Ten Best [Film and TV] Actresses of All Time

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, found at GALECA.or and @DorianAwards, announced its members’ collective picks for the organization’s latest “Ten Best” list: GALECA’s Ten Best Actresses of All Time.

The 160-plus members of GALECA, a nonprofit group comprised of professional film and TV critics and entertainment journalists in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., were each asked to name their 10 choices for the finest female actors throughout the history of film and television, without ranking the stars. The actresses with the most mentions are noted below alphabetically (text by GALECA member Dana Piccoli). Note: Actresses who did not make the top 10 here but came closest among the 100 or so listed by members include Joan Crawford, Judi Dench, Sally Field, Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Nicole Kidman, Jessica Lange, Helen Mirren, Elizabeth Taylor and Kate Winslet.

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association’s Ten Best Actresses of All Time (again, in alphabetical order) are:

Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca (1942)

The Swedish star is best known to your average Joe as misty-eyed Ilsa in Casablanca, but Bergman devotees know that she starred in many more, including a trio of Hitchcock films and George Cukor’s stellar thriller Gaslight. Bergman is also responsible for another gift to cinema: her daughter, actress Isabella Rossellini.

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchette, Elizabeth (1997)

Whether she’s playing a tortured 16th-century monarch or having clandestine glove lunches in 1952, Cate Blanchett radiates. She’s the kind of actress that demands your attention, and you gratefully give it. She’s picked up a host of Oscar and/or Golden Globe nominations (and a few wins) for her stunning performances in such modern classics as Elizabeth, Blue Jasmine and Carol (the latter two also earned her GALECA Dorian Awards).

Bette Davis

Bette Davis, The Little Foxes 1941

The grande dame of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Bette Davis commanded attention with her striking visage and powerful performances in films like All About Eve, The Little Foxes and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Davis’ off-camera battles with costar Joan Crawford in the latter fuel the upcoming TV series Feud). But from the get-go, she was blazing trails as one of filmdom’s most distinct, eye-expressive actresses.

Viola Davis

Viola Davis, Doubt (2008)

Bette’s not the only Ms. Davis to stand out on the screen (big or small). This Juilliard-trained powerhouse has shown there’s no role she can’t conquer, winning two Tonys, two Oscar nominations (for Doubt and The Help) and, finally, like Stanwyck, an Emmy. That parade of awards will only keep growing as she lends her trademark thoughtfulness to more juicy roles like her current one as Annalise Keating in TV’s How to Get Away With Murder.

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda, Klute (1971)

Fonda (a GALECA Timeless Star career-achievement honoree) may have come from Hollywood royalty, but she’s been paving her own way with intelligence and subversive wit since the sixties. Be it in the daring crime thriller Klute, feminist office comedy 9 to 5 to or gray-haired sitcom Grace and Frankie, Fonda is a nervy, magnetic presence. And few actresses have such a knack for shedding light on important issues with her brave performances. Witness her Oscar-winning turn in Coming Home.

Katharine Hepburn

Katherine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter (1968)

Few actresses, or actors, have the sort of self-possessed presence that came so naturally to Kate Hepburn. Even after her early success in was deemed a flash in the pan by the 1940s, she showed that talent and a hell of a lot of moxie can’t be quashed. Hepburn picked up three of her four Oscars later in life (see On Golden Pond), working until the age of 87. Her dedication to her art and her iconoclastic personal style translate to indelible.

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher (2001)

The French-born Cannes’ darling Huppert has been making waves in the film industry for over 40 years now, with no signs of slowing down. Her haunting performance in 2001’s The Piano Teacher may be her best known work in the U.S., but the BAFTA- and Cesar-winning chameleon has over 50 films under her belt, a testament to her status as one of the world’s most spectacularly natural acting talents. See her cast a spell in the current drama Elle.

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights (1997)

Moore has the makings of a modern legend. She landed on the radar with her high of a performance in 1997’s Boogie Nights and she’s been building a noticeably meaty list of credits ever since. Her subtle and natural style has made her a household name and a favorite during Academy Awards season (and she won a GALECA Dorian Award for Still Alice). While Moore is usually cast in dramas like the heart-wrenching The End of the Affair, her comedic timing in The Big Lebowski is proof she has the chops to do it all.

Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck, Babyface (1933)

The stunningly “real” Stanwyck rose from a childhood filled with poverty and strife to become one of early Hollywood’s most dynamic actresses. The former Ziegfeld Follies dancer elicited tears in Stella Dallas, mesmerized in the noir classic Double Indemnity and delighted in the screwball comedy The Lady Eve. “Missy” later turned heads in television, winning three Emmys, including one for her gutsy performance in The Thorn Birds.

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep, Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Enigmatic, brilliant, timeless. Meryl Streep’s career is as varied as can be, with Oscar-winning performances in The Iron Lady(which also earned her GALECA’s Dorian Award), Sophie’s Choice and Kramer vs. Kramer to fun frolics in films like Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada. Streep completely loses herself in her roles, making her not only fascinating, but (shhh) GALECA’s number-one Best Actress of All Time.


The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association (GALECA) sponsors the Dorian Awards, annually honoring movies and TV programs of all types, not just “gay.” GALECA’s membership consists of more than 160 professional critics, journalists and editors who cover the worlds of film and/or TV on for legitimate media outlets — from mainstream to LGBTQ-centric — in the United States, Canada and the U.K. More information may be found at galeca.org.


Are you kidding?!?: The Worst Oscar Snubs of All Time

The Academy Awards winners are soon to be announced and the controversy continues over this year’s various snubs, omissions and general shortsightedness over what constitutes a truly great film, great direction, or great performance. When you look back at various lists of Greatest Films in cinema history, it’s shocking to discover that some of cinema’s greats, not only didn’t win an Oscar, but were not even nominated, Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Singin’ in the Rain, considered by some to be some of the best in their respective genres didn’t make the list of nominees. It makes you wonder which of today’s non-nominated movies with be tomorrow’s great films.

So without further ado, here are John David and Ari’s top ten most shocking Oscar omissions over the past 88 years.

John David West’s List

1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

SinginInTheRain3Considered by many as the greatest movie musical that cinema has produced and, after recently watching this 1952 classic in the theater, it’s no surprise that AFI ranks it as the #5 Greatest American Film in their 2007 list. It holds up beautifully today. Singin’ ranks as the pinnacle of the MGM musicals with all elements in perfect balance including: direction, cinematography, dancing, and acting, and design; its still laugh-out-loud hilarious among today’s cynical audiences. In a year that gave the Oscar to The Greatest Show on Earth and nomination to Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet Man, and High Noon, the latter a deserving nominee, Singin’ in the Rain received only one nomination, a supporting actress for Jean Hagen. Rather, it should have been a clean sweep with nominations for Director (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen), Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Best Picture, Screenplay, and Best Picture.

2. Psycho (1960)

psycho 1Not only a horror, thriller classic, it’s an excellent ground breaking film, one of Hitchcock’s best. Psycho entered the zeitgeist of American culture and change how we view taking a shower. One doesn’t have to see Psycho to be familiar with the infamous shower scene or Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking violins. I may be cheating by slipping in another one, but Anthony Perkins’ performance as the serial killer, with mommy issues, Norman Bates is another notable omission for Best Actor nominee list.

3. Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do the thing 5Still one of the biggest controversial omissions in recent Oscar history and Spike Lee’s career best movie was snubbed in favor of the safer, family friendly Driving Miss Daisy, which won the Best Picture Oscar. Watch Do the Right Thing today, and it’s clear how wrong the Academy was in 1989. Lee, who also failed to receive a Best Director nomination, created a superb film with rhythmic dialogue, sharp wit, cinematography that makes you sweat, and in-your-face score. He captures the racial tensions of 1989 America that are, sadly, relevant today.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001 Space OdysseyIt’s shocking to know that as one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema, Stanley Kubrick never won an Academy Award. While he was nominated for directing 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sci-fi masterpiece was not nominated for Best Picture. The Academy chose the traditional route, as they so often do, and went with the more accessible Oliver!, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel, Rachel, and Romeo and Juliet.

5. The Third Man (1949)

the-third-man 1The Third Man stands today as one of cinema’s most glorious black and white movies, and Robert Krasker was awarded an Oscar for Best Cinematography. Despite a nomination for director Carol Reed, the film failed to receive a Best Picture nomination. The post World War II thriller was left off the list for Best Picture in favor of Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, and King Solomon’s Mines. Nominated for 14 Oscars, All About Eve won Best Picture that year.

6. Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo 1Ranked in 2012 as the greatest film ever made, Vertigo knocked Citizen Kane off of the top spot by “Sight & Sound Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.” Vertigo failed to receive a Best Picture nomination or a Best Director nomination for Alfred Hitchcock. With its emotionally complex themes, dreamy tone, the mystifying Vertigo has proven with time to age well and grow in appreciation among film lovers. With such consistent height praise it’s hard to believe that it was left off of 1958’s Oscar ballot.

7. City of God (2004)

City of God 4City of God wasn’t completely forgotten in 2004, as the Brazilian masterpiece garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Director (Fernando Meirelles), Best Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, and Cinematography, but it was oddly left off of the short list for Best Foreign Language film. Beyond that City of God should have been listed among the five nominees for Best Picture. That year nominees included a couple forgettable movies including Mystic River and Seabiscuit (!) 2004 was a big year for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with 11 Oscars.

8. Steven Spielberg for directing Jaws (1975)

Jaws 3It’s true, Spielberg was snubbed for the movie that entered the zeitgeist of America and changed how we experience swimming on the beach. But, let me be clear, he shouldn’t have been nominated for making an unforgettable film, or for making the movie that ushered in the Blockbuster, but rather for making a well-crafted film. It’s well acted with strong performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, and Robert Shaw (who should have been nominated as well), additionally, movies would not be the same today without one of cinemas most recognizable film scores. John Williams took home his second of five Oscars for Jaws.

9. City Lights (1931)

city-lights 1Charles Chaplin may have been considered behind the times when he released his masterpiece City Lights in 1931, after all the “talkies” were the rage and his silent movie was from a fading time. Cimarron won the Best Picture that year, but City Lights remains a timeless classic.

10. Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage (1934)

Bette Davis 1It’s her performance as the cruel waitress in Of Human Bondage that remains as one of Miss Davis’ most unforgettable and deserving Oscar nominations—and the first of many memorable Davis’ lines, “wipe my mouth.” Academy voters somehow didn’t see fit to honor her with the year’s Best Actress Oscar or a nomination, so many outraged members wrote in her name instead of voting among the nominees. That year Claudette Colbert won (along with Best Actor costar Clark Gable) for It Happened One Night. Next year Davis won (a consolation Oscar?) for her work in Dangerous.

11. Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierre Madre (1948)

Bogart 4It’s hard to believe that one of cinema’s most beloved actors wasn’t nominated for some of his most iconic performances including The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but it’s his performance as the down and out American in Mexico who, upon finding gold with his partners, become increasingly paranoid and mistrustful. The Treasure of the Sierre Madre remains one of his best performances. While the film won Oscars for both John Huston as Director and his father Walter Huston for Best Supporting Actor, Bogart was left off the nomination list. Lawrence Olivier took home the trophy that year for work in that year’s Best Picture winner Hamlet. As a consolation prize for his work three years earlier Bogart would later win a Best Actor award for The African Queen in 1951. That year the Oscar should have gone to Marl0n Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Ari Ansbro’s List

1. Best Actor: Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips (2013)

Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips

Most of the entries on this list are for films that were made long before I was born.  Perhaps that is why this one stings so much.  Two years ago, Tom Hanks was primed to get his sixth Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Captain Richard Phillips, the real-life captain whose cargo ship was taken over by Somali pirates.  Throughout the entire film, Hanks shows both a strength and vulnerability that this man exhibited through the five most frightening days of his life.  This is clearly shown during the final scene of the film in which a wordless Phillips is examined by a Navy doctor.  For this scene alone, Hanks deserved a nomination. Watch it here.  Seriously. I personally feel that the reason for the lack of love for Hanks boiled down to two things: 1.) the feeling that he can play a heroic everyman like a pro, so why give him more accolades for that, and 2.) the Academy was in the process of showing David O. Russell how much they love him by nominating the four main actors in American Hustle for Oscars.  This included Christian Bale, who was not as deserving as Hanks. 

