket. The actor hardly copies and pastes his prior portrayal - this is a more exhausted Henry, hardly lacking in ambition or willingness to partake in games of treachery but also a man who clearly no longer sees himself as invincible or immortal. This Henry is at once a larger than life figure and a man vividly consumed with heartache - the messier the family dynamic gets, the more inclined he is to compensate his feelings with a livelier and more imposing demeanor. 

O'Toole has a ball alongside Hepburn, the two sporting some of the most electrifying chemistry to ever grace the screen. Unlike say, Sir Laurence Olivier, who in all too many of his pictures seemed to be playing to the last row of the balcony, O'Toole and Hepburn are remarkably reigned in, the extravangance of the material considered - they may chew scenery but never feel anything less than grounded in reality. 

Hepburn, who lost her beloved Spencer Tracy the year prior, was said to have tackled Eleanor with all of the emotion she'd been consumed with in her grieving over Tracy. No doubt, that sense of distress is palpable on the screen - yet, this is also one of Hepburn's more sensual and scintillating turns. She has a field day with James Goldman's sparking screenplay, chowing down and delivering with delight lines like, "I even made poor Louis take me on crusade. How's that for blasphemy? I dressed my maids as amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure, and I damn near died of windburn...but the troops were dazzled." 

As I discussed in my write-up of Streisand in Funny Girl, the 1968 race in Best Actress was a riveting roller coaster ride, with both Hepburn and Streisand at points viewed as inevitable winners and even Woodward spending some time as the category front-runner. When Paul Newman, Woodward's husband, failed to earn a Best Director nomination for Rachel, Rachel, his leading lady briefly boycotted the ceremony - ultimately, Newman persuaded Woodward to attend but, in a race so competitive, the damage was done. In the end, that extraordinary tie would come to fruition. 

If only Woodward hadn't had that initial reaction...

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33. Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel (1968)

Her competition...

Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter (WINNER - tied with Streisand)
Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses
Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
Barbra Streisand, Funny Girl (WINNER - tied with Hepburn)

Woodward portrays Rachel Cameron, a despondent 35-year-old spinster and schoolteacher who lives with her widowed mother (Kate Harrington) above a funeral parlor. Disillusioned with the world around her, Rachel spends her life daydreaming to distract herself from this humdrum existence - that is, until her friend Calla (Estelle Parsons) persuades her to attend a revival meeting. Rachel finds herself invigorated by the religious experience and later further enchanted upon the entrance of old classmate Nick (James Olson) into her life. In love for the first time, Rachel immediately begins making plans for a future with Nick. Alas, he is hardly on the same page. This performance marked Woodward's second Oscar nomination.

Perhaps the most purely sorrowful performance ever recognized in Best Actress, Woodward in Rachel, Rachel is an overwhelmingly fragile and despairing sight you wish you could hop into the screen to give a hug. Woodward always operated at the top of her game when either directed by husband Paul Newman (as was the case here and in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds) or starring alongside him (see The Long, Hot Summer and Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, among others). 

Woodward may have earned her Oscar for The Three Faces of Eve - an impressive turn in an otherwise clunky picture - but Rachel, Rachel far outpaces that turn (oddly enough, I think Eve is easily the least of her four nominated performances). It's career-best work from one of the more underrated leading ladies of the big screen.

Rachel, Rachel is a fascinating piece of cinema, a prime showcase for its leading lady, no doubt, but also a remarkable directorial debut for Newman and strong ensemble showcase. Parsons, as Rachel's pal who gets the wheels turning on her long overdue awakening, is actually much more interesting here than in Bonnie & Clyde, which earned her the Best Supporting Actress prize the year prior. (Parsons was nominated again but lost to Rosemary's Baby's Ruth Gordon.) Harrington does terrific work, too, as Rachel's overbearing mother. Oh, and Stewart Stern's script? Even better than his screenplay on Rebel Without a Cause. (Stewart would later write Woodward to another Oscar nom, for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.) Incredibly, this downer was a big box office hit to boot, spending several weeks at number one - as if such could ever come to fruition today. 

Of course, front and center is Woodward, exquisitely directed by her husband - knowing the genius he's capturing, Newman wisely keeps the camera constantly focused on his leading lady's face, capturing Rachel's plethora of emotions Rachel.

Woodward's Rachel is a woman who, to the public, has managed to make herself out to be a pitch-perfectly pleasant schoolteacher. In reality, however, Rachel has shut herself off from the world around her, in a never-ending daydream to distract herself from the agony and loneliness she's buried deep down. Any dream will do, whether it's a pleasant (like saving one of her students from neglectful parents) or morbid one (dropping dead on the street). She also has sexual fantasies, too, like hooking up with the married school principal - visions she can at last act on with the arrival of Nick.

To us, the Rachel-Nick romance seems obviously doomed from the get-go. To Rachel, however, who's never experienced love, Nick's advances automatically inspire wedding bells in her head. On one hand, we're relieved to see Rachel experience such human, impassioned interaction. It's also tough not to cringe as well, however, knowing this high is destined to be short-lived.

Nick's departure provides Woodward all the more meat to chew on as Rachel becomes convinced she is pregnant with his child and plots to ditch Connecticut for Oregon. Tragedy again strikes upon the discovery she is not pregnant after all but rather carrying a cyst - at this point, however, Rachel has built up enough confidence in herself to still leave town, whether or not her mom wants to come along. The film ultimately ends on a surprisingly uplifting note as Rachel moves forward in her life at least knowing she's able to make her own choices.

In 1968, Newman was among the top box office stars and whatever the subject matter of his directorial debut, it was bound to attract significant interest. Kudos to him for selecting a project as surprising and perceptive as Rachel, Rachel and mega kudos to Woodward to grabbing this role by the throat and turning in one of the all-time most heartbreaking performances.

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32. Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Ingrid Bergman, The Bells of St. Mary's
Greer Garson, The Valley of Decision
Jennifer Jones, Love Letters
Gene Tierney, Leave Her to Heaven

Crawford portrays Mildred Pierce, mother of Veda (Ann Blyth) and Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) and wife of Bert (Bruce Bennett). After Mildred and Bert's unhappy marriage comes to its inevitable end, she retains custody of her daughters and is determined to provide for them, especially Veda, who yearns for a social status higher than what she's been raised in. Mildred takes a job as a waitress and, with the help of pal Ida (Eve Arden), opens a successful restaurant that spawns a whole chain of eateries across Southern Carolina. All along, however, Veda remains an insufferable spoiled brat with scant respect for her mother's hard work. This performance marked Crawford's first Oscar nomination and only win.

(Sophia Petrillo voice) Picture it - Hollywood, March 7, 1946. It's the big night, the 18th Annual Academy Awards, and Billy Wilder's acclaimed The Lost Weekend is heavily favored to take home several prizes, including Best Picture and Best Director. The real drama is in Best Actress, as comeback kid Joan Crawford, who ditched MGM for Warner Bros. to headline Mildred Pierce, has opted not to attend the ceremony, instead listening to the festivities on the radio from her Brentwood mansion bedroom.

Supposedly, Crawford is ill with a fever and pneumonia. Presenting the Best Actress prize is three-time Oscar nominee Charles Boyer and...there it is, the winner is Joan Crawford! Director Michael Curtiz accepts the prize on her behalf and, following the ceremony, makes his way to Brentford - alongside the giddy press - to present the star with her golden man. The Crawford comeback is complete and, over the coming decade, she'll go on to score an additional pair of Best Actress nominations. 

Later, Crawford was remarkably candid about her Oscar night antics. Indeed, she wasn't really sick - the mere idea of the ceremony, of standing before that boundless crowd of colleagues, petrified her. Moreover, Crawford was convinced Bergman - who headlined two Best Picture nominees - would in fact emerge victorious. The star would also suggest the Mildred Pierce win was less an honor for the performance itself but something of a career prize, for sticking around this maddening industry for so long.

While I can empathize with such sentiment, I think Crawford shortchanged herself. Mildred Pierce is a fantastic film in its own right but especially prospers as a grand vehicle for its leading lady. Crawford transforms into the title role with seamless success, turning in perhaps the greatest of all film noir performances.

Inexplicably, Crawford nearly missed out on this iconic role. Curtiz was partial to Bette Davis, who turned it down, and then Barbara Stanwyck, who expressed some interest. Approaching the opportunity with far more determination, however, was Crawford, who tested for the role and eventually won Curtiz over with her fervent perseverance in landing the job. 

Never before or after in her career has Crawford's mere screen presence been so radiant or absorbing. She's made all the stronger by her supporting players, namely Blyth and Arden, the former drawing out of Crawford palpable senses of both warmth and exasperation. That Crawford's Mildred emerges one of the all-time great and most unconditionally devoted and compassionate screen moms makes the star's portrayal by her own daughter as a monstrous Mommie Dearest all the more perplexing. The ugliness Blyth so effectively instills into Veda makes Mildred all the more impossible not to root for.

As for Arden, her presence allows for Crawford to approach Mildred with a lighter touch - not that their scenes together exactly ring of Lucy and Ethel but the chemistry is aces and Ida's sparkling banter is always a welcome diversion away from Veda and her bratty tirades. 

Unlike all too many Crawford vehicles, in which she struggled to much shed her star persona and really disappear into the role at hand, she is Mildred Pierce, through and through. It's a sensitive, captivating and magnetic portrayal of a tragically unappreciated woman, with Crawford dominating the screen in an awe-inspiring fashion that I'm skeptical even the likes of Davis or Stanwyck could have pulled off. 

