The Oscar 100: #25-21

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

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25. Peter Sellers in Being There (1979)

His competition...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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24. Orson Welles in Citizen Kane (1941)

His competition...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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23. Montgomery Clift in The Search (1948)

His competition...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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22. Katharine Hepburn in Summertime (1955)

Her competition...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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21. Robert Forster in Jackie Brown (1997)

His competition...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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

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

The Oscar 100: #30-26

This post marks Part 15 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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30. Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II (1974)

His competition...

Art Carney, Harry and Tonto (WINNER)
Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express
Dustin Hoffman, Lenny
Jack Nicholson, Chinatown

Pacino portrays Michael Corleone who, in the 1950s, is running the family business out of Lake Tahoe and determined to expand into Hollywood, Las Vegas and pre-revolution Havana. Business is peachy keen until an assassination attempt on Michael's life sends him into a paranoia that is only worsened by his back-stabbing business partner Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg) and floundering marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton). Adding all the more stress is a lingering federal indictment and the troubling recent behavior of brother Fredo (John Cazale). This performance marked Pacino's third Oscar nomination.

Ah, Al Pacino's run at the Oscars - from an embarrassment of riches to...well, an embarrassment. 

Pacino's first four nominations - for The Godfather, Serpico, this and Dog Day Afternoon - are among the finest turns recognized by the Academy in the 1970s. His fifth nomination, for ...And Justice for All, marks a vexing turning point, the farewell of the absorbing, more subdued Pacino and entrance of the bombastic scenery chewer who screams every line as though he's hellbent on deafening everyone in the last row of the balcony. His most recent nominations, for Dick Tracy, Glengarry Glen Ross and Scent of a Woman (for which he inexplicably, if understandably won), are emblematic of the ear-piercing Pacino and hardly recall his earliest work.

If there is much fault to be found in Pacino's more recent offerings, there is also no denying the brilliance of his iconic turns in pictures like The Godfather Part II, a masterpiece which marks the actor's best work.

There is so much to be in awe of in Francis Ford Coppola's sequel, from the careful execution of its tricky nonlinear narrative, to the sumptuous look and feel of the proceedings (cinematographer Gordon Willis, per usual, at the very top of his game) and of course the acting is all-around spellbinding. Yet, even with all of this genius gracing the screen, Pacino manages to completely dominate the proceedings, even more so than Marlon Brando in the first picture.

At this point in the Corleone saga, Michael is a truly terrifying sight, with the most intimidating presence. Though his exterior may be a menacing one, Pacino also vividly captures Michael's vulnerabilities and doubts, constantly grappling with anxiety as he's forced to make one impossible decision after another, both in business and back at home. Pacino especially comes to life in scenes opposite Keaton, namely the most riveting one in the entire picture as Michael and Kay quarrel over her intention to last leave him.

Even when he's not speaking, Pacino manages to say so much by just sitting there, taking it all in. The rage and torment eating away at Michael from the inside is palpable and a far more painful sight than any gore that may splatter across the screen in the picture. His anguish toward the film's conclusion, as Michael wrestles with Fredo's betrayal, is downright suffocating.

Yet, despite this mesmerizing turn, Pacino of course did not win the Oscar for The Godfather Part II and it would be nearly two decades before the envelope at last read his name.

The winner was Carney, for a lovely, if decidedly inferior performance. It's not impossible to rationalize how Carney pulled it off - he was a beloved veteran of the small screen who finally scored a leading role on the big screen at age 55. His opponents, Finney aside, were a trio of New Hollywood up-and-comers, all in rather dark roles and still not wholeheartedly embraced by some in the industry's old guard. Carney also vigorously campaigned for the prize, unlike his competition (among the other contenders, only Nicholson even bothered to show up).

I cannot protest Carney's victory too much - again, it's a fine performance and hardly among the worst Best Actor winners. It's just one of those cases where, vis a vis the competition, it's a tough decision to swallow. It is simply not a turn anywhere near in the same league as Pacino (or Nicholson or Hoffman). This, not Scent of a Hoo-ah, should have marked Pacino's big Oscar win. It's among the richest, most intense performances ever recognized by the Academy and a career-topping effort from an actor who, for at least some time in his career, was delivering one dynamite turn after another.

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29. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

Her competition...

