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Customary excellence


TopBilled
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Awhile back I created a thread about brave performances.

This time I would like to start a thread about acting excellence. Not just one great standout performance, but consistently good performances in everything even if it's a "B" film or a television appearance.

Here's my list for the women:

1. Valerie Hobson. I consider her the most consistent performer of all. She always plays the material with care and uniformity. I have never seen one bit of scenery chewing from her, nor have I ever seen her just go through the motions. Even in substandard films, she's pure excellence.

2. Claudette Colbert. Always a professional. Never gives a mediocre or low-grade performance.

3. Jessica Walter. Thoroughly engaging in everything she does.

4. Kim Stanley. She guest-starred on an episode of Patty Duke's sitcom It Takes Two and you would have thought she was doing Shakespeare, she brought so much reverence and thought to the part she was playing.

5. Brenda Vaccaro. Underrated. Combines earthiness and high-stakes drama, with ease.

6. Judi Dench. Maybe a bit overrated. But still quite good and never gives a bad performance.

7. Bette Davis. I don't like all her films, nor do I agree with all her acting choices. But it's obvious she strives for excellence.

8. Nell Carter. A unique way of combining song with pathos. Also very skilled in physical comedy. 

9. Dorothy McGuire. Underrated. Superb, takes every role to heart.

10. Ingrid Bergman. Like Bette Davis, she strives for excellence even if some of her choices are wrong.

***

And for the men:

1. Anthony Hopkins. He's better than Olivier and Gielgud and everyone else.

2. Robert Donat. Carefully measured performances. 

3. Claude Rains. Intense but never overpowering. In routine programmers, he's still remarkable.

4. Kenneth More. It looks effortless. He's a fine actor and I wish he was widely recognized as such. 

5. Ed Flanders. I consider him the best actor who ever worked on television. 

6. Charles Coburn. Never a flat performance. Always highly engaging, in comedy and drama.

7. Dennis Hopper. A true artist (performance artist). He was also a good director.

8. Denzel Washington. Always believes in the character. 

9. Van Heflin. Way too underrated. 

10. Dick Powell. The most versatile male actor in movies and television. 

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9 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Anthony Hopkins. He's better than Olivier and Gielgud and everyone else.

Couldn't disagree more, but his recent perf in THE FATHER is as good as he has ever done and perhaps one of the finest ever.

12 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Claude Rains. Intense but never overpowering. In routine programmers, he's still remarkable.

Remarkable screen presence adds to his abilities as an actor. In DECEPTION he is nothing less than stellar.

14 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Bette Davis. I don't like all her films, nor do I agree with all her acting choices. But it's obvious she strives for excellence.

...and often achieves it. JOAN CRAWFORD, her great rival, eclipses her in one important respect. Bette seems very conscious of herself but that does not necessarily detract from her performance. It's amazing how she can overcome that. Joan seems so dedicated to being her character that she has no time for self-glory on screen, surprising in one who is ultra conscious of her fan base and of being the biggest star ever. 

22 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Judi Dench. Maybe a bit overrated. But still quite good and never gives a bad performance.

Sometimes it's hard to escape the "overrated" thing when you've a long career and practically a legend. Almost never gives a bad performance, I would say ; she can really chew the scenery at times (e.g., the Aunt in Pride and Prejudice).

**

Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson are at least two who IMO have never made a false move on screen---ever! Gwyneth Paltrow might be added  in this category. (oh no, I may have to yank good Kate, I just saw recently about 20 minutes of a miniseries where she plays an investigator cop where she apparently found it necessary to lower her voice an octave, presumably to sound tough, ugh! Oh Kate ... !!! that is a false move.

Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon (mentioned above), and Robert de Niro are candidates for top drawer excellence (as opposed to just ordinary excellence.)

...to may a few.

 

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9 minutes ago, NoShear said:

 How about Jack Lemmon?? His range seem substantial to me, Top Billed: pathetic pathos to comedic silliness - both tapped to some extent in arguably his quintessential role, The Apartment (1960).   

