Last month, I compiled my list of candidates for the title of Great American Film Actor—spoiler alert: Jon Cryer failed to crack the top five—and now it’s time to rank the women (in a respectful and nonsexual manner, for once).
Ranking the great modern movie actresses was slightly more difficult than putting together the men’s list—not due to a scarcity of female talent, but rather a scarcity of great female parts. All too often, a promising young actress is flung into the rom-com ringer at the first sign of audience appeal, never too emerge again.
The real tragedy is that many of our best film actresses, especially those of “a certain age,” are finding meatier and more meaningful roles on television. Actresses such as Holly Hunter, Glenn Close, Sally Field and Patricia Arquette are effectively retired from films, finding new lives on the small screen.
I will be publishing my top five actresses next week, but first some ground rules: Naturally, the title of Great American Film Actress is open only to American-born performers, meaning that all future terror babies will be eligible (unless House Resolution 237 passes, and we pray that it does).
The title is based on the quality of film output from the last decade, not on box-office success (Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock), reputation (Ellen Burstyn and Sissy Spacek haven’t worked enough for consideration), raw promise (Greta Gerwig), overall talent (Joan Allen hasn’t made a movie worthy of her in more than a decade) or meaningless awards (Hilary Swank).
Finally, this is about being a Great American lead, so I weeded out those primarily thought of as “character actresses,” not coincidentally eliminating some of the most talented women working today (Frances McDormand, Marcia Gay Harden).
Next week: The Great American Film Actress is crowned.