2. Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris
What can be written about Marlon Brando here that hasn’t already been said, written or hinted at. He was a genius. He was an original. He was a miserable human being to be around. And it’s this persona, full of enigma and the intangible, that sets him apart in the annals of acting. Brando was emblematic of a new wave in Hollywood, setting the stones in place for New Hollywood with his method and his mumbling and his outrageous behavior. All three of those last qualities bubble to the surface and brim over the celluloid in his performance as a widower engaging in an anonymous, strictly pervertedly, sexual relationship in Last Tango in Paris.
Throughout the film, Paul (Brando) subjects Jeanne (Maria Schneider), his young lover, to an assortment of abuse and debasing acts (butter). They share no personal information — no names, no pasts, just sex. But the tides turn when Paul tries to win Jeanne back after leaving her deserted in their pleasure-pain apartment. This is where the real beauty of the film and Brando’s performance emerge, whereas earlier Brando was stripped naked literally to perform lascivious acts, he strips himself bare emotionally in Paul’s pursuit of Jeanne, with the audience tripping along as he opens up about his wife’s suicide, tangos in public with Jeanne, and even as he chases her through the streets of Paris, with no holds barred and clinging only to lovelorn desperation. His character went from unfeeling monster of sexual appetite to running heart-on-sleeve and shouting after Jeanne. Simply, Brando as Paul is a magnificent creature.