And in THE ODD COUPLE and in THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS and in THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE and in...and in...

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11 minutes ago, laffite said:

Couldn't disagree more, but his recent perf in THE FATHER is as good as he has ever done and perhaps one of the finest ever.

Remarkable screen presence adds to his abilities as an actor. In DECEPTION he is nothing less than stellar.

...and often achieves it. JOAN CRAWFORD, her great rival, eclipses her in one important respect. Bette seems very conscious of herself but that does not necessarily detract from her performance. It's amazing how she can overcome that. Joan seems so dedicated to being her character that she has no time for self-glory on screen, surprising in one who is ultra conscious of her fan base and of being the biggest star ever. 

Sometimes it's hard to escape the "overrated" thing when you've a long career and practically a legend. Almost never gives a bad performance, I would say ; she can really chew the scenery at times (e.g., the Aunt in Pride and Prejudice).

**

Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson are at least two who IMO have never made a false move on screen---ever! Gwyneth Paltrow might be added  in this category. (oh no, I may have to yank good Kate, I just saw recently about 20 minutes of a miniseries where she plays an investigator cop where she apparently found it necessary to lower her voice an octave, presumably to sound tough, ugh! Oh Kate ... !!! that is a false move.

Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon (mentioned above), and Robert de Niro are candidates for top drawer excellence (as opposed to just ordinary excellence.)

...to may a few.

 

I like what you said about Davis and Crawford. Personally, I prefer Crawford over Davis (Crawford is amazing in MILDRED PIERCE, POSSESSED, SUDDEN FEAR and QUEEN BEE). But I don't think she really hit her stride until she left MGM and went to Warners in the mid-40s. A lot of Crawford's glossy vehicles at Metro in the 30s just don't work for me. Though she does give THE WOMEN a much needed spark.

Bette, in comparison, was quite good in the 30s-- OF HUMAN BONDAGE, JEZEBEL and DARK VICTORY especially.

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49 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Here's my list for the women:

1. Valerie Hobson. I consider her the most consistent performer of all. She always plays the material with uniform excellence. I have never seen one bit of scenery chewing from her, nor have I ever seen her just go through the motions. Even in substandard films, she's pure excellence.

6. Judi Dench. Maybe a bit overrated. But still quite good and never gives a bad performance.

7. Bette Davis. I don't like all her films, nor do I agree with all her acting choices. But it's obvious she strives for excellence.

***

And for the men:

1. Anthony Hopkins. He's better than Olivier and Gielgud and everyone else.

2. Robert Donat. Carefully measured performances. 

3. Claude Rains. Intense but never overpowering. In routine programmers, he's still remarkable.

10. Dick Powell. The most versatile male actor in movies and television. 

A few comments:

If anyone had earned the right to chew the scenery, it was Valerie Hobson. After all, she was Mrs. John Profumo. Love her, and particularly her 1935 films.

Judi Dench may indeed be a bit overrated, but she's very good, particularly on stage. Saw her in a brilliant production of Antony and Cleopatra with Anthony Hopkins and at least ten other times on stage. She may be the kind of actor who is just better on stage.

Bette Davis: I love her and most of her films, but I generally prefer the good Bette to the bad.

Anthony Hopkins: Excellent actor, studied with Uta Hagen in New York.  I do prefer him on stage as well. In addition to the A&C mentioned above, he was my favorite King Lear, and I've seen some greats.

Robert Donat: Wonderful actor, always, down to his final, today politically incorrect, role as the Mandarin in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. It's sad that his health prevented him from making as many films as his contemporaries.

Claude Rains: Love him and all his performances.  But your description of him as "Intense but never overpowering" makes him sound like a herb or a spice.

Dick Powell: I like some of his movies, but I'm not a particular fan of the actor.

