The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The Ten: Best Actresses of all time “relay race”

with 38 comments

Nostra over at My Filmviews has run a blog-a-thon for a while about the 10 best actors of all time. Now time has come to do a similar meme, but with actresses this time. And I was lucky enough to be the first one to take the baton from Nostra!

In case someone has missed what this is all about, I’ll quote the rules:

“I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actresses of all time. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actress (that is an obligation) and add his/her own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actress. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actresses. It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!”

 The previous entries:

The actresses

Julie Delpy

Katharine Hepburn


Natalie Portman


Meryl Streep


Julianne Moore

Frances McDormand

Tilda Swinton

Cate Blanchett

Marilyn Monroe


Kate Winslet

My considerations
The easiest way for me to go would be to lift out either Julie Delpy or Frances McDormand. I should probably be embarrassed, but I’m not familiar with either, and therefore I could skip them without any regrets. However, on a second thought it felt like this would be a bit of a copout. It would be wrong to exclude someone from the list out of sheer ignorance.

Nostra’s kick-off list has a strong bias towards modern actresses and initially I wanted to let one of the newer go.

But in the end I decided to go with my gut feeling. I’m sure I’ll disappoint a few, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone puts her back, but there’s no chance in the world that I’ll keep Marilyn Monroe on my list of the top 10 actresses. Star quality and fame doesn’t equal brilliant acting. I’ve never understood her greatness. So: chop, chop! Off she goes! Marilyn Monroe is out!

So who did I put in her place?

My choice
I thought the list needed a bit more of actors with a non-English origin, apart from Julie Delpy and my choice fell on the Norwegian Liv Ullmann.

Most people know her for her long cooperation with Ingmar Bergman. They made ten movies together, including Scenes from a Marriage. Others, especially Swedes, probably remember her for The Emigrants and The New Land. It’s always hard to put words on why an actor is good, but she’s got the ability to make her role figures feel natural and three dimensional. You can tell that what she conveys comes from somewhere inside her.

Apart from acting, she has also directed movies and theatre plays, and sat in the jury of several film festivals. She’s way more than just a one-movie wonder: she’s got depth, longevity and authority. In the world of movies, so dominated by men, she’s someone for young female actresses to look up to and take inspiration from. I hope she’ll get a long life on this list, because I think she belongs there.

And now I’ll hand over the baton to the next blogger. It goes to Martin Teller, who is fairly new on the blogging screen, but has a huge backlog of movies he has watched over the years. I’m not certain it makes choosing any easier, so I’m curious to see who he finally sets for.

Written by Jessica

May 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

38 Responses

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  1. I agree, Monroe has no business being on this list. Ullmann is a great choice. I’m not a huge Bergman fan, and I think I prefer Bibi Andersson a bit more, but Ullmann is always fantastic.

    Also, MT has a blog? Awesome!

    James Blake Ewing

    May 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    • He has! He’s moving over his reviews to that from his old website, which is an insanely huge and demanding task. Go him!

      Bibi Andersson is a good choice too – and she’s Swedish 🙂 I remember Liv Ullmann more disticntly though, so my choice fell on her this time.


      May 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm

  2. Hello, Jessica and company:

    I kind of stumbled over here from Nostra’s ‘My Filmviews’ and his Top Ten List of Actresses.

    Excellent choice with Liv Ullmann! Superb actress with an impeccable body of work.


    May 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm

  3. The more Norwegian the list gets, the better.


    May 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    • So you’re going for another Norwegian one? Now you’re making me curious…


      May 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      • Frankly I’m not all that aware of what other Norwegian actresses are out there that I’ve really seen enough to justify. I was just being patriotic of my ancestors. 🙂


        May 1, 2012 at 6:04 pm

  4. Very nice choice, Liv is wonderful and definetly more worthy of the spot than Marilyn. Nice to see so many great actress already on the list.


    May 1, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    • Thanks for your approval! It looks fine but I’m pretty sure I’ll love it as well when it’s changed completely in a couple of weeks. There are so many great actresses out there and many possible list versions.


      May 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm

  5. I am SO GLAD you picked Ullmann, what a great choice. I think Ingrid Thulin is the best Bergman actress, but screw it Ullmann is brilliant too! I just got a DVD of Scenes from a Marriage in the mail so I will finally be seeing both versions for the first time this week! I’m so excited.


    May 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    • Thanks Tyler, I figured you might like it. You’re probably the biggest Bergman fan I know of, only challenged by Martin Teller. Both of you guys have watched way more Bergman than I have. Still: I’ve watched enough to love Liv Ullmann.