2. Best Actor: Anthony Perkins, Psycho (1960)

Anthony Perkins - PsychoSPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen Psycho do not read skip on to the next entry.  I realize this is a 55 year old movie, but it still has one of the most amazing endings of all time and I would never want to spoil that for anyone.
Anthony Perkins was nominated for one Academy Award in his entire career.  That was for playing the son in a Quaker family who still feels that he must fight in the American Civil War in The Friendly Persuasion.  However, most of you reading that last sentence are amazed that his nomination was for a mostly forgotten movie, and not for his career-defining role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.  Perkins enters the film as a sweet and vulnerable doormat, eager to help the stranded Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, who did receive an Oscar nomination for her role).  He then morphs into an emotionally stunted “Mama’s boy” who needs saving from his wicked mother.   Next he is the accomplice to his mother’s horrific crime.  The audience finds themselves worried for Norman as he sinks Marion’s car (with her body in the trunk) into a swamp behind his house.  When it is finally revealed that Norman’s fractured psyche had been disassociating and becoming “Mother”, the audience is shocked.  We then feel a bit complicit, since we had such sympathy for this young man, caught under his mother’s thumb.  How was this complex interpretation not nominated for an Oscar?  Click here to see what should have been his Oscar clip.

3. Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady (1964)

Warner Brothers bought the rights to the hugely popular stage musical My Fair Lady, they signed Rex Harrison to reprise his role as Professor Henry Higgins. Producer Jack Warner was not keen to also cast then unknown Julie Andrews to reprise her role as Eliza Doolittle. Instead, Warner cast Audrey Hepburn. For a woman who made a career of playing well-groomed, alluring characters, this was a departure for Hepburn. Determined to do justice to the part, Hepburn worked tirelessly to learn the songs and sing as best she could. Unfortunately, the studio was unimpressed and had her singing voiced dubbed with that of Marni Nixon. This information was leaked to the press and the movie was slammed for not having cast Andrews, a singer, and instead casting an established star. What is very much forgotten is that Hepburn is excellent in this role. Her transformation from Cockney flower girl to a well-spoken lady is truly spectacular. However, the Academy, in its infinite wisdom, punished Hepburn by not nominating her for this role. To add insult to injury, Julie Andrews was nominated and won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Mary Poppins. See the a clip of the film here.

4. Best Actress: Bette Davis, Of Human Bondage (1934)

Bette Davis - Of HumanBy 1934 Bette Davis had been in dozens of films, but Of Human Bondage is the first one where she commanded the screen.  Playing the truly horrid waitress Mildred Rogers, she is disdainful of a young medical student with a club foot who has fallen in love with her (Leslie Howard).  Davis is truly vile in this role, but her performance also has an undercurrent of vulnerability.  When the Academy Award nominations were announced for 1934, surprisingly, Davis was not listed among the honorees. Voters were so incensed that they wrote her name on the ballot in protest.  Even without being officially nominated, Davis came in third, after Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night and Norma Shearer for The Barretts of Wimpole Street.  This “scandal” led to the tradition of having the votes secretly counted by PriceWaterhouse Cooper.  The following year, Davis was given a consolation Oscar for her role in Dangerous.  Watch Bette Davis deliver the film’s most memorable line.

5. Best Actor: Cary Grant, His Girl Friday (1940)

Cary Grant - His Girl FridayIt has been said that it is much harder for an actor to play a comedic role than a dramatic one.  Regardless, the Academy consistently overlooks comedic performances when nominating actors and films each year.  A great example of this ridiculous habit is the lack of Oscar love for Cary Grant.  Grant received only two Academy Award nominations in his 30+ year career, which is outrageous.  Grant was a fantastic actor who made it look easy.  Because it looked easy, the Academy assumed it must have been.  One of Grant’s most pitch-perfect performances is as the newspaper editor Walter Burns in Howard Hawkes’ His Girl Friday.  Perfectly teamed with Rosalind Russell, Grant expertly fires off quips and charms his ex-wife (Russell) while trying to save an innocent man from being executed.  Knowing how good both Grant and Russell were at improvisation, Hawks purposely kept their rehearsals to a minimum to encourage improvisation.  It pays off.  Grant is at his best in a role like this.  Too bad the Academy didn’t notice. Click here to see Grant spar with Russell.

6. Best Actor: Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine (2010)

Ryan Gosling - ValentineRyan Gosling and Michelle Williams stared in this depressing story of a married couple whose marriage is falling apart.  The present day portion of the story takes place during one evening, where Williams and Gosling decide if their marriage is worth saving.  This is interspersed with flashbacks to the beginning of the relationship, showing how far they have come and how different they are.  Williams, deservedly, was nominated for her role in this film.  For some reason that I may never understand, Gosling was not.  Gosling perfectly embodies the suave young guy who wants to impress a girl, as well as the aging worn out father trying to save his marriage.  Gosling was passed over in favor of Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), and James Franco (127 Hours).  To me, the weak link in this category was James Franco. Ryan Gosling was much better and more deserving.  Yup, I said it. You can watch the sweetest scene from this movie here.

