Lost in the Movies: 90 Years of Actresses: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

90 Years of Actresses: my "alternate Oscars", 1923 - 2012

My picks for best actresses year-by-year, based on my choices in the Wonders in the Dark weekly poll

Read the introduction for background & further explanation

It has always been a convention of awards-givers to divvy up the acting categories by gender, although this makes little sense in terms of actual craft (one wonders had more female directors made it into the industry, would the directing category would be split in two as well?). Are actors and actresses apples and oranges or two slightly varying strands of the same fruit? Regardless, doubling the category doubles the fun of picking winners and opens up interesting questions about how viewers and filmmakers approach the two sexes. As with the actors yesterday, I tend to favor actresses with emotionally ambitious approaches and with an energetic, larger-than-life quality. These performances vary between a touching fragility and a hard-edged dynamism, much like the men, although manifested in different ways (although in early years, there's a lot more comedy, and in later years a lot more emotionally intense drama).

Alongside the names of actresses and films, I've included lifespans (to roughly determine the age), character names, and directors of the film in question. I followed Allan's categorizations in most cases, but had to protest his characterization of Ana Torrent's performance in Cria Cuervos as "supporting" - she's a lead if there was one, despite her age. Below the full lineup, I've listed another series of links - these lead to other posts on this blog covering the films these actresses appeared in.

So far this week I've posted my top feature films, short films, and actors for 1923 - 2012


