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!

The Oscar 100: #60-56

This post marks Part 9 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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60. Brenda Blethyn in Secrets & Lies (1996)

Her competition...

Diane Keaton, Marvin's Room
Frances McDormand, Fargo (WINNER)
Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient
Emily Watson, Breaking the Waves

Blethyn portrays Cynthia Purley, a white, working class London woman barely making ends meet for herself and her daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook). Lonely and on shaky terms with her family, Cynthia's despondent existence receives a startling jolt in the form of Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a successful black optometrist who is revealed to be the daughter Cynthia gave up at birth. After some initial hesitation, Cynthia embraces Hortense and even invites her to a family barbecue, all the more testing Cynthia's uneasy relationship with her kin. This performance marked Blethyn's first Oscar nomination.

Previously best known for her work on the small screen in the U.K. (which is to say, barely known among American audiences), Blethyn exploded onto the big screen at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where she scored Best Actress honors and her film, Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies, took home the Palme d'Or. Blethyn would go on to earn raves upon the film's fall U.S. release and later pick up a scattering of critics' awards, plus a Golden Globe and, of course, the BAFTA Award. Alas, McDormand's victory at the SAG Awards all but baked the cake in Best Actress going into Oscar night. It was always going to be a tall order for Blethyn to triumph with two other Brits (Scott Thomas and Watson) in the running, plus Secrets & Lies wasn't terribly commercially successful stateside.

Delightful as McDormand is, however, I don't think she holds a candle to Blethyn's magnificent turn. This is one of the very best performances of the '90s, nearly the richest of all of the decade's Best Actress nominees.

As Secrets & Lies opens, Blethyn's Cynthia is the most forlorn of sights, a woman living paycheck to paycheck with a daughter who hardly shows her affection or appreciation. Cynthia clearly sees in Roxanne her former self, someone physically appealing who could at least succeed in drawing the attention of men - an ability Cynthia no longer has, though she's ultimately too downcast to give into feeling resentful of her daughter. Blethyn paints a woman who desperately could use a simple hug, who has nobody to find emotional fulfillment through, including from her brother (Timothy Spall, also brilliant). Blethyn gives Cynthia a rather outlandish exterior but there's no doubt of the sadness suffocating her underneath.

Watching Cynthia amidst the entrance of Hortense into her life is absolutely fascinating. First, as expected, she's stunned beyond belief, incapable of believing this is all really happening. Then, no hyperbole, in basically one of the greatest scenes ever captured on film, Cynthia concedes that she is indeed Hortense's mother, giving Blethyn the opportunity to show how an emotional breakdown should really be portrayed on the screen. 

What happens after this is just as compelling, as Cynthia wholeheartedly embraces Hortense and suddenly, probably for the first time in her life, feels a sense of pride, having somehow managed to produce a daughter so smart and prosperous. Making the proceedings all the more affecting is just how convincing Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste end up coming off as a mother and daughter - they hardly look alike, yet have a rapport and chemistry that is sensational.

Blethyn's performance isn't exactly a subdued one but who cares? Cynthia rings painfully true and her emotionally journey throughout Secrets & Lies is the most compelling of cinema. It's a breathtaking turn from an actress who unfortunately never scored a follow-up on nearly the same level.

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59. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Jeanne Crain, Pinky
Susan Hayward, My Foolish Heart
Deborah Kerr, Edward, My Son
Loretta Young, Come to the Stable

De Havilland portrays Catherine Sloper, the lonesome daughter of wealthy doctor Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson). While Catherine stands to inherit her father's vast fortune, she has never felt from him the deep affection he gave to his late wife. This lack of love makes Catherine fall all the harder for the dashing Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), an enchanting young man who begins courting her from the moment they meet. Dr. Sloper, however, is none too pleased, convinced Morris is exclusively interested in the money Catherine will someday inherit. This performance marked de Havilland's fifth and final Oscar nomination and second win.

Gosh, de Havilland must have been the lock of all locks venturing into Oscar night. Her sublime performance aside, this is, for my money at least, actually one of the all-time most lackluster Best Actress affairs. Crain is serviceable but upstaged by all of her supporting cast (Ethel Waters especially); Hayward is grating in a picture that was so dreadful, it convinced J.D. Salinger (author of the short story it was based upon) to never again allow his source material to be adapted to the screen; Kerr is fine but has no business being in Lead; and finally, Young is very pleasant in a very pleasant and negligible film. Who on earth was runner-up?

Anyway, this post isn't about that quartet of actresses but rather de Havilland, who is devastatingly good in William Wyler's The Heiress, somehow the last film to earn her Oscar recognition.

De Havilland's Catherine is such a tragically shy and fragile sight as the picture opens, you fear the slightest touch might be enough to shatter her. All of this time spent floundering in the shadow of her apparent goddess of her mother, and her father's incessant putting her down as inferior to his late wife, has all too clearly taken a toll on this woman. While de Havilland physically deglams for the role, she also vividly exudes the fatigue and melancholy of someone who, for far too long, has not felt loved.

