SOPHIE’S CHOICE, KRAMER VS. KRAMER, OUT OF AFRICA, ADAPTATION., THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, DOUBT, THE BRIDES OF MADISON COUNTY, SILKWOOD
Meryl Streep is the go-to actress when you describing someone at the top of the acting field. She is the quintessential triple threat; she can sing, she can dance, and she can act the crap of any part. She has too many award nominations to mention but she has won three Academy Awards, eight Golden Globes, and two BAFTAs. It’s hard to put into words what makes her such a talented actress but at root of it is her ability to embody a role completely. When it comes to Streep she doesn’t just act the part she seems to become the part. She has portrayed many, many iconic roles over her forty-year acting career and every one of them is the performance of a lifetime. Streep’s career has been a success both on the stage and screen and well deserving of a place on this list.
CASABLANCA, NOTORIOUS, GASLIGHT, ANATASIA, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, JOAN OF ARC, SPEELBOUND
Ingrid Bergman is the ‘kid’ in Casablanca’s famous line, “Here’s looking at you, kid”. Bergman began her career in her native Sweden both on stage and on screen before coming to Hollywood. In 1942 she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, her most famous film. Though she won three Academy Awards in her career and starred in many other important films she felt shackled by Casablanca a film in which she did not love her performance. Two years afterCasablanca she won her first Oscar for Best Actress in Gaslight. Bergman’s second Academy Award came from her tremendous performance in Anastasia with Bergman in the lead role. Throughout her career she partnered with Alfred Hitchcock in three films; Spellbound, Notorious, and Under Capricorn. Her life and career were sadly cut short by breast cancer but she left an impressive legacy of films easily earning her a place on his list.
THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, BRINGING UP BABY, THE LION IN WINTER, ON GOLDEN POND, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER
The golden age of Hollywood produced a lot of female stars with indelible, larger-than-life personas, but not many of them were as bracingly defiant as that of Katharine Hepburn. With her broad mid-Atlantic accent, patrician bone structure, and insistence on engaging in outré behavior like playing sports and wearing trousers in public, Hepburn made haughtiness look good. She was such a compelling presence that being a legitimately great actress almost seems like icing on the cake, but she was obviously that as well. She won an unprecedented four Oscars as Best Actress, the first in 1933 and the last in 1981. Over the span of that long career, you can see her transform from a spunky misfit in Alice Adams and Sylvia Scarlett, to a consummate screwball comedienne in Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, to an arch authority figure in Suddenly, Last Summer and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, but through it all she remained powerfully, singularly herself.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE LADY EVE, MEET JOHN DOE, SORRY, WRONG NUMBER, BABY FACE
To call Barbara Stanwyck a versatile performer would be an understatement. In a career that spanned over sixty years, she not only played a variety of types in a variety of tones and genres; she often played the definitive version of those types. Has there ever been a more seductively malevolent femme fatale than her Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity? A more pitiful weepie heroine than Stella Dallas? How about a screwball con woman even half as lightning-fast and razor-sharp as Jean Harrington from The Lady Eve? Stanwyck could play tough, tender, smart, and sexy, sometimes all in the same scene. Her talent for shifting personas on a dime is on special display in 1933’s Baby Face, where she played a manipulative maneater with such electrifying skill that it actually helped usher in the Hays code. The idea of woman trying to “have it all” wasn’t really a thing in Stanwyck’s day, but she came as close to being it all as any actress – or any woman, really – could hope to.
ELIZABETH, CAROL, THE AVIATOR, BLUE JASMINE, LORD OF THE RINGS, NOTES ON A SCANDAL
Cate Blanchett is multi-award winning Australian actress probably most famous for her work in period films like The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films, Elizabeth, Notes on a Scandal, and Carol. Blanchett’s timeless features and sometimes-other-worldly presence makes her the perfect choice for these types of films. She is just as believable as an elf as she is as Katherine Hepburn. One of the things that makes Blanchett worthy of a place on a list like this is her range. In a film likeThe Lord of the Rings she plays the seemingly flawless elf queen Galadriel but she is equally as convincing as the hot mess; Jasmine, in Blue Jasmine. Whether she is ruling England as the virgin queen, forcing Cinderella to sleep in the attic, or falling in love with a man who ages backwards Blanchett always delivers an incredible and often timeless performance.
BOOGIE NIGHTS, SAFE, FAR FROM HEAVEN, STILL ALICE, MAGNOLIA, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, SHORT CUTS, THE HOURS
Julianne Moore’s greatest strength might be her ability to calibrate. She seems like a live wire constantly buzzing with some sort of overwhelming emotion, and some of her best performances have been in showy roles that call for a lot of shouting or crying or general carrying-on. Whether getting into a screaming match with no pants on (Short Cuts), breaking down in the middle of a pharmacy (Magnolia), or moving through a series of paroxysms of panic and disease (Safe), Moore can go to the most extreme emotional places in her work without ever feeling false or dissolving into empty histrionics. The only thing more satisfying than watching her let it all go is watching her barely contain it. Her comparatively restrained performances in films like The Hours, Far From Heaven, and Vanya on 42nd Street are just as compelling because you can still sense the feelings violently churning just under the surface.
A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, FACES, GLORIA, THE NOTEBOOK, SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, LOVE STREAMS, NIGHT ON EARTH
One of the most naturalistic performers to ever grace the screen, Gena Rowlands’ ability to be in the moment at all times seems almost instinctive, as though she is always working to break down the barriers between herself and her characters. This often manifests itself as complete honesty. She never defends her characters in her portrayals of them, nor does she condemn them. She seems to not only understand the inherent contradictions in her characters, but she actually embraces them. These people cannot be easily summed up with a brief discussion of a few generic traits; they are full human beings, every bit as complex as Rowlands herself.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE EXORCIST, ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
A product of the Actor’s Studio, Ellen Burstyn has played over 150 incredibly varied roles, and brought her fearlessly emotional mastery of her craft to some of the best films of the past fifty years. She got her first Oscar nomination in 1972 for The Last Picture Show, a film for which she reportedly gave such an impressive audition that director Peter Bogdanovich told her she could have her pick of the three older female roles. She chose the role of disillusioned housewife Lois Farrow, and her career subsequently caught fire. She’s brought her unique iteration of Method acting – intense, often somewhat anxious, sometimes just this side of eruption, but always grounded and sympathetic – to characters like the tortured mother in The Exorcist, an aspiring singer struggling to define herself outside of marriage in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and a spiraling drug addict in Requiem For a Dream, among many others.