Ivy Close (1890 - 1968)
...as Norma in
•La Roue (dir. Abel Gance)
Greta Garbo (1905 - 1990)
...as Elizabeth Dohna in
•The Saga of Gosta Berling (dir. Mauritz Stiller)
Renee Adoree (1898 - 1933)
...as Melisande in
•The Big Parade (dir. King Vidor)
Nadia Sibirskaia (1901 - 1980)
...as Younger Sister in
•Menilmontant (dir. Dimitri Kirsanoff)
Lyudmila Semyonova (1899 - 1990)
...as Liuda in
•Bed and Sofa (dir. Abram Room)
Maria Falconetti (1892 - 1946)
...as Joan of Arc in
•The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir. Carl Th. Dreyer)
Louise Brooks (1906 - 1985)
...as Lulu in
•Pandora's Box (dir. G.W. Pabst)
Marlene Dietrich (1901 - 1992)
...as Lola Lola in
•The Blue Angel (dir. Josef von Sternberg)
Hertha Thiele (1908 - 1984)
...as Manuela von Meinhardis in
•Madchen in Uniform (dir. Leontine Sagan, Carl Froelich)
Joan Bennett (1910 - 1990)
...as Helen Riley in
•Me and My Gal (dir. Raoul Walsh)
Barbara Stanwyck (1907 - 1990)
...as Lily in
•Baby Face (dir. Alfred E. Green)
Lingyu Ruan (1910 - 1935)
...as "The Goddess" in
•The Goddess (dir. Yonggang Wu)
Sachiko Chiba (1911 - 1993)
...as Kimiko Yamamoto in
•Wife! Be Like a Rose! (dir. Mikio Naruse)
Carole Lombard (1908 - 1942)
...as Irene Bullock in
•My Man Godfrey (dir. Gregory La Cava)
Beulah Bondi (1889 - 1981)
...as Lucy Cooper in
•Make Way for Tomorrow (dir. Leo McCarey)
Michele Morgan (b. 1920)
...as Nelly in
•Port of Shadows (dir. Marcel Carne)
Vivien Leigh (1913 - 1967)
...as Scarlett O'Hara in
•Gone With the Wind 
(dir. Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Sam Wood)
Margaret Sullavan (1909 - 1960)
...as Klara Novak in
•The Shop Around the Corner (dir. Ernst Lubitsch)
Barbara Stanwyck (1907 - 1990)
...as Jean in
•The Lady Eve (dir. Preston Sturges)
Veronica Lake (1922 - 1973)
...as Jennifer in
•I Married a Witch (dir. Rene Clair)
Lisbeth Movin (1917 - 2011)
...as Anne Pedersdotter in
•Day of Wrath (dir. Carl Th. Dreyer)
Lauren Bacall (b. 1924)
...as Marie "Slim" Browning in
•To Have and Have Not (dir. Howard Hawks)
Maria Casares (1922 - 1996)
...as Helene in
•Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne 
(dir. Robert Bresson)
Rita Hayworth (1918 - 1987)
...as Gilda in
•Gilda (dir. Charles Vidor)
Deborah Kerr (1921 - 2007)
...as Sister Clodagh in
•Black Narcissus (dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
Joan Fontaine (b. 1917)
...as Lisa Berndle in
•Letter From an Unknown Woman 
(dir. Max Ophuls)
Setsuko Hara (b. 1920)
...as Noriko Somiya in
•Late Spring (dir. Yasujiro Ozu)
Bette Davis (1908 - 1989)
...as Margo Channing in
•All About Eve (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
Vivien Leigh (1913 - 1967)
...as Blanche DuBois in
•A Streetcar Named Desire (dir. Elia Kazan)
Eva Dahlbeck (1920 - 2008)
...as Karin in
•Waiting Women (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Harriet Andersson (b. 1932)
...as Monika in
•Summer With Monika (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Brenda de Banzie (1909 - 1981)
...as Maggie Hobson in
•Hobson's Choice (dir. David Lean)
Jane Wyman (1917 - 2007)
...as Cary Scott in
•All That Heaven Allows (dir. Douglas Sirk)
Machiko Kyo (b. 1924)
...as Mickey in
•Street of Shame (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi)
Giulietta Masina (1921 - 1994)
...as Cabiria in
•Nights of Cabiria (dir. Federico Fellini)
Shirley MacLaine (b. 1934)
...as Ginnie Moorehead in
•Some Came Running (dir. Vincente Minnelli)
Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993)
...as Sister Luke in
•The Nun's Story (dir. Fred Zinnemann)
Hideko Takamine (1924 - 2010)
...as Keiko Yashiro in
•When a Woman Ascends the Stairs 
(dir. Mikio Naruse)
1961 (tie)
Harriet Andersson (b. 1932)
...as Karin in
•Through a Glass Darkly (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
1961 (tie)
Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993)
...as Holly Golightly in
•Breakfast at Tiffany's (dir. Blake Edwards)
Anna Magnani (1908 - 1973)
...as Mamma Roma in
•Mamma Roma (dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini)
Brigitte Bardot (b. 1934)
...as Camille Javal in
•Contempt (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Nina Pens Rode (1929 - 1992)
...as Gertrud Kanning in
•Gertrud (dir. Carl Th. Dreyer)
Catherine Deneuve (b. 1943)
...as Carol in
•Repulsion (dir. Roman Polanski)
Anna Karina (b. 1940)
...as Paula Nelson in
•Made in USA (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Anne Bancroft (1931 - 2005)
...as Mrs. Robinson in
•The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols)
Mariko Okada (b. 1933)
...as Naoko Toba in
•Farewell to the Summer Light (dir. Yoshishige Yoshida)
Francoise Fabian (b. 1933)
...as Maud in
•My Night at Maud's (dir. Eric Rohmer)
Barbara Loden (1932 - 1980)
...as Wanda Goronski in
•Wanda (dir. Barbara Loden)
Jane Fonda (b. 1937)
...as Bree Daniel in
•Klute (dir. Alan Pakula)
Ingrid Thulin (1926 - 2004)
...as Karin in
•Cries and Whispers (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Sissy Spacek (b. 1949)
...as Holly in
•Badlands (dir. Terrence Malick)
