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Ranking the 1990s Oscar Best Actress Winners   3 comments

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So I have decided to start another project here which obviously from the title of this post already gives you a clue on what it’s about. Inspired from a poll on a forum, I’ve decided to watch all the 90s Best Actress Oscar champs arranged from the earliest up to the last of the decade in order to revisit, rekindle, and look how these performances stood the test of time. The focus will be on the performances so little to no mentions of Anjelica Huston in The Grifters, Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, and Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown and how they were all robbed here. Okay I take it back. Will mention them as well but in small doses. Okay let’s begin!

1990

And we begin the decade with that surprise win of Kathy Bates for breathing life to the big fan turned obsessed creep Annie Wilkes in the adaptation of the Stephen King novel “Misery.” While the writing of Annie Wilkes can be a bit one note, Bates brings a certain humanity to the character thus encompassing emotions that show her character’s vulnerability. How Kathy Bates managed to show defeat and hurt of Annie when she spilled the wine on their dinner to bringing in the crazy when the officer visited her house and that composed demeanor she had after she tied Paul Sheldon is a testament of her range given the limitations of the role. And one has to appreciate the humor that Bates has brought to the role that makes the achievement more appreciated such as her rant against the coupon bond issue as for starters.  Of course at this stage, no one knew that Bates would  play another Stephen King character via Dolores Clairborne five years later, and while that one had the better performance, it does not take away the complexity that Kathy brought to the role of Annie Wilkes. It is difficult to laugh and be scared with the same character at the same time, and she does it so well that it’s hard to take this win from her. It’s also quite a special win considering how much the Academy rarely touches anything from the thriller/horror genre (unless one counts that win by Jessica Tandy just a year before) and that then unknown Bates, whose popularity only exists on the four walls of Broadway, managed to beat then it girl Julia Roberts, Hollywood royalty Anjelica Huston, Oscar favorite Meryl Streep, and legendary actress Joanne Woodward. Bittersweet indeed.

1991

Just a year after I commented on how this category rarely touches performances from horror or thriller films, AMPAS then decides to reward them back to back. In 1991, The Silence of the Lambs defied all odds by being released exactly one whole year prior to its Oscar sweep the following year. Of course that includes the win for its lead actress Jodie Foster, who herself was already a recipient of this same exact trophy three years before for The Accused. However, this remains to be an iconic role and performance from Jodie, which is nothing to question about. As for starters, it is very refreshing for a woman to headline a thriller such as this one and gain much critical and commercial success. of course it would be unfair to dismiss the efforts of Anthony Hopkins who churned in an iconic performance himself, but Foster’s Clarice Sterling is basically the heart of the movie. And how it succeeds is definitely a gender bending milestone of how thrillers are associated with only male actors front and center. It also does not hurt that this performance is really great as well. In it, Foster rarely (or none at all) relied to histrionics and made Clarice driven but not totally ambitious, subtle but never forgettable, and complex without being one-sided. This is the same year when both Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were nominated for their team up in Thelma and Louise and part of me thinks that’s also another reason which helped Foster’s road to the podium at all. While one can argue that those two are better than Foster (I belong to that camp to be honest), it is easier to reward this performance than pulling a Sophie’s Choice between the two. But in the end, it must not limit the merits that Jodie has brought into this performance, as it’s probably one of the most respected wins in this category especially for non-Oscar aficionados.

1992

And from one Anthony Hopkins leading lady to another, queen of British period pieces Emma Thompson won the following year for her performance as Margaret Schlugel in Howard’s End. It was one of those easy Oscar calls as she has been the frontrunner all season long, and it’s not difficult to figure out why. Thompson brought a warm touch to a likable human being that isn’t a scene stealing, attention grabbing character. She was the voice of sense and reason, and Emma was quick to figure that her character balances the story in between her hands. Margaret was a sympathetic character but not one who you’d feel pity for, and there’s a certain glow that Thompson just radiates while playing this character. Whether it’s her tea sessions with Vanessa Redgrave or finding out about Anthony Hopkins’ romantic past, she inhabits Margaret’s confidence effortlessly reflecting Emma’s class act performance. 1990 winner Kathy Bates, Emma Thompson would go on and play another period character in another James Ivory film, The Remains of the Day, for which she nabbed another Oscar nomination, but whether it is arguable if she did well better in the former or the latter, the heart of Howard’s End will always belong to Emma Thompson and with that, she is certainly deserving of this Oscar recognition.