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15 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

I like what you said about Davis and Crawford. Personally, I prefer Crawford over Davis (Crawford is amazing in MILDRED PIERCE, POSSESSED, SUDDEN FEAR and QUEEN BEE). But I don't think she really hit her stride until she left MGM and went to Warners in the mid-40s. A lot of Crawford's glossy vehicles at Metro in the 30s just don't work for me. Though she does give THE WOMEN a much needed spark.

Bette, in comparison, was quite good in the 30s-- OF HUMAN BONDAGE, JEZEBEL and DARK VICTORY especially.

Agree whole heartedly about Crawford, we are quite on the same page. A Crawford Golden Era for me is 1945-53, perhaps a little earlier but not much later. I am fond of A WOMAN'S FACE, POSSESSED (the later), THE DAMNED DON'T CRY, HARRIET CRAIG, and SUDDEN FEAR. And maybe some others in there somewhere about this time. Infamously, I can't stand MILDRED PIERCE. I was fairly indifferent to Joan but she was Star of the Month in January 2014 and after watching a number of her films, was converted.

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4 minutes ago, Swithin said:

Bette Davis: I love her and most of her films, but I generally prefer the good Bette to the bad.

So do I. She has that rep for camp etc., but she is more than convincing as a good person.

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14 minutes ago, laffite said:

Agree whole heartedly about Crawford, we are quite on the same page. A Crawford Golden Era for me is 1945-53, perhaps a little earlier but not much later. I am fond of A WOMAN'S FACE, POSSESSED (the later), THE DAMNED DON'T CRY, HARRIET CRAIG, and SUDDEN FEAR. And maybe some others in there somewhere about this time. Infamously, I can't stand MILDRED PIERCE. I was fairly indifferent to Joan but she was Star of the Month in January 2014 and after watching a number of her films, was converted.

I also like THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS (1952), a by-the-numbers crime yarn that she elevates into something almost sublime. She was supposed to do STORM WARNING (1951) which would have been interesting, particularly the scene at the end with all the Klux imagery. Warners kept handing her these over-the-top plots and she kept making silk purses out of sows' ears.

I would say SUDDEN FEAR, an RKO production, contains her very best performance. Mainly because she has that lengthy scene where she overhears her husband (Palance) and his girlfriend (Grahame) conspire to murder her. She has no dialogue for about ten minutes. It's just a series of incredible facial expressions, where she is reacting. I think that came from her training in silent films, particularly the silent horror film she made with Lon Chaney.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 12.32.42 PM.jpeg

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35 minutes ago, laffite said:

So do I. She has that rep for camp etc., but she is more than convincing as a good person.

Of course I like Baby Jane Hudson, Julie Marsden, Regina Giddons, et. al.; but I prefer Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, Carlota, Maggie Cutler, Charlotte Vale, and Louise Elliott, et. al.

Bette_Davis_THE_SISTERS_1938_b_w_1200x63

 

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1 hour ago, Swithin said:

Of course I like Baby Jane Hudson, Julie Marsden, Regina Giddons, et. al.; but I prefer Henriette Deluzy-Desportes, Carlota, Maggie Cutler, Charlotte Vale, and Louise Elliott, et. al.

Bette_Davis_THE_SISTERS_1938_b_w_1200x63

 

So these are the good girls? You have them down pat. What about Kit Marlowe? Whatever she is, I like her. In that famous scene, her decision to grab and shake was classier than the usual slap. Kit Marlowe might not be altogether good by our definition, but she is breathtakingly level headed and despite the grab and shake (which, let's face it, was necessary) is model of self control.

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Mary Anderson.

Maureen O'Hara.

Dorothy MaGuire* *as acutely mentioned.

Nanette Fabray.

Karen Sharpe.

Clint Eastwood.

Elisha Cook Jr.

Richard Boone.

Glen Ford.

Richard Widmark.

Robert Ryan.

Hugh O'Brian.

Vincent Price.

(For Some Comparatively, Relatively Speaking; Newer Faces And Talent: 👇

Rooney Mara.

Kate Winslet (sp).

Robin Wright.

Naomi Watts.

Saiorise Ronan (sp).