Shabana Azmi (b. 1950)
...as Laxmi in
•Ankur (dir. Shyam Benegal)
Ana Torrent (b. 1966)
...as Ana in
•Cria Cuervos (dir. Carlos Saura)
Sissy Spacek (b. 1949)
...as Carrie White in
•Carrie (dir. Brian De Palma)
Shelley Duvall (b. 1949)
...as Millie Lammoreaux in
•3 Women (dir. Robert Altman)
Ingrid Bergman (1915 - 1982)
...as Charlotte Andergast in
•Autumn Sonata (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Hanna Schygulla (b. 1943)
...as Maria Braun in
•The Marriage of Maria Braun (dir. R.W. Fassbinder)
Susan Sarandon (b. 1946)
...as Sally in
•Atlantic City (dir. Louis Malle)
Kathleen Turner (b. 1954)
...as Matty Walker in
•Body Heat (dir. Lawrence Kasdan)
Meryl Streep (b. 1949)
...as Sophie in
•Sophie's Choice (dir. Alan Pakula)
Sandrine Bonnaire (b. 1967)
...as Suzanne in
•A Nos Amours (dir. Maurice Pialat)
Marita Breuer (b. 1953)
...as Maria Simon in
•Heimat (dir. Edgar Reitz)
Myriem Roussel (b. 1962)
...as Marie in
•Hail Mary (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)
Cathy Tyson (b. 1965)
...as Simone in
•Mona Lisa (dir. Neil Jordan)
Holly Hunter (b. 1958)
...as Jane Craig in
•Broadcast News (dir. James L. Brooks)
Susan Sarandon (b. 1946)
...as Annie Savoy in
•Bull Durham (dir. Ron Shelton)
Helen Mirren (b. 1945)
...as Georgina Spica in
•The Cook, the Thief, His Wife,
and Her Lover (dir. Peter Greenaway)
Kathy Bates (b. 1948)
...as Annie Wilkes in
•Misery (dir. Rob Reiner)
Irene Jacob (b. 1966)
...as Veronique & Veronika in
•The Double Life of Veronique 
(dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Sheryl Lee (b. 1967)
...as Laura Palmer in
•Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (dir. David Lynch)
Holly Hunter (b. 1958)
...as Ada McGrath in
•The Piano (dir. Jane Campion)
Irene Jacob (b. 1966)
...as Valentine in
•Three Colors: Red (dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Sharon Stone (b. 1958)
...as Ginger McKenna in
•Casino (dir. Martin Scorsese)
Emily Watson (b. 1967)
...as Bess McNeill in
•Breaking the Waves (dir. Lars von Trier)
Pam Grier (b. 1949)
...as Jackie Brown in
•Jackie Brown (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Cate Blanchett (b. 1969)
...as Queen Elizabeth I in
•Elizabeth (dir. Shekhar Kapur)
Hilary Swank (b. 1974)
...as Brandon Teena in
•Boys Don't Cry (dir. Kimberly Peirce)
Ellen Burstyn (b. 1932)
...as Sara Goldfarb in
•Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Naomi Watts (b. 1969)
...as Betty Elms & Diane Selwyn in
•Mulholland Dr. (dir. David Lynch)
Marina de Van (b. 1971)
...as Esther in
•In My Skin (dir. Marina de Van)
Nicole Kidman (b. 1967)
...as Grace Margaret Mulligan in
•Dogville (dir. Lars von Trier)
Kate Winslet (b. 1975)
...as Clementine in
•Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 
(dir. Michel Gondry)
Laura Linney (b. 1964)
...as Joan Berkman in
•The Squid and the Whale (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Laura Dern (b. 1967)
...as Nikki Grace & Susan Blue in
•Inland Empire (dir. David Lynch)
Do-yeon Jeon (b. 1973)
...as Shin-ae in
•Secret Sunshine (dir. Chang-dong Lee)
Melissa Leo (b. 1960)
...as Ray Eddy in
•Frozen River (dir. Courtney Hunt)
Charlotte Gainsbourg (b. 1971)
...as She in
•Antichrist (dir. Lars von Trier)
Natalie Portman (b. 1981)
...as Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen in
•Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Kirsten Dunst (b. 1982)
...as Justine in
•Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier)
Jessica Chastain (b. 1977)
...as Maya in
•Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Explore these films on Lost in the Movies:
La Roue (Ivy Close)
The Saga of Gosta Berling (Greta Garbo - not in clip)
Menilmontant (Nadia Sibirskaia)
Bed and Sofa (Lyudmila Semyonova)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti)
Pandora's Box (Louise Brooks)
Morocco (Marlene Deitrich)
Madchen in Uniform (Hertha Thiele)
Me and My Gal (Joan Bennett)
Baby Face (Barbara Stanwyck)
Wife! Be Like a Rose! (Sachiko Chiba)
Make Way for Tomorrow (Beulah Bondi)
Gone With the Wind (Vivien Leigh)
The Shop Around the Corner (Margaret Sullavan)
The Lady Eve (Barbara Stanwyck)
I Married a Witch (Veronica Lake)
Day of Wrath (Lisbeth Movin)
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Maria Casares - not in clip)
Late Spring (Setsuko Hara)
All About Eve (Bette Davis)
Summer With Monika (Harriet Andersson)
Hobson's Choice (Brenda de Banzie)
Some Came Running (Shirley MacLaine)
Through a Glass Darkly (Harriet Andersson)
Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani)
Contempt (Brigitte Bardot)
Gertrud (Nina Pens Rode)
The Graduate (Anne Bancroft)
My Night at Maud's (Francoise Fabian)
Ankur (Shabana Azmi)
Cria Cuervos (Ana Torrent)
Carrie (Sissy Spacek)
3 Women (Shelley Duvall)
A Nos Amours (Sandrine Bonnaire)
Heimat (Marita Breuer - not in clip)
Misery (Kathy Bates)
Requiem for a Dream (Ellen Burstyn)
Mulholland Dr. (Naomi Watts - not in clip)
Dogville (Nicole Kidman)
Inland Empire (Laura Dern)
Frozen River (Melissa Leo)
Antichrist (Charlotte Gainsbourg)
Melancholia (Kirsten Dunst)