1993

1993 was all about talking (or lack thereof). With Whoopi Goldberg hosting the Oscars — being the first black woman (and up to now still remains the only one) to do so, this was also the last previous bid for a black actress to win the coveted Best Actress Oscar prior to Halle Berry’s historic win in 2001. The person in talks was Angela Bassett for portraying iconic performer Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? And the talks are loud, perhaps really loud, that this is still the subject of some debates years after. But the woman who ended up with the Oscar needs no talking in her film, at least. The Piano‘s Holly Hunter became the seventh person in Academy history to win an Oscar for not uttering a word on screen (except the narration at the beginning and the end). In hindsight, why people argue Holly Hunter’s win years after is beyond me. In a really strong field that includes Stockard Channing in Six Degrees of Separation and last year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day, Hunter towered above the rest of the field with her performance. The mute aspect isn’t gimmicky nor calculated for me, as she was able to translate a performance that started as a mail ordered bride who was cold but willing to open up, just given the opportunity to do so. Hunter has always been praised for her delivery and the energy she inserts into the role she plays, but she managed to overcome all that and give an equally impressive one stripped off her usual assets. The stares, the body language, and the actions are far from a stunt performance and on top of that, the emotions that she just poured in it. I doubt performances like this could win an Oscar in this period now where showy OMG acting in this category seemed to be the key to be considered an “actress.” It’s a performance that stood well the test of the time, and it’s one of the times when Oscar go against the norm and ultimately get it right.

1994

There is such a stigma being labeled to the 1994 Best Actress line up to be one of the weakest in this category’s history. After all, this was the year when Linda Fiorentino should have swept all the awards if only The Last Seduction wasn’t shown briefly on HBO, thus making her ineligible for the rest of the season. But while there’s a hint of truthfulness with that, you can all spare Jessica Lange’s winning performance in it. Say what you want about her weak ass nominees, but Lange is nowhere a weak winner this year. Playing a mentally unstable wife of a military man and causing troubles to his career, Jessica was able to amp up the physical, emotional, and mental requirements of the role effectively that it’s definitely one of the underrated wins in this category’s history. Much of the talks about this performance and film was how it was dumped in the shelf three years after its completion, when in fact we should be talking about Jessica Lange slaying the hell out of this role. It’s a very complex performance which suited a woman of her age as she oozes her sexuality and shifts to calm to showy in a snap. While some performances get carried along the strength of their overall films, the opposite can be said about here as Blue Sky ended up as inferior to what Jessica brought to the role. Besides, her only Oscar until this year was a thank you for a great year supporting win in 1982, and if someone fits the narrative of a multiple Oscar winning actress, her name would definitely be up on that list. So this one albeit a weak year is an inspired win and one who should overcome, if anything else, the weak field she’s been grouped with.

