Monday, January 14, 2013

20 Years of Movie-Watching: Part 4 - 20 Favorite Female Actors

'She's hot. She's a woman in a movie - Of course she is.' -David McGee, good friend and filmmaking partner

Well, in continuing with my celebration of watching and analyzing cinema for 20 years and as a companion piece to my previous article on favorite male actors, I now name my 20 favorite female actresses. The darker point of this, though, is that there are fewer honorable mentions on this turn around and absolutely less minority actresses.
At this point, I'd say it's less about my tastes towards actresses and more towards how females are represented in cinema throughout the years. Gender roles have taken place for too long in every aspect of life in this world and films are no exception, of course, as the arts act as mirror towards life as we know it. As a result, we have a specific seat in the story that we subject women strictly too with little room that we'll allow for exception. The 'gaze', the sexual objectification of women in a largely sexist male society such as the film industry is a sad truth - it even goes beyond acting - look how long it took for a woman to win the Best Director Oscar... Look how many successful female directors we have out here...

I cannot deny that, as evident by the following list, I succumb to such prejudices in the presented films before me in my life. I'm just a zombie like many others.

So thank the powers-that-be for actresses who either use that stereotype to at least shine out, make themselves memorable, make themselves heard and seen beyond being white noise among the pretty white actresses. After all, objectification is, to a degree, the main basis in stardom - it works for male actors just as well as female actors - I don't think Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Tom Cruise are stars solely on their acting chops...
And thank the powers-that-be even greater for the actresses that struggle to break beyond that gender role and put themselves into higher tier of acting. Even if they're not as successful (and many of them pleasantly surprisingly are successful), at least they have standards beyond being the next Victoria's Secret model to star in Michael Bay's next blockbuster. At least they care about their craft moreso than the next Charlie Sheen.

Nudity is a must, though! A must!

This pic of me will single-handedly ensure that I never
get any nude photos of any chick ever...
R.I.P. my dignity

So, let us begin once more with this great tribute to the great female actors of my cinematic endeavors!


20. Bae Doona  - Now, it's no secret that I like South Korean cinema a lot more than most other cultural cinema. Call me a twisted puppy, but I like the way it's truly fucked up without being outright pure horror. Bae Doona's performance as the radical girlfriend in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance really helped that. She was crazy and yet... attractive. I don't know, I like crazy.
But other performances in Cloud Atlas and The Host suggest strength in various types of roles untapped, in aspects of comedy and symbolistic strength, and that Doona has a lot more to show than we have yet discovered out of her.

19. Veronica Lake - When you consider the fact that she did Sullivan's Travels while pregnant, it's no wonder whether or not she can take the business seriously and head-on. And especially with the idea of how she's so unassuming in her role of the picture, despite being the most important part of such a story, more so than even Sullivan himself.
Her personality on the screen is cute, the kind of girl you'd be glad to be stuck with on a bus and chat with for hours and hours. I mean, come on, man...

18. Ellen Burstyn - Burstyn actually astounds me that she's not as well known as she should be. She's worked hard enough. She's been in landmark films with essential roles in each one of them. The Exorcist, I wouldn't call The Fountain landmark but I really loved most of the performances in that movie - including Burstyn, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and of course, the late-bloomer role but still frighteningly depressing Requiem for a Dream.
She's got a sort of half-recognizability in her method of performance and it's impressive to me. It really does lay down the foundation for all of these movies, which owe her acting in them so much.

17. Kristen Bell - Once again, this is cheating based on only one performance - Veronica Mars. I doubt I could really like a character like Veronica Mars if an actor like Kristen Bell didn't play her. She is without a doubt the true spirit of the character, she could've easily struggled to play such a rebellious character, but she just does it, not entirely naturally, but with an outright joy, like it's fun for her to be on top of all the other characters who don't have a clue, like Kristen Bell likes to act smarter, likes to prove it. It's great to watch.
Have I fanboy'd on Veronica Mars enough?

16. Kathy Bates - I feel bad because I have not seen Misery and most would say I do not have a right to praise Kathy Bates without seeing that movie - of course, I am rushing to see that movie sometime soon. But, fuck it, I loved The Waterboy, it's a guilty pleasure of a movie and I thought Bates was the best part of it as Adam Sandler's smothering mother.
I also thought she was brilliant in Primary Colors, a movie that, without its primary cast, would probably just be another dull political picture. She was again, the best damn part of Primary Colors, even with John Travolta and Emma Thompson being experts at that cast.
I liked her in Titanic, I liked her in Annie, I liked her in About Schmidt and I liked her in Around the World in 80 Days (a movie I will not call good by any means, but that I will certainly admit to enjoying). So, I damn well have a right to praise Bates because she's a damn fine actress.
I just will probably damn well praise her harder when I see Misery.