      May 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm

  6. Great start! I don’t know Ullman but I believe you made a good choice of losing Monroe!

    • Thanks Pete! I hope you’ll watch something with Liv Ullmann in it one day. Scenes from a Marriage is very accessable if you ask me, well worth watching. I’m glad you’re with me on Monroe. However I think she’ll be back. She has some fans out there. I’m just not one of those.


      May 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm

      • While I doubt I would classify Marilyn as a Great Actress, I implore anyone who thinks she was just a ditzy sex kitten to check out DON’T BOTHER TO KNOCK and NIAGARA. Very fine performances.

        Ullmann is probably my #1 Bergman actress, but Harriet Andersson is a strong contender too.


        May 2, 2012 at 12:29 am

        • I haven’t seen any of those, but I’m no worse than I can change my mind she turns out to be good in them.


          May 2, 2012 at 6:31 am

      • I think it’s time I started on some Bergman!

  7. I think that’s a good swap. I’ve never considered Monroe much of an actress. She’s more of an icon. Also, love Ullmann’s work in the Bergman movies.

    Dave Enkosky

    May 2, 2012 at 4:23 am

  8. What a fun game! I can see your reasons for dropping Marilyn, but I would have been tempted to drop (oh, I know I’m going to be in trouble for this one…) Natalie Portman. I really love her early work (Leon; Beautiful Girls), but lately she’s been pretty spotty, sometimes playing adequately (V for Vendetta) sometimes horribly (Star Wars) but almost never exceptional. I just couldn’t leave her on a top ten.

    I need to see more of Ullmann, and since I have Scenes from a Marriage at the top of my queue, I guess I’ll have my opportunity.

    Steve Kimes

    May 2, 2012 at 8:55 am

    • I really liked Black Swan though. But yeah, she’s definitely not one of the 10 best actresses ever and I had no objections when Martin promptly removed her after me.

      It’s really a fun game and I was thinking that perhaps we could do something similar within the FS community where also people who don’t have blogs can participate.


      May 2, 2012 at 9:48 am

  9. […] The Velvet Café (eliminated Marilyn Monroe, 76.67% average over three films) […]

  10. Truly excellent switch here. I am not Monroe’s biggest fan, and Liv Ullman is one of my favorite actors (male or female) of all time. For Face to Face alone… whoa.


    May 2, 2012 at 6:49 pm

  11. Julie Delphy!

    Another good reason to promote Before Sunrise again, go see her in action and see why she should be on the list 🙂


    May 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    • I’m afraid I haven’t seen that one yet! 😦 They dont’ have it at my library or at my video rental store. I guess I’ll have to give in and see if I can buy it from Amazon at a decent price…


      May 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm

      • A bundle with the two movies is available for around €7.50 on, sending costs included.

        If you had a paypal button I’d sponsor you the €7.50 😉


        May 2, 2012 at 11:16 pm

        • No need for sponsring! It’s more an issue of administration and my laziness for registrating at new places etc. But I know it’s a bad excuse. I should try to get hold of them.


          May 2, 2012 at 11:18 pm

  12. I can understand your reasoning to remove Monroe Jessica 🙂 As for the actress you’ve added, I’ll have to say that I think I’ve never seen any of her work, so really can’t comment on your pick!


    May 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

    • I’m not sure of how well established she is. It will be interesting to see how long she lasts in this game. She’s lasted two iterations as it stands now. Exciting times!


      May 3, 2012 at 10:27 am

  13. Well I haven’t seen any of Monroe’s films so I’m not sad to see her go. I have to check out Liv Ullman’s work however 🙂


    May 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    • You really should! She’s a great actress AND seems to be a great person. I watched an interview with her recently and thought to myself: “Wow, what an intelligent and knowledgable and strong person she is! There are few actresses who manage to reach that weight in their personality.”


      May 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm

  14. Love the relay race. It’s a brilliant idea. It has also made me see that I haven’t seen neraly enough classic and “World” movies. Haven’t seen Liv Ullman in anything yet, so sorry for that. I agree that Marilyn Monroe should go. It’d be a crime if Meryl Streep was bumped from the list. I think Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and Tilda Swinton are great actresses but nowhere near the 10 best. Haven’t seen enough of Julie Delpy or Katharine Hepburn but I understand the latter’s presence in this list. Fully support the inclusion of Cate Blanchett and Frances McDormand. I would probably add Laura Linney. I’m surprised Bette Davis isn’t on the list!


    May 4, 2012 at 3:55 am

    • It’s great fun! I’ll definitely keep following this as it develops and who knows, perhaps someone will include Betty Davis further on.


      May 4, 2012 at 7:37 am

  15. Ullmann deserves to be on that list! Here’s my relay of the race!

    Michael Parent

    June 19, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    • Doh. You had me for a while there. Totally expected to find Ullmann restored. 😦 Oh well, I’ll bug the next one I guess.


      June 19, 2012 at 9:03 pm

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