1995

After a weak 1994 line up, we’re bound to have a strong one no? But to say the 1995 Best Actress line up is a strong one is even an understatement if we are to look past the performances that were left off that year (Nicole Kidman in To Die For, Julianne Moore in Safe, Kathy Bates in Dolores Clairborne among others). Now if we are to look at those actual nominated performances, then it makes the case even stronger with Elisabeth Shue acting opposite the eventual Best Actor winner and Meryl Streep in the second best performance of her career are unrewarded with Oscars. But then, it’s all about Susan Sarandon. Sure, her overdue status would have pushed her the win that year especially since she was nominated four times the last five years, but to consider that as a demerit to her performance is reaching it. Playing real life nuin Helen Prejean, Sarandon would always be on the odd side of the film. On the outer, you have to act opposite Sean Penn’s more interesting and showy character as Susan is relegated to facial reactions to what his character is saying. To act with such a very complex character and not be overshadowed is a feat itself, but Sarandon perfectly crosses the line of being receptive but not totally eaten and distinct without overshadowing her co-star. If anything, it was a perfectly arranged harmony that she has showed here. And beyond that, she plays the character of a nun. It’s hard to play a character who is morally good and be believable in it, but Sarandon’s Prejean’s cling in her “faith” does not only resonate to Matthew Poncelet but to humanity is an acting accomplishment that is deserving to be honored with an Oscar.

1996

On one hand, it would be a waste to hate on Frances McDormand’s win here especially since she’s a very talented actress whose charisma really transcends through her works. On the other, this was the year when the revelation that is named Emily Watson brought one of the best performances I’ve ever seen on screen via Breaking the Waves, that even if I know Oscar won’t touch it, I still feel like my hopes were dashed. But since I’ve let that one out of the way, let’s go back to our 96 champ Frances McDormand. Playing police officer Marge Gunderson, McDormand certainly made the most of all of her scenes in Joel Coen’s Fargo. It is very hard to root for a character as lovable and likable as Marge, and like Thompson’s Margaret, there’s a certain amount of rooting for that you feel with the character. Much of Marge’s magic — if I may call it that — can be attributed to Frances McDormand’s own wit and charisma. Her confident personality seems to play a factor with the end result of Marge’s character and that it will make you want to see more of her (granted she’s only in the film half of the time). There is a reason why Marge, despite limited screentime and borderline supporting appearance, is an iconic character and Frances is the main reason why. On a totally unrelated note, I would just like to share that I am amazed with Alison Tollman’s portrayal of such role in the FX adaptation series of Fargo because even if she wisely did not copy the same approach that McDormand did in her character, you can see the influences and nuances that McDormand indelibly left in her portrayal 18 years before.

1997

Before we start the 1997 discussion, let’s get this one out of the way: Nope, Helen Hunt did not win just because she’s battling against four British actresses in here. If anything, Helena Bonham Carter and Dame Judi Dench are in British period pieces, Julie Christie has been rewarded an Oscar already, and Kate Winslet is the reason why Leonardo di Caprio died  serviceable but in no way awards worthy in Titanic. There’s a certain level of vitriol spawn on Helen Hunt’s Oscar win and that’s probably because her post-Oscar career sizzled or that like any others, she was perceived as the darling of that year’s awards season. In As Good As It Gets, Helen plays the longer version of what makes her a prominent American that time: a big TV star sweeping off Emmys for her show Mad About You. But that is not to say that Hunt wasn’t good in what she did in the film. As waitress Caroline who found love in the most unusual way, Hunt was pleasantly and delightfully sweet that it charms the Oscar voters to give her that trophy. It’s a performance where she’s acting off one of Hollywood’s finest Jack Nicholson, and how he did not swallow her in their scenes together must be credited to the both of them. I still don’t think Helen Hunt had any business winning an Oscar that year, but she was convincing for the most part, albeit sitcom-ish as well, in her performance in the film.

1998

Now think of the vitriol that Helen Hunt received in 1997 and double it to come up with the reception that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar win had earned over the years especially from fans of the performances of co-nominees Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Fernanda Montenegro in The Central Station. But then I think it is unfair to simply attach Paltrow’s competition to the performance that she has given in Shakespeare in Love. This is not the same case as that of the previous year’s winner since Shakespeare in Love is mighty ahead in terms of being the better film. As a matter of fact, Paltrow and the film itself carried the same burden with regards to their Oscar legacy — she and the film are perceived to tackle lighter subjects; thus they are easier to dispose. This is not to say that both her and the movie are rightfully and every inch deserving of their wins but more of an underestimation with the accomplishments that they have achieved. Focusing back on Gwyneth, her gender bending role as Viola de Lesseps provides the perfect heroine accessory to the film. Given that great screenplay and lavish production of the movie, it does not need an actress that will overshadow all of that but instead one that will understand the circumstances and just go with it, which she did in the movie. It is not easy to be charming and delightful as your film’s heroine and she possesses both of that in her performance. So while I understand that this leans on the lighter fare of stuff as compared to playing a queen, it does not warrant the notorious image that it has since then received.

