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

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

10. Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter


Peter O’Toole was one of the finest actors who has ever graced the silver screen. While best remembered for his roar and his harrumph, his acting chops shone especially through that melancholic speckle in his Celtic blue eyes. He could draw you in with his handsome face, his large breath and his ever-beating, drunk-on-life charisma, but would leave you speechless with that gaze — capturing sympathy, empathy and the sublime all in one go. As the years (and the drink) wore on, O’Toole’s rosy complexion may have withered and his gait may have weakened, but he could still stand, or sit, and shine the audience’s attention towards him through sheer ability.

Out of his filmography (include 8 Oscar noms), you really can’t pick a bad performance. Bad or mediocre films perhaps (avoid King Ralph at all costs), but no bad performances (his King Priam is the best thing in Troy). I can easily spurt off my personal top ten of just O’Toole performances alone (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, What’s New Pussycat, The Night of the Generals, The Lion in Winter, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, Troy, Venus, Ratatouille). Then why did I choose his Henry II in The Lion Winter, you ask? Because this role showcased O’Toole’s genius — raising you to the highest heights of theatrical, bordering over-the-top acting, and dropping you into the disquieting pools of emotional despair.

He shouts, he harrangs, he threatens. Henry blusters his way through the castle and when left to his own devices is little more than a bearded, stone glare. He spouts that he cares for nothing but himself and his kingdom, but it’s in the rare quiet moments we see his actual self, the man underneath the monarch. As he tell his young mistress that he loves her, he disrobes the figurative crown and bluff and reveals the frailty of a man in a May-December romance, with a distinct gentleness to take care of possibly his last love. After discovering his children have been plotting to off him (yet again), he rewrites his history and his legacy, leaving them out in a gut-wrenching recitation, and locks them away. On leaving, O’Toole captures Henry’s emotional deconstruction — the sorrow, the anger, the self-made misery. He has lost his boys.

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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