Best Performances In Film By A Leading Lady

Early this morning on a walk, I started thinking about the best performances by an actress of all time. My first choice was Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz because it is the singular performance seen more times by me than any other. But let’s face it, Dorothy had that whining, shrill voice that made it hard to listen to, so while it’s one of my favorite films, did she give one of the best performances by a leading lady?

There are hundreds of solid acting performances. But I’ve noticed the BEST performances incorporate that something extra. I am wowed by the performance of an actress who does more than say her lines. For example, in one performance, she might sing (Sorry, Judy, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is magnificent, isn’t it?) or dance, play an instrument or speak a foreign language. She might embody the innocence of youth and exude the wisdom of old age in one performance. She might portray multiple personalities or switch genders. Maybe she captured the essence of a historical figure superbly. It takes a great script to allow her to impress on multiple levels. Sometimes, her personality comes forward with few words. Always, you don’t see the actress, you see the character.  Inspired by blogger ALEX RAPHAEL and his game of guessing by image, do you recognize the film and actress?

This list is subjective and in no particular order. 


ONE. Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria (1957)    What a spitball of moods and vivacity.

TWO. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013)   The best of her best which is saying a lot.

THREE. Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (2007)   Totally convincing.

FOUR. Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight (1944)    Her descent into madness was convincing.

FIVE. Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter (1968)  A queen with multiplicity.

SIX. Natalie Portman in The Black Swan (2010) Who else could have danced that?

SEVEN. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004) Who else could have fought/acted like that?

EIGHT. Holly Hunter in The Piano (1993) Without a word she was a fierce, complex character.

NINE. Liza Minnelli Cabaret (1972) Act, sing, dance. Exuberance defined.

TEN. Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008) beauty, ugly, cold. She did it.

ELEVEN. Meryl Streep in Sophies Choice (1982) The languages and sensitivity. A ghost.

TWELVE.  Salma Hayek in Frida Kahlo (2002) Passionate and complex. A total transformation.


Who is your BEST PERFORMANCE by a LEADING LADY? (not supporting. That’s coming….) 


Blue Jasmine vs. A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire, was an instant success rapidly followed by the 1951 film version by Elia Kazan. Marlon Brando is at his best and the classic has been a favorite of mine for decades. Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine starring Cate Blanchett brought with it great expectations. Which version do you think is better?

In the 1951 film version, Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski played the blue-collared brute whose machismo personality demanded loyalty from his wife Stella and refused to submit to the whims of snobby and mysterious phony, Blanche DuBois, his wife’s sister. Vivian Leigh played the fragile Blanche perfectly. “I have always depended on the kindest of strangers.” Poor Blanche. Once a debutante from an exclusive southern heritage, her father wasted the family fortune and she was reduced to beg for help. Without skills, she pursued an ideal husband who would protect and accept her special skills–the ideal accompaniment for a man, the trophy wife.

Homeless, Blanche arrives at her sister’s apartment in New Orleans, disgusted by the meager lives and decrepit setting. The crash from élite lifestyle to poverty-stricken homelessness is a long drop; she must hold on to her wits while keeping her composure.  The contrast from elegant to trashy is what makes the situation interesting.

Blue Jasmine has a similar plot and the point of view from Jasmine is a film showcasing an outstanding talent. Even better than Vivian Leigh. Cate Blanchett captured the fragile, elegant, delusional, sarcastic, loving, self-absorbed Blanche DuBois fantastically. There’s no way she will lose at the Oscars this year!

Caught in a nightmare, what’s a princess to do?

My heart ached for Jasmine who tried to pick herself up and move on from disaster. She tried to improve skills so she could find a job. She muddled through as a receptionist but what she needed was to go back to her earlier, affluent life. The only way she could do that is if she married well.

Karl Malden is the butcher Mitch, a suitor charmed by Leigh’s Blanche, who gives a powerful performance. In Blue Jasmine, a congressman looking for a woman sophisticated enough to match his lifestyle; Blanchett’s Blanche almost catches herself a big fish.

I never thought I’d say Andrew Dice Clay did a good job acting, but there you have it. He was perfect as Auggie, the laborer who epitomized the stereotype and the cast of TV’s crass reality show, Jersey Shore. He listened to Jasmine and her entrepreneur husband, Hal, played by actor Alec Baldwin and lost everything.  It was easy, darn right predictable, to see Baldwin in this role—again—the man in charge who is a schmuck.

While Blue Jasmine  was not a direct replica of A Streetcar Named Desire, it was easy to associate the two if you consider Cate Blanchett played Blanche DuBois successfully in the Sydney traveling production in 2009, (Joel Edgerton was Stanley) and Alec Baldwin played Kowalski on the stage in the 1990s. The plot, the themes, the tragedy are both similar. Woody Allen’s transformation of a steadfast classic was brilliant. So, too, was the direction by marvelous Elia Kazan. He’s one of my favorite directors.

So which is better? I think it boils down to two performances. Marlon Brando vs. Cate Blanchett.

Who is the winner?

Knight of Cups


I’m bored. Where are the great films of 2013? I wish we did not have to wait for the fall/winter to watch the big contenders fighting for the awards’ season.  I am excited about an upcoming film. Any way you stack the deck, this one HAS to be great–Terrence Malick’s, Knight of Cups.


Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett. A dream cast! Directed by Malick? How could it be bad?