15. Rachel Weisz - Okay, now I'll probably get little credibility after this but I loved Stephen Sommer's 1999 remake of The Mummy and I thought Weisz was amazingly adorable in that movie among other things I liked about it.
But, hey, you can't enjoy her solely off of a summer blockbuster... She was mesmerizing in other roles as well, such as The Fountain, she's haunting in The Constant Gardner and Constantine, she seems like she'd fit well as one of those alluring and mysterious women, but I have yet to truly see her undertake that role.
I was excited when I heard she was a top contender for Ava in the upcoming Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, because that'd be perfect for that, but nope... She's not taking the role and that's pretty upsetting to a degree. One day, maybe. I should write a film noir for her.
Because like I said, she's just mesmerizing by the way she looks. Also, she's really cool in The Brothers Bloom. I'm just gonna say that.

14. Marilyn Monroe - It's near impossible to not include Marilyn Monroe on such a list and I don't make the draw when it comes to that. The lady is a memory for the audiences, both male and female, for better or for worse. It can go both ways.
Still, it's not like the movies she's been in have been bad. She's not Megan Fox. We got The Asphalt Jungle, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, especially the rip-roaring Some Like It Hot. So why shouldn't she get honors for her work, as opposed to her lifestyle?

13. Anna Karina - Again, this is solely based on Bande a Part and how alluring and romantic she was in that picture. I could relate a lot more with Franz with such a prize being out of my reach. And damned if that's not a cool dance.
Well, the whole movie is cool as ice, but that dance is the major coolness.

12. Hillary Swank - This is the bravest actress I can think of yet. She really takes risks with her work, she doesn't half-ass it. When it's movies like Million Dollar Baby and especially Boys Don't Cry where you have to give your all, you really cannot say enough about the actress' sacrifice. It's on par with Robert De Niro on so many levels.
It makes up for destroying my favorite novel, The Black Dahlia, and making The Next Karate Kid. You're forgiven, Hilary. You're better than that.

11. Barbara Stanwyck - The early form of the badass dame. I don't think she's outright pretty, but from the way she is in Baby Face and Double Indemnity, she has these men by the string. She's a master manipulator of forms. The femme fatale to end all femme fatales.

10. Natalie Portman - Child actors can't act? Be damned, dude, for Natalie Portman was among the many child actors who didn't only stamp down that theory that a child actor can't put their worth, but also had a significant career after she had matured into a woman. It's too easy to name Black Swan as an achievement.
So how about V for Vendetta? It's an average movie overall (better than Alan Moore would believe it is, though), but Portman's enlightened passage to true freedom against fascism was the real engaging point. Along with Hugo Weaving/James Purefoy, of course
How about the discomforting seduction she inhibited at 13 with Leon? That do anything for ya? Rustle your jimmies significantly?
Some may be divided over the Star Wars prequels, I won't say they are good movies - though, Revenge of the Sith was pretty epic - but I liked them and enjoyed them and I think Portman did well despite bad writing and being next to Hayden Christensen. Heat? Not a big role, but she was pretty weighty on Al Pacino's character's arc and her final (ambiguous) fate is still haunting - much like Black Swan.
She was also alright in Hesher and Thor. She oughta get props for those.
Okay, now you can cite Black Swan.

9. Winona Ryder - I think if there's one actress I'd like to go out with, it's Winona Ryder. She's pretty, she's witty. She's got those really dark roles like Heathers, Girl, Interrupted and A Scanner Darkly and those really really gothic roles like Bram Stoker's Dracula and Beetlegeuse. And she kind of hits home runs in all four of those pictures and then gets back up for some more.
And yet she was simply fitting in Edward Scissorhands without needing to be gothic. In fact, she practically the one light in a superficially happy town and that takes a lot to do. And she looked good in blonde. She looks good in anything.
I barely recognized her in Black Swan but I'd say that should be a compliment to one's acting ability in a film, so kudos for my celluloid love really being a chameleon on the silver screen.
So yea, Winona Ryder. Call me. Please.

8. Faye Dunaway - Once again, this is really a woman who won't sink in a man's world and that's really awesome. When she holds out against Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, calls the shots in Hawksian style in Network or robs banks with Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, her beauty and power take the wheel and show her off as the single best performance in all those movies.

7. Audrey Hepburn - I feel like this is cheating some more, but is there really anything that needs to be said about Audrey Hepburn? Like anything at all? She is THE movie darling. That ought to be enough.
Go watch Breakfast at Tiffany's, dammit, just go.