Anne Bancroft, The Graduate
Faye Dunaway, Bonnie & Clyde
Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark
Katharine Hepburn, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (WINNER)

Evans portrays Mrs. Margaret Ross, an elderly, impoverished woman who, ever since husband Archie (Eric Portman) abandoned her more than 20 years ago, has been living isolated existence. Increasingly losing her grip on reality, Mrs. Ross has been hearing "voices" coming from her radio and apartment building's pipes. She has also been patiently waiting for funds from her late father's estate - finances that in fact do not exist. When criminal son Charlie (Ronald Fraser) drops by to hide a package of stolen money in his mom's apartment, Mrs. Ross is convinced the stash is that long-awaited inheritance. This performance marked Evans' third and final Oscar nomination.

Over the course of five years in the 1960s, filmmaker Bryan Forbes, who in the following decade would score his greatest commercial success with The Stepford Wives, directed three women to Best Actress Oscar nominations - Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room, Kim Stanley in Seance on a Wet Afternoon and, last but certainly not least, Edith Evans in The Whisperers. Forbes, while perhaps not quite an extraordinary talent behind the camera, managed to draw out of these three performers career-topping turns, with Evans especially in immaculate form.

Evans, previously nominated in Best Supporting Actress for memorable, albeit inferior work in Tom Jones and The Chalk Garden, was for more than half a century an unimpeachable legend of the London stage, seemingly never taking a break. Appearances on the silver screen were less common and generally found Evans as a supporting scene-stealer, not a leading lady. That all changed with The Whisperers, which at last found this sublime actress front and center, not itching with modest screen time to wrestle the spotlight away from a leading man or lady. 

Especially in the early-going, before the proceedings become unnecessarily heavy on plot, Evans is the most transfixing of sights, exuding loneliness, sorrow and paranoia in an overwhelming way that rings of fellow Oscar 100 inductee Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream. This is hardly the deliciously haughty Evans of Tom Jones and other lighter fare but rather a deeply morose, haunting portrayal of a helpless woman who is legitimately losing her mind. The way Evans asks "are you there," as she does on several occasions in the picture, corresponding with the supposed voices reaching out to her, is downright heartbreaking but it's so easy to see how another, less disciplined actress could have played the whole thing for William Castle-like camp. 

The film works best when honed in on Mrs. Ross' humdrum routine, the daily trips to church to secure a cup of soup, to the welfare office for the financial support she depends on and to the library, where she utilizes the heating pipes to stay warm. The rest of the picture, involving her useless son and husband and the money, is absorbing cinema too but anything that diverts attention away from Evans and her magnificent performance is a negative, not a plus. There's a lovely supporting turn from Gerald Sim, who portrays Mrs. Ross' kind and concerned social worker, but otherwise, everything and everyone is upstaged by the Dame. 

With the picture such a gloomy affair, it now seems not terribly surprising that Evans failed to emerge victorious except, at the time, she actually was the front-runner, albeit a soft one.

Dunaway was too much of a newbie to triumph in Best Actress quite yet and (Audrey) Hepburn was never going to win a second Oscar for what amounted to a horror film. Under different circumstances, Bancroft probably could have won for her iconic turn as Mrs. Robinson but there wasn't much urgency to award her a second Best Actress prize, having prevailed earlier in the decade for The Miracle Worker. Evans was the critics' favorite, won the Golden Globe and was also seen as reasonably due for an Oscar, though again, was the sort of character actor who you'd expect to win a Supporting prize.

Alas, on the big night, it would be the other Hepburn. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was a massive commercial success, scoring a total of 10 Oscar nominations, and the universally adored Hepburn hadn't won an Oscar in 34 years, since Morning Glory. No doubt, voters also felt great sympathy for the star, who lost her beloved Spencer Tracy shortly after production concluded on the picture. 

Hepburn is a delight in her Oscar winning turn and Bancroft and Dunaway are fabulous too. None of them, however, for my money at least, hold a candle to Evans' awe-inspiring work. It's a performance sorely in need of rediscovery (and unfortunately, exceedingly difficult to track down).

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28. Judy Garland in A Star Is Born (1954)

Her competition...