Well, that of course changes with the entrance of the charming Morris (Clift, in one of his many stunning turns from the '40s/'50s), who awakens in Catherine a vitality that surely hasn't seen the light of day in quite some time. The de Havilland-Clift romance nearly recalls the awe-inspiring chemistry between Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun. There's a sense Catherine knows that Morris may indeed just be in it for the money but that long-lost emotional feeling is so intense, it might be worth diving into a marriage anyway.

De Havilland also shares stirring scenes opposite Richardson, who frankly, appears hellbent on out-acting his leading lady with a more theatrical delivery. Alas, he only serves to make de Havilland's Catherine all more empathetic and convincing a heroine. 

Catherine's evolution, as she's ultimately abandoned by Morris, only for him to return several years later, determined to win her back, is enthralling stuff and de Havilland is pitch-perfect every step of the way, including in that unforgettable final shot. This is a legit superstar of the silver screen who wholly deserved all five of her Oscar nominations, yet the other four, even Gone with the Wind, just aren't quite on this same sky-high level. It's a magnificent performance.

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58. Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind (1956) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Mildred Dunnock, Baby Doll
Eileen Heckart, The Bad Seed
Mercedes McCambridge, Giant
Patty McCormack, The Bad Seed

Malone portrays Marylee Hadley, the sex-crazed, hard-drinking daughter of an oil tycoon (Robert Keith). Marylee pines for the dashing Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson), a geologist who works for the Hadleys, who in turn is enamored with Lucy (Lauren Bacall), the unhappy wife of Kyle (Robert Stack), Marylee's insecure brother. Hellbent on throwing a wrench into this love triangle, Marylee suggests to Kyle that Mitch and Lucy are lovers and that Lucy is carrying Mitch's child. This performance marked Malone's first and only Oscar nomination and win. 

Heavens, what a deliciously campy category! For some time, I was actually partial to Heckart's glorious hot mess of a performance in The Bad Seed but in recent years, having grown fond of all things Douglas Sirk, have come strongly around to supporting Malone's victory. All of these nominees are, however, quite memorable.

Malone is absolutely fearless in Written on the Wind, taking Marylee to exciting and alluring places that a less audacious actress may have missed. Making her turn stand out all the more is the decision by Hudson and Bacall to inexplicably play this trashy material completely straight - rarely have these two stars come off so bland or been so upstaged by their supporting co-stars (like Malone, Stack totally gets the flamboyant feeling Sirk is going for). Even with Hudson and Bacall in lackluster form, however, Written on the Wind proves grand entertainment, if for Malone's contribution alone. 

Shot in glorious Technicolor, Malone owns the screen every time she graces it. Her Marylee is a shamelessly spoiled nymphomaniac, a woman who bounces from man to man to fill the emptiness from her unrequited love for Hudson's Mitch. Sirk and the camera are infatuated with the star - even Frank Skinner's music perks up when Marylee is front and center. 

While Hudson and Bacall phone it in, Malone finds a way of surprising in nearly every scene, feasting on Robert Wilder's wicked dialogue as Marylee becomes hellbent on blowing up the picture's love triangle. Malone mambos like no other has ever mambo-ed on the screen before, has that stunning scene by the lake opposite Hudson and completely kills it in the final courtroom scene, culminating in that incredible final shot that all but sets in stone that Malone owns this picture.

Malone is altogether provocative, pathetic and enthralling - an unforgettable turn made all the more absorbing by Sirk's striking vision.

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57. Geraldine Page in Interiors (1978)

Her competition...

Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata
Ellen Burstyn, Same Time, Next Year
Jill Clayburgh, An Unmarried Woman
Jane Fonda, Coming Home (WINNER)

Page portrays Eve, an interior decorator whose ceaseless negativity has made life miserable for husband Arthur (E.G. Marshall) and daughters Renata (Diane Keaton), Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) and Flyn (Kristin Griffith). A profoundly unhappy woman, Eve attempts suicide after Arthur's declaration that he wishes to be separated from his wife. The entrance of gaudy new wife-to-be Pearl (Maureen Stapleton) pushes the family into deeper turmoil. This performance marked Page's sixth Oscar nomination.

When F. Murray Abraham took to the stage at the 1985 Oscars and proclaimed Page "the greatest actress in the English language," such wasn't hyperbole. Then on her eighth Oscar nomination, Page was even more overdue than say, Glenn Close is viewed today. It's a damn shame it took so long for the Academy to come around, and to ultimately recognize her for that performance - not that Page isn't in perfectly fine form in The Trip to Bountiful but it just isn't a turn on the same masterful level as say, her spellbinding work in Woody Allen's Interiors.