1999

Now after three comedic performances in a row, the decade closed with one of its closest and most infamous Oscar rivals. In 1999, Annette Bening, one half of the power couple with Hollywood legend Warren Beatty, is up for her performance as part of eventual Best Picture winner American Beauty. Prior to the Oscars, she has won the SAG and there’s a really great chance that the film will join the elite few of winning the four major awards (Picture, Director, Actor and Actress). Then there’s up and coming actress Hilary Swank, whose probably known for her remake of Karate Kid sometime in the mid 90s, playing the role of real life transgender Teena Brandon in the small indie film Boys Don’t Cry. And in a Cinderella moment, David beats G0liath as Hilary Swank became the last winner of the decade. That is probably one of the boldest moves made by the Academy and one of the best upsets if I may say. In one of the best breakthrough performances by an actress here, she was raw, heartbreaking, and every inch convincing in this performance. Swank never made the movie about her tics or her adjustments, but she assured that it will be about Brandon’s journey, and it is within this fearlessness that she made this character and performance remarkable. If anything, I think it’s even braver that she denied the easily to use sentimentality nor trademarks that in the hands of a lesser actress would rely to, and instead let it breathe and parade it with so much clarity and confidence. Whatever Hilary Swank did for the remaining of her career after this is hers to celebrate or to blame, but in this one particular performance, she made it clear that she would be remembered.

The 90s Best Actress winners line up in general have been less receptive to biopics (with only two out of the ten winners were for playing real persons) and more to poetic costume pieces films. There’s also a stage where humor works best (even three in a row from 96-98) and if you’d even include, Kathy Bates in Misery. Ranking this is difficult since there’s a lot of performance here that I admire and the ones I appreciate and respect aren’t even totally deserving of a low ranking. That said, I guess I’m gonna go with…

01. 1993 (Holly Hunter, The Piano)
02. 1999 (Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry)
03. 1995 (Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking)
04. 1992 (Emma Thompson, Howard’s End)
05. 1991 (Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs)
06. 1996 (Frances McDormand, Fargo)
07. 1994 (Jessica Lange, Blue Sky)
08. 1990 (Kathy Bates, Misery)
09. 1998 (Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love)
10. 1997 (Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets)

So who is your favorite 1990s Best Actress winner? Who would you consider as the best of the decade? And how many of those performances have stood the test of the time? Chime in the Comments section below and let’s converse! 🙂

You can also follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

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20 Most Deserving Oscar Best Actress Wins   3 comments

In one of many Oscar traditions, I will be doing a best of the best Oscar list. Sure, winning an Oscar is one of the best career highlights for any actor in Hollywood. However, it’s better if you win for your a very deserving performance. While the likes of Jodie Foster (The Accused), Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8), Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love), Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), and Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) always get the flack for most controversial wins, we will focus on those who tailored some of the most inspiring performances that actually deserved to win the coveted gold statuette. Here are 20 of them:

20. NATALIE PORTMAN, “Black Swan” (2010)

Role: Nina Sayers, a confused ballerina on her way to a major break
Competition: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Portman, in probably her flashiest role to date, managed to deliver both the physical and mental demands necessary to master the role of Nina. In the movie, not only does she master ballet for every other scene, and while most people question whether it was actually her doing all the dancing in the film, it is nonetheless unquestionable that her best scenes in the film (including the overexposed yet very effective He picked me, mommy! scene) are the most memorable ones.