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31. Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do with It (1993)

Her competition...

Stockard Channing, Six Degrees of Separation
Holly Hunter, The Piano (WINNER)
Emma Thompson, The Remains of the Day
Debra Winger, Shadowlands

Bassett portrays Tina Turner, the legendary R&B superstar who began her life as Anna Mae Bullock, a small town Tennessee girl abandoned by her parents at a young age. Following her grandmother's death, Anna Mae moves to St. Louis to be with her mother (Jenifer Lewis) and sister (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney). Fond of singing since she was a child in her church choir, Anna Mae meets the charming bandleader Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne), who mentors, woos and marries the up-and-comer. Now sporting the stage name Tina Turner, she soars in national fame. As her star rises, however, the volatile Ike grows increasingly jealous, turns to drugs and inflicts constant violence upon Tina. This performance marked Bassett's first (and to date, only) Oscar nomination.

Allow me to get something off my chest - what on earth is it with the Academy and its penchant for not recognizing black actresses?

Over the course of Oscar history, a mere 11 black women have earned nominations in Best Actress. Of these, only two - Whoopi Goldberg and Viola Davis - have gone on to score additional recognition, which ultimately came down in Best Supporting Actress. For Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry (the first and, thus far, lone African-American winner in this category), Gabourey Sidibe, Quvenzhane Wallis and Ruth Negga, the Oscars have inexplicably proven a one-time affair - shameful, considering the exquisite filmographies of some of these stars.

Now that I've had my little rant...my very favorite of these performances, in fact one of the all-time great turns to surface in Best Actress, is Bassett, whose powerhouse portrayal of Turner continues to send chills down the spine 25 years since the release of What's Love Got to Do with It.

Watching this spectacular turn, it's hard to fathom how Bassett didn't have a prayer on the big night but that was precisely the case - Hunter, who all but steamrolled that awards season, was the sole shoo-in among the acting categories that evening. She had the fortune of headlining a Best Picture nominee, was a double-nominee herself (also a Best Supporting Actress contender for inferior work in The Firm), also earned raves for her Emmy-winning turn on the small screen in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom and was already seen as due for a win. Incredible as her competition was (Channing would've made a fine winner too), the cake was baked the moment The Piano hit New York and Los Angeles that fall.

Hunter is a sublime actress, no doubt, but her turn in The Piano, haunting as it is, just doesn't have that same spellbinding impact Bassett leaves on me. Her portrayal of Turner is, to put it bluntly, one of the most purely badass performances ever captured on screen. Forget The Avengers - this is a real superhero. 

Bassett may lip sync her way through the picture but has more flawless lip-syncing ever before or after been captured on screen? Her recreations of the likes of "Shake a Tail Feather," "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Proud Mary" are absolutely riveting and on not one occasion does her portrayal ring as the slightest bit false. Bassett breathes limitless life through every musical performance and has a presence just as captivating as Turner herself. 

Of course, What's Love Got to Do with It is perhaps most remembered for its vivid portrayal of the nightmare that was the marriage between Tina and Ike. Bassett and Fishburne are all too convincing as Ike turns Tina into his punching bag, gradually incensed over the recognition and stardom he believes she's winning at his expense. Irate at being overshadowed by his better (and frankly, more talented) half, Ike beats Tina not only at home but in public, in front of friends and family. Tina, of course, is no shrinking violet. She keeps their kids protected and eventually, to his great chagrin, starts to fight back. 

Perhaps the most powerful scene in the picture - just ahead of a startling scene late in the film in which Ike tries, to negligible success, to win back Tina one last time - is when Tina at last makes the decision she's going to leave Ike. She's been battered and bloodied once again and, at her wit's end, bolts from their hotel room, down the highway to a Ramada Inn, where, without a dollar in her pocket, she all but begs for a room. Bassett all too vividly conveys Turner's agony and exasperation - she just cannot take him anymore. 

Over the years, there have been countless music biopics headlined by terrific performances - the likes of Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, Jennifer Lopez in Selena, Paul Dano in Love & Mercy and fellow Oscar 100 inductee Gary Busey in The Buddy Holly Story. Bassett, however, towers above them all. She is downright breathtaking and, fingers crossed, will be back as an Oscar nominee someday.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 - Liz is back! This time, she'll be appearing alongside a comparably brilliant leading man. I've also got an incomparable Dame, Al Pacino in his lone appearance on the list and, to quote Groucho Marx, "the biggest robbery since Brinks."

The Oscar 100: #40-36

This post marks Part 13 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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40. Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Her competition...

Joan Allen, The Contender
Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me
Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich (WINNER)

Burstyn portrays Sara Goldfarb, a lonely Brighton Beach widow who spends the bulk of her uneventful days consumed by television. Infatuated with a particular self-help program, she is ecstatic upon receiving a letter in the mail inviting her to attend a taping of the show. Too heavy to fit into her favorite red dress, Sara becomes hellbent on losing weight, ultimately embarking on a dangerous crash course involving addictive diet pills. As Sara becomes hooked on the drugs, she is overcome by terrifying hallucinations. This performance marked Burstyn's sixth (and to date, final) Oscar nomination.

100 or so years from now (hopefully longer, if scientists are able to invent the Death Becomes Her potion in time), when I hang my hat up as a moviegoer and take a moment to reflect on the greatest monologues ever delivered on the screen, there is scant doubt Burstyn's in Requiem for a Dream will tower over all others.

This isn't to say Burstyn and her glorious monologue are the lone reasons to sit through Darren Aronofsky's spellbinding motion picture. It's among the most disturbing and despairing films ever produced, a master class in filmmaking from a director somehow on only his second feature film. Jared Leto makes for an enthralling lead (actually much better here than in Dallas Buyers Club, which earned him the Oscar) and he's splendidly supported by Jennifer Connelly and yes, Marlon Wayans, in an affecting turn a far cry from the likes of Little Man and White Chicks

Gripping as the rest of the proceedings are, however, Burstyn's Sara is the heart and soul of Requiem for a Dream. Her journey down the path of self-destruction is absolutely devastating as Sara's mundane existence, suddenly jolted by dreams of appearing on national television, is turned upside down, the amphetamine-induced psychosis transforming her little apartment into a house of horrors. Burstyn is all too convincing as Sara descends into madness, ultimately escaping home, only to stumble her way through the streets, where she is later picked up and committed into a psychiatric ward.

It is earlier in the film, however, a bit before the drugs completely consume Sara, that Burstyn gets the Oscar scene to top all Oscar scenes. 

Sara's beloved son Harry (Leto) has stopped by to tell mom he's ordered her a brand new television set. Harry recognizes the effects the amphetamines are already having on Sara - the chattering of her teeth, the sky-high energy she suddenly has - and pleads with her to stop. For Sara, however, the side effects seem worth the effort. In a heartbreaking monologue, she reveals to Harry how her friends now like her more with this bubbly personality - and she hopes millions of people will soon share in their sentiment. Suddenly, there's now a reason to get up in the morning. She may be lonely, she may be old, she may have nobody to take care of anymore...but at least Sara has that dream of wearing the red dress on TV.

With these three minutes, Burstyn completely stops the show, so much so that even over the nightmarish lunacy of the proceedings to follow, it is all but impossible to get Sara's words out of your head. Requiem for a Dream may be most remembered for its striking visual style but Aronofsky's screenplay - and his actors' exquisite delivery of it - is not to be underestimated. 

When, during the 2000 awards season, Burstyn labeled her turn as Sara as the role of her career, such wasn't hyperbole, even with the rest of her immaculate filmography considered. Yet, inexplicably, Burstyn hadn't a prayer on Oscar night. The cake was baked for Roberts to grace the stage for her much-celebrated star turn as Erin Brockovich. Remarkably, Burstyn failed to ever garner a major critics' award during the season's precursors, as Roberts and Linney picked up a plethora of prizes.

Such recognition for Roberts and Linney is hardly to be knocked - both are terrific, as is Allen (per usual) - but come on, none of these performances, great as they are, holds a candle to what Burstyn pulls off in this picture. It's gut-wrenching, career-best work from one of the 10 or so finest actresses to ever grace the big screen. 

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39. Katharine Hepburn in Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962)

Her competition...

Anne Bancroft, The Miracle Worker (WINNER)
Bette Davis, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth
Lee Remick, Days of Wine and Roses

Hepburn portrays Mary Tyrone, matriarch of a Connecticut family in deep decline. Mary's sickly son Edmund (Dean Stockwell) returns home to find his mother further descending into her morphine addiction. Edmund's alcoholic father, the retired actor James (Ralph Richardson), isn't in much better shape, nor is his volatile brother Jamie (Jason Robards). As Edmund and Jamie quarrel over how to help their mother, Mary agonizes over Edmund's dwindling health. This performance marked Hepburn's ninth Oscar nomination.

In May 1962, for the sole occasion over her storied career on the big screen, Hepburn earned the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her electrifying turn as Mary Tyrone in Sidney Lumet's film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. Her trio of leading men shared honors in Best Actor and, odds are, the picture didn't finish terribly far behind Anselmo Duarte's The Given Word for the Palme d'Or.

Tragically, the picture wasn't the least bit commercially successful upon its U.S. release. Receipts were so anemic, the eminent producer Joseph E. Levine, who picked up distribution rights after its smashing success at Cannes, vowed to never again invest in an O'Neill adaptation. Hepburn, nonetheless, would earn her obligatory Best Actress Oscar nomination, not that she was deemed to have a prayer against the likes of Bancroft, Davis and Page, all headlining films that were big hits. 

