Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ranking the Performances from the "Big Five" Oscar Winners

Scene from The Silence of the Lambs
With Oscar Sunday mere days away, it feels like as good of a time as any to do a commemorative countdown. In this case, we are five days away from finding out if The Revenant can beat Spotlight for Best Picture or Brie Larson can beat Saoirse Ronan for Best Actress. So, how do you commemorate five days left? Why, by honoring "The Big Five": an honor held by only three films that have won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay (and strangely enough, nothing else). It's rarer than you think. For the sake of an expansive list, I have decided to rank the six performances in order of quality to highlight not only what makes a great performance, but what can enhance a great film.

1. Anthony Hopkins

Film: The Silence of the Lambs

There's a lot that can be unpacked as to why Anthony Hopkins' brilliant turn as the intellectual serial killer Hannibal Lecter is a genius role. It could be that his "Katharine Hepburn meets Truman Capote" accent is so unnerving or that he has some amazing third act moments. It could be that Lecter as a character has become a piece of iconic pop culture and hasn't waned in the 25 years since it was released. However, what possibly puts him in the top spot is that despite being so iconic, he's not even on screen for a quarter of the two hour film, thus making every moment more intense and exciting. It's a performance that exceeds everyone else's on this list.

2. Jack Nicholson

Film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Depending on your views, this is the quintessential Jack Nicholson performance. It is easy to see why, too. While the actor has been consistently engaging, the 70's were his peak as an actor as he provided several performances of societal rebels that perfectly embodied the New Hollywood ideals. Still, this mental institution film (itself a metaphor on society and government oppression) reflects him balancing his light with his dark in such a way that we're not entirely sure if he's crazy. It's one of those enviable roles that don't come along often, and Nicholson pretty much solidified himself as one of the acting greats with this film.

3. Louise Fletcher

Film: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

It would take a lot to find a performer who can hold their own alongside Jack Nicholson in his prime. That's where Louise Fletcher comes in as the film's antagonist Nurse Ratched: the embodiment of government oppression, wishing to take control over the unruly men by drugging them and manipulating them through group sessions. She has a stiff upper lip and is always seen as menacing, even if there's an underlying sense that she's a tragic villain at times: only doing her job to maintain order. It's a shame that of everyone on this list that Fletcher wasn't able to have as fruitful a career, thus leaving us to wonder what other great roles she could've done with this amount of menace and gravitas.

4. Jodie Foster

Film: The Silence of the Lambs

With this film, Jodie Foster solidified her evolution from a child actor into a genuinely talented force. While most everyone thrusts the film's success onto Anthony Hopkins, Foster actually has more screen time and has more to mull through as she solves a series of murders. The story itself is unnerving and provides three amazing performances (Ted Levine being the only one not to win as the amazing Buffalo Bill), though Foster is the moral center by which everything works far more effectively than any murder mystery film has. It's still strange that The Silence of the Lambs cleaned up at The Oscars like it did, but one can easily see why once watching Foster hold her own against Hopkins and Levine.

5. Clark Gable

Film: It Happened One Night

It's a funny thing to judge 1930's acting to a mere 40 or 60 years later. Considering that acting was still adjusting from silent film and stage shows, it's hard to appreciate its idiosyncrasies as much as contemporary films that owe influence to the medium's evolution. Despite giving a great performance, there's not a lot to really say about Clark Gable that isn't true for his other Best Picture films Mutiny on the Bounty or It Happened One Night. He was charming and smooth in all the ways that defined a leading man during the time. For what it's worth, he does a great job in this iconic romantic comedy, even if it's hard to distinguish his charisma to later winners like Jack Nicholson or Anthony Hopkins.

6. Claudette Colbert

Film: It Happened One Night

Even if you're offended that Claudette Colbert has received dead last, just know that you clearly cared more than she did. It's been documented extensively just how much Colbert didn't like making the film; even holding a grudge until her death, and showing up to the ceremony after being picked up from a train station because of how little she believed in her chances. History aside, the performance is charming and features a lot of great moments that have gone on to define the romantic comedy; including her famous scene of lifting her skirt to hitch a ride. For a film that the actress hated, its legacy has only been very, very positive.

No comments:

Post a Comment