The 10 Greatest Best Actress Oscar Winners

It’s Oscar season, so let’s dive into my favorite place: the past. Over the next few weeks I’ll revisit old winners and rank ‘em however I see fit, and you’re invited to disagree and show me how proud you are of caring about Johnny Belinda or whatever. Today, we begin with the best of Best Actresses. Ready to rank? Let’s go.

10. Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Under-discussed fact: Though the character of Martha is a crucial and brutal part of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, George is a far more interesting character. It’s almost easy to root against Liz for that fact, but her rancor and timing are so electric and natural that she’s a shoo-in for this list. What a flop those other actresses are!

9. Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose

La Vie En Rose tries to be intriguing with its out-of-sequence storytelling but nearly succumbs to Boilerplate Biopic Syndrome (see: Walk the Line). Fortunately, its star gives one of the most convincing and stunning impersonations I’ve ever seen. Cotillard is alive as Edith Piaf, and her zeal and wide-eyed charisma make The Little Sparrow a cinematic treat for the eye. 

8. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

Gotta love when an unknown sweeps in to rule the Oscars, particularly for a role that’s far more culturally important than the competition. (Sorry, Annette Bening!) Hilary Swank not only looks a hell of a lot like Brandon Teena, she embodies the Nebraskan transgendered man’s essence from start to finish — even if it’s Chloe Sevigny who truly ropes us into this story.

7. Faye Dunaway, Network

I was just singing Faye’s praises the other day, but let’s review: Diana Christensen is the toughest, beigest, most frightening exec you’ll ever see on the big screen, and she’s made all the more ferocious by that curious mix of enigma and affectation that Dunaway traditionally brings to the silver screen. She is ruthless — which is usually a one-note characteristic — but Dunaway crackles in the role. By the way, when I give you an audience feedback report, you better read it or I’ll sack the f*cking lot of you, is that clear?

6. Judy Holliday, Born Yesterday

She toppled Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson at the 1950 Oscars, but you can’t call Judy Holliday overpraised. In the classic comedy Born Yesterday, she turns the part of feisty naif Billie Dawn into a brilliantly funny, convincingly cerebral character with a spine. It helps that Holliday was rumored to have an IQ of 162, but it’s all acting skill that propels her through cinema’s finest gin rummy scene. (Take that, The Apartment!)

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