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For Your Reconsideration: The 100 Greatest Performances that should have won Oscars but didn't

Entertainment Weekly, 25 November 2002

1. Jimmy Stewart, Vertigo (1958)

He made his childhood acting debut in a Boy Scout play. And for great swaths of his Hollywood career, James Stewart -- better known to audiences as Jimmy, since he seemed so approachable -- went right on playing Boy Scouts, wholesome, reasonable, aw-shucks kinds of fellows who stuttered and drawled and stood knock-kneed before the opposite sex. That's probably why Stewart remains such a revelation as sick puppy Scottie Ferguson, the acrophobic, borderline-necrophilic detective in Alfred Hitchcock's trailblazing study of sexual dysfunction. (Follow the straight line to "Blue Velvet.") Stewart's Scottie is sympathetic as he becomes attracted to an unfaithful wife he's hired to tail. He's moving when he witnesses her apparent death. He's creepy when he finds another woman he wants to make over in his dead amour's image. And he's genuinely frightening when he discovers his love object may have betrayed him -- all sweaty rants and shaking-hand-across-the-lip fury. It's a thoroughly modern, adult performance. Nothing gee-whiz about it. Scout's honor.

2. Anthony Perkins, Psycho (1960)

"We all go a little mad sometimes." "She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother." No one can speak lines like these today without reflexively resorting to "the psycho stutter" or "the psycho stare." Such unnaturalness is only natural -- after a half century of serial-killer movies, we share a template for knife-wielding loonies. Perkins, the pioneer, had no such road map. For him, the tics were organic: He approached Norman Bates as a character, not a trope. His murderous, mother-lovin' motelier is plenty creepy, yes, but it's Perkins' disarming, oddball lack of self-consciousness that makes you believe Janet Leigh wouldn't take off down the highway after one look into those beady, birdlike eyes. No matter what he's doing -- sucking on a piece of candy or methodically cleaning up a blood-spattered bathroom -- you never doubt for an instant that the man is completely, utterly, and terrifyingly at home.

3. Cary Grant, The Philadelphia Story (1940)

In Pauline Kael's formulation, Grant was the Man From Dream City. The "city" bit is clear: His acrobatic urbanity -- the dance of dapper sidesteps, teasing nods, streetwise shrugs -- is matchless. The content of the "dream" is complex, as his elastic suavity accommodates all manner of ambiguities. When, for instance, Grant dashes off his dashing lines, his verbal aggression can seem driven by neurosis and his voice by the crack of a silken whip. "The Philadelphia Story" is about a romance between Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, and about Grant -- as the odd man out -- being uncommonly needy. His C.K. Dexter Haven is more desperate than his man on the run in "North by Northwest." Rather cruel, rather too cool, he wears his sophistication as if it were armor. It is rare to find Cary Grant heartbroken, and more rare yet to find an actor who can seem terribly lonely and still find romance a jolly game.

4. Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca (1942)

When Bergman walks into Rick's Café, her Ilsa is "the most beautiful woman ever to visit Casablanca." She pulls us in with a simmering-below-the-surface eroticism and an un-Hollywood freshness that makes her seem earthbound and attainable. And like all great screen actors, she made the camera an accomplice. Watch her face, held in a tight, caressing close-up, as Dooley Wilson's Sam first sings "As Time Goes By." A lesser actress might have overemoted, but Bergman restricts expression to a minimum and just lets the camera play across that gorgeous profile. It's one of those wonderfully mysterious moments when an actor, seemingly by doing nothing, lets us imagine everything. And remember this: As a costar she brought out a pained romanticism in Humphrey Bogart that he'd never shown before nor would again. Likewise, Bergman would never again be quite this luminous.

5. Samuel L. Jackson, Jungle Fever (1991)

Spike Lee's inner-city melodrama is ostensibly about an affair between African-American architect Flipper (Wesley Snipes) and Italian-American secretary Angela (Annabella Sciorra), but Samuel L. Jackson steals the movie as Flipper's crackhead brother, Gator. In just five scenes, Jackson (who had completed real-life drug rehab mere months before filming) beams a lifetime of hurt and rage through his eyes. Wheedling money from his doormat of a mother (Ruby Dee) and tragically menacing his fallen-pastor father (Ossie Davis) with a devilish dance, Jackson fearlessly conjures his character's inner demons. The Cannes film festival created a special best-supporting-actor prize for his work, but the Academy snubbed him. Yet in the end, Jackson's harrowing turn as Gator lifted him out of the swamp of bit-part actors and helped make him a king of the Hollywood jungle.