Speaking of characters in dire need of a hug, Page's Eve is among the saddest sights I've ever seen on screen and surely the more despairing presence in an Allen picture. It's a performance on the fence between Lead and Supporting - odds are, she could have triumphed in the latter category, instead of batting it out with unimpeachable leading turns in the former - but Page, even if she doesn't grace the screen for a majority of the proceedings, always feels right there, lingering in the atmosphere.

Eve is a doomed woman, as exasperating as she is empathetic. She always seems right on the cusp of falling apart for good, so, when Marshall's Arthur tells her at church that their marriage is officially over, that he's fallen for Stapleton's Pearl, it's inevitable that she'll lose it. Page may not be an actress known for her grand subtlety but in this particular scene, she brings real nuance to Eve, painting a woman whose scant life left in her eyes has now vanished for eternity. She may be a plenty intelligent and talented woman but there is no hope left for her, no light to be found on the horizon. 

Page has dynamite chemistry with all of her co-stars, perhaps Marshall most of all but also Hurt, whose Joey seems most affected of all by her mother's constant misery.

Over his career, Allen has directed several marvelous actresses in the role of family matriarch, from Colleen Dewhurst in Annie Hall to Maureen O'Sullivan in Hannah and Her Sisters and Elaine Stritch in September - all remarkable performances, yet none as much an intense gut-punch like Page in Interiors. It's one of the fiercest turns to ever grace one of his pictures and, for my money, the best performance of Page's storied career.

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56. Thelma Ritter in Pickup on South Street (1953)

Her competition...

Grace Kelly, Mogambo
Geraldine Page, Hondo
Marjorie Rambeau, Torch Song
Donna Reed, From Here to Eternity (WINNER)

Ritter portrays Moe Williams, a New York hustler who services criminals as often as she does law enforcement. In the role of informant, she's brought in by police who are on the hunt for Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark), a pickpocket and friend of Moe's who unwittingly got his hands on a piece of top-secret microfilm wanted by the Communists. What begins as business as usual for the crafty Moe takes a troubling turn as she finds herself faced with a dilemma - rat out her pal or take a fatal fall herself. This performance marked Ritter's fourth Oscar nomination.

Oh, how I adore this woman. Has there ever been a scene she didn't steal?

With that said, Ritter would, far more often than not, play a certain type of character, a spirited, salt-of-the-earth housekeeper or mother who serves as the voice of reason. In the 1950s and 1960s, nobody could play this part better. Over her remarkable career, Ritter would earn half a dozen Oscar nominations and, much as I worship her, I actually would have awarded her on a mere one occasion, for Pickup on South Street, one of the few pictures that refreshingly provided Ritter the opportunity to flex her acting muscles outside of her usual routine.

Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street is a gangbusters piece of film noir, one of the all-time great crime thrillers. The likes of Widmark and the alluring Jean Peters (who plays Candy, the ex-hooker who just dated a Communist spy and had her wallet stolen by Widmark's Skip) would never again find roles so rich, nor would Fuller, despite many terrific pictures, deliver another film on this sky-high sublime level. Yet, for all of the film's merits, it's Ritter, even with rather scant screen time, who walks away with the proceedings.

The evolution of Ritter's Moe Williams throughout the picture is captivating to behold, as she first enters the police station ready to do business with law enforcement - that is, of course, for the right price. Moe's physical appearance may be that of a pleasant old lady but, the moment she opens her mouth, there is no doubt of the crafty, devious woman underneath that exterior. Yet, there is also a sadness to Moe - she is, after all, amassing all of this money to save up for her own funeral. 

As the film progresses, Moe begins to exude senses of uncertainty and vulnerability, torn between giving up information on her friend and the obvious financial benefits of doing so. In the most powerful scene of Ritter's entire career, Moe, after failing to convince Skip to provide the film to the government, is confronted by that aforementioned Communist spy (Richard Kiley) in her own apartment. Already on the verge of death, her strength dwindling by the day, she decides to face the consequences of not ratting Skip out. She lashes out at the spy and the world around her, fed up for the last time at the underworld she's spent her life in.

Moe may enter Pickup on South Street looking like merely another one of Ritter's many colorful creations but by the end, she's among the most heartbreaking sights you'll ever have seen on the silver screen. 

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 - so, I just noticed that 23 of the past 25 inductees into the Oscar 100 have been women. Well, get ready for another quintet of ladies! Meryl Streep is back, plus I've got one hell of a Best Actress winner, two fabulous one-time Oscar nominees and a chilling rare big screen turn from a sublime star of the stage.

The Oscar 100: #65-61

This post marks Part 8 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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65. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Her competition...

Mary Badham, To Kill a Mockingbird
Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker (WINNER)
Shirley Knight, Sweet Bird of Youth
Thelma Ritter, Birdman of Alcatraz

Lansbury portrays Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin, mother of Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), who earned the Medal of Honor for his service in the Korean War. A staunch McCarthy-era right-winger, Mrs. Iselin is married to the U.S. Senator John Iselin (James Gregory), an ineffective legislator she desperately wants to see elected to higher office. The Iselins' road to the White House is dependent on Shaw, who loathes them for exploiting his heroism for political gain but, ever since returning home, has also found himself oddly losing control over his actions. This performance marked Lansbury's third (and to date, final) Oscar nomination.

