In 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.
Then 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.