This middling reception for Long Day's Journey - and the difficulty film buffs have faced in recent years in accessing Lumet's picture - just breaks my heart, as the film sports one of Hepburn's very best and most surprising performances. Her leading men are too in prime, Oscar-caliber form and Lumet's direction is among his finest work of the '60s. To me, this is the definitive adaptation of O'Neill's play, so what a damn shame hardly anybody has seen it.

Hepburn is shot much like Elizabeth Taylor would be in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a few years down the road, with extreme close-ups that accentuate her emotions and make the performance all the more startling. Indeed, much like the later Mike Nichols picture, Lumet keeps the proceedings here from ever feeling claustrophobic by positioning the camera in a dizzying way that keeps the action exciting and intrusive. For a nearly three-hour film, Long Day's Journey flies by in remarkable fashion. 

The confidence and cleverness of Hepburn's past performances makes her anxious, fragile portrayal of Mary all the more shocking. Hepburn astutely utilizes her essential tremor, which had become more pronounced since her last picture (Suddenly, Last Summer, three years earlier), to paint Mary as an antsy and uncontrollable woman - the more emotional her Mary becomes, the more her head shakes and body quivers. The sight of Hepburn rolling around on the floor, a drugged-up nervous wreck, barely able to function anymore, is the truly horrific to behold. And she absolutely slays in her final monologue that closes out the film.

Long Day's Journey might not quite be the best of all Hepburn performances - there are more to come in this series - but it sure comes close. This is a masterful and unconventional turn from an actress who never before (or after) played such a frenzied, deteriorating creature. 

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38. Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven (2002)

Her competition...

Salma Hayek, Frida
Nicole Kidman, The Hours (WINNER)
Diane Lane, Unfaithful
Renee Zellweger, Chicago

Moore portrays Cathy Whitaker, the quintessential 1950s suburban housewife. Life is seemingly peachy keen for Cathy - she has adorable kids, a successful, handsome husband and a beautiful home in the tidiest of order. Then, one evening, Cathy walks in on hubby Frank (Dennis Quaid) kissing another man in his office. Their relationship becomes a strained one, as Frank hits the bottle and, to no avail, battles his homosexuality. Cathy's life is all the more rattled by the neighborhood's response to her newfound friendship with Raymond (Dennis Haysbert), an African-American and the son of the Whitakers' late gardener. This performance marked Moore's third/fourth Oscar nomination (she was also nominated this year for The Hours).

2002 was the very first awards season I closely followed - that is, intently enough where I was keeping track of all of the precursor awards and making predictions for both nominations and winners. For some time that year, I was over the moon in delight over the positive response to Moore, who picked up a number of major critics' awards and, for all too brief a period, looked like the front-runner to grab the Best Actress Oscar.

Then, tragically, both Moore and Far from Heaven kind of petered out. Reviews may have been unanimously glowing but the picture's box office returns were much more modest. It didn't earn a Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes, nor did the Directors Guild or Producers Guild bite. By Oscar night, the race for Best Actress had evolved from Moore sitting on top as a soft front-runner to a barn burner showdown between Kidman and Zellweger, both gracing Best Picture nominees. With pundits ranting and raving over who of the two would prevail, Moore, Hayek and Lane all fell to the sidelines. 

What a shame such came to fruition, as neither Kidman nor Zellweger comes remotely close to achieving the greatness of Moore in Far from Heaven (only Lane gives a performance that could also be labeled awe-inspiring).

Like Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind and Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life (director Todd Haynes was of course visually inspired by Douglas Sirk), Moore's performance is surrounded by glorious Technicolor imagery but never is her turn drowned out in any way by the beauty around her. In a way, Moore's effort is even more remarkable an accomplishment than Malone's, for instance, the latter of who stood out by delivering a fierce, larger-than-life scene-stealer of a performance. Moore manages to own the spotlight with a sumptuously subdued and understated portrayal.

That Moore's performance is so restrained makes it all the more heartbreaking when Cathy is punched in the gut, first by her husband, then by her prejudiced community and finally by Raymond, who shatters his dear friend in the film's unforgettable conclusion - one of the most painful scenes ever captured on film. 

Cathy's evolution throughout the film is riveting, as she goes from perfectly pleasant, unworldly Connecticut housewife to a confused, wounded woman, at last opening her eyes to the realities of the world outside the idyllic masquerade of the suburbia around her.

Moore's scenes opposite Quaid (who is incredible and surely deserved an Oscar nom too) are equal parts convincing and agonizing and her rapport with Haysbert (also brilliant) is immensely soulful and affecting. Their union appears doomed from the get-go but it's impossible to not still get deeply, emotionally involved with the pair. With a single, simple line ("you're so beautiful"), Moore is able to convey so much - Cathy's loneliness, regrets and dreams of what could be under different circumstances.

Far from Heaven, spearheaded by Moore's exquisite performance, is a tear-jerker of the first degree, the sort of devastating melodrama that comes around all too rarely. I could watch it over and over again, even if it never fails to destroy me. 

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37. Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters (1998)

His competition...

Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful (WINNER)
Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
Nick Nolte, Affliction
Edward Norton, American History X

McKellen portrays James Whale, once a renowned Hollywood filmmaker in the 1930s but by the 1950s, in increasingly fragile health, spending retirement alongside his disparaging but loyal housekeeper Hanna (Lynn Redgrave). The openly gay Whale has had no shortage of young male lovers in and out of his home but the arrival of new gardener Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) presents the director with a more intriguing and meaningful conquest. This performance marked McKellen's first Oscar nomination.

Oh, how it pains me to revisit this category.

In 1998, voters rightfully recognized the sublime likes of McKellen, Nolte and Norton - all at their career-best - plus Hanks, also in fine form, for Best Actor nominations. Joining them could have been Jim Carrey in The Truman Show or John Travolta in Primary Colors (both sensational), among others. Instead, the Miramax machine won out and Roberto Benigni, whose mawkish Life Is Beautiful came on strong that awards season, nabbed that remaining slot. 

With Benigni's turn the one crowd-pleaser against a quartet of heavy, tragic turns, plus the industry inexplicably eating up both his picture and enthusiastic acceptance speeches, it would be him, not McKellen, Nolte or Norton (all favorites of the critics), emerging triumphant. All three of these brilliant actors remain Oscar-less to this day.

Earlier, I lavished praise upon Nolte's stirring work in Affliction but my ultimate preference in the category is McKellen and his vivid portrayal of the legendary Frankenstein filmmaker.

McKellen's Whale may be an exhausted sight, on the verge of knocking on death's door, but he exudes a spirit that palpably suggests the magnetic man that once was. At this point, Whale spends his days anguished by memories of the past, relying on Hanna, who isn't shy in her disapproval of her employer's sex life, to keep things in order and get him through the day. McKellen and Redgrave have a ball in their scenes together, two old pros going to town on Bill Condon's terrific, Oscar winning screenplay.

Though Fraser may not be an actor at quite the same level as McKellen and Redgrave, he's an ideal, inspired fit for the alluring role of Clayton Boone, at times even suggesting Montgomery Clift. With Whale losing his grip on reality and despondent over both his looks and health fading away, the filmmaker finds great solace in his new friendship with Boone, a relationship at last not exclusively sexual in nature, even if there is scant doubt about Whale's attraction to the dashing former marine. 

The picture and McKellen's performance become overwhelming as the film reaches its conclusion. Whale's appearance at a party thrown by fellow filmmaker George Cukor and attended by The Bride of Frankenstein's Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester only worsens his misery. At his most despondent ever, Whale decides to make sexual advances on Boone, hoping the young man will perhaps retaliate and kill him. This play isn't a success - instead of bloodthirsty outrage, Boone largely feels pity for his sad, hopeless friend. Whale is left to suffer with no light on the horizon.

When McKellen earned his nomination, he stood to emerge the first openly gay performer to take home the Best Actor Oscar (John Gielgud marked the first of any category, in Best Supporting Actor in 1981). The recognition for his performance and the film overall felt downright revolutionary just two decades ago. While he may have fallen short, his performance has unimpeachably stood the test of time better than the Academy's preference and there is scant doubt he'll someday make a return to Oscar night, perhaps even in Best Actor again (where he would still make history as the first openly gay winner).

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36. Roy Scheider in All That Jazz (1979)

His competition...

Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer (WINNER)
Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome
Al Pacino, ...And Justice for All
Peter Sellers, Being There

Scheider portrays Joe Gideon, a choreographer and director on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The ultimate workaholic, Gideon relies on pills, cigarettes and sex to get him through an especially exhausting time in his life, as he both stages his latest Broadway musical and edits the motion picture he recently filmed. The physical and emotional stress increasingly takes a toll on the perfectionist who, to his great chagrin, ends up admitted into a hospital, where he becomes consumed with memories from the past, staged in his mind as splashy musical numbers. This performance marked Scheider's second and final Oscar nomination.

From the picture's spellbinding opening, set to George Benson's "On Broadway," to the final, tragic shot of Joe Gideon's corpse zipped into a body bag, Bob Fosse's All That Jazz is the most riveting of entertainment, a career-best effort from a filmmaker who never made a bad picture.

