Monday, June 19, 2006

75 Great Performances: 45-41

45. Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce in Mildred Pierce (1945)

Steely-eyed, strong women fit Joan Crawford and contemporary Bette Davis perfectly, and it is in Mildred Pierce that Crawford masterfully assumes the role of unconditionally loving mother to a hellspawn (Ann Blyth's Veda). Crawford is one of the few actresses who can express so much with the way their eyes move, but given lines like, "I'd've rather cut off my hand!" (when she slapped daughter Veda), she is able to make the role her own and one of the most interesting characters in film-noir with so much more than her glare. She is at once a martyr and a woman of conviction, without going over the top in either persona.

Image from IMDb

44. Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950)

It figures that one of cinema's most popular quotes ("Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!) should come from the great dame Bette Davis, one of the best and most acclaimed actresses of the 20th century. Never are Davis's characters the weak sort, even when fiercely, unconditionally in love (e.g., in Jezebel). In the Oscar triumph All About Eve, Davis plays the strong, no-nonsense stage actress Margo Channing delightfully, never missing a step, as if the role was made for no one else but her. That's a point that isn't easy to argue. Davis always owns her roles, and Margo Channing is definitive Bette Davis.

Image from IMDb

43. Giulietta Masina as Cabiria in Le Notti di Cabiria (1957)

One of the most well-known and respected Italian actresses, Giulietta Masina has a knack for playing the most naive, heart-wrenching characters to great results. It would not be easy to pick a more innocent and tragic Masina character than her prostitute Cabiria in Le Notti di Cabiria (though of course, her Gelsomina in La Strada was also quite tragic). One's heart can't help but reach out to Cabiria as she struggles through her life, and it goes beyond just Masina's naturally child-like face and expressions. Masina is a truly gifted, unassuming actress the likes of which we should have more of in current cinema.

Image from IMDb

42. Emma Thompson as Karen in Love Actually (2003)

You're probably thinking, "What the heck?" Thompson has such a short role in the delightful ensemble film Love Actually that it would be easy to look over her performance. But what a performance it is. Didn't you feel your heart and gut twist when Karen broke down after discovering her husband's (Alan Rickman) secret? Thompson was absolutely wonderful in this short scene. Much has been said (and deservedly so) of the scene in Brokeback Mountain where Michelle Williams's Alma discovers Ennis's secret relationship, but before that, there was Karen, whose heartbreak Emma Thompson handled flawlessly.

41. Peter Sellers as G/C Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

"Mein Fuhrer! I can walk!"-Dr. Strangelove
"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room."-President Muffley
Two different quotes, two different characters, but same great actor. Before Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers made playing multiple characters in one movie a hilarious novelty, the incomparable Peter Sellers showed his uncanny comedic talent in the political comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, my favorite Stanley Kubrick film and one of the funniest movies ever. In a jewel of a film, Sellers manages to steal the show as a fumbling Group Captain, an all-too-serious President, and a German mad scientist. In each role, he is achingly funny, but for different reasons. It takes a truly astounding actor to be able to achieve what he had in this film.

Image from IMDb

#s 50-46
Introduction and #s 75-51

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