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
TWO
THREE
FOUR
FIVE
SIX
SEVEN
EIGHT
NINE
TEN
ELEVEN
TWELVE

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….) 

 

CinemaScope and Some Came Running

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Mighty films packed the Oscar ballots in 1952. Honors split between A Streetcar Named Desire, The African Queen, A Place in the Sun, and An American in Paris. Although Best Film went to An American in Paris (1951), Vincente Minnelli lost as director to George Stevens who directed A Place in the Sun. A string of musical hits such as Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), The Bandwagon (1953), Brigadoon (1954), and  Kismet (1955) cemented Vincente Minnelli’s reputation. He was awarded Best Director for Gigi (1959) which swept the Oscars with nine awards. His background in theatrical stage direction served him well in the film industry; his gorgeous set designs, cinematography, and vivid colors are features of his style and enhanced all the more with the invention of CinemaScope in 1953.

One of my favorite Vincente Minnelli films is the 1958 classic, Some Came Running starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacClaine. Of the many reasons why it’s highly regarded, Minnelli’s sensibilities display a colorful world provided by CinemaScope and inspired future directors like Martin Scorsese. I learned a lot about the history of CinemaScope at the American Widescreen Museum site  HERE.

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Having never gone to film school, I enjoyed this brief video explaining CinemaScope, letter-boxing, and Pan and scan and recommend it.

 Some Came Running (1958) 

In the film, a rogue and disappointed writer returns to his Midwest hometown where tongues gossip and reputations hang on the perceptions of a family’s name and their power in the community. Played by Frank Sinatra, Dave Hirsh is a caustic Army veteran. Chasing internal demons, he dissociates himself from his superficial brother and sister-in-law and befriends gambler Bama Dillert played by Dean Martin. Shirley MacClaine plays a tramp who follows Dave to his hometown with hopes of wooing him into a relationship. It’s a rare film that has it all: love triangles, class-conflict, dark comedy, suspenseful climax, and a satisfying conclusion delivered beautifully by director Vincente Minnelli. Some Came Running was nominated for five Oscars including Shirley MacClaine’s first Best Actress nomination.

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Frank Sinatra as Dave and Shirley MacClaine as Ginny

Shirley MacClaine’s performance was outstanding–I prefer it over her celebrated performance in The Apartment (1960). It’s unusual when you consider a segment of the film does not include her. Irony abounds in the film. MacClaine keeps her naïve charm even though she represents the experienced floozy. Unrequited love is a prominent theme. Dave loves a cold teacher whose moral standards place him beneath her. Meanwhile, he spurns the unconditional love of Ginny. The role of women compliment historical and literary themes of domesticity, sexual repression, double standards between the genders, and an overt concern for materialism. Teenager without a cause, Betty Lou, rebels and the unlikely mentors, Dave and Ginny, offer wisdom when her parents possessed none. Rebellion, boredom, and much alcohol drinking hearken to stories by John Cheever and John Updike. If you love Frank Sinatra, you’ve probably already seen this film since it’s an acclaimed acting performance, and he shines as the anti-hero. Dean Martin exudes charm. He is a creep. He redeems himself with his prop, his beloved hat.

It’s a fine classic not to be missed.

What’s your favorite performance in Some Came Running? 

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