6. Sigourney Weaver - I mean, I'm biased for anybody who was in Alien, since I like to cite it as the best ensemble cast ever constructed for cinema (followed closely by The Devil's Rejects). But, it's definitely Weaver's work in the action-packed sequel Aliens that gives her her rank. In the previous one, she was just a victim, a survivor, somebody really just trying to stay alive while her crew members got picked off one by one.
Enter Aliens and Weaver gives a performance that is absolutely at the opposite end of the spectrum. She's no longer the scared desperate woman, she's the lady who's gonna kick your ass if you don't do what she says and if the Xenomorphs leave any piece of you behind.
And that stuck with Weaver throughout her career. Guys are absolutely afraid of her, she's a powerful woman. To be honest, my very first impression of her was as the Warden in Holes - as a child, one watches children's movies - and the scene where she just viciously scratches off on Jon Voight's face still sticks in my mind to this day. A diabolical shit, that Warden was.
Her performance in Avatar reminded me of a no games drafting teacher I had in high school who was also my TSA (Technology Student Association) advisor. She was not going to take me seriously if I didn't take my work seriously. She was that hardass and Avatar reminded me of that.
And, above all of that, she's a modern horror and sci-fi icon, much like Bruce Campbell and Vincent Price. With the Alien films and Ghostbusters, the sci-fi/horror society owes her a great debt for putting that realm of storyingtelling on the mainstream cinematic map, especially with her high profile Oscar nomination for Aliens.
And she's still going strong in fantasy with her cameos in The Cabin in the Woods, Paul and WALL-E.
You the gal, Sigourney. You the gal.

5. Grace Kelly - This is once again, similar to Bell and Karina before her, but based solely on Rear Window.  I also saw High Noon, but she wasn't what I was looking at in High Noon. She had a significant amount of my attention in Rear Window, though.
Her first name fits, she had grace. She had a charm that made her lovely to us. Even despite being upper-class, she wasn't Scarlett O'Hara. She had a genuine enchantment to Jimmy Stewart and yet they were just wonderfully bickering together on their own future. It was delightful, it was sort of sad, it was one of the best things about Rear Window.
Who would have known she'd later go on to be a real princess until her untimely death?

4. Julianne Moore - Again, she's pretty hot for an older woman. And really a celebrated actress with wonderful performances. She's got the super intellectual Marge from The Big Lebowski, the activist from Children of Men, Boogie Nights, The Kids Are Alright, this woman's resume speaks for itself.
And of course, if that doesn't make you happy, how about this emotional moment from that amazing all-star classic, Magnolia?
Satisfied? Damn right!
Ironically, this article is being written and posted on the same night as her Golden Globe win for Game Change, so congrats on your Palin impersonation.

3. Katherine Hepburn - Oh Katherine, that rapid fire wit you so graciously brought to Howard Hawks' disposal is absolutely to die for. That amount of matching wits you brought against such big name leading men like Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart is puts you quite at some dominance above them. It's totally unforgettable. The deal you single-handedly made for The Philadelphia Story that brought you back on top of Hollywood was not playing around.
You are the early formation of the female who's not there to play around on set. You had doubts against you and yet you put everybody in their place.

2. Jaime Lee Curtis - I mean it's easy for me to select a scream queen, when I'm a huge horror aficianado as it is and all scream queens really have to do is, well, yell loudly, possibly in the shower, going to wrong way from the killer and get stabbed.
Curtis is not just that. She's got intelligent, funny roles. Granted, it's not that many again, she seems to have been used less and less in recent years, but roles like A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies and even Freaky Friday hold a great parallel to roles like Halloween and Prom Night.
Also, I found young Jaime Lee Curtis hot. That may just be me...

1. Molly Ringwald -  Man, I think I've went over how attractive Molly Ringwald was before in her prime of the high school comedies in a previous article, but that's besides the case. This is the classic version of an icon just based on a mixture of adolescence in the silver screen and real life, rather than the blatant raw sexuality other icons such as Marilyn Monroe portrayed.
And I find something incredibly honest about that. Admirably honest, even though it's an image created like most actors'. I don't really have anything else to say. It's really just a feeling that's probably going to go on forever.
Yep, nostalgia won this round. Fucking nostalgia.

... Yep... Ladies of silver really know how to hold my attention sometimes.


