Well, here we are, at the end of the journey!
As I just mentioned yesterday, I have to admit that the compulsive list maker and ranker in me just has to cast my vote, now that I feel eligible to do so. But for as much as I need to rate things, I’m also profoundly indecisive, so I’m going to pick my winners in two ways. The first is to go year by year, race by race, and cast my ballot for single favorite of the five (or occasionally three or seven) nominees for that year. I will allow myself a tie in 1968, in the spirit of the official result in that crazy race. And there you have it: the Best Actresses According to Cliff!
Except that…because some years feature such damn good competition (1939, 1950, 1967, 1993, and 1996 in particular all have at least three sterling competitors in my book), and it would be a shame not to acknowledge the brilliance of an Emily Watson or an Edith Evans just because they were unlucky enough to be paired against Frances McDormand or Anne Bancroft, I’m also including a second column of Top 85 Best Actress nominees of all time. This list averages out to one winner per year (and one fewer than the 86 that I allot myself in the other column, thanks to the tie year), but free to cluster around the bountiful races and pass over the weaker ones (1932/33, 1947, 1959, 1970, 1984). Honestly, this is my favorite of the two groups, giving me a more honest chance to praise the very best of performances that I relentlessly sought out.
Finally, I’m including the actual winners of the Academy Award for Best Actress in the third column. I’ve shaded in gold the instances where my pick and the Academy’s line up (not all that often, but more than one might expect). Some stats and miscellaneous comments will follow below, but without further ado, here are my votes for Best Actress! Your thoughts, either privately or down below in the comments section, are more welcome than ever. Enjoy!
Here’s an image of the spreadsheet for anyone having trouble viewing the Google Doc, or who just wants to take it all in at once:
Oscar and I overlap 30 times out of 86 in the by-year column, and 24 out of 85 in the Top 85 column (which features some notable swap-ins, like Vivien Leigh, Kathy Bates, and Holly Hunter, in addition to those who got the axe). That my seem like a substantial disagreement, but it’s better than random by a substantial margin: I agree with the Academy’s choice more than a third of the time when going by year (instead of the one fifth I’d get if it were totally random). Even when I have my pick of the whole field, I’m still above 25%. And I respect most of the Academy’s picks, even if I prefer a competitor; there are only a few winners that I consider genuinely poor performances.
Overall, I’m just as much of a favoritist as the Academy, if not more so: I give the award to 66 and 65 separate actresses in the respective columns, against the Academy’s 71. Meryl Streep leads in both columns, with 6 wins apiece (though for a slightly different set of nominees) followed by Katharine Hepburn with 4/3 and Bette Davis with 3 apiece. Everyone else gets 2 or 1, and I’ll point out that some two-time winners, like Deborah Kerr, Glenn Close, and Gloria Swanson, get quite a bump up from their real-life haul of zero, while plenty of actresses swap a winning role for a nominated performance (Janet Gaynor, Sissy Spacek) in one column or the other, and one multiple Academy Award-winner, Glenda Jackson, unfortunately walks away completely eptmy-handed.
In the Top 85, I was surprised to see such a good spread across the decades! With the exception of the late 1920s and early 1930s, actresses represent their craft pretty evenly throughout the years (sadly, none of the six nominations for a silent performance made the cut, although Gloria Swanson was awfully close). There are clusters and fallow zones, to be sure, but never more than three nominees per year and correspondingly, after 1934, never more than a gap of two years.
Of course, in both categories, I had to make agonizing choices. My apologies to Faye Dunaway, Ingrid Bergman, Audrey Hepburn, Ellen Burstyn, Gene Tierney, and a dozen more for excruciating exclusions in one or both columns. One little exercise I’ll probably try sometime in the future will be to go year by year, handing out a single award per actress–who will the five spots freed up by Meryl Streep go to??? We’ll have to see at a future date! For now, there’s plenty to chew on. As I said, comments are more welcome than ever! Feel free to chime in.