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

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

9. Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

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Like her The Lion in Winter costar, Katharine Hepburn had a legendary career (4 Academy Awards for Best Actress isn’t too shabby). I dare you to find a purely awful performance within her 52 or so credits. Yes, she may have been chilly in a few of her early films (she wasn’t called “box office poison for nothing), but underneath that veneer, she always had a spark (See: Little Women), however stifled (See: Mary of Scotland). After a few “flops” (including Bringing Up Baby), Hepburn turned to every actor’s “first love,” the theater. With the role of Tracy Lord written for her by friend Philip Barry, she took stage by storm and the play The Philadelphia Story was a smash hit. As smart as she was talented, Hepburn secured the play’s film rights through Howard Hughes and negotiated her way with Louis B. Mayer into having veto rights over screenwriter, producer, director and cast. And by golly, was it worth it.

Tracy Lord is an intriguing character. She’s rich, she’s spoiled, she treats men horribly (even Cary “definitive dreamboat” Grant), yet we still care about her. She may idle her days out riding or swimming lazily in her pool or ranting against her beau-of-the-moment, but there is a heart and a fire underneath. And though Hepburn is beautiful with her head-on gaze and her porcelain cheekbones, that’s not what draws you by her side. It’s her convincing murmurs of love and fear and hope, breathing out in lines like “Dexter, I’m such an unholy mess of a girl.” Even in wordless moments, you can see these sentiments breaming in her eyes. She wants to be good, she wants to be loved, she wants to be yar. From beginning to end, Hepburn maintains an ice goddess demeanor and never falters in her airs, but she brings an inner warmth and a light to Tracy, a quality very select few can capture. And yes, I realize that I’m manglingly appropriating more than a few lines from the film, but they’re all true in Hepburn’s performance. Rather than my rambling even further, just watch the clips below.

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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