  • Pam Grier - Jackie Brown
  • Chloe Sevigny - Boys Don't Cry
  • Geena Davis - A League of Their Own
  • Louise Brooks - Pandora's Box
  • Maggie Smith - Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone
  • Pam Ferris - Matilda
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh - Fast Times at Ridgmont High
  • Summer Glau - Firefly
  • Mia Farrow - Rosemary's Baby
  • Kim Novak - Vertigo
  • Angelica Huston - The Addams Family
  • Kate Winslet - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Olivia de Havilland - The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Audrey Tatou - Amelie
  • Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
  • Tina Fey - 30 Rock
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones - Chicago
  • Whoopi Goldberg - Sister Act


  1. Oh shit.... I did double and triple takes and my favorite actress isn't included.


    Ok, so I can hear an argument that she hasn't been in a whole lot of great films minus Mulholland Drive. I get that. But for her performance in that film alone she at least deserves a shout out in the honorable mentions.

    Other than that, in my humble opinion, she can easily make an otherwise meh movie worth watching. And for what it’s worth, Eastern Promises, King Kong, 21 Grams, maybe even the American version of Funny Games are all good/borderline great films she's been in. But I'm biased. And I feel even worse because I haven't even heard of your number one pick.

    1. Ahhh... Naomi. I love Mulholland Dr. (I actually have a college assignment to do on that movie - I am excite!), but I really wasn't feeling her.
      I thought King Kong and The Ring (both remakes) were significantly better than I thought they would be, but I wasn't feeling her on my list.

      I also wanted to put Nicole Kidman based on Dogville and Eyes Wide Shut, but nothing came out of me to really give enough praise to either of them....

      I'm a bad movie critic sometimes. :(
      Your preference actually seems interesting, regardless of whether or not you've heard of Molly Ringwald (which I am surprised - I assumed anybody who through teenage years in the 80s and beyond knew who she was), I'd actually be interested to hear what actors, both male or female you take preference to.

    2. Well fuck you then!

      Haha jokes of course. If said college assignment is an essay, and if you’re feeling so inclined (I don't know what college professors are like about posting your shit online) I'd like to read it. It's one of my favorite movies of all time, and I wouldn't even know where to begin as far as writing an essay about it. I also feel like Naomi’s performance in that is really underrated-the way she subtly and then not-so-subtly changes from when she first arrives adds a lot more mystery to her character. I like to think of her performance in the first half as an imitation of Hollywood performances (she’s naïve as shit and if it were a normal film some might even call it overacting) and the second half as a rude awaking.

      As for not knowing who Molly Ringwald is, well, my excuse is that I never lived through the 80s, and it’s one of my weaker decades in terms of number of films watched. I’ll get around to watching some of her films eventually, but I get the feeling that her appeal might be lost on someone from my generation.

      As requested, here are my favorite actors-

      Robert De Niro (Raging Bull)
      Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
      Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon)
      Steve Buscemi (Fargo)
      Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant)
      Woody Harrelson (Rampart or maybe Natural Born Killers)
      Sean Penn (Mystic River)
      Phillip Seymour Hoffman (his best film is Magnolia but my favorite performance is Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead)
      Tom Cruise (Collateral)
      and when he’s in comedic roles, John Malkovich.

      I couldn’t even make a list of my favorite female actresses. Naomi would probably be number one, throw Julianne Moore, Anna Karina (I have actually seen many of her films because she frequently collaborated with Godard, but I have yet to see Band of Outsiders) Natalie Portman and that’s about it.

    3. It seems the presentation (which was just free reign for whatever method we want) is going to be a project between a friend and I on making a fake trailer of two guys trying to figure out what the hell Mulholland Dr. is about (it's one of my favorite movies as well).
      Very nice list... I agree with her performance in Mulholland Dr. being among the best performances in cinema so far (and Laura Elena Harring was fantastic as well as little bits of supporting cast like the man in the diner who had a nightmare and the cowboy).
      I actually enjoyed both the remakes of The Ring (granted, I have yet to see the original) and King Kong (even though I love the original more).

      I also admire Penn, Harrelson and Cruise, but by that time, I already had way too many honorable mentions. :/

    4. It seems the presentation (which was just free reign for whatever method we want) is going to be a project between a friend and I on making a fake trailer of two guys trying to figure out what the hell Mulholland Dr. is about (it's one of my favorite movies as well).
      Very nice list... I agree with her performance in Mulholland Dr. being among the best performances in cinema so far (and Laura Elena Harring was fantastic as well as little bits of supporting cast like the man in the diner who had a nightmare and the cowboy).
      I actually enjoyed both the remakes of The Ring (granted, I have yet to see the original) and King Kong (even though I love the original more).

      I also admire Penn, Harrelson and Cruise, but by that time, I already had way too many honorable mentions. :/