19. JOANNE WOODWARD, “Three Faces of Eve” (1957)

Role: Eve White, Eve Black, and Jane, a woman suffering from a multiple personality disorder
Competition: Deborah Kerr (Heaven Knows, Mr. Alison), Anna Magnani (Wild is the Wind), Elizabeth Taylor (Raintree Country), Lana Turner (Peyton Place)

Sounds such a very baity role made for award hogging? Yeah, that one is not new. However, for what its worth, Woodward sold the hell out of all her scenes in the movie. The shifting of her persona for the three personalities is so complicated, yet she makes it look so natural. That alone makes her win one of the best in this category.

18. INGRID BERGMAN, “Anastasia” (1956)

Role: Anna Koreff/Anastasia, the questioned Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna
Competition: Caroll Baker (Baby Doll), Katharine Hepburn (The Rainmaker), Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed), Deborah Kerr (The King & I)

Bergman is probably one of the best actresses to grace the screen, and her performance as the chosen lady to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia is a clear testament of this. In Anastasia, it was never clear if Bergman is actually Anastasia, and while some hints here and there were given that she actually is, Bergman’s performance not only convinced the characters in the movie, but the moviegoers as well.

17. HELEN MIRREN, “The Queen” (2006)

Role: royal monarchy Queen Elizabeth II
Competition: Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), Kate Winslet (Little Children)

Probably one of the most rewarded performances in film history, it was an easy stroll for the Dame on her road to the Oscar. However, she was up against a fantabulous  group of co-nominees which all gave superb, if not iconic, performances as well. What made Mirren very deserving of the Oscar though was that she made Queen Elizabeth II human, and with that comes a very natural approach to all her scenes in the movie.

16. HOLLY HUNTER, “The Piano” (1993)

Role: Ada McGrath, mute pianist living in the mid-19th century
Competition: Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do With It), Stockard Chaning (Six Degrees of Separation), Emma Thompson (The Remains of the Day), Debra Winger (Shadowlands)

Always contested as one of the closest Oscar fights in this category, Hunter was probably helped over by the fact that she was double nommed that year. Nevertheless, I believe that it was her performance as Ada McGrath that won over the voters. it just goes to show that even acting at it’s most quiet still gets rewarded with Oscars.

15. DIANE KEATON, “Annie Hall” (1977)

Role: Annie Hall, quirky ex girlfriend of main character Alvy Singer
Competition: Anne Bancroft (The Turning Point), Jane Fonda (Julia), Shirley Maclaine (The Turning Point), Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl)

The thing I love the most about Keaton’s victory is that it was her best performance to date.  She was very natural and fit to the role of Annie Hall, and she complimented Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer perfectly. Sure while Reds, Manhattan, Marvin’s Room, and even Something’s Gotta Give showed her flair for acting, Annie Hall was its prime predecessor.

14. JODIE FOSTER, “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

Role: Clarice Sterling, FBI trainee assigned to the case of Hannibal Lecter
Competition: Geena Davis (Thelma and Louise), Laura Dern (Rambling Rose), Bette Midler (For the Boys), Susan Sarandon (Thelma and Louise)

While peope can question Anthony Hopkins’ 14 minute portrayal of Hannibal Lecter as a Lead performance, there is no doubt that Jodie Foster deserves the Oscar for her fierce portrayal of Clarice Sterling. Foster made the viewers feel as if we were on a journey with her; it’s as if we were actually beside her during the whole movie. She was tough when the scenes need to, and she was vulnerable during the moments that require that. Oscar worthy in my eyes.

13. JANE FONDA, “Klute” (1971)

Role: Bree Daniels, prostitute slash accomplice to a detective in solving a case
Competition: Julie Christie (McCabe and Mrs. Miller), Glenda Jackson (Sunday Bloody Sunday), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scotts), Janet Suzman (Nicholas and Alexandra)

It’s such a head scratcher why Jane Fonda stopped doing quality movies (Remember Monster in Law?) when she gave layered performance one after the other such as this one of Bree Daniels. Political beliefs aside, it is truly magnificent how much attached Fonda was with the role of Bree, and this (together with her another win for Coming Home) goes to show that Fonda has the chops to match the rich material she is capable of delivering.

