Following our interblog top 10 of best directors last month, we have now lavished our attention on actresses. There is absolutely no way I am going to rank them as I am a gallant person, so I present them to you in alphabetical order. I am not saying there are the best actresses ever, far from it, this is instead a very personal list.
In the 80's in France, Catherine Deneuve & Isabelle Adjani were the most popular actresses, and constantly pitted against one another. But while I admire the former, to me the latter has always gone that little further into her parts, which she inhabited with an almost frightening intensity, adding that extra commitment and density. To me, she epitomises the crazy French actress, and I mean that in the nicest possible way, with her stunning beauty and its touch of old fashioned romanticism. She is a bit like Kate Bush's unlikely French cousin.
It is a shame that as she reached such heights of fame that she found herself stuck in her ivory tower, and unlike Catherine Deneuve or Isabelle Huppert, did not try to diversify her projects and engage with a wider range of directors, which means she has not had much of a career of late. Nevertheless, I cannot think of anybody else able to deliver THAT performance below (from Possession by Andrzej Zulawsky)
Favourite part: 1) Mortelle Randonnée, an existential and surreal dark film in which she plays a serial killer
Yes, Barbara Carrera. Her name might never have threatened to reach the shortlist of Academy Awards best actress nominees but there truly is nobody quite like the explosive Nicaraguan actress. Mostly known for a string of trashy B (going on Z) films such as When Time Ran Out, Condorman, The Island Of Doctor Moreau, and Embryo (in which she plays a psychopathic embryo who grows to an adult size in 2 weeks, as you do), as well as a stint on Dallas, she was never less than pure class, no matter how far down the gutter the films she appeared was.
But her true masterstroke was Fatima Blush, in unofficial 80's Bond Never Says Never Again, in which she played possibly my favourite villain of all times. Wearing the most amazing 80's fashion, she is fantastically over the top in this, nuttier than any other villains in the franchise and a true psychopath, taking as much visible glee at killing as she had wearing the most outrageous outfits. Just watch her below as she has just been given the permission to kill and go on an impromtu tango, a scene I learned later she improvised on the spot... Quite simply, being bad had never looked so good! Barbara Carrera might not have had the most stellar career, but it takes some great skill to be able to create such a memorable character.
Ah, Arielle Dombasle! The Eric Rohmer muse might not have the widest range of acting compared to others on this list, but her completely over the top and nearly surreal personality makes her a joy to watch, be it in a film or in real life. In fact, you could argue that her greatest part is herself, or her public persona anyway, with her her cat like beauty (and she has not aged a day from the 70's. Plastic surgery? Of course not, actresses are Goddesses amongst men) and her old fashioned, artificial delivery. And to have seen her in person in Cannes this year, I can tell you she has not aged a day, and is just as deliciously nutty in person. She was introducing a film she had directed, Opium, which was as crazy as herself, and in which she played some kind of singing Greek goddess. Oh, Arielle!
There is very little that grounds her and her acting to reality and that is how it should be. She represents a certain side of France, cultured (she is married to French philosopher Bernard Henry-Levy), eccentric, enthusiastic, and it transpires through her acting. She is little known outside France and it is a shame. Watch this video of French comic Louise Bourgoin imitating her below, she is spot on!
Favourite part: Pauline A La Plage
The French actress did not actually have the most promising career at first, as far as I am concerned anyway, as she came across as quite cold, being stuck in the part of dull bourgeoises for most of the late 80's/90's, apart from her wonderful collaboration with Claude Chabrol, who gave her some of her best parts. And then something happened... She began to have fun, working with the most unusual directors, guided by her sole curiosity and passion for cinema. And it paid off immensely, revealing a side of her that I never knew she had, and showing us how far her acting skills could stretch, from comedy (Copacabana, I Heart Huckabee) to the bleakest dramas (The Piano Teacher, in which she was absolutely terrifying) and anything in between.
I love that, unlike Isabelle Adjani or even Catherine Huppert, she had the guts to work such unlikely directors as Brillante Mendoza (whose work she discovered in Cannes while president of the jury) and Hang Sang-Soo. She is not one to be needing props, and she barely ever does impersonation. Such is her talent that she can look the same in every films, she does not need props or new hairstyle or anything, and yet deliver some completely different performances. She is, quite simply, my favourite actress working at the moment.
Favourite Part: The Piano Teacher
Atom Egoyan's muse and partner is one of a kind, the true mark of great actresses. There is something about her unusual beauty that is captivating, and her delivery that feels like her words are slipping on silk, with her trademark wry smile hiding so much mystery behind it.
No matter how small her part, she adds about 10% more enjoyment to anything she is in, and she has showed a wide versatility in her parts, from the seductive (Exotica), to the mysterious (Adoration), to the downright hilarious (Felicia's Journey, in which she appeared as an eccentric French TV chef. She has also ventured out of Canada for a few French films (working with Catherine Breillat among others), bur few seem to be able to make the most of her talents as her husband does.