Front and center, surrounding by all of Fosse's dizzying pyrotechnics and Alan Heim's frantic, Oscar winning film editing is leading man Scheider, taking on a role worthy of his sky-high talents. Sure, Scheider worked wonders before with the likes of The French Connection, Jaws and Marathon Man but none of those parts offered anywhere near the meat to chew on as Fosse (and co-writer Robert Alan Aurthur) served up for the actor in All That Jazz

Scheider, who generally sported an amiable everyman quality in his previous turns, is downright electrifying as Gideon, a semi-autobiographical version of the picture's director. With another, less convincing actor, Gideon may have been left overshadowed by all of the madness around the character but Scheider never allows himself to be upstaged. It's among the zestiest, most energetic performances to ever grace the big screen.

Gideon may be a difficult figure to love - he takes recklessness to new levels and has negligible empathy for anyone around him - but his journey sure is a riveting one, as he overworks himself into the hospital and manages to only worsen his condition while admitted, suffering not one but two heart attacks.

As mortality rears its ugly head and his film goes down the toilet, Gideon's antics only intensify and he becomes preoccupied by one dream sequence after another, each one more maddening than the last. Yet, despite Gideon's bad behavior, it's hard not to feel punched in the gut by his demise - his brilliance, in the end, manages to overshadow his cruelty and narcissism. 

From beginning to end, Scheider is never anything less than perfection. Yet, on Oscar night, he didn't really have much of a prayer.

All That Jazz unexpectedly earned a boatload of nominations, tying Kramer vs. Kramer for most recognition (nine nominations), and ended up scoring four wins but Scheider was never seen in real contention for the Best Actor win. Hoffman steamrolled that awards season, with only the Oscar-less Sellers seen as a threat. When Being There failed to earn nominations in Best Picture, Best Director or Best Original Screenplay, however, Sellers' hopes looked all the dimmer. Ultimately, only Hoffman and Lemmon would even show up at the ceremony. 

I can't much knock Hoffman's victory - he's fantastic, as is Kramer vs. Kramer - but better is Scheider, turning in one of the fiercest performances ever recognized in Best Actor.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 - rejoice, fellow Katharine Hepburn fans! She's back, this time alongside a co-star from the same picture. Joining them are the trio of leading ladies from the '40s, '60s and '90s, including one legendary winner

The Oscar 100: #45-41

This post marks Part 12 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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45. Robert Duvall in The Great Santini (1980)

His competition...

Robert De Niro, Raging Bull (WINNER)
John Hurt, The Elephant Man
Jack Lemmon, Tribute
Peter O'Toole, The Stunt Man

Duvall portrays Bull Meechum, fighter pilot and the self-proclaimed "Great Santini." Bull's hostile demeanor and penchant for ruthless competition have worked wonders for him in the military but such behavior, which he cannot help but bring home with him, doesn't always go over so splendidly with the rest of the Meechum family. While wife Lillian (Blythe Danner) remains loyal and chooses to overlook Bull's flaws, his son Ben (Michael O'Keefe) is growing less hesitant to pushing back against his father's aggression. This performance marked Duvall's third Oscar nomination.

By 1980, with 30 motion pictures and a pair of nominations under his belt, Duvall was already being looked upon as due for Oscar victory.

Under different circumstances, triumph perhaps could have come to fruition for his tour de force turn in The Great Santini - that is, if 1) Warner Bros. and Orion Pictures hadn't so miserably botched the film's release and 2) he didn't have to face De Niro, a shoo-in for the prize in just about any year for his much-celebrated work in Raging Bull. As it stood, Duvall graced a film that barely expanded out of New York/Los Angeles and faced the most unstoppable of opponents. 

Duvall would go home with the golden statue three years later for Tender Mercies but, for my money at least, that performance, fine as it is, doesn't reach nearly the same heights as The Great Santini, the best vehicle of the actor's exemplary career. 

Bull Meechum is one mean S.O.B. - and he wouldn't have it any other way. His skills up in the air are undeniable but when it comes to succeeding on the ground, he's found instilling fear in his military colleagues and family is most advantageous. Bull is an impossible man with a nasty temper and penchant for hitting the bottle and, thus far at least, nothing has stopped him or inspired him to change his attitude. That is, until Ben, his kind and sensitive son, who has spent life suffocated by Bull's savage fathering, begins to fight back. 

In the film's most memorable and startling scene, Ben, a high school basketball superstar, at last beats Bull in a one-on-one game - this, after years of his father winning such battles by taunting, humiliating and whacking Ben with the ball. The look on Bull's face when Ben prevails could kill. Instead of congratulating his son or feeling any sense of pride, Bull instead becomes further hellbent on bringing Ben down a few notches, insulting him, getting plastered and later embarrassing himself at a high school game. 

Their fragile relationship is soon tested again when Ben intervenes to help his friend, an African-American who is being harassed by a racist bully. Once again, instead of supporting his son, Bull lashes out at Ben, incensed that he would place himself in such a situation. Bull's colleagues at work try to convince him otherwise but he just cannot get there - he'll perhaps never been able to understand his son's compassion, hard as he might try. 

These events culminate in Bull eventually emotionally collapsing and, the way Duvall portrays it, it's like watching a man who's never before cried in his life, someone who has been holding on to decades of suppressed emotion and at last, after all of this years, is letting it all out.

For so much of The Great Santini, Duvall paints Bull as an unabashed monster, a man who gets a kick out of just how imposing and formidable he is and cannot see (or simply opts to overlook) how such behavior damages those around him. Yet, all along, there's also a sense that Danner's Lillian must have long ago seen something in this towering figure that she found appealing, something that convinced her Bull could be a family man. At last, we eventually do see Bull's humanity and vulnerability come to the surface. The real gut-punch is, just as there's suddenly a glimmer of hope on the horizon for him and his family, tragic fate intervenes.

Duvall, Danner, O'Keefe and The Great Santini were overwhelmingly overshadowed in 1980 by the other masterful family drama of the year, Ordinary People. Nothing can top the Robert Redford picture for me but, that being said, The Great Santini and Duvall are sorely in need of rediscovery. This is an absorbing and expertly performed film that finds Duvall at the absolute top of his game. 

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44. William Holden in Sunset Boulevard (1950) 

His competition...

Louis Calhern, The Magnificent Yankee
Jose Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac (WINNER)
James Stewart, Harvey
Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride

Holden portrays Joe Gillis, a floundering Hollywood screenwriter, deep in debt and contemplating a move back home to settle for an ordinary office job. One day, while on the run from men vying to repossess his car, he pulls into the driveway of a seemingly abandoned mansion on Sunset Boulevard. Lurking inside, however, is the once-famous silent movie star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her loyal butler Max Von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). Desperate for work, he convinces the unhinged Norma to hire him as a script doctor on her dreadful screenplay about Salome. Joe ultimately moves in and Norma falls head over heels for the young scribe - a development sorely tested by Joe's affection for fellow aspiring writer Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson). This performance marked Holden's first Oscar nomination. 

On his first Oscar nomination, Holden, still something of an industry up-and-comer at age 32, hadn't a real prayer of scoring victory in Best Actor - as expected, Ferrer, who three years earlier took home the Tony for his turn as Cyrano, emerged triumphant. Fun as Ferrer's scenery chewing is, however, there's no doubt which of these two turns has proven the more timeless.

Holden, at his most matinee idol, is pitch-perfect in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard - the worst thing you could say about him is Swanson is even more spellbinding. The remarkable thing is, Holden as Joe Gillis would have never come to fruition if it weren't for Montgomery Clift, initially cast in the role, bolting from his contract prior to filming. Who knows what Clift could've done with the part (no doubt, per usual, he would've aced it) but it's tough to fathom topping what Holden so magically pulls off in the picture.

From the moment Holden's Joe first graces the screen, face down and dead in Norma's pool, he leaves an overwhelming impression. Though Swanson hogs the spotlight in scene after scene, Joe is our master of ceremonies all along, guiding us through the fascinating and demented world in which Norma lives. Holden has never looked more dashing, nor exuded so much irresistible charisma, but that's hardly to say he's a mere pretty boy.

This is a rich, lived-in performance, a portrayal of a hopeless man just desperate enough to get himself involved with a strikingly unstable figure. Joe has no shortage of confident quips - he is, after all, a Hollywood screenwriter - but underneath the snappy dialogue is a palpably lost and conflicted man.

The chemistry between Holden and Swanson is as sizzling as it is disquieting, even if Joe is never truly infatuated with Norma - that is, besides an infatuation with the idea of using her as a stepping stone to survive in Hollywood. Holden's rapport with Olson may not be a tenth as compelling as his scenes opposite Swanson but they do at least give the charmer a chance to show off his lighter side.

Yet, it's the romance with Betty that of course proves Joe's ultimate downfall, as the increasingly unpredictable Norma sees herself in a tug of war with this young woman. Norma's reaching out to Betty proves the final straw for Joe, giving Holden the opportunity to at last dominate the screen himself as Joe candidly tells Norma the public has long forgotten her and no comeback has ever really been in the cards. 

Sunset Boulevard is very much a Gloria Swanson showcase through and through, the sort of comeback vehicle Norma Desmond could only dream of. Yet, the film wouldn't excel to such incredible heights without the right Joe. Holden is absolutely exemplary as he kicks off his emmaculate big screen run in the 1950s, staking his claim as one of the finest leading men of the decade.

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43. Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954) (WINNER)

His competition...

Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny
Bing Crosby, The Country Girl
James Mason, A Star Is Born
Dan O'Herlihy, Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

Brando portrays Terry Malloy, once an up-and-coming prize fighter but now a despondent dockworker, running errands for Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the mob-connected boss of the dockers union. After unwittingly drawing a fellow dockworker into an ambush that leaves the man dead, Terry, ridden with guilt over the murder, becomes close to the victim's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint). Much to the chagrin of Terry's mob-associated brother Charley (Rod Steiger), Edie and waterfront priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) encourage Terry to testify against Johnny. This performance marked Brando's fourth Oscar nomination and first win.

When Brando lost the Best Actor prize in 1951 for A Streetcar Named Desire, Oscar night attendees, including winner Humphrey Bogart (for The African Queen) himself, were flabbergasted. The Brando loss prevented Streetcar from achieving the feat of sweeping all four acting categories - a tall order still not accomplished by any picture to this day.

There were several factors behind the Brando loss, chief among them the fact that, by the early 1950s, Bogart was seen as due for Oscar victory, surely much more so than Brando, in merely his second appearance on the big screen (ditto Monty Clift, whose turn in A Place in the Sun marked only his fifth film role). No doubt playing a role too, however, was Brando's refusal to cozy up to members of the Academy - long before his infamous Sacheen Littlefeather stunt at the 1972 telecast, he early in his film career frowned upon the ceremony and the concept of such competition among actors for an award.

In the 1954 Oscar season, however, Brando had a change of heart, albeit a short-lived one. He legitimately played the awards season game, providing a plethora of interviews to the right industry people and advocating on behalf of himself and his latest picture from director Elia Kazan, On the Waterfront.

This time around, the competition wasn't as formidable - Bogart already had his Oscar, as did Crosby. O'Herlihy was a non-factor and all of the buzz around A Star Is Born was for its leading lady. The cake was baked for Brando as On the Waterfront all but swept on Oscar night, winning everything but Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor, where there was some clear vote-splitting among the equally brilliant Cobb, Malden and Steiger. 

When Kazan later reflected in his memoirs on acting in film, he proclaimed Brando in On the Waterfront was the greatest of them all - even better than the actor's turn in Streetcar. Hyperbole? Not really. 

In both pictures but even more evocatively in On the Waterfront, Brando puts on a show that marks a startling break away from the more mannered acting styles of the leading men of decades prior (not to diminish the contributions of those terrific stars of the silver screen), to something more unaffected and unpredictable. Brando's tough, rugged exterior may have been a familiar sight but the fragile man underneath that seemingly sturdy skin, the anguished Terry Malloy, was decidedly unexpected. 

Take, for instance, the legendary taxi scene with Brando and Steiger, which has perhaps been revisited and replayed to the point of oversaturation. What makes it such a gut punch, beyond the exquisite dialogue, is a delicate fashion in which Brando in particular plays it. When Steiger's Charley passes his brother a gun, convinced he'll have no choice but to use it against Johnny and his goons, Terry gently brushes it aside with feelings of both vexation and unconditional love for Charley. 

Brando finds a way of consistently approaching the material in surprising ways, like the unforgettable glove moment in Terry's walk in the park with Edie and Terry's agonizing journey to confessing to Edie the tragic circumstances behind her brother's death - the more infatuated he becomes with Edie, the more repentant he feels about not being honest with her.

To this day, the sight of Terry, nearly beaten to death by Johnny's thugs after confronting the boss over being the lone man not hired for recruitment, forcing himself to his wobbly feet to enter the dock, is a remarkable and stimulating piece of cinema, closing the proceedings on the most rousing of notes. 

Initially eyed for On the Waterfront was Frank Sinatra, who the year prior proved himself a plenty reliable actor with his Oscar winning turn in From Here to Eternity. Odds are, Sinatra would have made for a fine Terry Malloy but color me skeptical that he could instill this character with the same palpable sensitivity with which Brando portrays it. Brando lives and breathes this man and so vividly gets what makes him tick. In a storied career full of memorable performances, this is Brando's best. 

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42. Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968) (WINNER - tied with Hepburn)

Her competition...

Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter (WINNER - tied with Streisand)
Patricia Neal, The Subject Was Roses
Vanessa Redgrave, Isadora
Joanne Woodward, Rachel, Rachel

Streisand portrays Fanny Brice, the outrageously talented comedienne and singer who, toward the beginning of the twentieth century, is the toast of Broadway. Prior to stardom, however, Fanny is a bit player in New York City vaudeville. Hardly the typical beauty of show business, she nonetheless draws the attention of theater legend Florenz Ziegfeld (Walter Pidgeon), who gives Fanny her big break as a member of his iconic Ziegfeld Follies. While Fanny soars in fame, her relationship with the dashing gambler Nicky Arnstein (Omar Sharif) proves decidedly more haphazard. This performance marked Streisand's first Oscar nomination and win.

The 1968 Oscar race in Best Actress was, to put it mildly, an entertaining ride.

From the moment the film adaptation of Funny Girl was announced - to be directed by the beloved William Wyler, no less - Streisand was viewed as a shoo-in for Oscar glory, even though she didn't earn the Tony Award for the role. The race, however, proved exciting and unpredictable as both Hepburn and Woodward earned career-best raves for their turns and Neal graced the screen for the first time in three years, following a much-publicized series of strokes that kept her sidelined. The fifth nominee, Redgrave, was the clear underdog among this quintet, headlining a film negligibly embraced by critics nor audiences, but earned heaps of coverage with her vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. 

For some time, it appeared Woodward was well-positioned to score her second Oscar but then, to the detriment of her chances, she briefly boycotted the ceremony, not pleased to see husband Paul Newman fail to earn a nomination in Best Director for Rachel, Rachel. Newman ultimately persuaded Woodward to attend but the damage was done. Likewise, Neal hadn't planned to attend until Gregory Peck, then Academy president, convinced her to join the festivities. (Not that Neal, in a borderline-Supporting role, was ever viewed as a daunting threat for the win.) Hepburn, per usual, was never expected to go. 

On Oscar night, of course, that stunning tie came to fruition. Audience reaction to presenter Ingrid Bergman announcing Hepburn as the first winner was merely pleasant, while the subsequent naming of Streisand elicited a thunderous roar of applause. While voters may have been deadlocked, there was no question whose side ceremony attendees were on. And who can blame them?

From the moment Streisand bursts onto the screen in Funny Girl, checking herself out in the mirror and greeting herself with the inimitable "hello, gorgeous," you know you're about to behold a true star-making performance. Funny Girl itself isn't a sublime piece of filmmaking, hardly among Wyler's best efforts, but it splendidly works as a showcase for its star and that's all that really matters here. Streisand is front and center, upstaging everything and everyone around her. It's the rare performance that would pitch-perfectly work on both the stage and screen. 

Streisand has smoldering chemistry with Sharif but while the romance is fine and dandy, I'm so much more taken with the star's comic genius. She is, time and time again, devastatingly funny in this picture, proving herself the most gifted of comediennes. And then there's the music, that glorious Jule Styne/Bob Merrill music, which Streisand devours and delivers in the most exquisite fashion. From "I'm the Greatest Star" and "People" to "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "My Man," Streisand slays at every turn. 

Streisand would go on to countless films (and albums, of course) over the decades to come but no performance yet has come close to matching what she pulls off in Funny Girl. It's a glorious turn.

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41. Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple (1985)

Her competition...

Anne Bancroft, Agnes of God
Jessica Lange, Sweet Dreams
Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful (WINNER)
Meryl Streep, Out of Africa

Goldberg portrays Celie Johnson, an African-American woman grappling with life in rural Georgia over the first half of the 20th century. At age 14, Celie is raped and impregnated by her father (Adolph Caesar), who forces her into a marriage with the abusive "Mister" Albert (Danny Glover). Celie spends all too much of her adulthood subjected to Albert's violence, on top of the rampant racism of the south. Events, however, like the entrance of the vivacious and headstrong Shug Avery (Margaret Avery) give Celie reason to keep on going. This performance marked Goldberg's first Oscar nomination.

When presenter F. Murray Abraham took to the stage at the 1985 Oscar ceremony and, upon opening the envelope for Best Actress, proclaimed the winner was, in his estimation, the "greatest actress in the English language," odds are Goldberg knew she was doomed. The champion would indeed be Page, at last emerging triumphant on her eighth Oscar nomination.

Goldberg - and the rest of the audience - erupted with grand enthusiasm at the Page victory but the comedian and first-time actress must felt at least a little sorrow as well, not necessarily at her own loss but now knowing her film, nominated for 11 Oscars, was destined for a complete shutout. Goldberg was The Color Purple's best, perhaps only shot at a win on the big night.

Steven Spielberg's picture was a polarizing effort to say the least and the filmmaker's snub in Best Director all but took it out of contention for the top prize. With Out of Africa soaring, only The Color Purple's leading lady - who would have marked the first African-American to earn the Best Actress Oscar - seemed to have a real prayer.

Five years later, Goldberg would of course go on to grab the Best Supporting Actress prize for her scene-stealing comic turn in Ghost. Let's be real, though - her big screen debut as Celie towers over her work as Oda Mae Brown, ditto the turns of her four opponents in 1985, including Page. (Somehow, voters managed to overlook Norma Aleandro in The Official Story; Cher in Mask; and Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo, all leaps and bounds superior to Goldberg's competition.)

Goldberg in The Color Purple is the best performance of any Spielberg-directed picture, a riveting master class in acting from someone who somehow hadn't graced the big screen before.