12. JANET GAYNOR, “Sunrise” (1928)

Role: Indre, the wife
Competition: Louise Dresser (A Ship Comes In), Gloria Swanson (Sadie Thompson)

The very first recipient of the Oscar in this category is also one of the best winners ever. Granted she was also recognized for two other performances that year, it was her role as the wife in Sunrise that showed her captivating flair for acting. Seems like she was a good omen in this category after all.

11. SISSY SPACEK, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980)

Role: Loretta Lynn, country icon
Competition: Ellen Burstyn (Resurrection), Goldie Hawn (Private Benjamin), Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People), Gena Rowlands (Gloria)

Before starring in biopics have become the easy route on your way to the Oscar (coughSandraBullockReeseWitherspooncough), there was a time when portraying real people is as special as it can get especially when you Sissy Spacek’s Oscar winning performance as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. As music icon Lynn, it was clear that Spacek wasn’t in for lone imitation but more of a characterization. It is clear injustice why Spacek has only one Oscar on her mantle.

10. SIMONE SIGNORET, “Room at the Top” (1959)

Role: Alice Aisgill, an unhappy married old woman who’s bored with her life
Competition: Doris Day (Pillow Talk), Audrey Hepburn (The Nun’s Story), Katharine Hepburn (Suddenly Last Summer), Elizabeth Taylor (Suddenly Last Summer)

It was somehow a surprise back then how French actress Simone Signoret won the Oscar over close competitor and still then unrewarded Elizabeth Taylor. However, it will only take one viewing of Room at the Top to understand why. To give a gritty treatment to the character of Alice Aisgill and made you see the vulnerability of the character perfectly why she won that year. It won’t also hurt that she swept the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Cannes for this performance.

09. KATHARINE HEPBURN, “The Lion in Winter” (1968)

Role: Eleanor of Aquitaine, estranged wife of King Henry II
Competition: tied with Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl), Patricia Neal (The Subject Was Roses), Vanessa Redgrave (Isadora), Joanne Woodward (Rachel, Rachel)

The Academy’s most rewarded actress is also the biggest victor in this category with all four of her trophies are in this category. My favorite, though, is her third win for The Lion in Winter as Eleanor of Aquitaine. Such fierceness yet also restraint at some parts with equally wonderful and snubbed Peter O’Toole. It sucks though that she has to share it with Barbra Streisand who was great but obviously inferior to Hepburn’s performance.

08. MAGGIE SMITH, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” (1969)

Role: Jean Brodie, a committed teacher in an all girls school
Competition: Genevieve Bujold (Anne of a Thousand Days), Jane Fonda (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), Liza Minnelli (The Sterile Cuckoo), Jean Simmons (The Happy Ending)

Before she took on teaching duties at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall was Jean Brodie first, and her role as a committed teacher in an all girls is one of the best portrayed films about an instructor. This is mostly due to Smith’s remarkable performance that is so relatable and charismatic that even non-students will fight to have a slot in her class.

07. ELIZABETH TAYLOR, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966)

Role: Martha, a hard-drinking wife who’s waiting for a visitor
Competition: Anouk Aimee (A Man and a Woman), Ida Kaminska (The Shop on the Main Street), Lynn Redgrave (Georgy Girl), Vanessa Redgrave (Morgan!)

We all know the history of Taylor’s first Oscar. It was given to her out of pity because of her personal problems during that time. However, it won’t take too long of a time and deliver a performance actually worthy of an Oscar, and it was her Martha who was sassy and unstoppable in Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf that will actually do the trick.