7. Best Supporting Actor: Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train (1951)

Robert Walker - StrangersStrangers on a Train is the classic story of two men, Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) and Guy Haines (Farley Granger), meeting by chance, and during their initial conversation Bruno suggests that they swap murders.  Bruno will kill Guy’s estranged wife who is refusing to divorce him, and Guy will kill Bruno’s overbearing father so Bruno can inherit his fortune. Even though Guy does not actually agree to anything, Bruno takes it upon himself to murder Guy’s wife.  Robert Walker is so good at playing the sociopath in this film, that it is hard to realize that he ever played a sweet, romantic lead (see The Clock and Since You Went Away).  The sing-song voice that he uses as he taunts Guy with veiled threats, the fact that every calculated move he makes is traps the other characters so completely make for one of the best villains in the annals of film.  How was this man not nominated for this role?  As you can see by now, Alfred Hitchcock’s films were ignored in a huge way by the Academy.  This was partially because he saw the genius of television and started his own show.  The film industry felt, at the time, that television was a lesser medium, and that anyone who worked on TV was obviously not worthy of notice.  Sadly, for Walker, this was his last chance to be nominated for an Academy Award.  He died eight months after the release of the film due to an allergic reaction to medication.   Click here to see Walker lay out his murderous plan.

8. Best Actress: Carole Lombard, To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Carole Lombard - To beCarole Lombard did not start out in Hollywood as a comedienne.  As a matter of fact, she was in Hollywood a full ten years before she was given a comedic role.  Once she had it, she and everyone else knew it was what she was meant to be.  At 33, with her career in need of a jump start, Lombard starred in the very edgy (for the time) Ernst Lubitch film, To Be or Not to Be, costarring Jack Benny.  Lombard plays a stage actress in Warsaw, Poland in early 1938.  She and her husband, Jack Benny, are staring in a play that is satirizing the Nazi regime.  Even though this film was a show piece for Benny, Lombard skillfully brings her earnest comedic skill to the roll of the “straight man”.  Sadly, that year Lombard was not honored with a nomination, as there were other “important” war films to be honored, such as Mrs. Miniver.  She would never have another opportunity to earn a nomination, as she was killed returning home from a war bond promotional tour in a plane crash prior to the film’s release.   Watch Lombard go toe-to-toe with Benny in this scene.  Lombard enters at 3:48.

9. Best Director: Rob Reiner, When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Reiner - When Harry Met SallyA satisfying romantic comedy can be an elusive thing.  There are many romantic comedies that try too hard and fall too deep into clichés to be satisfying.  When that rare romcom comes along that works on every level, it should be treasured.  When Harry Met Sally… came along in 1989, it immediately became a hit for all of the reasons I mentioned above.  Rob Reiner directed the story of a man and woman who become friends before falling in love.  Even though the film stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, the third star is the city of New York.  Every exterior scene is shot in such a way that it makes New York look like the perfect city to fall in love.  This is an extreme feat considering it was filmed during a time when the city was extremely crime ridden with over 1,000 murders that year.  For all of this, Rob Reiner should have received some recognition by the Academy for directing this world and these people who were so relatable, regardless of their neuroses. Unfortunately, the only nomination the film received was for Nora Ephron’s hilarious script.    Watch the most famous scene from the movie, which was filmed in Katz’s Deli here.

10. Best Picture: Rear Window (1954)

Rear WindowFor most fans of Alfred Hitchcock, the omission of Vertigo by the Academy is blasphemy. I am not one of those fans. For some reason Vertigo rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I have watched it numerous times and even paid to see it at BAM a few years ago, but I fear that the love for it is overhyped. For me, Hitchcock’s Rear Window is the real masterpiece. Filmed on one set, the audience becomes an accomplice of Jimmy Stewart’s wheelchair bound voyeristic protagonist. Whenever we see what is going on outside of the window, it is done specifically from Stewart’s point of view. Did the salesman murder his wife in the middle of the night? We know only as much as Stewart. This is the genius of this film. Hitchcock was, deservedly, nominated for Best Director for his work on this film, (don’t get me started on the fact that he lost, even if it was to Elia Kazan for On the Waterfront) but the film itself was should have been nominated for Best Picture. Period. End of story. See a scene from the film by clicking here.