6. Susan Sarandon, Bull Durham (1988)

What kind of a woman could steal a movie about one of America's most testosterone-filled pastimes, the mustache-adorned, tobacco-spittin', butt-pattin' sport of baseball? The kind of impeccably funny, lust-lidded siren that Susan Sarandon became in this role. With a Southern drawl as comfortable as a well-oiled glove, Sarandon's Annie Savoy takes on the local minor-league franchise's most promising player each season, educating him in love and "life wisdom." Combining smoldering sensuality with a gentle, protective nature, the actress slides without a drop of sweat from advising her charge (Tim Robbins) on the unfastening of garters to the wonders of Walt Whitman. An actress of less depth would have bobbled Annie Savoy's complexity, but Sarandon turns her into "Bull Durham"'s most valuable player.

7. John Cazale, The Godfather Part 2 (1974)

Michael got the brains, Sonny got the brawn, but Fredo -- poor, forlorn Fredo -- what did he get? Passed over. With Mike (Al Pacino) now in charge, the middle Mafia child is all impotence. The guy can't even betray right. Pitiable, but Cazale never plays it like that. He's awkward and sweet, and so very mournful of the old days (watch him glow like a sickly moon when he spots a friend from back East). When he finally blurts his reasons for turning on his brother, it's with the resentment of a child. "I'm not dumb! I'm smart and I want respect!" he bellows, wobbling helplessly on a patio chair. Thanks to Cazale, who made just six movies, all great, before his death at 42, Fredo got the heart -- and the good and bad that go with it.

8. Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

We all know ''The Wizard of Oz'' is chockful of heart, brains, and courage, but the girl who made the whole thing dance was Garland. The 17-year-old had big shoes to fill working alongside old pros like Jack Haley (Tin Man), Ray Bolger (Scarecrow), and Bert Lahr (Lion), but her wide-eyed innocence and powerful voice are what truly brought the film over the rainbow. (They also helped land Garland a specially created Juvenile Award at the 1940 Oscars, a kiddie-table honor that's no longer passed out.) Later in life, Garland would lose the innocence and concentrate more on her singing career. And though she could still light up a screen on occasion (most notably in 1954's ''Star Is Born''), to find one of cinema's most indelible performances, you must backtrack down the yellow brick road.

9. Marilyn Monroe, Some Like It Hot (1959)

She drove everyone nuts. She arrived late on set, flubbed her lines, and deferred to her acting coach, Paula Strasberg, over director Billy Wilder. But she was Marilyn Monroe. And she was worth it. Though Wilder didn't have Monroe in mind at first (he assumed the part was too small for such a megastar), Sugar Kane, the ukulele-strumming, bourbon-swigging sexpot, is nothing if not pure Marilyn. Her wide-eyed, blissful sensuality is the perfect counterpart to Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon's drag show and confirmed what many already knew from 1955's "The Seven Year Itch": that Monroe was a gifted comedian who sparkled more vibrantly than all of Sugar's sequined dresses stitched together. When she breathily boop-boop-be-doops in the middle of "I Wanna Be Loved by You," you have to wonder what fool wouldn't wanna be loved by her.

10. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet (1986)

He got a supporting-actor nomination -- his lone nod to date -- for appearing in "Hoosiers" the very same year, but who talks much about "Hoosiers" now (outside of Indiana)? The Hopper character most likely to have left a permanent scar on your cerebral cortex is Frank Booth, the profane, fabric-swatch-loving sadist who lurks in the alternate-universe backwaters of "Blue Velvet." Before writer-director David Lynch unleashed Frank, we'd never seen a villain inflict quite such a queasy mix of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse on a victim. It's still hard to watch Frank's initial tryst with singer Dorothy Vallens, who, as played by Isabella Rossellini, seems both terrified and turned on. And as Frank swigs Pabst Blue Ribbon and huffs nitrous oxide, it's also hard not to think about Hopper's own battles with drugs and booze, adding to the tightrope tension. Improbably, Hopper finds a kernel of humor in Frank's inchoate rage. But we freeze in our seats, imagining Frank reading our thoughts, turning and snarling "Funny how, f---er?"

11. Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night (1967)
12. Kathleen Turner, Body Heat (1981)
13. Orson Welles, Touch of Evil (1958)
14. Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage (1934)
15. Donald Sutherland, Ordinary People (1980)
16. Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday (1940)
17. Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange (1971)
18. Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby (1938)
19. Robert De Niro, Mean Streets (1973)
20. Gene Tierney, Laura (1944)
21. Rita Hayworth, Gilda (1946)
22. Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain (1952)
23. Gary Oldman, Sid & Nancy (1986)
24. Denzel Washington, Philadelphia (1993)
25. Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady (1964)
26. Glenn Close, Reversal of Fortune (1990)
27. Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
28. John Wayne, The Searchers (1956)
29. Anjelica Huston, The Dead (1987)
30. Morgan Freeman, Glory (1989)
31. Jack Nicholson, The Shining (1980)
32. Frank Sinatra, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
33. James Cagney, White Heat (1949)
34. Julie Christie, Doctor Zhivago (1965)
35. Toshiro Mifune, Throne of Blood (1957)
36. Carole Lombard, Nothing Sacred (1937)
37. Kathy Bates, Dolores Claiborne (1995)
38. Robert Shaw, Jaws (1975)
39. Nicole Kidman, The Others (2001)
40. Edward G. Robinson, Double Indemnity (1944)
41. Sean Penn, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
42. Al Pacino, Donnie Brasco (1997)
43. Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
44. Sigourney Weaver, The Ice Storm (1997)
45. Julianne Moore, Safe (1995)
46. Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory (1957)
47. Lana Turner, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
48. Mia Farrow, Rosemary's Baby (1968)
49. Ed Harris, The Right Stuff (1983)
50. Dylan Baker, Happiness (1998)
51. Gene Wilder, Young Frankenstein (1974)
52. Boris Karloff, Frankenstein* (1931)
53. Peter Sellers, The Pink Panther (1964)
54. Marlene Dietrich, Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
55. Errol Flynn, Gentleman Jim (1942)
56. Cher, Mask (1985)
57. Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter (1955)
58. Sissy Spacek, Badlands (1973)
59. Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge (2001)
60. Johnny Depp, Ed Wood (1994)
61. Alec Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
62. Jean-Pierre Leaud, The 400 Blows (1959)
63. Alan Rickman, Die Hard (1988)
64. Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
65. Tony Curtis, Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
66. Buster Keaton, The General (1927)
67. Richard Pryor, Blue Collar (1978)
68. Falconetti, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
69. Vincent D'Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket (1987)
70. Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train (1951)
71. Alfre Woodard, Crooklyn (1994)
72. Maureen O'Hara, The Quiet Man (1952)
73. Bill Murray, Groundhog Day (1993)
74. Joseph Cotten, Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
75. Joanne Woodward, The Glass Menagerie (1987)
76. Kate Winslet, Heavenly Creatures (1994)
77. Christina Ricci, The Opposite of Sex (1998)
78. Faye Dunaway, Mommie Dearest (1981)
79. John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich (1999)
80. Eric Roberts, Star 80 (1983)
81. Lionel Barrymore, It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
82. Liv Ullmann, Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
83. Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
84. Annette Bening, Valmont (1989)
85. Angela Bassett, Waiting to Exhale (1995)
86. Mieko Harada, Ran (1985)
87. Michael Caine, The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
88. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Georgia (1995)
89. Gillian Anderson, The House of Mirth (2000)
90. Laurence Fishburne, Boyz in the Hood (1991)
91. Divine, Hairspray (1988)
92. Ralph Fiennes, Quiz Show (1994)
93. Steve Martin, All of Me (1984)
94. Eddie Murphy, The Nutty Professor (1996)
95. Nick Nolte, North Dallas Forty (1979)
96. Sean Connery, From Russia with Love (1963)
97. Harry Belafonte, Kansas City (1996)
98. Christopher Walken, Pennies from Heaven (1981)
99. Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not (1944)
100. Molly Ringwald, Sixteen Candles (1984)

*ELIZABETH'S NOTE: Karloff played Frankenstein's monster, not Frankenstein, in the film.

© 2002 Entertainment Weekly

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