06. MARION COTILLARD “La Vie En Rose” (2007)

Role: Edith Piaf, French singing superstar
Competition: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Julie Christie (Away From Her), Laura Linney (The Savages), Ellen Page (Juno)

This was a case of the little one that could. Who said that non-English performances are at a disadvantage when it comes to Oscar? Sure they just happen as rare as a blue moon, but they won’t pass the chance to reward the really deserving ones. take the case of Marion Cotillard in 2007. As French singer Edith Piaf, it wasn’t Cotillard’s singing voice used in the movie, but the emotions she showed is clearly Marion authentic.

05. MERYL STREEP, “Sophie’s Choice” (1982)

Role: Sophie Zawistowski, a mother subjected in making a life change decision
Competition: Julie Andrews (Victor/Victoria), Jessica Lange (Frances), Sissy Spacek (Missing), Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman)

Always regarded as one of the best pieces of acting showcases in the history of film, Academy’s favorite actress, Meryl Streep’s Sophie Zawistowski ineded lives up to its title. The “choice” scene, as much as it was repetitive and over shown, never lost any ounce of magic in it. This performance raised the pedestal that all the other succeeding film performances tries to reach, but only a few have matched it since then. Streep was still at her finest and that short piece of moment is definitely worthy of an Oscar.

04. HILARY SWANK, “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999)

Role: Brandon Teena, a confused young woman who is in  a complicated relationship with another woman
Competition: Annette Bening (American Beauty), Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds), Julianne Moore ( The End of the Affair), Meryl Streep (One True Thing)

Swank was in her first lead role back then, and it was for a very controversial role as Brandon Teena, a woman playing a man. The movie was a bit overlong, but that was one thing you can never describe about Swank’s performance. It was affectionate, poignant, and definitely effective. When she cries, you cries. When she’s hurt, you’re hurt. And when Swank won the Oscar, you’re happy because it was such a very inspired win.

03. VIVIEN LEIGH, “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

Role: Blanche Dubois, delusional pretentious Southern belle
Competition: Katharine Hepburn (The African Queen), Eleanor Parker (The Detective Story), Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun), Jane Wyman (The Blue Veil)

Vivien Leigh is a very effective actress that even starring in large epic films doesn’t limit her as an actress (see: Gone with the Wind). While her Scralett O’Hara is pretty much iconic already, I still prefer her Blanche Dubois performance because not only did it stand out from the group ensemble, it was also a layered and sweetheart performance that showcases Leigh’s greatest assets as an actress.

02. CHARLIZE THERON, “Monster” (2003)

Role: Aileen Wuornos, killing prostitute
Competition: Keisha Castle Hughes (Whale Rider), Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give), Samantha Morton (In America), Naomi Watts (21 Grams)

One of the most heartbreaking performances of the past decade, it was indeed a surprise how Theron nailed the physical requirements to portray Aileen Wuornos. But more than that, she aced the emotional scenes with so much depth and honesty that it’s hard not to get carried away with it. The role of Aileen Wuornos has a tendency to receive a histrionic approach to it, but Charlize manages to maintain balance in between what needs to be done and what needs not to be done in order to act this role. For that plus a lot of other things, she is oh so deserving of that Best Actress Oscar in 2003.

01. OLIVIA DEHAVILLAND, “The Heiress” (1949)

Role: Catherine Sloper, rich woman trying to find her true love
Competition: Jeanne Crain (Pinky), Susan Hayward (My Foolish Heart), Deborah Kerr (Edward, My Son), Loretta Young (Come to the Stable)

And the queen of them all, is none other than screen legend Olivia de Havilland in her performance as Catherine Sloper. In The Heiress, the role was already given a nice twist to it by playing the rich woman card instantly. de Havilland was on fire with her performance in this one, and if there’s one word to describe it, I;m opted to go with flawless. Watch the last ten minutes of the film, and you’ll see acting at its finest.

That’s it. How about you? What are your choices? Did you agree with this list? Who would you have removed from the list? And also, can you name the six actresses in the cover photo? 🙂