11. Best Picture: Notorious (1946)

NotoriousAlfred Hitchcock was a true master, not just the master of suspense.  Now, I do realize that on my list alone, there are four entries about how some aspect of an Alfred Hitchcock film was snubbed by the Academy.  However, many of his films from 1938 to 1963 are today considered classics that were not given their due.  Therefore, I close my list with one of the sexiest thrillers to be made during the Hayes Code era, Notorious.  This is the story of the daughter of a Nazi spy who is recruited by, what would eventually become the CIA, to infiltrate a fascist spy ring in South America.  Ingrid Bergman smolders as Alicia, the newly recruited spy.  Her handler is played by an equally tempting Cary Grant.  As you probably guessed, they fall in love, but when Bergman is encouraged to marry their target, played by Claude Raines, their affair comes to an end.  Grant and Bergman continue to work together, creating a suspicious and dangerous Raines.  Everything about this film is spectacular, from the technical to the artistic.  Isn’t that what is supposed to define a Best Picture (and Best Director) nominee?  Hitchcock did his best to get around the Hayes code’s strict edict that no on screen kiss could last longer than two seconds.  Want to see how Hitchcock made a 2:40 second kiss?  Click here.

1939, Still the Best Year: Dark Victory

Dark Victory 81939 was very eventful. The country was just beginning to come out of the worst economic depression in history. Mohandas Gandhi began a hunger strike to protest British rule in India. The Spanish Civil War ended, and Francisco Franco became the dictator of Spain. Europe was plunged into a second world war in just twenty years.

However, from this great turmoil came great art. Most film historians recognize 1939 as “the greatest year of film.” That year, ten films were nominated for Best Picture of the Year at the Academy Awards. This was the first time so many films were nominated for the year’s top prize. The films nominated were: Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Ninotchka, Love Affair, The Wizard of Oz, and Gone with the Wind. However, this list does not completely encompass all of the great films that year. Other amazing films that year included: The Women, Beau Geste, Gunga Din, Young Mr. Lincoln, The Four Feathers, Intermezzo: A Love Story, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

These films shaped the way movies were made and stories were told. They also launched the careers of several screen legends, as well as solidifying the legendary status of others.

Bette Davis, Ronald Regan
Bette Davis, Ronald Regan

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Academy Awards for 1939, I will be viewing several of these films, to see if they are, in fact, timeless.

There are spoilers below. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In 1939, Bette Davis was already a star. She had won two Academy Awards for her roles in Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938). She was famous for playing tempestuous women, infusing characters with her particular brand of fire. In 1939, Davis found the role she had been waiting to play.

Dark Victory is based on the stage play of the same name. The film was directed by English director Edmund Goulding and stars Davis, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, and a 28-year-old contract player for Warner Brothers, Ronald Regan.

Dark Victory is the story of Judith Traherne, a young socialite who is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her only chance at survival is if she has a risky operation to remove the tumor. Luckily for her, world-renowned brain surgeon Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent) has agreed to take her case.

Dark Victory 5
Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis

Once the operation is complete, Dr. Steele admits to Judith’s best friend, Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald) that the surgery was not a success and that Judith will live quite normally for a time but will then go blind and die. However, Dr. Steele does not disclose this information to his patient, as he has fallen in love with her. Judith obviously finds out and rejects Dr. Steele, believing that it is better for him to not get more attached if she is just going to die.

During a heartfelt talk with her horse trainer, Michael (Humphrey Bogart), he confides in Judith that he is in love with her. Even though she does not love him, he tells her that she needs to get as much out of life as she can, especially before it is too late. Judith then marries Dr. Steele and dies a short time later.

The entire synopsis of this film screams “melodrama,” and in the hands of a lesser actress, it certainly would be. The entire premise of the film lends itself to overacting. However, Davis eschews the acting trend of the day and allows herself to be just emotive enough. The true pièce de résistance of the film is the final scene. Judith’s eyesight starts to go just as Dr. Steele is leaving for a conference. She, selflessly, does not let him know that she is close to death and he leaves. Alone with Ann, Judith says a sweet goodbye, ascends the stairs to her bedroom, lies down in her bed, and falls asleep. She knows her death is imminent, and she quietly embraces the dark. It is amazing how much is conveyed in these simple actions. Davis’s face as she closes her eyes says more than the entire screenplay. Judith only began to live when she found out she was going to die: the beautiful symmetry of life expressed in a moment.

