culture, In My Opinion, movies

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….) 


actors, directors, Five Shots of..., movies, oscars

Nights of Cabiria


What I know about Italian cinema would fill a thimble. Why not start at the top? I could not have picked a better choice than to acclimate myself with the daunting director, Federico Fellini, and Nights of Cabiria (1957). 


The film begins and ends with the ocean and all of its hazardous potential; it is a metaphor for the personality of petite Cabiria as well as her life. She, the prostitute from Rome, an orphan who survives by her wits and her body, who owns her own home, and she aches to find an identity with which to live. She is as confident and loud as a yapping terrier. With verbal attacks or growling nips, her bark and bite are defensive strategies. She has grown a convoluted mantle from a life of storms and tides. Several scenes show us this soft underbelly and it’s what allows Masina to create a multi-dimensional character.

Cabiria bounces through the riptide of the Day of Adoration parade caught in the fervor of religious zeal. She is curious by the singular efforts of the Good Samaritan who feeds the homeless in caves outside Rome. Under hypnosis, she reveals a love brimming with such tenderness and yearning, your eyes will swell with tears. Cabiria’s charm is in her gait when she saunters or how she plays with her props like Charlie Chaplin, the artist who inspired Giulietta Masina in the role. The ending shot is grand when emotive music lifts Cabiria’s smile and the tragic situation floats away. Through a haphazard course of men and broken promises, Giulietta Masina delivers a range of expressions and energy and breathes life into Cabiria who returns like the tide, her optimism eternal.

Interested in more? Here’s a Roger Ebert, 1998 review.


What should I watch next? La Strada? What are your thoughts about the Fellini and Masina partnership? What is your favorite Italian film? 


Trivia from IMDb:   During the editing of this film, editor Leo Cattozzo developed the CIR self-perforating adhesive tape splicer (also known as “Costruzione Incollatrici Rapide”, “the Cattozzo”, Guillotine-, CIRO- or ARRI Splicer) which made him rich in the 1960s and for which he won an Academy Award in 1989.