Celie's suppressed rage toward Albert and the world around her proves as suffocating for us as it does the character - and when she at last stands up to her nefarious husband, we want to leap out of our seats for a standing ovation. Likewise, Goldberg leaves us devastated as Celie discovers the countless letters from her sister that Albert had for years kept for her. And the tears flow harder than ever at the film's glorious conclusion ("Nettie!").

The Color Purple is a marvelous ensemble piece, as Spielberg draws career-best turns out of Glover, Avery and the startling Oprah Winfrey (also making her film debut), but Goldberg is the heart and soul of the proceedings. Without the right Celie, the production would flounder. Goldberg, however, proves simply sublime. It's a brave, absorbing portrayal of a woman who lifts herself up from submissiveness to extraordinary strength in the most impossible of environments. 

Spielberg's adaptation may hardly be perfect but there's no denying the greatness of Goldberg's turn.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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

In TWO weeks (yes, I'm taking a bit of a break) - at last, the legendary, incomparable, all-around astounding Katharine Hepburn! I've also got the two best Oscar-nominated performances of the 2000s and a pair of career-topping turns from leading men who have inexplicably gone trophy-less

The Oscar 100: #50-46

This post marks Part 11 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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50. Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata (1978)

Her competition...

Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year
Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
Jane Fonda, Coming Home (WINNER)
Geraldine Page, Interiors

Bergman portrays Charlotte Andergast, a renowned pianist who travels to Sweden to visit Eva (Liv Ullmann), the daughter she hasn't seen in seven years. The reunion immediately marks an uneasy affair for Charlotte, who long prioritized her career over the demands of motherhood. All the more pushing Charlotte out of her comfort zone is the realization that her other daughter Helena (Lena Nyman), who is developmentally disabled and who Charlotte had placed in an institution, has been living with Eva. This performance marked Bergman's seventh and final Oscar nomination.

If only Bergman hadn't inexplicably triumphed in Best Supporting Actress (for a nothing performance in Murder on the Orient Express), Autumn Sonata surely could have marked her third Oscar victory. She had the critics behind her but, having just prevailed a few years prior, there was negligible urgency to make Bergman the first performer in Oscar history to earn four acting trophies. Fonda, gracing the most commercially successful picture of the five Best Actress nominees, would ultimately take home the golden statue.

Over the course of The Oscar 100, I have written about both Clayburgh and Page - and Burstyn and Fonda are quite splendid too (this is really one of the all-time great Best Actress line-ups, if not the best) - but this really should have been Bergman's Oscar. It's a performance that towers over the trio of turns that previously delivered her victories (Gaslight, Anastasia and Murder on the Orient Express) and certainly it doesn't hurt to be featured in, for my money at least, the greatest of all Ingmar Bergman films.

Like Interiors, Autumn Sonata is a painfully somber affair, a picture not a breeze to sit through but a must-see nonetheless, for it sports some of the finest acting, writing and directing to ever grace the screen. Not only is Bergman magnificent but Ullmann is even better, also at her career-best, turning in one of the most forlorn performances I've ever seen in any medium.

As Bergman's Charlotte first enters the picture, we are introduced to an elegant and sophisticated woman who is a master at pleasantries but clearly ill-at-ease with anything much deeper, particularly when it concerns her daughters. From the get-go, there is a palpable sense of pain and resentment lurking beneath the surface between Charlotte and Eva and this tension fails to let up over the course of the proceedings. Moreover, Charlotte has already been in a fragile emotional state, still grieving the loss of a dear friend who recently lost his battle with cancer.

Yet, Charlotte hasn't been there for Eva in such tragic times, not even when the latter's little boy died. This is a woman who just cannot deal with the tough stuff, someone who has distracted herself with her career to avoid having to deal with such heartbreak. Now, however, in the same setting as her two daughters, two women wounded by the lack of relationship with their own mother, Charlotte has no choice but to face the damage she has done.

Bergman hardly, however, plays Charlotte as some one-note ice queen. There is a sense that Charlotte feels profound shame over her mothering (or lack thereof) and is genuinely heartbroken about the current state of her daughters. When, during an intense late-night discussion, Eva at last lets it rip, revealing to her mother all of the anguish she's been carrying around all of these years, the look on Charlotte's face is every bit as devastating as her daughter's outcry - there is no use trying to defend herself, as Eva's onslaught is absolutely dead-on. This is master class acting from both Bergman and Ullmann. 

By the time production began on Autumn Sonata, ultimately her final feature film, Bergman had been battling breast cancer for nearly five years. While Bergman would not succumb to this illness for another four years - and in fact graced the small screen one last time, with an Emmy-winning turn in A Woman Called Golda - Autumn Sonata does have the feel of one final, fierce roar on the silver screen, an actress aiming to top herself after a career full of splendid performances. And boy, did she ever.

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49 and 48. James Coburn and Nick Nolte in Affliction (1998) (WINNER - Coburn)

Their competition...

Robert Duvall, A Civil Action
Ed Harris, The Truman Show
Geoffrey Rush, Shakespeare in Love
Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan

Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful (WINNER)
Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters
Edward Norton, American History X

Coburn portrays Glen Whitehouse, the abusive, alcoholic father of Wade (Nolte), the sheriff of a small New Hampshire town. Ridiculed by his father and loathed by his ex-wife (Mary Beth Hurt), Wade, also a heavy drinker, finds at least a glimmer of purpose through work. He becomes obsessed with an investigation into the death of a businessman, unconvinced by claims the man died from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound. Wade's declining mental state is made all the worse by Glen, who relishes any opportunity to taunt his shattered son. These performances marked Coburn's first and only Oscar nomination and win and Nolte's second Oscar nomination.

For both Coburn and Nolte, the stars of a gloomy, scantly seen independent film (one not backed by a Miramax-level distributor), the 1998 awards season went about as splendidly as it could going into Oscar night. Neither race had a clear front-runner.

In Best Supporting Actor, the critics' favorite, Bill Murray in Rushmore, failed to surface on nominations morning. Likewise, the two Golden Globe winners up in Best Lead Actor, Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Michael Caine in Little Voice, were missing in action. Harris won the Golden Globe, while Duvall triumphed at the SAG Awards and Benigni was victorious at the SAG Awards, though he wasn't even nominated at the Globes. Thornton, McKellen and Nolte all earned love from the critics' associations.

For Coburn, the veteran tough guy never before even nominated at the Oscars, the haphazard mess of Best Supporting Actor proved just unfocused enough to score the upset. For Nolte, sadly, he couldn't compete with Benigni and the Miramax machine that fiercely backed Life Is Beautiful. While Benigni's performance has only looked more cloying with time, Nolte's turn in Affliction remains a grueling gut-punch, among the most intense turns ever recognized in Best Actor. Coburn, for his part, is for sure among the most purely terrifying performances to ever earn an Oscar nomination, an embodiment of evil without ever becoming some one-note monster.

As the Paul Schrader picture opens, Nolte's Wade is already in awfully rough shape, at odds with his ex-wife and determined to secure custody of their daughter, even though their relationship too is hardly a stable one. No doubt, Wade yearns for the sort of steady, loving bond with his daughter that he could never have with his father but suffocating memories from Wade's childhood incessantly drive him to the bottle, making such a happy union all the more improbable. As his family turmoil worsens, he further tangles himself up in this murder investigation, which really only adds to his anxiety.

Through blood-curdling flashbacks, we see the abuse, both physical and verbal, Coburn's Glen put Wade and the rest of his family through. Decades later, Glen may be more grey but he still has the stamina to unleash fury on everyone and everything around him, seemingly hellbent on digging his own son further into a hole. The casting of Coburn is ingenious, as only a man of his daunting, barrel-chested stature could make someone like Nolte look so microscopic. 

As the film progresses, Wade grows more hopeless, both professionally and personally. His investigation is en route to nowhere (though he's convinced himself otherwise) and then his mother is found dead of hypothermia - a development Glen seemingly couldn't care less about. Inevitably, Wade will crack once and for all and oddly enough, it's sparked by a "compliment" from Glen, congratulating his son for acting like a "real man" after he injures his daughter. The fight that erupts between father and son is downright explosive and all too convincing. Making it all the more compulsive is the deranged sense of pride Glen clearly feels about this development, taking delight in Wade at last sinking to his level. 

For Coburn, whose filmography looked barely better than Charles Brosnan's in recent decades, Affliction was like a gift from heaven. Kudos to Schrader for seeing in Coburn the ability to absolutely soar in this role. It's a spectacularly scary performance.

Likewise, Nolte, who had a much better track record than Coburn (and, for my money, should have prevailed for The Prince of Tides in 1991), has never been better. Acting opposite the formidable Coburn, Nolte has never looked so fragile or sorrowful. He paints a man with a real heart and soul who, hard as he's tried, tragically cannot overcome the horrors of the past. 

Like Autumn Sonata, Affliction is a punishing watch that nonetheless demands to be seen for the incredible performances that grace it.

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47 and 46. Joan Allen and Anthony Hopkins in Nixon (1995)

Their competition...

Kathleen Quinlan, Apollo 13
Mira Sorvino, Mighty Aphrodite (WINNER)
Mare Winningham, Georgia
Kate Winslet, Sense and Sensibility

Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas (WINNER)
Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Holland's Opus
Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking
Massimo Troisi, Il Postino

Allen and Hopkins portray Pat and Richard Nixon, the 37th first lady and president of the United States. Short on charisma but an exceptional political operator, Dick overcomes defeats for the presidency in 1960 and the California governorship in 1962 to seize the White House in 1968. Even as his position in Washington grows seemingly more secure, leading prospective opponents by high margins ahead of the 1972 race, his paranoia only worsens, resulting in the notorious Watergate scandal. Beside him through these countless highs and lows is Pat, both his most stalwart supporter and candid critic. These performances marked Allen's first and Hopkins' third Oscar nominations.