So we don’t know anything. The plot is under wraps. We know it’s in post-production but no release date set other than some time in 2013. Here are some random facts I can share, however.


Did you know Mr. Malick comes from Ottawa, Illinois? Why, that’s only thirty miles from my hometown! When I run into him, that will be my ice-breaker. We’ll talk about corn and tomatoes. He will be suitably impressed and ask me to write a screenplay for him. (Told you I was bored.)


Okay, if you are into Tarot cards, you know all about the Knight of Cups. Be my guest and educate me. The title of the film should shed a clue about the protagonist or plot or meaning of the film. I do recognize that tarot cards have been around for hundreds of years, and if you don’t believe in the cards, just look at the artwork. They are pretty to look at, aren’t they? Once a Tarot reader said I was going to be wealthy. I’m still waiting. Anyway, I went to: to find some background into the meaning of the Knight of Cups. I make no claim this site is valid. I’m just trying to get an inside take on the title of the film.


Our Knight of Cups is what I’d guess a knight to be: cunning, an evocative lover, and mesmerizing. A powerful person who can charm anyone. Their symbols include running water like waterfalls and rivers. When the Tarot reader lays the card on the table and the cup is up, positive attributes such as “effective” and “sensitive” are his adjectives. But when the reader lays the card and the cup is pointing down, that’s when the negative associations like “manipulative” and “vain” and “volatile” come to play.

Who in the film is the Knight of Cups? Is it Christian Bale and will the cup be up or down?

Dear Cate and Kate,


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“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”

I apologize, you two. I realize you each deserve your own fan letter, but when I asked myself who is my favorite working actress, you both popped into my thoughts and wouldn’t leave. After all, if you two star in a film, I’ll pay the ticket without hesitation. If I compiled a list of favorite films from the last twenty years, you two starred in many of them. If asked who is more talented, who would I pick?

High Class British Actresses

When it comes to the English language, who better than you two to deliver the lines? Your excellence shines when you act beside your senior sisters: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Emma Thompson, and the Redgrave sisters. When it comes to the English Canon, you’ve got the smarts to deliver the language with finesse.


In Ang Lee’s beautiful 1995 film, Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and the film starred Alan Rickman, Tom Wilkinson, and Hugh Grant. Your performance, Kate Winslet, as the passionate younger sister in this Jane Austin love story was exemplary. No wonder Colonel Brandon fell in love with you, or for that matter, Johnny Depp as Peter Pan in Finding Neverland (2004).

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Okay, okay, I know, Cate Blanchett, you are half Australian/half American, but you seem so British; who but you could have played the young queen better? You made Shekhar Kapur’s film Elizabeth (1998) a stunning achievement. Considering the intimidating mostly-male cast, you held your own and reigned above them all. It was your expressive face and your body language that convinced me I was watching Henry VIII’s daughter. I never tire watching your performance. Even the flawed sequel, The Golden Age (2007), was worth watching because of your acting. If anything, you’ve convinced me how wooden and over-rated Clive Owen is. You were nominated for Best Actress in 1999 and 2007 for your Elizabeth portrayals, but did not win. Ouch.

Playing Americans Better Than Americans

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Kate Winslet, your Kool-Aid hair and American accent turned you into an eccentric love interest for Jim Carrey in the 2004 dark comedy, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Your performance elevated Jim Carrey’s acting and expanded your repertoire. What a great, peculiar film, and it was all you, Kate.

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Any film you star in is stronger because your characters are convincing. Award nominations fall your way every time you are in front of the screen. Forget Grammy or Golden Globe nominations/wins, you’ve been nominated for the Oscar six times and won Best Actress for The Reader in 2008. It’s amazing because you are only in your thirties.

I’d like to pick one of your lesser films to illustrate why you’re so good. It was in the Nancy Meyer’s film The Holiday (2006) with Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, and Jack Black that showed me how your acting was on a higher plane, especially Cameron Diaz, compared to you. Your role as Iris in front of Jack Black was magnificent and made the movie tolerable.

Black’s character, Miles, hands Iris a drink and replied, “F***, you need this more than I do.”

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The late-great Katharine Hepburn would have approved of your performance, Cate Blanchett, and have given the Oscar to you herself at the podium in 2004.  Your talent as a ballerina, and a woman in multiple stages of life was evident in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008).

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Cate, when the crazy biopic came out in 2007, I’m Not There, and you were Bob, and convinced me you were–wow! Truly stellar.

Inappropriate Relationships

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Cate and Kate, critics loved your creepy stories–the reverse-Lolita seduction–how do you play deviant characters so well? Congratulations Kate for winning the Best Actress award in 2008.  While you were nominated for Best Actress, Cate, in Notes On A Scandal (2006), I’m sorry you did not win. Ouch again.

Iconic Block Busters

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Both of you are affiliated with high-ranking, money-making movies, and represent the best stories that can come out of Hollywood. According to IMDB, Titanic has made $658,672,302 in the U.S. since 1997. Also, if you count the Lord of the Rings as a trilogy, it’s about a trillion (I’m not adding it up) dollars since 2001. What director or producer or leading man would deny working with both of you? You help their careers more than they help yours.

So you see, Kate and Cate, if I wished upon a falling star and could be any actress for a week, I don’t think I could decide between the two of you. I’d settle for a glass of wine and a chat.


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