Ooh, I get goosebumps just thinking about this performance!

And to think the sublime Lansbury nearly missed out on this role, one envisioned by star Frank Sinatra as being perfect for, of all people, Lucille Ball. Ball would later get her revenge, wrestling away from Lansbury the title role of Mame in the 1974 film adaptation, albeit to disastrous results that ended Ball's career on the big screen.

Lansbury roars her way into The Manchurian Candidate from the moment she first graces the screen, pouncing her way onto the tarmac, where Mrs. Iselin is to be reunited with her son, returning home from the war. Lansbury wisely hides the manipulative genius of Mrs. Iselin early on, painting her as a woman perhaps just as fruitless as her lawmaker husband. That Mrs. Iselin reeks of a nothingburger makes it all the more startling when Lansbury begins to peel off the layers to this woman, slowly but surely revealing her to be a sinister monster with no qualms about cruelly using her son for political gain.

Unlike a certain Oscar winner who would go on to (much less successfully) tackle this role in a (vastly inferior) remake, Lansbury never much chews the scenery or grandstands. Mrs. Iselin always feels grounded in reality, which really makes her all the more chilling. Lansbury is especially sensational in her final extended scene opposite Harvey, in which Mrs. Iselin lays upon her son the most unsettling and notorious of movie smooches. Talk about a Mother from Hell. 

The Manchurian Candidate holds up awfully well, leaps and bounds more tense and compelling than the bulk of today's political thrillers. Yet, despite all of the talent involved, both in front of and behind the screen, Lansbury all but walks away with the picture, her pungent presence lingering even when she's not on screen. 

Even with stiff competition, including the brilliant Duke and Badham and lesser but still memorable Knight and Ritter, Lansbury was favored to pick up the Best Supporting Actress trophy. Alas, it would be Duke taking home the prize - in hindsight, perhaps not the most jaw-dropping of surprises, given the otherwise lukewarm reception for The Manchurian Candidate. Surely, the Academy's preference is not to be faulted but I suspect we can agree Lansbury would have triumphed for this turn in most years.

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64. Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment (1983) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Jane Alexander, Testament
Meryl Streep, Silkwood
Julie Walters, Educating Rita
Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment

MacLaine portrays Aurora Greenway, the irresistibly brash mother of Emma (Debra Winger). Aurora's relationship with her daughter is a tumultuous one, especially on the heels of Emma's marriage to Flap (Jeff Daniels), a man Aurora isn't terribly fond of. Aurora herself finds love, becoming romantically involved with the charming former astronaut (Jack Nicholson) who for years has lived next door without much interaction. This performance marked MacLaine's sixth (and to date, final) Oscar nomination and first victory.

All too often, I've come across fellow awards season aficionados who write off MacLaine's Oscar victory as something of a mere career win. This isn't entirely nonsensical sentiment, given how obscenely overdue MacLaine was by 1983 - she should have handily triumphed 23 years earlier for The Apartment over Elizabeth Taylor and her inexplicable Oscar-winning turn in BUtterfield 8 - but I still don't think it's fair at all. She is absolutely fabulous in Terms of Endearment and, despite her incredible competition, certainly deserved to triumph.

Like all parties in the James L. Brooks picture, MacLaine masters a challenging balancing act between hilarity and heartbreak.

There are those endearing and often outrageously funny scenes opposite Nicholson, with whom you can tell MacLaine had a ball finally working opposite. Then, of course, there is the latter half of the film, with the onset of Emma's illness, which gives MacLaine the opportunity to tear up the screen with scenes like the legendary "give my daughter the shot" moment and Aurora knocking some sense into her stubborn grandson. I'm even more taken, however, with the quieter moments, like Aurora's uneasy lunch with Flap and her final heartbreaking moments with Emma. 

Sinking her teeth into Brooks' sparkling screenplay, MacLaine crafts an absorbing and altogether original character and, while she does overwhelmingly dominate much of the proceedings, MacLaine has marvelous chemistry opposite all of her co-stars and helps keep everyone on the top of their game. In a career full of memorable turns, this is perhaps MacLaine's best of all, a richly deserved Oscar winner.

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63. Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen
Eleanor Parker, Detective Story
Shelley Winters, A Place in the Sun
Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil

Leigh portrays Blanche DuBois, a schoolteacher who, under peculiar circumstances, abandons small town Mississippi to reside with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter) in New Orleans. Blanche is shocked to find Stella living in a congested, decaying apartment and even more flabbergasted by Stella's fiery husband Stanley (Marlon Brando), a hyper-masculine figure Blanche views as crude and vulgar. As tensions rise among the trio, Blanche becomes romantically involved with Mitch (Karl Malden), a man lonely and desperate enough to fall for the unstable Blanche. This performance marked Leigh's second and final Oscar nomination and win.

