Once upon a time I counted down the ten best Best Actress wins. That’s not what’s going on here. I’m still reeling from the perfect batch of Best Actress nominees we were served this year (with apologies to the fire-inventing Emma Thompson, who was left out), and now I’m dishing out a list that I can’t wait for Cate Blanchett to join: the 10 most fabulous performances to win the Best Actress Oscar. Eat up these sumptuous performances and you’ll never be hungry again.
10. Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
What could be more perfect than letting an eccentric, manipulative, sarcastic woman guide the lives of students? Sounds absolutely right to me. Maggie Smith approaches this role with the subtlety of a zeppelin crash and looks like a mod muse while inspiring “the Brodie set” with her pedagogue magnetism. Is it a fluffy character study? Maybe, but when Smith announces “My students are the creme de la creme,” you can’t help but revel in her ridiculous glow.
Vivien Leigh: austere, commanding, and Maleficent cool. It takes a woman of her sheer skill level and eyebrow versatility to take on the role of Scarlett O’Hara, and not just Margaret Mitchell’s heroine has (maybe) more lines than anyone else in cinema: It’s because Scarlett is a horrid hag sorceress who thinks the Civil War is annoying because it means there are fewer people around to clean her house. She flirts with betrothed strangers for fun. She allows herself to be attracted to an oily ferret in a vest named Rhett Butler. And she does not care about Melanie’s stupid deathly illness or whatever she has. She is just theatrically asinine, and Vivien Leigh uses stage finesse and kickass wardrobe choices to make her childish horsesh*t our lifeblood.
8. Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Booze and rancor. Rancor and booze. A beautiful endless waltz of terror. Elizabeth Taylor is just dropkicking canteens of brandy at the camera while Richard Burton dissolves into a shame spiral and Sandy Dennis literally becomes a spiral using tornado-like dance moves in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. She smokes and complains and screams and damns while half-asleep and always cheeky. She is fabulously brutal, and although Edward Albee says it’d have been a better movie with Bette Davis and James Mason in the lead roles, I’m forever drunk on Liz Taylor’s woozy devastation.
7. Cher in Moonstruck
Unlucky in love. Living with her muthah. Reluctantly thrilled by sex with a blue-collar Coppola. Fine with a one-liner. Cher is a whirling, love-spewing diva as Loretta Castorini, even when she’s sparring with Olympia Dukakis about her moonf*ck of a life. “Your life’s going down the toilet!” she’s told, but for once she’s experiencing the grace and grandeur of her beloved opera. And she looks about as amazing as anyone could look in mid ’80s Brooklyn Heights.
6. Jane Fonda in Klute
F*ck you if the name “JANE FONDA” doesn’t fill you with immediate doses of adrenaline and gasoline. If someone screams her name three times, you should basically be a speedboat. Do you like shag-wigged glamor? What about prostitute candor? You get both here as Jane smokes your heart like a stogie as Bree Daniels, who unleashes deathly monologues about her inner workings, insecurities and dogged intellect. “It’s easy to manipulate men, right?” she deadpans to her therapist. Bam. Right. Bree is a living fist-pump.