Dorothy Dandridge, Carmen Jones
Audrey Hepburn, Sabrina
Grace Kelly, The Country Girl (WINNER)
Jane Wyman, Magnificent Obsession

Garland portrays Esther Blodgett, a showgirl and aspiring actress who is inspired by fading movie star Norman Maine (James Mason) to move to L.A. to pursue her dream of Hollywood stardom. Esther flourishes in the industry and, reinvented by a top studio under the name Vicki Lester, headlines a movie musical. Vicki and Norman wed but their union is tested by her rise in popularity, which happens to coincide with his career decline and descent into alcoholism. With Norman struggling to lift himself out of these doldrums, Vicki faces a grueling decision - charge ahead with her blossoming career or focus on saving her husband. This performance marked Garland's first Oscar nomination.

"The biggest robbery since Brink's," indeed. 

Those famous words, delivered on Oscar night via telegram to Garland from comedian Groucho Marx, could not be more spot-on. The egregiousness of Garland's loss in Best Actress for A Star Is Born continues to rightfully reverberate among Oscar aficionados to this day, flabbergasted at how her master class in acting/singing/dancing could fall short to Kelly's comparatively lifeless turn in The Country Girl. Garland herself would go on to lament the defeat, with no hesitation to proclaim she deserved the prize, though she also claimed she didn't expect to win. 

In all fairness, it's not terribly difficult to rationalize how and why Kelly triumphed. She headlined not one, not two but five pictures in 1954 - The Country Girl, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Green Fire and The Bridges at Toko-Ri - and with The Country Girl, for the first and only time in her career, deglammed for a strikingly glum role. It also couldn't hurt that, unlike Garland and the other three nominees, her film was a Best Picture nominee.

I don't want to spend this entire post knocking the Kelly victory but COME ON. Not only is it a vastly inferior performance to Garland's, it's also far less compelling work than Dandridge (sensationally sizzling) and Wyman (fabulous, per usual, working alongside Douglas Sirk) were nominated for. Maybe, just maybe, Kelly leaves more of an impression than Hepburn but even that I'm not sure of. 

Anyway, Garland, who deserved to win this thing in a cakewalk, is every bit as spectacular as her performance's reputation suggests. For nearly three hours, she grabs you by the throat and sends you into movie musical heaven, while also at last having the opportunity to flex her dramatic chops. It's a tour de force in every sense of the phrase and nothing Garland did before or after - despite no shortage of memorable performances - comes close. 

A Star Is Born marked the comeback of all comebacks for Garland, who was infamously fired from production on Royal Wedding four years earlier, her constant failure to show up for work inspiring MGM to cancel her 14-year contract with the studio and replace the star with Jane Powell. Briefly viewed as a has-been at the mere age of 28, Garland of course bounced back with her legendary stint at the Palace Theatre and, with the support of producer/husband Sid Luft, secured the A Star Is Born remake as the vehicle to put her back on the map. And holy moly did she deliver. 

Garland serves up just about everything you could ask for - comedy, drama, laughter, tears, singing, dancing, all under the pitch-perfect direction of George Cukor, who clearly recognized the genius he was capturing on screen.

From her riveting performance of "The Man That Got Away" to her gut-punching delivery of "this is Mr. Norman Maine" at the picture's conclusion (and the preceding, devastating scene in which Vicki discovers the heart Norman once drew for her on the wall of the Shrine Auditorium), Garland is at the very top of her game, approaching the material with an ebullience that is a testament to the yearning she no doubt felt to hit a grand slam in her big return to the screen. Not to be overlooked is Mason, who may not quite have the material Garland is graced with but hardly falls to the sidelines either. They have an intense, convincing chemistry that makes Garland's performance all the more affecting.

A performance for the ages, Garland in A Star Is Born continues to slay and should be required viewing for anyone who calls themselves a movie and/or musical fan.

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27 and 26. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) (WINNER - Taylor)

Their competition...

Anouk Aimee, A Man and a Woman
Ida Kaminska, The Shop on Main Street
Lynn Redgrave, Georgy Girl
Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan!

Alan Arkin, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
Michael Caine, Alfie
Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles
Paul Scofield, A Man for All Seasons (WINNER)

Burton and Taylor portray George and Martha, a history professor at a small New England college and his wife, the daughter of the university's president. One evening, following a cocktail party, the middle-aged couple returns home and hosts a younger duo, biology professor Nick (George Segal) and his wife Honey (Sandy Dennis), for a nightcap. As the night progresses and the booze flows, Nick and Honey find themselves entangled in George and Martha's heated verbal duels and penchant for needing to damage each other and everyone around them. Adding additional pandemonium is the revelation that the following day is the birthday of George and Martha's curiously absent son. These performances marked Burton's fifth Oscar nomination and Taylor's fifth and final Oscar nomination and second win.