Those familiar with my Montgomery Clift-Shelley Winters fawning on Twitter shouldn't be the faintest bit surprised I'm Team A Place in the Sun at the 1951 Oscars. I believe the George Stevens film deserved not only Best Director (which it scored) but also Best Picture (which it didn't) and yes, I even say Clift should have topped Marlon Brando's iconic turn in A Streetcar Named Desire

Alas, I would have to concede, the Academy got it right in Best Actress. Wonderful as Winters is, she can't quite hold a candle to Leigh, having a field day as the inimitable Blanche DuBois in Elia Kazan's fierce adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play.

Tackling with tenacity the role originated by Jessica Tandy in the Broadway production, Leigh is absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish, painting Blanche as a woman as deranged as she is endearing. Without resorting to the sort of histrionics a lesser actress may have leaned on, Leigh's Blanche is an all-too-convincing portrait of a woman plagued by loneliness and sorrow and wrestling, with little success, mental illness. It's one of those rare pitch-perfect turns that would play just as splendidly on the stage as it does the screen. 

Leigh's chemistry with the barrel-chested Brando and lonesome Malden is remarkable. Powerful as Brando is, I'm even more taken with the moments between Leigh and Malden, particularly their extended scene together in which Blanche reveals the fate of the man she once loved. Leigh's heartrending delivery explains so much about Blanche and how she became this unsteady shell of her former self. As the picture goes on, Leigh so vividly conveys Blanche's further disillusionment from reality and descent into mania, made all the worse by Stanley's incessant taunting. Like Winters' Alice in A Place in the Sun, Leigh's Blanche emerges the most hopeless and tragic of figures.

It's no wonder Williams buoyantly raved over Leigh's portrayal of his creation. No actress since has nearly done Blanche the same justice. It's a knockout performance.

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62. Jane Darwell in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Judith Anderson, Rebecca
Ruth Hussey, The Philadelphia Story
Barbara O'Neil, All This, and Heaven Too
Marjorie Rambeau, Primrose Path

Darwell portrays Ma Joad, matriarch of the Joad family, en route to California in search of a better life. Led by recently paroled son Tom (Henry Fonda), the Joads on the road come across countless other families chasing the dream of prosperity but, upon arriving in the Golden State, find the promised land doesn't nearly hold the riches they anticipated. Ma's fortitude, love and determination keep the family going through one hard time after another. This performance marked Darwell's first and only Oscar nomination and win.

For the rest of my lifetime, I suppose, I will find myself see-sawing between Anderson and Darwell for the win in 1940 Best Supporting Actress. Alas, for the time being, my heart is ever-so-slightly with the latter.

From the moment Darwell first graces John Ford's exquisite film, you can tell what a formidable performance this is going to be. She is Ma Joad, through and through, a soulful, tenacious, towering force who is committed to getting this family through hell. Darwell's rapport with Fonda (who has never been better) is incomparably affecting, from the moment Ma joyously sees Tom for the first time in years, to Tom's devastating departure and Ma's final crying out to her son.

Darwell has so many memorable moments in the picture, though perhaps the most poignant of all is a quiet one early on, as Ma, sifting through family treasures, discovers an old pair of earrings and tries them on at the mirror. With a single glance, Darwell says so much, not only conveying Ma's sorrow over leaving home but reflection on youth and what were no doubt much better days. That Darwell has this moment nearly right out of the starting gate makes her performance one you cannot keep your eyes off over the duration of the picture. Though surrounded by an incredible ensemble, Darwell always stands out, even when lingering in the background. She has an undeniable screen presence. 

I would be remiss in not noting her many other wonderful scenes, from Ma's desperate pleading with Tom to stay, to her blissful final dance alongside her son, to her knockout monologue that makes the picture close on the most perfect of notes.

Thank heavens for Fonda's insistence that Darwell take on this extraordinary role.

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61. Faye Dunaway in Network (1976) (WINNER)

Her competition...

Marie-Christine Barrault, Cousin Cousine
Talia Shire, Rocky
Sissy Spacek, Carrie
Liv Ullmann, Face to Face

Dunaway portrays Diana Christensen, the new, wildly ambitious vice president of programming for the floundering Union Broadcasting System (UBS). When veteran anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) takes to the airwaves to declare he will commit suicide live on air, Diana sees in the veteran an unstable superstar who can bolster the network's ratings. Meanwhile, news division president Max Schumacher (William Holden) may detest this exploitation of his old friend but such doesn't stop him becoming romantically involved with Diana. This performance marked Dunaway's third and final Oscar nomination and first win.

