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

Our two week series continues with our native of New Hampshire…

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind

vivien-leigh-gone-with-the-wind-2While filming her most iconic role of Scarlett O’Hara, Vivien Leigh was chomping at the bit being separated from Laurence Olivier. Instead of having her Shakespearean Adonis by her side, Leigh had to face an onslaught of high-drama scenes (including high-pitched shrieking, green-eyed glares, and slapping poor Butterfly McQueen) and a reportedly halitosis-ridden Clark Gable with little respite. Clocking in at 3 hours and 54 minutes (the longest Best Picture Oscar winner), Gone with the Wind is one long movie and Leigh herself was in over 90% of the scenes. The harrowing production (firings, hirings and burning sets) brought forth one of the most famous and successful films of all time, along with possibly the greatest acting performance to ever grace the big screen.

The beauty of Scarlett O’Hara is that she is a horrible person that becomes admirable through her perseverance. Yes, her rosy cheeks, pointed chin and brunette curls are pleasing to the eye, but underneath, she is little more than a petulant child, that is until the war comes and her Antebellum world of garden parties and ballgowns is torn asunder. While delusionally clinging to a man who does not love her (Oh, Ashley…), Scarlett looks to others (including a few husbands) for support and protection, though ends up relying mostly on herself and her own resources. She is so concerned with survival, that she doesn’t recognize actual love when it’s staring at her right in the face with an overgrown grin and set of ears. Would she have survived the war without Ashley stringing her along? Maybe, but maybe not. Would she made such a grand life for herself and been able to maintain Tara if she had happy in Rhett’s love from the very start? Probably not. As such, her strength is her weakness and vice versa.

Vivien Leigh, the goddess that she was, captured Scarlett’s duality — her stubborn strength and her heartsick weakness, her childishness and her womanhood, the doted-on darling and the cotton-picking, mill-running survivor. Leigh’s porcelain face captured the entirety of Scarlett, flashing from deep-seated scorn of Melanie to tearful elation at the thought that Ashley does possibly actually love her to unearthly ferocity as she exclaims turnip-in-hand, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!” to unbridled hope at the thought that she could win Rhett back and that tomorrow is indeed another day. She was Scarlett, Scarlett was her and that speaks entirely to her performance.

Discuss and read the following:

  • Joseph Braverman’s List
  • Kristen Lopez’s List
  • Terence Johnson’s List

What do you think?

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Written by Diana Drumm


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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.

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 :-D

Jason Fattorusso

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”


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… Read more »


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… Read more »


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