At more than three hours in length, Oliver Stone's Nixon is an exasperating whirlwind of a motion picture,  a tough film to finish in a single sitting and an effort not without its flaws. It is, however, also Stone's best and most absorbing film, which also happens to sport two of the most riveting performances to grace any picture in the '90s.

Despite negligibly resembling Pat and Richard Nixon, Allen and Hopkins are never anything less than dead-on convincing as the first lady and president. They look and feel like an inseparable couple who've been together for ages, living a life both extraordinary and excruciating. 

As Dick descends into madness, Pat is the lone person he can take comfort in, the one empathetic soul who will hold him when he's broken. While she has no qualms about giving her husband tough love, Pat also understands him better than anyone and knows the traumatic troubles of his past that made Dick the unsteady man he is today. 

Nixon is a picture all but owned by its leading man, as Hopkins dominates the proceedings with overwhelming vigor - that is, unless Allen is present too.

Despite an excessively starry ensemble that includes the likes of James Woods, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, Mary Steenburgen and Paul Sorvino, just to name a few, Allen is the only one with the commanding screen presence to really go toe-to-toe with Hopkins, who plays Dick like a tragic, larger-than-life Shakespearean figure. Stone has never been the greatest at directing women on the big screen but in the case of Allen and Nixon, he managed to capture one of the fiercest, if not the greatest turn from one of the finest actresses of the stage and screen. 

Frankly, I wish there was even more of Pat in Nixon. At just a tad over half an hour of screen time, Pat is no cameo but in a film this prolonged, there are far too many long stretches without her. Still, it's a magnificent turn and, with Hopkins so mightily steering the ship, Nixon is never a snooze.

In their respective Oscar races, Hopkins, who'd just triumphed a few years earlier for The Silence of the Lambs, hadn't a prayer against front-runner Cage. Allen, the critics' favorite, had a more reasonable shot but ultimately couldn't overcome Sorvino and the Academy's penchant for awarding Woody Allen pictures in Best Supporting Actress (odds are, Winslet finished ahead of her too). Hopkins and Allen weren't the least bit helped by the commercial failure of Nixon, a nearly $50 million production that spent zero weeks in the box office top 10. 

Nixon was and is a tough sell for even the most patient of moviegoers but what a shame it is if its screen time prevents folks from beholding the dazzling turns from Hopkins and Allen here. They are sublime.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 - holy moly, this list is getting good. I've got five gangbusters leading performances, including two winners; one of the finest stars of the silver screen in his first Oscar-nominated turn; the sole Steven Spielberg-directed performance to grace this list; and the actor who should've knocked out Raging Bull's Robert De Niro for Oscar glory.

The Oscar 100: #55-51

This post marks Part 10 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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55. Kim Stanley in Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

Her competition...

Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins (WINNER)
Anne Bancroft, The Pumpkin Eater
Sophia Loren, Marriage Italian Style
Debbie Reynolds, The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Stanley portrays Myra Savage, a middle-class British housewife who, with the assistance of her doormat of a husband Billy (Richard Attenborough), moonlights as a medium. Hungry for fame and credibility, she devises a scheme in which Billy will kidnap the child of a wealthy couple and Myra, supposedly using her psychic abilities, will help the parents and law enforcement in the investigation. The plan proves peachy keen early on but, with Myra growing increasingly delusional, such success may prove short-lived. This performance marked Stanley's first Oscar nomination.

Oh, how I wish we were blessed with more of Kim Stanley on the big screen.

One of the brightest stars of Broadway in the 1950s, and a persistent presence on live television dramas during this time, Stanley studied under the likes of Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg and would go on to influence countless aspiring actors with her intense, lived-in performances. Over her entire career, however, Stanley only graced the big screen on half a dozen occasions, one of which was an uncredited, albeit legendary turn as the voice of the adult "Scout" Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Between 1966's The Three Sisters and 1982's Frances (for which she earned her second and final Oscar nomination), Stanley was entirely absent from cinema and her final turn would arrive the following year, in The Right Stuff.

Seance on a Wet Afternoon, the finest of all Stanley performances, is an unimpeachable master class in acting, a stirring tour de force directed by the terrific Bryan Forbes, who also captured two other leading ladies (Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room and Edith Evans in The Whisperers) in particularly sublime (and Oscar-nominated) form in this decade. 

The picture is a splendidly suspenseful affair as Stanley's Myra enters the proceedings in already frenzied form and further descends into madness with each passing minute. As her plan moves into motion, Myra at first looks like a mad genius who could somehow pull this whole charade off. Then, as complications arise, Myra turns unsteady and desperate, en route to orchestrating her own downfall. Stanley is especially a wonder to behold in the seance scenes, the chilling sight of this woman who clearly believes she holds these paranormal powers. Key to her performance, and the film overall, is how strikingly grounded in reality it feels, hardly some bonkers cartoon creation. 

Stanley has a marvelous rapport with Attenborough who, as an actor, has never been in more compelling form. More than a tad reminiscent of Who's Afraid of Virginia's Woolf's Martha and George, Stanley's Myra is an unhinged, larger-than-life force who steamrolls Attenborough's Billy. Yet, the more subdued Billy hardly fades into the scenery. Attenborough is fascinating to watch and he and Stanley ring so very true as a couple. 

That awards season found the stars of heavy British dramas, Stanley and Bancroft, earn the bulk of recognition, as critics most embraced the former and the latter claimed victory at the Cannes Film Festival, plus earned a Golden Globe. It's hard not to suspect they basically split the vote in a way, paving the path for the decidedly sunnier Mary Poppins star to claim victory.

Love ya, Julie Andrews, but you're no Kim Stanley here.

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54. Teri Garr in Tootsie (1982)

Her competition...

Glenn Close, The World According to Garp
Jessica Lange, Tootsie (WINNER)
Kim Stanley, Frances
Lesley Ann Warren, Victor/Victoria

Garr portrays Sandy Lester, the emotionally fragile friend of fellow struggling actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman). Sandy auditions for the role of new hospital administrator Emily Kimberly on the smash daytime soap Southwest General. While she, per usual, proves unsuccessful, Michael reinvents himself as the irresistibly feisty Dorothy Michaels and grabs the part himself. Sandy, unaware of Michael's charade, becomes romantically involved with her longtime pal, a development threatened by Michael's infatuation with television co-star Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). This performance marked Garr's first (and to date, only) Oscar nomination.

Tootsie, the greatest comedy of all-time, sports one of the most gangbusters ensembles to ever grace the screen. Yet, even with all of Hoffman, Lange, Charles Durning, George Gaynes, Dabney Coleman, Sydney Pollack, Bill Murray and so on absolutely killing it, an MVP does emerge through all of this greatness. Her name is, of course, Teri Garr.

I wholeheartedly adore Garr but would have to concede she, more often than not, has been underused or misused on the big screen. She's fabulous in Young Frankenstein, for instance, but is saddled with rather ho-hum roles in the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Black Stallion - both terrific pictures but scant meat on the bone for Garr to chew. This decidedly is not the case in Tootsie. While Garr only earns about 15 minutes of screen time, she juices each second for all it's worth. It's an endearing and side-splittingly funny scene-stealer of the grandest kind.

Michael's climb to acting fame may be an exasperating one but Sandy really has it even tougher. Where losing out on a role only seems to embolden his efforts, such a response only brings Sandy further down. When we meet her, she's seemingly at the end of her journey in New York, ready to go back to the comforts of home in San Diego. Worse, she winds up in an inevitably doomed romance with Michael, who wasn't even all that interested in Sandy in that way before he fell for Julie. 

Yet, Garr never lets Sandy come off as pathetic or vanquished. In her most stirring scene, Sandy, at her wit's end with Michael, having been blown off by him time and time again, fiercely lashes out at her old friend after he reveals he's in love with another woman. ("I never said I love you! I don't care about I love you. I just don't like to be lied to!") She refuses to be anyone's, well, Tootsie.

Garr has ingenious little moments too, like when she surfaces from the bathroom at Michael's surprise birthday party - she's been trapped in there for more than half an hour, without help from anybody, yet she's able to emerge and go right back to socializing. This is a woman who's all too used to being ignored, yet she's not about to let that get too deep under her skin. Watch Garr, too, after she first sleeps with Michael and, already worrying about the future of their relationship, asks him if she'll ever see him again. She proclaims that sex changes things and, in a brilliant bit of acting, lifts up the bed sheet to take a peek at her body. 

Sadly, Garr never had a real prayer on Oscar night, nor did her three fellow losing nominees. Lange's inevitable loss in Best Actress to Meryl Streep (Sophie's Choice), having been dead-on brilliant in Frances (a performance that would have prevailed in nearly any other year), ensured a consolation prize was in the works down in Best Supporting Actress. Furthermore, awarding Lange was a way to throw a bone to Tootsie, a film otherwise squashed on the big night by Gandhi

In hindsight, however, Garr is superior to Lange and Tootsie is leaps and bounds more satisfying than the Richard Attenborough epic.
 

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53. Susan Tyrrell in Fat City (1972)

Her competition...

