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Top Twenty Female Actors

I’m not usually one for “Top” lists. Whether it’s songs, performers, actors, whatever. But once in a while I feel the need to be as opinionated as the next person. After reading a fellow writer’s post at blogcritics.org listing his favourite twenty female movie actors of the past fifteen years I felt the need to respond with my own list in kind.

Supremely subjective and biased and in no particular order, the only criteria being that they have produced a significant body of work that I’ve liked over the past fifteen years, here they are: gypsyman’s top twenty female actors.

1.) Judi Dench is one of the best actors I have ever seen. No matter what role she plays, from Queens of England; Shakespeare in Love as Queen Elizabeth 1 and Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown to dotty aristocrats in Tea With Mussolini she is magnificent. Never once does she chew the scenery or resort to mannerisms to express emotion or create a character. She has a magical combination of charismatic screen presence and restraint that captures attention without distracting from a scene’s intent.

2.) Emma Thompson makes one wish there were more superlatives in English. She has given two of the finest expressions of emotion ever captured on film. Her reactions to Allan Rickman’s infidelity in Love Actually and Hugh Grant’s single status in Sense and Sensibility will forever be embedded in my memory. Her performance as Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban gives notice that she is also a comic talent to be reckoned with.

3.) Joan Plowright had the misfortune to be married to Laurence Oliver and it wasn’t until he died that her light came out from under his shadow. Although invariably playing an English lady of means, she creates a unique character each time within that limited frame work. The tyrannical Mrs. Doyle-Counihan in Widow’s Peak, the gentle and firm Mary Wallace in Tea With Mussolini, and the stereotypical British aristocrat in Bringing Down The House give ample evidence of her abilities.

4.) Cher is Cher and we could probably leave it at that if it weren’t for the fact she has the talent to overcome her glamorous persona of stage and award shows. On screen she transforms into a real person who we can identify with more readily then her off screen self. The characters she has created in such diverse movies asTea With Mussolini, Witches of Eastwick, and Moonstruck are all real and believable. Her talents as an actor are real and deserve to be recognised.

5.) Julianne Moore has until very recently skimmed under a lot of people’s radar. Very quietly going about her business establishing herself as a versatile and dependable actor. It’s only been recent roles in movies like The Hours, Shipping News, and The End of the Affair that she has garnered the attention she deserves. She is one of the new breed of actors who is willing to not be a “star” and play a variation of herself on screen but instead create a new character for each production.

6.) Cate Blanchett is part of the wave of Australian actors taking the world by a storm these days. You’d swear they had a factory producing interesting, beautiful and skilled performers. Whether a regal Elf or human queen, Lord of the Rings 1,2,and 3, and Elizabeth, sleazy white trash Shipping News or a flighty and bored housewife taking a walk on the wild side Bandits she illuminates the screen. She has the power to captivate with just the lift of an eyebrow and the tilt of her head. The glamour of an old time movie star are joined to the skills of a trained actor. An amazing combination.

7.) Maggie Smith seems to be the person everyone calls on to play the crusty English lady with the heart of gold. From Harry Potter, Gosford Park and Tea With Mussolini she has proved superlative in that role. But as she proved with her first major role, The Prime of Miss. Jean Brodie her skills are superior to those constraints. Hopefully she will get a chance again to demonstrate the scope of her talent.

8.) Julia Walters first shot to prominence with the recreation of her West End hit character Rita in the movie version of Educating Rita Although there was a period of time when she was on a slight hiatus from movies she has once again worked herself back into the public eye. Recreating Mrs. Weasley for Harry Potter 1, 2, and 3 may be what she’s gained the most recognition for, but her roles in Billy Elliot as the dance teacher, and Annie Clarke in Calendar Girls are some of the best work I’ve seen from her. Julia Walters brings an earthiness to the screen which lends credibility to her roles of middle and lower class women which would be lacking in other actors.

9.) Kate Winslet unlike her co-star in Titanic chose not to jump in the limelight but to continue and take rolls that were challenging for both her and her audience. From Quills where she plays a servant in a mad house hosting the Marquis de Sade, to Iris where she plays a young free spirited Iris Murdoch famed British novelist and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where she plays an angry and confused young woman. Her ability to create unique individuals shows a remarkable diversity and an innate sensitivity for characters of any stripe. Truly destined to be one of the greats.

10.) Helena Bonham-Carter originally made her name as Ms. Merchant Ivory, making all sorts of period piece pictures as the young English Woman of Good Breeding. She blew the doors off that image when she madeMargaret’s Museum where she plays a coal miners wife who puts his parts on display as a memorial and passes it off as a museum. Although she will still play the occasional classic like Twelfth Night works like George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying where she plays a single pregnant girl are becoming more her style. Still the same gorgeous china doll face, but now taking rolls that don’t confine her to that look.