Ullmann, also sensational, may have been the critics' favorite in 1976 Best Actress but there was scant doubt Dunaway, at this point on her third nomination in the category (after Bonnie & Clyde and Network), was en route to Oscar glory on the big night, and deservedly so.

Sure, Dunaway, per usual, doesn't merely chew the scenery around her but rather viciously devours it (like all of the actors in Sidney Lumet's picture), but her Diana Christensen is hardly some one-note cartoon. Yes, she's a merciless, power-hungry figure but Dunaway instills in Diana a palpable sense of sadness too, a woman aware of her own heartlessness and despondent that she cannot change that. You can tell Diana wishes there was some way she could make it work with Holden's Max, yet she just wasn't built that way. Diana enters the film with a confident, larger-than-life roar, yet, by the end, looks rather small and pathetic. 

In a way, the Diana-Max romance is the heart and soul of Network. She is, as Max concedes to his jilted wife, a woman perhaps incapable of true feelings, or as Diana herself puts it, someone who is exclusively devoted to nailing that 30 share and 20 rating. During their first dinner together, all Diana can talk is work and the same is the case during their lovemaking. Max, on the other hand, seems to be the one person in Network with an actual conscience, a man eventually ridden with guilt over ditching his wife of 25 years for a person who is unable to love him back. 

The breakup scene between Diana and Max is absolutely devastating and expertly performed by Dunaway and Holden. All Max yearns for is for Diana to show him the affection he so feels for her and yet, much as she deep down would love for this thing to work, she cannot emotionally get there. Both Diana and Max end up looking like broken people. Ultimately, however, he will go back to his family to try to regain that emotional fulfillment - Diana, on the other hand, may have just missed out on her one real chance at a soulmate. 

Of course, there's heaps of fun to be found in Dunaway's performance too, like Diana's rapport with her aides, as she pitches the counterculture programming she's convinced will save the network. One of the funniest moments in the picture, even if it's a brief one, is the sight of Diana chowing down on a sandwich as she watches Howard's breakdown - is it the food she finds so delicious or is it the ratings potential she suddenly sees before her?

For too short a period, about a decade, Dunaway turned in one spectacular performance after another but no other quite as riveting as this one. The collaboration with Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky is apparently precisely what this goddess needed to hit the ultimate grand slam.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 - get ready for some unimpeachable legends of the silver screen. I've got Olivia de Havilland, Geraldine Page and Thelma Ritter...but I'll keep you in suspense about which specific performances. Also, I've got a magnificent Best Supporting Actress winner and one of the best Best Actress nominees of the '90s.

The Oscar 100: #70-66

This post marks Part 7 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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70. Jane Alexander in Testament (1983)

Her competition...

Shirley MacLaine, Terms of Endearment (WINNER)
Meryl Streep, Silkwood
Julie Walters, Educating Rita
Debra Winger, Terms of Endearment

Alexander portrays Carol Wetherly, a wife and mother whose quiet suburban life is irreversibly devastated by the onslaught of nuclear war. Cities across the United States, including nearby San Francisco, are hit and, while residents try to proceed with business as usual for some time, it is not long before many, especially children and the elderly, fall gravely ill. Carol guides her family and other stranded survivors toward a future with no light at the end of the tunnel. This performance marked Alexander's fourth (and to date, final) Oscar nomination.

Ah, 1983, the year of nuclear war cinema. There were two much-discussed television specials - The Day After and Special Bulletin - and this, a big screen feature. None of the three productions hold up terribly well, I'm afraid, though Testament is clearly the most absorbing and affecting of the trio, even if it too largely has the look and feel of a middling 'TV Movie of the Week' (of which there was no shortage in this decade).

What sets Testament apart from the other two films is really only one thing - a brilliant performer game to take on some considerable heavy-lifting. Alexander, who was memorable but not exactly MVP in her first three Oscar-nominated turns (The Great White Hope, All the President's Men and Kramer vs. Kramer), is the lone reason to sit through this agonizing endeavor but it's such a powerful and ultimately overwhelming performance, it makes Testament something of a must-see.

Making the turn all the more heartbreaking is Alexander's underplaying of the material for most of the proceedings. Throughout the picture, there is a palpable sense of Carol struggling to suppress her emotions and remain cool while the world around her is literally exploding.

Alexander has several moving scenes alongside her young co-stars, including one especially tragic moment in which the topic of sex is discussed between Carol and her daughter - who will never live to experience it. The ending, too, is devastating in a very understated way. Inevitably, Carol at last completely loses it and it's a moment both harrowing and cathartic - for the character, who has carried infinite weight on her shoulders, and for the audience too, which has witnessed this warm and compassionate woman emotionally and physically disintegrate. 