Mia Goth.

Joaquim (sp) Phoenix.

Mads Mikelsson (sp).

William Defoe.

Toni Collete (sp).

Francis McDormand (sp).

 

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1 hour ago, TopBilled said:

To this group of excellent character actors I would add Doris Roberts, Will Geer and Hal Holbrook. They never disappoint the audience.

And, of course, we have to add Thelma Ritter and Eve Arden to the list of character actors who never disappoint, even in a disappointing film. Also, even though we have so few films to go on, I think Shirley Booth would qualify. I know she never disappointed me. A more personal choice would be Geraldine Page, though I know everyone isn't as fond of her.

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8 minutes ago, DougieB said:

And, of course, we have to add Thelma Ritter and Eve Arden to the list of character actors who never disappoint, even in a disappointing film. Also, even though we have so few films to go on, I think Shirley Booth would qualify. I know she never disappointed me. A more personal choice would be Geraldine Page, though I know everyone isn't as fond of her.

Why do you think some people are not fond of Page? Is it because she is too mannered?

When I mentioned Kim Stanley, I was going to joke that I felt she is almost "too prepared" if such a thing exists.

I think Page is also someone that prepared extensively for her roles.

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I'm pledging not to rain on anybody's individual choices, so I will just vaguely say I find some of the performers selected too mannered or too stagey for my personal tastes and leave everybody to assume I'm talking about their personal favorite! Seriously, though, if a performer has done something for you, then they've at least partially accomplished their goal. 

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There's a great episode of St. Elsewhere that features three very different ladies sharing a hospital room. It's called 'The Women' from 1984.

The special guest stars, playing those three women, are Blythe Danner, Brenda Vaccaro and Eva Le Gallienne. It's like a class in acting, watching them on screen together. Blythe probably gets the funnest role, since she's married to the show's executive producer Bruce Paltrow.

Blythe plays a vain woman that has had a nose job; Brenda plays a woman in her late 40s who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's and Eva plays an elderly woman who has become too frail to live alone and must reconcile with her son, so that she has someone to look after her in her advanced age.

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16 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Why do you think some people are not fond of Page? Is it because she is too mannered?

When I mentioned Kim Stanley, I was going to joke that I felt she is almost "too prepared" if such a thing exists.

I think Page is also someone that prepared extensively for her roles.

I suppose she was mannered, in the sense that there was a certain carry-over from performance to performance. Something in the facial expressions and gestures, maybe. I know that some people I've spoken with about her just don't totally respond on a gut level, though they think of her as a "good" actress. But, personally, I love her. The main reason I look forward to Christmas now is that I get to watch Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory again.

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2 minutes ago, DougieB said:

I suppose she was mannered, in the sense that there was a certain carry-over from performance to performance. Something in the facial expressions and gestures, maybe. I know that some people I've spoken with about her just don't totally respond on a gut level, though they think of her as a "good" actress. But, personally, I love her. The main reason I look forward to Christmas now is that I get to watch Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory again.

About a year ago I watched the old CBS miniseries The Blue and the Gray. Someone had posted it on YouTube. I was surprised to see Geraldine Page's name in the credits since I did not know she had done a role in it. In one of the installments, she has what amounts to an extended cameo. She plays a Tennessee Williams type "heroine" that has lost her home in the south, has become bereft and is wandering the streets in poverty and disgrace. She was simply amazing to watch in those scenes. She stole the show from all the top billed performers.

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8 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

About a year ago I watched the old CBS miniseries The Blue and the Gray. Someone had posted it on YouTube. I was surprised to see Geraldine Page's name in the credits since I did not know she had done a role in it. In one of the installments, she has what amounts to an extended cameo. She plays a Tennessee Williams type "heroine" that has lost her home in the south, has become bereft and is wandering the streets in poverty and disgrace. She was simply amazing to watch in those scenes. She stole the show from all the top billed performers.

And she was absolutely at the top of her game, even so late in her career, when she won the Oscar for The Trip to Bountiful

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