Jeannie Berlin, The Heartbreak Kid
Eileen Heckart, Butterflies Are Free (WINNER)
Geraldine Page, Pete 'n Tillie
Shelley Winters, The Poseidon Adventure

Tyrrell portrays Oma, a cream sherry-guzzling barfly. Though Oma has a boyfriend (Curtis Cokes), she becomes romantically involved with Tully (Stacy Keach), a washed-up boxer and fellow alcoholic who is desperate for a comeback in the ring. Tully's uphill climb is negligibly helped by his relationship with Oma, which proves a wobbly affair. This performance marked Tyrrell's first and only Oscar nomination.

Ah, Susan Tyrrell - a classic case of a spectacularly talented actress who Hollywood hadn't a clue what to do with. When she first graced the New York stage in Cactus Flower, as an understudy for Toni (played by Brenda Vaccaro on Broadway and later by an Oscar-winning Goldie Hawn on the big screen), the irresistibly eccentric Tyrrell earned raves and, over the following four years, would appear in four more Broadway productions.

A shot at film stardom for this Broadway baby was inevitable and, for too short a time, Tyrrell found mainstream success. First, there was Henry Hathaway's western Shoot Out, which cast Tyrrell opposite the legendary Gregory Peck. Her Oscar nomination for Fat City came the following year and then, two years after that, Tyrell landed a rich supporting role opposite Gene Hackman and Liv Ullmann in Jan Troell's Zandy's Bride.

From there, however, the pickings grew slim. Over the coming decade, there was memorable turns in future cult classics like Andy Warhol's Bad and Forbidden Zone, plus a plethora of appearances in direct-to-video fare in the 1980s, but never again would Tyrrell land a role on the rich level of Oma in John Huston's Fat City. That isn't to say Tyrrell didn't bring her A-game to even the most eyebrow-raising of fare but, not unlike fellow '70s Supporting Actress nominees Karen Black and Linda Blair, it was clear the industry hadn't an idea how to utilize this striking and unusual actress.

Among the most convincing drunks to ever grace the screen (even more so than Milland in The Lost Weekend and Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, and about on-par with Dunaway and Rourke in Barfly), Tyrrell's Oma is the most fascinating of hot messes. You can practically see the alcohol seeping through her pores as Oma looks liable to fall flat on her face at any moment. Yet, this trainwreck also has the biggest of hearts. Clearly not emotionally fulfilled by boyfriend Earl, Oma falls head over heels for Keach's Tully, another lost soul who drowns his many sorrows in liquor.

What's so heartbreaking is there's always a sense the Oma-Tully relationship will inevitably prove short-lived, that he's too distracted and overwhelmed by his flailing career and that she will never actually leave Earl. Huston doesn't sugarcoat the proceedings in the slightest - everything feels remarkably grounded in reality, even more so than the decidedly more optimistic Rocky a few years later.

Unthinkable as it sounds, I suspect there's a fair chance Tyrrell finished dead last in this category. Heckart and Page were viewed as supremely overdue for Oscar glory, Winters was the soft front-runner for her memorable turn in The Poseidon Adventure and Berlin, daughter of the beloved Elaine May, was the critics' favorite.

Fine was her competition was, however, I don't think any of the other contenders come even remotely close to achieving what Tyrrell does in Fat City. It's an exquisite performance from a true chameleon of a character actress who deserved a far better career than what came to fruition.

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52. Patricia Neal in Hud (1963) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Leslie Caron, The L-Shaped Room
Shirley MacLaine, Irma la Douce
Rachel Roberts, This Sporting Life
Natalie Wood, Love with the Proper Stranger

Neal portrays Alma Brown, housekeeper to the Bannon family in Texas. She is pursued by two of the Bannon men, the self-centered, womanizing Hud (Paul Newman) and Hud's teenage nephew Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde) who, as of late, has been looking more up to his uncle than his more principled grandfather Homer (Melvyn Douglas). Alma finds herself attracted to the hard-drinking Hud but hesitates to reciprocate his affections, fearful such courtship will end like past onerous relationships. This performance marked Neal's first Oscar nomination and only win.

By the time Neal earned her Oscar for Hud, she'd had nearly 20 big screen credits under her belt, made a plethora of appearances on thesmall screen and graced Broadway productions of The Children's Hour, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Miracle Worker. She was en route to an Anne Bancroft/Joanne Woodward-level career until tragedy struck when, a mere two years following production on Hud, Neal was sidelined by a series of aneurysms which, for three weeks, sent her into a coma. Neal would, over the coming years, recover and rebound, regaining her ability to speak and walk and eventually returning to Best Actress with a lovely performance in The Subject Was Roses. Still, it's a damn shame that grand momentum she'd built into the early '60s came to such a halt. 

Neal in Hud is a classic conundrum of Lead or Supporting. At just a tad over 20 minutes of screen time, Neal does not grace the screen for much of the proceedings yet, not unlike say, Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, it's one of those powerful turns that stays with you, even when she's not on screen. Much as I adore this performance, I'd actually be inclined to place her in Best Supporting Actress - vis a vis her competition in Best Lead Actress, Neal's turn clearly has a more Supporting feel, even if it is vastly superior to the other four recognized performances. 

Neal's is perhaps the least showy of all performances to earn the Best Actress Oscar. As the lonesome Alma, working to suppress her feelings for the reckless but dashing Hud, Neal is in remarkably unaffected form, yet there's never any doubt what's lingering on her mind. In comparison to the the trio of men, Alma is thinly written and arguably could have been left out of the picture altogether, yet Neal's gripping portrayal of the character makes her feel essential. 

Even when Alma isn't speaking, Neal conveys a palpable sense of vulnerability and, through mere glances at Hud, paints a woman clearly intrigued by hasty stud before her - no doubt, had he arrived years ago, before other life experiences, she would have become involved. She is aroused by the stories he tells of relations with other women, yet has built up the strength to sway away Hud's many advances. The two actors have incredible chemistry as Hud yearns to move closer to Alma, only for her to take the necessary steps back. 

That Neal is so subdued for the bulk of her performance makes it all the more affecting when Alma breaks down toward the end of her appearance in the picture, bidding farewell to Lonnie and, of course, Hud, who realizes he'll never forget her as the one who got away.

The decision to place Neal in Best Lead Actress made for an unpredictable category going into Oscar night - had she been down in Supporting, odds are Caron would have triumphed, with MacLaine not terribly far behind. Alas, the Hail Mary in Lead worked just splendidly - one of the Academy's most inspired choices for the prize.

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51. Meryl Streep in The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Her competition...

Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking (WINNER)
Elisabeth Shue, Leaving Las Vegas
Sharon Stone, Casino
Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility

Streep portrays Francesca Johnson, a wife and mother who, while her family is away on a trip, embarks on a brief, tender affair with Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a National Geographic photographer visiting to capture the bridges of Madison County, Iowa. Francesca finds herself at a painstaking crossroads - she can continue her humdrum existence or run away and travel the world with the man who so intensely feels like her soulmate. This performance marked Streep's 10th Oscar nomination.

It may sound unfathomable today but, in 1995, both Streep and Eastwood were in need of big screen comebacks. Streep's pictures from the year prior - The House of the Spirits and The River Wild - didn't exactly send audiences head over heels, nor did Eastwood's most recent effort, the 1993 release A Perfect World

Robert James Waller's best-seller The Bridges of Madison County, a misty-eyed romance about an Italian war bride and the dashing photographer who rolls into town - hardly had the looks of an Eastwood production on paper. Yet, his adaptation proved an unlikely match made in heaven, even after Waller fiercely advocated for Isabella Rossellini, not Streep, to take on the role of Francesca. 

Streep may be divine in the likes of Sophie's Choice, Silkwood, Postcards from the Edge and so on but, for my money, she has never been better than in Eastwood's picture. How on earth have they not worked together since?

Under Eastwood's sumptuous direction - never has the camera been so in love with her - Streep looks downright ravishing. Her chemistry with Eastwood is less sizzling than it is something simply very sincere and special. This is a sensitive and delicate picture that, rightfully so, takes its sweet time in tracing its characters' journey. 

For me, The Bridges of Madison County has long brought to mind David Lean's Summertime, perhaps the most underrated vehicle of Katharine Hepburn's career. Neither Bridges nor Summertime necessarily marks the showiest, most extravagant turn of Streep's or Hepburn's careers, yet there's something truly extraordinary and improbable to replicate about their work. It's as if these legendary leading ladies at last found the directors best-suited to their sky-high talents and movie magic came to fruition.

When I reflect upon Streep's filmography, I cannot think of a more affecting scene than that of Francesca at the most painstaking of crossroads. With her pleasant but passionless husband beside her and newfound love Robert mere feet away, waiting in his car for Francesca to make her move to him, she faces the most grueling and unfair of decisions. It's an experience that's proves just as punishing for us as it does for Francesca.

Yet, at the end of the day, Streep was never going to win in 1995. With two Oscars up her sleeve, there was (not yet) much urgency to award her a third. The overdue candidate and category front-runner was Sarandon, though Shue and Stone had bases of support too. Odds are, Streep even finished behind Thompson. 

Streep may have been hopeless on Oscar night but that hardly detracts from the exceptional nature of her performance - the best in a career full of incredible turns.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 upper half of the Oscar 100 makes a quick pit stop in the '70s before diving into the '90s with two pairs of performers from the same pictures. If you thought the past 50 performances have been knockouts, just wait 'til you see what the following 10 weeks bring!