Top Ten Greatest Performances Of All-Time (Diana Drumm)


top-101In tackling a “Top Ten” list, you can follow one of two approaches: to attempt to identify the categorical best (something that would take millenia to do properly) or to compile your personal favorites (going with your gut/heart over your head). In this list, I do my best to do neither. After days and days of boggling over which Marlon Brando performance to include, cursing myself for not being better versed in foreign cinemas, and even resorting to surveys amongst friends and family, I have given up on any authority on the matter or even some vague representation beyond my own yearnings and inclinations. A “Top Ten” on such a wide-reaching spectrum inevitably trickles down to a reflection of said author, which makes compiling such a list all the more daunting and in some ways, all the more compelling.

As a former film student, I went through the widely accepted “Bests,” from Peter O’Toole’s debut in Lawrence of Arabia to Robert De Niro’s icon-making turn in Taxi Driver. I scrolled down through the award winners from the Academy Awards to film festivals. I googled a plethora of “Best Performance” lists, and I’m not using the p word lightly. All to little avail beyond the overwhelming epiphany that no matter how long I live or how much I read and watch, there is always something new and of value to discover (or re-discover), which wasn’t all that helpful while trying to come up with a succinct list of best film performances.

Taxi_Driver_robert de niroThen I turned to my gut and heart. My gut said to stick with the big ‘uns of film acting, like De Niro and Al Pacino, even pre-backlash Johnny Depp. But again, that’s rather dull, right? My heart reminded me of the performances that struck me in the sternum, however questionably, like Robert Taylor in Camille and Timothy Dalton in Wuthering Heights, and even Gerard Butler in The Phantom of the Opera. And then a bit more madness sprung out, and I was debating whether to include “oddball” choices like Little Edie in Grey Gardens.

So keeping all of that and the arbitrariness of existence in mind, I present you with my “Top Ten Best Performances of All-Time.” Be prepared to disagree, bemoan and groan.

  • Robert MacFarlane

    I’m just going to assume you’ve never seen Dead Ringers, because to have Jeremy Irons on a “Best Performances of All Time” list and NOT have him for his dual performances in Cronenberg’s fucked up masterpiece is sheer lunacy.

    • Kristen Lopez

      Hell yes! I so wanted to put him on my list but sadly it was so stacked already.

      • Robert MacFarlane

        It’s a performance that is objectively perfect. If someone tells me their choice for 1988 Best Actor isn’t him, they either haven’t seen him or are insane.

        • Guess I’m insane.

          • Robert MacFarlane

            Oh don’t tell me it’s Hoffman.

            • Sam Coff

              Hoffman’s performance is pretty much objectively perfect, too, and if you’re Best Actor 1988 isn’t Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, you either haven’t seen Rain Man or you are insane.

              • Robert MacFarlane

                So you think using my own words makes you any less condescending?

    • Sam Coff

      When someone starts off a sentence with “I’m just going to assume you’ve never seen” it pretty much automatically puts you in the running for Most Condescending Comment ever.

      • Robert MacFarlane

        Really? You’re going to combat my own “condescending” comment with ad hominem? In that case I’m not even going to talk to you.

        • Austin Kemprowski

          I guess you missed the part where these are personal lists.

          • Robert MacFarlane

            Fine, fair enough. That’s at least a better argument than Sam’s.

  • Sam Coff

    WOW. Great list, Diana!

    Love the blend of classic and modern, and I especially love how your list functions as a sort of “Best Actors Ever” list.

    And, of course, Geoffrey Rush for everything 😀

  • Happy to see both Rush fur Quills and Ledger for BBM. But the one person I was super happy to see for his role? Brando

  • Greg Cwik

    I see your list and raise you with mine, which might raise some eyebrows with its plebeian popularism:

    (Mind you I just made this right now, in five minutes)

    Al Pacino- “The Godfather Part II”
    Robert De Niro- “The King of Comedy”
    Joaquin Phoenix- “The Master”
    Live Ullmann- “Persona”
    Faye Dunaway- “Chinatown”
    Roy Scheider- “Jaws”
    Isabelle Huppert- “La Pianiste”
    Ellen Burstyn- “Requiem for a Dream”
    Heath Ledger- “Brokeback Mountain”
    Jack Nicholson- “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

    • Robert MacFarlane

      LOVE the Dunaway mention. Such uncharacteristic work from her.

    • Diana Drumm

      8 of those where on my “short” list. See how tough it is to boil down to just 10? Others up for consideration included Peter Lorre in M, Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace, Marion Cotillard in A Very Long Engagement, Peter Sellers in Being There, Ernest Borgnine in Marty, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Anna Karina in A Woman is a Woman, Jeanne Moreau in Jules et Jim, Timothy Dalton in general (Wuthering Heights, Sextette, Hot Fuzz), Joaquin Phoenix in Her (obviously), Nicole Kidman in To Die For, Genevieve Bujold in Anne of the Thousand Days, John Barrymore in Romeo & Juliet, Jack Nicholson in The Shining…. Gosh, I’ve started again, but you get the picture.

    • Sam Coff

      Great list!

  • I finally decided to go at this from the gut/heart level since picking “best” many of which have appeared on other lists is just impossible. So here are the 10 films that when flipping dials, I simply cannot go past without watching at least for a few minutes simply because in most cases it is two great actors/Actresses bouncing off of each other or great music with excellent acting

    1. Same Time Next Year
    2. Casablanca
    3. Lion in Winter
    4. All That Jazz
    5. 84 Charing Cross Road
    6. The Chosen
    7. Chinatown
    8. L A Confidential
    9. Usual Suspects
    10. Cabaret

  • Roberto925

    Great list!!!

  • Zohar Orbach

    I love how you chose Ledger’s performance in BM. It’s one of the most subtle & heartbreaking performances I have ever seen, and combining her with his turn in TDK and his hollywood debut in ’10 things’ is a perfect display of his greatness. I love this project in general – performances lists are a great passion of mine. In my longlist I have, I guess, Lawrence in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (I adore Chastain in ZDT, but Lawrence is still my one of most deserving wins in this millenium), Mary-louise Parker in ‘Angels in America’ (A Tv miniseries, but one for the ages), Ewan McGregor in ‘Moulin Rouge’ and many more.

    10. Meryl Streep, everything ever. Even Mama Mia (especially Mama Mia. The only person on earth who can turn an ABBA song into a shakespearean monologue).
    9. Jodie Foster, Silence Of The Lambs (She Outshadows Hopkins, in my opinion. Best achievment in ReActing ever, I believe).
    8. Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
    7. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Blvd.
    6. Joseph Gordon Levitt, Mysterious Skin
    5. Ellen Page, Hard Candy (The charecter itself isn’t written incredible – Haylee is essentially a superhero, due to Brian Nelson’s fine screenplay, but Page, who is 50% of the film’s ensamble, makes magic with it. Best Creepy-kid in the history of movies, hands down)

    4. Dustin Hofman, Lenny
    3. Kate Hudson, Almost Famous (A wonder. She ignites the screen with charm and elegance whenever she is in the frame. What kind of beer?)
    2. Uma Thurman, Kill Bill
    1. Samual L. Jackson, Pulp FIction (Nm. 3 and Nm. 1 are two of the most awful oscar snubs ever, in my eyes. I believe that Landau was awesome in Ed Wood, I really do, and Marcia Gay harden is a terrific actress, but Jackson was just so powerful, so majestic and magnetising – Jules, like the bride – is my favorite cinematic charecter ever)