Additionally, 14 of films featuring my Best Actor performances appear alongside brief capsules in:


Anonymous said...

This particular category has really shown me how little I have been looking for female performances that truly shine out... Either from my own disinterest or the lack of dynamic female roles in Hollywood, but that's gotta change... until then...

1994: Uma Thurman - Pulp Fiction
1995: Sharon Stone - Casino
1996: Frances McDormand - Fargo
1997: Pam Grier - Jackie Brown
1998: Julianne Moore - The Big Lebowski
1999: Hilary Swank - Boys Don't Cry
2000: Ellen Burstyn - Requiem for a Dream
2001: Naomi Watts - Mulholland Dr.
2002: Catherine Zeta-Jones - Chicago
2003: Scarlett Johanesson - Lost in Translation
2004: Kate Winslet - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (with acknowledgment to Uma Thurman - Kill Bill, Vol. 2)
2005: Lee Young Ae - Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
2006: Laura Dern - Inland Empire
2007: Ellen Page - Juno
2008: Rachel Weisz - The Brothers Bloom (with acknowledgment to Lina Leandersson)
2009: Carey Mulligan - An Education
2010: Natalie Portman - Black Swan (with acknowledgment to Hailee Stenfield)
2011: Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
2012: Jennifer Lawrence - Silver Linings Playbook

I am incredibly ashamed... not because I don't think these are great performances - I wouldn't pick them otherwise - but because I really didn't have much to choose from in consideration of the movies I have watched.

Joel Bocko said...

I know your feeling; sometimes, in both acting categories but particularly this one, I found myself either struggling to pick a winner or grappling with a shallow field (on a few occasions, I had to seek out a movie or two in the lineup because otherwise I couldn't vote). I think this is because the greatest/most celebrated performances of the year often aren't in the greatest/most celebrated films of the year though there's obviously a lot of overlap. This taught me that I need to see more films in which the acting is front and foremost - not only for broadening my cinematic experience but because I do genuinely enjoy great performances in their own regard, even aside from the film they are a part of.

Joel Bocko said...

And from your picks I've seen all but The Brothers Bloom. Leandersson was excellent and was probably my runner-up for that year.

Mike said...

Like moviemotorbreath, I rarely seek out movies based on the lead female performance. In fact I don't even think I have a favorite actress off the top of my head. Scrolling through your list, there are many I agree with, and none I think I am totally against. These picks of yours I am particularly fond of-

Maria Falconetti (Passion of Joan of Arc)
Joan Fontaine (Letter From an Unknown Woman)
Setsuko Hara (Late Spring)
Brigitte Bardot (Le mepris)
Sissy Spacek (Badlands) and (Carrie)
Hanna Schygulla (The Marriage of Maria Braun)
Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me)
Sharon Stone (Casino)
Naomi Watts (Mulholland Dr)

Lot of people unfairly hate on Stone in Casino but I love her in it. Glad to see you and moviemotorbreath giving her props. I like the whole hair change dynamic that recalls Bardot in Le mepris. The characters are similar in other ways too, someone should do an in-depth essay on the two characters and the way they are seen from the male's point of view.

The only exclusion I can think of from your list that I would have on mine (off the top of my head) is Karina in Vivre sa Vie. There are several heartbreaking close ups in that film that she just knocks out of the park. Plus the whole subtext of Godard only being able to show his love for her through film is fascinating to me, if slightly exaggerated.

Will be back later with comments on the last batch of shorts I watched.

Joel Bocko said...

I had to honor Magnani in '62 as that's one of my top 10 female performances in a vastly underrated Pasolini masterpiece. Aside from Vivre, Pierrot le fou would probably have been my other best shot to honor Karina - she's very confident and cagey as a performer in that film, and it's interesting to see how far she'd come as an actress since her early, cutely nervous debut in Le Petit Soldat. But Deneuve edged her out for notably holding the screen all alone in Repulsion. So I gave Karina essentially a catch-up award in 1966, but now I think that was a mistake - both because that role in Made in USA is (purposefully) not as emotionally complex as other roles, but also because really Bibi Andersson should have won for Persona. But so it has been written, so shall it be done.

Kross said...

A lot of cool stuff here, but Bette Davis beating Gloria Swanson?

Joel Bocko said...

Yeah, that's a tough year and not just for the two most celebrated performers. Ultimately, I find Swanson's style works perfectly for the film, but that Davis' is more nuanced and multifaceted.

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