Favourite Part: Adoration
The Australian actress has not had the best career of late, even I will admit it. But as I was trying to decide between three wonderful Australian actresses, between Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett and herself, I picked her. Nobody can do cold beauty like her, and she is a real star who reminds me a bit of Grace Kelly (that incidentally she is about to portray in a film), for her sophistication, class and old school glamour. Or for having bumped into her at the Palais in Cannes this year, I can tell you she is every inch the movie star in person, I was completely stunned by her presence!
To me, she has at her best when she is icy, with her terrifying and penetrating blue eyes, and despite the diktat of US box office, she has never tried to play a more ordinary woman that female audience could identify to, because she is not ordinary. She is not afraid to take risks either, as witnessed in the fantastic and underrated Birth, or recently Stoker in which, despite having a supporting part, she shines
Favourite part: The Others
Few actresses have suffered so much for their craft and been game for anything as Pedro Almodovar's former muse, Carmen Maura. Unlike other of his actresses such as Rossy DePalma and Victoria Abril, she never looked particularly eccentric, which made her more outré performances all the more enjoyable. It is almost as if she both stood out in the Spanish director's crazy universe and yet fitted in perfectly, with her perfect timing for comedy and her versatility.
She has very often played strong women facing a great deal of adversity, and to great effect, be it in Law Of Desire, in which she plays a transexual whose entire life was a string of dramas, or What Have I Done To Deserve This, as a poor housewife doing everything she can to keep her household and sanity intact. But she equally at ease with other directors, and has won more Goya awards than any other actresses, showing the depth of her talent.
1) Favourite part: What Have I Done To Deserve This?
I found Finland to be quite a unique country when I visited, at the crossroad of Scandinavian and Baltic countries, and taking its influence from both area, with an understated melancholia and quiet resignation at life very much present, with a touch of deadpan humour bubbling up from under the surface. And few actresses epitomises this as Aki Kaurismaki's muse, Kati Outinen.
Do not expect Adjani-like emotional outbursts. Her characters are often hard down by life, and often seem impenetrable at first. But this is where the skills of the actress come in, while never feeling forced. Emotions are understated but very real, and all the more precious as they come in with such restraint display. Witness her face lightning up at the end of Drifting Clouds when (SPOILER) after suffered such hardship and bad luck, unemployment, bouts of alcoholism and gambling, finally lady luck is on her side and, against all odds, the restaurant she has opened with her husband is a sterling success. It is the sort of facial expression that makes the world feel better, as if the sun was finally shining after a long winter. I absolutely loved her in a smaller part as Arletty in Le Havre too, mixing her usual Finnish persona with a French housewife to great effects. And again, her final scene when SPOILER, having beaten cancer against all expectations, she announces the great news to her husband, almost shining through in a saintly yet still understated way, feels like a plaster over all the unjust woes of the world.
Favourite Part: Drifting Clouds
I was torn between the two queens of US indie cinema of the mid 90's between Parker Posey and Lili Taylor but I went for the latter. She has less flashy a personality but, as much as I love Parker Posey, Lili Taylor is more able to blend in her many parts, with the impressive commitment she gives in all her parts the most remarkable aspect of her talent. Witness her part in the terrible CGI fest The Haunting, in which she gave absolutely everything.
She represented a certain idea of 90's US indie which I was so fond of at the time, with a serie of great performances in Arizona Dream, Short Cuts, The Addiction... I saw her in person in Cannes when she was presenting I Shot Andy Warhol at Un Certain Regard, back in 1996, and she seemed so shy and reserved on stage, a real actress with scant regard for red carpet events of this sort! While her career seemed to have stalled, she is going through a bit of a comeback with parts in the serie Hemlcok Grove as well as high profile films as Blood Ties and The Conjuring
Favourite Part: The Addiction, in which she plays a philosophising vampire
In the 80's Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas were the golden couple of Hollywood big budget films, yet it is a sad indication of the difficulty actresses still face that while the latter has kept his career afloat for decades and married a much younger woman, the former nearly vanished as early as the mid 90's. All the same, when she was on top, what a fantastic career she was having, and she was my favourite actress as a teenager.
Equally comfortable in blockbusters such as Romancing The Stone as in more risky, adult projects such as Body Heat, and grown-up comedies in between such as War Of The Roses, she had it all, class, beauty, comic timing, an incandescent and sassy screen presence, not to mention one of the most seductive voices, ever. And as the gift that keeps on giving, I recently discovered her best performance only recently, a gutsy part in Crimes Of Passion as China Blue, strict businesswoman by day, red and blue neon lit hooker by night.
Favourite Part: Crimes Of Passion