11.) Kristen Scott Thomas was a nurse in The English Patient, a discontented American housewife in Horse Whisperer and My Life as a House, and the aristocratic wife of a successful British industrialist in Gosford Park. Elegance, style and beauty are the watchwords for this wonderful actor. No matter the role or the moment there is always a certain je ne sais quoi about her work that makes you feel part of something special.

12.) Janeane Garfalo couldn’t be more opposite from Kristen Scott Thomas if you tried. Best known for her acerbic tongue and sarcastic comments in movies such as Mystery Men, Dogma and Big Trouble she shows her true scope as an actor in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Honeybee Flies Anyway, and The MatchMaker. She is another actor whose abilities are superior to the roles she is given to play.

13.) Minnie Driver maybe a surprise inclusion for some people on a top twenty list but she can always be counted on to deliver top notch performances. In either period pieces like The Ideal Husband and The Govenerness or contemporary films Grosse Point Blank, Good Will Hunting, and High Heels and Lowlifes her performances are always more than a match for her more celebrated screen partners. She is another actor who knows the secret of subtlety being more effective then exaggeration.

14.) Geena Davis has always been one of my favourite actors. Her big toothy grin charms, and her intelligence and sense of mischief are infectious. Even in movies like David Cronenburg’s The Fly she’s a reassuring presence. She has a talent for both humour and adventure as she’s proven in Beetle Juice, Earth Girls are Easy, Thelma and Louise, and Cutthroat Island (despite Johnny Depp’s best efforts, still the best modern pirate movie). We haven’t seen enough of Geena recently.

15.) Christina Ricci is one of the best young actors around. Whether she’s doing an offbeat John Waters film likePecker, the quirky social satire ofThe Opposite of Sex, the twisted fantasies of Tim Burton in Sleepy Hollow, or the drama ofThe Man Who Cried she brings an intelligence and integrity to her role that belies her years. If she is able to maintain the standards she has set for herself there should be no stopping her.

16.) Mary Stuart Masterson seems to get some of the stranger rolls going. In Benny and Joon she plays Juniper, a girl permanently scarred by the tragic death of her parents and in Fried Green Tomatoes an irascible tom-boy Idgie Threadgood. But everything she does is touched by her ability to create characters that are believable and the audience can relate to. Her ability to connect with those watching on an emotional level separates her from the pack.

17.) Susan Sarandon has been one of the best America female screen actors for the past thirty years. She has the ability to light up a film and bring life to a movie that should have died on the screen. The Banger Sisters was awful but she managed to survive it with her dignity as an actor intact which speaks volumes for her talents. From the wild Louise of Thelma and Louise to Sister Helen in Dead Man Walking she’s played the full range of characters. No matter the role, no matter the movie, she can always be counted on to deliver the best performance she’s capable of doing in the circumstances. A consummate professional.

18.) Salma Hayek causes traffic accidents in films Desperado and probably in real life when she walks by. That she is also an accomplished actor has been proven beyond doubt with her depiction of the Mexican painter Frida Khalo in Frida. Faced with the task of playing opposite Albert Molina who portrayed Frida’s on again off again husband she continually held her own against the bigger more commanding presence. She had long ago proven her comic abilities in Dogma and Fools Rush In but her work in Frida secures her a place with other serious actors of note.

19.) Kathy Bates has played a psychotic fan in Misery, a bored and desperate house wife inFried Green Tomatoes and a squirrelly researcher and political analyst in Primary Colours A highly skilled dramatic actor, she has also shown a flair for comedy. In this era of talentless bimbos she serves as a pleasant reminder that sometimes talent and ability do matter.

20.) Anjelica Huston can wither a man with just one look or charm him into submission. Both sides are displayed in the variety of roles she has undertaken. From the evil stepmother in Ever After, the matriarch of the troubled family inThe Royal Tenenbaums to Morticia in The Adams Family andAdams Family Values her commanding presence and regal manner dominate the screen. True royalty among actors.

Well that’s it. I’m never going to do that again. Already I’m second guessing myself and realizing I’ve left people out, but how do you replace the ones I’ve chosen? Oh well, probably everyone else can think of twenty other people they’d think of as more appropriate, but like I said before these things are strictly subjective.

I had though about pictures, but even for those of you with high speed connections that could have gotten tedious waiting for the page to upload, but you can see their pictures on the DVD covers posted as links.

I’m sure there are those who don’t agree with my choices, well you can go right ahead and publish your on list. Enjoy and have fun.

REF: ME

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.

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