There was a time when I actually considered Alexander my favorite of this extraordinary, nearly perfect line-up (I would only boot Walters, in favor of Mariel Hemingway in Star 80). In recently revisiting the picture, however, I do think Alexander, while incredible, is perhaps prevented from soaring quite as sky-high as she should, the ho-hum film around her acting like a ball and chain. Not that she had a prayer against MacLaine, who was all but a shoo-in for victory (and deservedly so), but it's still a magnificent performance from Alexander, one of the more undervalued actresses of the stage and screen of the past half-century, in a rare and welcome feature film leading turn.

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69 and 68. Cloris Leachman and Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show (1971) (WINNER - Leachman)

Their competition...

Barbara Harris, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?
Margaret Leighton, The Go-Between
Ann-Margret, Carnal Knowledge

Leachman portrays Ruth Popper, the despondent, lonely wife of a high school football coach (Bill Thurman). Over Christmas 1951, she begins an affair with the comparably forlorn Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), a high school senior unsure of what his future holds. Tragically for Ruth, that future includes the drop dead gorgeous Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) sweeping Sonny off his feet, leaving her all the more sorrowful. This performance marked Leachman's first and only Oscar nomination and win.

Burstyn portrays Lois Farrow, once the prettiest girl in town but now upstaged by her daughter, Jacy. On the heels of age 40, Lois no longer gets a kick out of chasing boys and breaking hearts, instead seeing in her daughter a viciousness that no one else seems to recognize. Lois continues to wax nostalgic for the late, legendary Sam "the Lion" (Ben Johnson), the man who instilled in her a confidence and sense of self-worth that she seems to be losing with time. This performance marked Burstyn's first Oscar nomination.

In a perfect world, this category would have been jam-packed with ladies from The Last Picture Show - not merely Leachman and Burstyn but the comparably brilliant Eileen Brennan and Cybill Shepherd to boot. Keep one of Harris, sublime in an otherwise unwatchable film, or Margret, at her career-best, in that fifth slot. Frankly, it's a surprise to me that voters were able to choose between Leachman and Burstyn, instead of a vote split going down in Margret's favor.

Thankfully, that did not come to fruition, though what a damn shame it is the Peter Bogdanovich picture only mustered one other victory, for Ben Johnson in Best Supporting Actor. Exciting as Best Picture winner The French Connection is, it still isn't half the film The Last Picture Show is.

Over the years, I've see-sawed between Leachman and Burstyn in this category and, while I most certainly cannot fault the Academy's preference, I've come ever-so-slightly around to Burstyn after my most recent viewing. Let's, however, start with Leachman first.

From the moment the initially glum, fragile-looking Ruth graces the screen, we can intensely sense her feeling of abandonment, unloved by her husband and otherwise ignored by everyone else. That is, besides Sonny, also terribly lonely and in need of emotional satisfaction. Leachman and Bottoms have a heart-rending, if curious chemistry as their doomed romance begins. There is a sense that, deep down, Ruth and Sonny could be soulmates but the circumstances around them make such a unity improbable.

Ruth blossoms with vitality as their fling advances and deservedly rips Sonny to shreds when, after deserting her for three months to be with Jacy, he shows up at her front door. Leachman absolutely kills it in this scene, all the more stirring given the subdued fashion in which she portrays Ruth in the early-going. Sonny undoubtedly helped Ruth escape her depression but no way will she allow this kid to bring her back down. 

Ruth's evolution is one of the most compelling parts of The Last Picture Show and yet Burstyn, despite roughly half the screen time as Leachman, gets under my skin just as much, if not a tad more.

Leachman's Ruth and Burstyn's Lois are both unhappy women but where Ruth is all-out in despair, Lois is mostly just restless. Once the most gorgeous girl in Anarene, Texas, she now watches with disdain as her spoiled daughter flourishes with that title, winning and then crushing boys' hearts, not for any emotional fulfillment but just as something diverting to do, to pass the time in this ghost town. Lois, once exactly that person, now realizes those games got her nowhere and, about to hit age 40, sees little positive awaiting her on the horizon.

In perhaps the most affecting scene of the film, Lois, having just stopped Sonny and Jacy from eloping, reveals to Sonny that she was once the lover of Sam "the Lion," who earlier in the picture reflected (in a monologue delivered beautifully by Johnson) on a young woman who once gave him pleasure. Not only does Lois make it clear she feels lost without Sam, the man who inspired her and made her feel her most beautiful, but she even gets in a dig against her own daughter by admitting to Sonny that he was better off with Ruth.

This being among Burstyn's first appearances on the big screen, I can only imagine how taken aback audiences were by her stunning performance here. It's a vivid and fascinating turn that leaves a huge impact, despite only clocking in at about 10 minutes. 

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67. Martin Landau in Ed Wood (1994) (WINNER)

His competition...

Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction
Chazz Palmenteri, Bullets Over Broadway
Paul Scofield, Quiz Show
Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump

Landau portrays Bela Lugosi, once a star of the silver screen in the 1930s but by 1952 a washed-up morphine addict, barely making ends meet. He is rescued by Ed Wood (Johnny Depp), an aspiring filmmaker who idolizes Lugosi and casts him in his transsexual docudrama Glen or Glenda. They go on to make another irresistibly dreadful B-movie, Bride of the Monster, but Lugosi's declining health - and inability to afford proper rehabilitation - rapidly takes a toll on the Dracula icon. This performance marked Landau's third Oscar nomination and first win.

