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My #1 Favorite Top Female Performance of All Time

No. 1 ~ HILARY SWANK in “Boys Don’t Cry” (Brandon Teena)

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I know I will get some flack about this choice, but I have never been so moved by a film, or a performance as I was by Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. When I left the theater I was speechless for at least five minutes. Swank’s portrayal of a young transgendered female was absolutely amazing.

Swank underwent significant preparation for the role by dressing and living as a man for at least a month, including wrapping her chest in tension bandages and putting socks down the front of her pants in much the same way as Brandon Teena had done. Her masquerade became particularly convincing. Swank’s neighbors believed the “young man” coming and going from her home was Swank’s visiting brother. She reduced her body fat to seven percent to accentuate her facial structure and refused to let the cast and crew see her out of costume. Swank earned only $75 per day for her work on Boys Don’t Cry, culminating in a total of $3,000. Her earnings were so low that she did not earn enough to qualify for health insurance.

I have never seen such a transformation of an actress as Swank made for this role, and her ability to portray the emotion, confusion and pain that this young woman must have felt. An amazing performance, my favorite.

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Top 10 Favorite Female Performances of All Time ~ No. 2

No. 2 ~ ELIZABETH TAYLOR in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Martha)

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When director Mike Nichols cast “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?” Elizabeth Taylor seemed all wrong for the role. At age 32, she was still a sexy young superstar, not the frumpy, middle-aged hag played on Broadway by Uta Hagen. Even her normally supportive hubby Richard Burton admitted that Taylor was wrong for the role, saying, “I know she has the stridency, but she’s too young.”

Fifty-two-year-old Bette Davis fought for the film role, but Nichols wanted Taylor and Burton because they were the hottest acting duo in America, who also loved to spar as vehemently off-screen as the characters in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

To prepare for the role, Taylor not only de-glammed herself, but she packed on 22 pounds. Film critics and movie-goers not only approved of the result, but academy members gave Taylor her second career Oscar. This performance would have to be in my opinion her greatest performance of all time, and I love almost all of her performances. Some say she wasn’t acting, that that was just her and Burton filiming real life. Regardless of what it was, it was by far one of the best performances of her career and one of the best feamle performances of all time.

 
 

Top 10 Favorite Female Performances of All Time ~ No. 3

No. 3 ~ BETTE DAVIS in “All About Eve” (Margo Channing)

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What favorite list of any decade would be complete without the immortal Bette Davis? From 1931 to 1989, Davis played in over 120 films. But in my opinion, her greatest role was that of Margo Channing in the 1950 classic, All About Eve.

Manipulative, deceptive and mysteriously charming, Bette Davis was the real Margo Channing. She controlled the screen and the role with such venom, it made you love her even more. At the end of the movie, you almost actually felt sorry for her. The role garnered her a 9th out of a career 11 Academy Award nominations, however she lost her bid for a third win that year due to the nominations being a split vote between her and her on screen nemesis, Anne Baxter and the award went to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, even though the film All About Eve won 6 out of it’s record 14 nominations. When AFI named Bette Davis # 2 on its list of the greatest female American screen legends, All About Eve was the film selected to highlight Davis’ legendary career.

 
 

Top 10 Favorite Female Performances of All Time ~ No. 4

No. 4 ~ KATHARINE HEPBURN in “The African Queen” (Rose Sayer)

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No, this was not one of her four Oscar winning performances, although nominated, that went to Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire, but in 1951, Miss Hepburn was revitilizing her career and with this performace it catapulted her to an iconic level, as the refined middle-aged spinster, a persona the public embraced. This was the first film I ever watched with Hepburn and I was enthralled with her performance. Many say this perfromance was the heart of her legacy. She never overplays her role and it is almost as if she is Rose Sayer, which is what acting is supposed to be. There is a reason she holds the record for the number of Oscar wins and why she is known as the greatest actress of all time. She would go on to win three Oscars, 1967, 1968 and 1981 to add to her first Oscar in Morning Glory. This performance is my favorite of Miss Hepburn.

 
 

Top 10 Favorite Female Performances of All Time ~ No. 5

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No. 5 ~ Vivien Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (Blanche)

Vivien Leigh, her name is synonymous with Gone With the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara, however, as great as that film and her performance is in GWTW,  I think Blanche is the best screen performance of Vivien’s career, and one of the best screen performances in film history. Vivien first played Blanche on the London stage in 1949, where she was directed by her husband Laurence Olivier. When cast in the film, many thought she was too “old” to play Blanche and too unstable. The latter may have been true, she was becoming more unstable in her personal life and her personal demons, but no one could be Blanche better than Leigh. This was the moment that acting changed forever in film, mainly due to Brando and Leigh. Their combination was combustible, and powerful. Their raw magnetism was evident throughout the film. Vivien Leigh gave everything she had and more, and it is evident in the outcome.

 
 

Top 10 Favorite Female Performances of All Time ~ No. 6

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No. 7 ~ Louise Fletcher in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (Nurse Ratched)

Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury, Geraldine Page, Colleen Dewhurst and Ellen Burstyn all turned down the role of Nurse Ratched, they thought the character was a monster. However Fletcher’s approach to the role was somewhat different than in the Kesey novel as she does not wrestle with the mental patients, at least not physically and she does not shout them into submission. Instead she uses a more subtle, calm, always vaguely patronizing, and cut-off approach to subdue them into her will. Distant and self-rightous what she does she feels is right and is actually hurt, almost abused when her suthority is called in question.

Fletcher had not acted in over fifteen years when she landed this role, other than a role in “Theives Like Us” as she had taken time off to raise her sons, but when she took to the screen as Nurse Ratched, she nailed it like a pro. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest became one of the most celebrated movies of the 1970s, winning the “Big Five” Academy Awards (Actor, Actress, Director, Picture, and Screenplay) and being nominated for an additional four.

 
 

Top 10 Favorite Female Performances of All Time ~ No. 7

No. 7 ~ Patricia Neal in “Hud” (Alma Brown)

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Patricia Neal won her Oscar for her down-to-earth performance, as the cynical, world-weary housekeeper Alma Brown in Martin Ritt’s contemporary western, Hud (1963). “It was a tough part to cast,” Ritt remarked when asked about the role. “This woman had to be believable as a housekeeper and still be sexy. It called for a special combination of warmth and toughness, while still being very feminine. Pat Neal was it.” Perhaps the most telling indication of Neal’s gifts was the fact that, although the role was quite a brief one, the Academy included her in the category of best actress, rather than best supporting actress and she walked away the winner. Patricia Neal’s performance is a beautiful example of a dedicated realism on the screen but also of an actress taking an underwritten and thin part and filling it with so much life thanks to her own powerful acting skills, and her own personality. She had no big emotional break-downs, not even a big scene, she probably had about 20 minutes film time. Neal’s performance does not include any scene-stealing, overacting or exaggerating. She was Alma Brown and created an unforgettable straight forward, and subtle performance and is one of the most low-key pieces of work the Best Actress category has ever seen. Patricia was flawless in a very little role but gave depth and passion to her charecter but at the same time does not overwhelm the audience.