Behind the scenes, things were not quite so tranquil. While filming the scene of Judith walking to her room, Davis stopped the scene and ran to the director, Edmund Goulding. Davis asked if famed composer Max Steiner would be writing the score of the film. A surprised Goulding responded that he did not know. The score would be assigned to a composer during post-production. When Goulding asked why Davis thought this was important enough to stop the scene, she replied, “Well, either I’m going to climb those stairs or Max Steiner is going to climb those stairs. But I will be God-damned if Max Steiner and I are going to climb those stairs together!” Davis knew that this was her scene and the last thing she wanted was for a large orchestral score to tell the audience how to feel. She was going to show the audience how to feel.

Davis succeeded. While this is not my favorite Bette Davis film, I do think that it is some of the finest work she ever did. I have always lamented that this film did not come out in another year, for this role was award-worthy. Unfortunately, one of Davis’s fellow Best Actress nominees that year was Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind. Leigh’s performance was one of the greatest in cinematic history, so I can’t lament Davis’s loss too much.

Ultimately, Dark Victory is a triumph.

—Ari Ansbro

Cinema with a twist: Cabaret Cinema at the Rubin Museum of Art

Picture it! New York City, 2014. You meet your friends after work for drinks and pan-Asian tapas. Following a couple of rounds of specialty cocktails, several plates of hors d’oeuvre, consisting of pulled BBQ pork buns (bao), smoked salmon with Himalayan toast points, and a fruitless conversation on the advantages of online dating, you head downstairs to watch a classic Hitchcock flick. But before going into the theater, you grab a bag of popcorn while your opera singer friend orders a couple of martinis, containing cucumber, lime, rose water, and infused basil seed. You think, Wow, who knew! It’s almost 9:30 and time for the movie; you step into the theater, equipped with a nice-size screen and rows of cocktail tables and chairs. Yes, cocktail tables! What could be better than popcorn, friends, and watching North by Northwest with martinis? After an introduction by Tony winner and Academy Award nominee, lyricist David Zippel, lights go down, the movie starts, and you realize, Wow, I’m having another one of those magical New York City moments. This calls for another drink!

Evenings such as these can be expected at the Rubin Museum of Art as Friday nights have become uniquely special, notably for its Cabaret Cinema, which presents films that explore themes that are featured in the museum’s galleries. Each film is introduced by a distinguished guest, who discusses the film’s connection with the museum’s current exhibitions. Past presenters have included Liv Ullmann (Persona, Cries and Whispers), Alan Cumming (Cabaret), Benjamin Millepied (Black Swan), and Matt Dillon (Crash, The Outsiders). Beginning April 11 and ending August 29, the theme of medicine will be explored in films with a lineup that begins with A Farwell to Arms and ends with Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors
John David West

Medicine Films Complete list of films:

A Farewell to Arms (1932, Frank Borzage)

Friday, April 11, 9:30 PM
Starring Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou
Introduced by designer Michael Bastian

M*A*S*H (1970, Robert Altman)
Friday, April 18, 9:30 PM
Starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerrit

Red Beard (1965, Akira Kurosawa) 
Friday, April 25, 9:30 PM
Starring Toshirô Mifune, Yuzo Kayama, Kamatari Fujiwara
Introduced by photographer Vera Lutter

Les Maudits (The Damned(1947, René Clément)

Friday May 2, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Marcel Dalio, Henri Vidal, Florence Marly

Tales of the Gimli Hospital (1988, Guy Maddin)

Friday May 9, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Kyle McCulloch, Michael Gottli, Angela Heck.

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971, John Schlesinger)

Friday May 16, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch, Murray Head.

Death in Venice (1971, Luchino Visconti)
Friday May 23, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Dirk Bogarde, Björn Andrésen. 
Introduced by designer Michael Bastian.

The Little Foxes (1941, William Wyler)
Friday May 30, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, and Teresa Wright.

Gray’s Anatomy (1996, Steven Soderbergh)

Friday June 6, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Spalding Gray.
Introduced by writer Nathaniel Rich. 

Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu)

Friday June 13, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara. 
Introduced by novelist John Burnham Schwartz.

Crimes and Misdemeanors(1989, Woody Allen)

Friday August 29, 2014, 9:30 PM
Starring Woody Allen, Martin Landau, and Mia Farrow.
Introduced by Patrick McGrath.