Oh, how I adore the Martin Landau comeback of the late-'80s/early-'90s. After well more than a decade slumming in B-movie (and eventually direct-to-video) fare, the brilliant character actor, of North by Northwest and Cleopatra fame, suddenly found himself working alongside the likes of Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, both of who directed Landau to Oscar nominations for Tucker: The Man and His Dream and Crimes and Misdemeanors, respectively. 

Then, five years after the Allen picture, Tim Burton (scorching hot after the Batman films and Edward Scissorhands and at last able to tackle any desired pet project) gave Landau the role of all roles, that of the legendary horror icon Bela Lugosi - an actor whose projects late in his career were about as depressing as the films Landau did through much of the '70s and '80s. 

Donning the remarkable, Oscar-winning Rick Baker/Ve Neill/Yolanda Toussieng makeup, Landau disappears into the role from the moment he graces the screen - in a coffin, fittingly, as Lugosi plans the arrangements for his own death. There is heaps to love in Ed Wood, from Depp's delightful turn in the title role to Stefan Czapsky's stunning cinematography, yet Landau all but manages to walk away with the picture, scenes without him lacking the sky-high verve of those with him.

As Lugosi, Landau is as heartbreaking as he is devastatingly funny. His recreation of the Glen or Glenda ("pull the strings!") and Bride of the Monster scenes are a hoot and boy does he let it rip when a fan of Lugosi's asks the star for his autograph...only to suggest the actor was the sidekick to Frankenstein star Boris Karloff. Not a wise move. 

As the film progresses and Lugosi's health worsens, Landau's portrayal exudes more and more fragility. Plucked out of rehab by Wood, given there are no funds left to support his treatment, Lugosi recites a monologue from Glen or Glenda before an adoring crowd on the sidewalk - one last grand bit of acting before his imminent end. Landau is simply astonishing from start to finish, fully embodying Lugosi and adding layer after layer to a man who was always seen in a one-note light on the screen.

Landau's competition in '94 was formidable - Palmenteri and Sinise are especially wonderful - but he deservedly ran away with the trophy. And no, this was no career Oscar but rather one of the all-time great performances to triumph in Best Supporting Actor.

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66. Natalie Portman in Jackie (2016)

Her competition...

Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Emma Stone, La La Land (WINNER)
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Portman portrays First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who, following the assassination of her husband, invites journalist Theodore White (Billy Crudup) to the family compound to discuss the legacy of the 35th U.S. president. Kennedy reflects on the glory days of the presidency, the horrors of that fall day in Dallas, Texas and the chaotic whirlwind of arrangements that followed. This performance marked Portman's third Oscar nomination.

I remain flabbergasted as to how Jackie, my favorite film of 2016, managed to find itself so egregiously shortchanged two awards seasons ago. Pablo Larrain's direction is visually stirring and haunting enough to rival Stanley Kubrick at his finest, the absorbing Noah Oppenheim sheds light on Kennedy in a fashion never seen before and the entire ensemble, even if the proceedings are largely a one-woman show, is dead-on convincing. 

Beyond that, you have Madeline Fontaine's glorious costumes, the extraordinary Stephane Fontaine cinematography, Mica Levi's stirring music and so on. It's an overwhelming cinematic experience, leaps and bounds more riveting than say, oh, I don't know, La La Land.

Of course, the heart and soul of the picture is Portman, who runs a roller coaster of emotions, playing out the highs of the Kennedy presidency, when the White House was filled with buoyancy and grand entertainment (and when she filed the famous A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy television special), to the devastation of that autumn day in Dallas. She shares fascinating, intimate scenes opposite the likes of John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard and Greta Gerwig - all in top form - but is really at her most mesmerizing when she has the screen all to herself (which is, thankfully, quite often).

Portman's Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan is a fabulous one too, no doubt, but it's occasionally upstaged by the visual insanity around her. Here, she's front and center, and has the prime opportunity to deliver a real master class in acting. In a way, I kind of wish she hadn't triumphed for Black Swan, not only because Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) is superior that year, but also because her win created no urgency to award her again for Jackie. Ultimately, it was Huppert, not Portman, who emerged the greatest threat to preventing a Stone victory, not that such an upset came to fruition. 

Never striking a false note, Portman is Jackie Kennedy, through and through. It's one of the very best performances, Oscar nominated or not, from this decade.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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 shit, this list is getting epic. I've got not one, not two but three Best Actress winners, not to mention one of the all-time great Best Supporting Actress champions. Round out the quintet with a deliciously scary villain and you've got a fivesome guaranteed to send chills down your spine.