Speaking of legendary stars of the silver screen who came to play, Burton and Taylor have never been better than they are sharing the screen together in Mike Nichols' dizzying film adaptation of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Countless masters of acting, from Arthur Hill and Ute Hagen in the original Broadway production to John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson in the 1989 Los Angeles revival (directed by Albee himself) and Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton in the recent West End staging, among others, have tackled these delicious roles. Always, however, have Burton and Taylor been reflected upon as the definitive George and Martha, two of the most brilliant actors to ever grace the screen giving the fiercest performances of their storied careers.

Albee and Warner Bros. were said to have wanted James Mason and Bette Davis for George and Martha - imagine the sight of Davis doing an impression of herself in the fabulous "what a dump!" scene - but Nichols and screenwriter Ernest Lehman were partial to Burton and Taylor. Albee would eventually go on to praise their performances but also advocate Mason and Davis as likely to have been even stronger.

Mason and Davis indeed may have made an dynamite pair but there's no knocking Burton and Taylor who, from the moment they first grace the screen, already looking a tad disheveled as they open the front door, are the most startling of sights. The opening scenes, prior to the entrance of Segal and Dennis, provide Burton and Taylor the chance to chew on lighter fare. They have a fabulously flirtatious rapport that makes one wonder how they may have thrived in a good romantic comedy (which, despite many pictures together, they never really did). Taylor is a hoot with the Davis line and plenty of other dialogue, while Burton displays a surprising flair for deadpan comedy.

The opening half hour or so is like an amiable appetizer compared to the violent earthquake that waits on the horizon. Once Nick and Honey enter the picture and the cocktails start really flowing through the veins, Martha quickly evolves into an awe-inspiring trainwreck, while George absorbs all of her madness like a sponge until he too cracks.

Taylor, who gained 30 pounds for the role and at the time had been viewed as one of the most glamorous women in the world, expertly paints Martha as the most abominable of sights on the outside, while hinting at something deeper and more forlorn underneath the surface. Her Martha goes from crass and stomach-churning in the early-going to hopeless and heartbreaking by the end. To watch this woman lose the one thing she ever wanted, even if it didn't really exist, is a devastating sight, even if, just an hour ago, she was downright cringe-worthy.

Tonally, Taylor and Burton basically flip-flop in the first hour, vis a vis the second. She largely dominates in the first half with her unhinged histrionics, while he is prone to wrestling away the spotlight in the latter half as George exacts the most tragic of revenge on Martha. For much of the proceedings early on, George is something of a blank slate - that isn't to say a diffident man but certainly a less expressive figure than the larger-than life-Martha. Ultimately, Burton's underplaying at the start just makes it all the more stirring when George lets loose, no longer content with suppressing the distaste he vividly feels toward his wife.

The grueling war between these two culminates in that sublime final shot of George and Martha at last left alone as the sun begins to rise outside. As exasperated by the whole experience as the two characters are, we're left simply breathless, both at the sight of Burton and Taylor and knowing we just bore witness to two of the most dynamite screen performances ever. 

In terms of the Oscar horse races, Best Actor and Best Actress went down as expected. Scofield was the overwhelming favorite for Best Picture front-runner (and eventual winner) A Man for All Seasons. (Oddly enough, chatter about Burton being due for an Oscar didn't really kick in until his seventh and final appearance, for Equus.) Over in Best Actress, Taylor was also the heavy favorite, though Kaminska, who triumphed at Cannes and whose The Shop on Main Street won Best Foreign Language Film, had a base of passionate supporters too. The Redgrave gals hadn't a prayer.

The Oscar 100 (thus far)...

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

Next week - get ready to dive into the top 25 of the Oscar 100! Kate Hepburn is back once again and I've also got Monty Clift (but which performance?); an actor directing himself to a nomination; the final Oscar appearance of one of the great comic stars of the big screen; and a Best Supporting Actor nominee who's sure to leave some of you initially scratching your heads...until I lavish heaps of praise on him!

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