Film

100 Essential Female Film Performances

PopMatters concludes our 100 Best Female Film Performances feature with extremely insightful, generous anecdotes from Liv Ullmann about three of the performances on this list, one of her personal choices, and a once-in-a-lifetime addendum by the glorious Bergman super trouper Bibi Andersson herself.

Edited by Matt Mazur and Produced by Sarah Zupko

What are the most important components, ultimately, that should merit consideration when constructing a comprehensive list celebrating distinctive achievements? Particularly in such a subjective area as acting?

More importantly, how could such a list become realized without a thousand people taking me to task over its contents?

First, there would have to be the abolishment of the term “best” anywhere on this project. I am not giving a lecture on what classic film actresses’ piece de resistance must be preserved for history’s sake (though there are some of those on the list). The Essentials are comprised of 100 films and 101 performances (there is one tie) and each performer listed will appear only once. Otherwise, it would be a just another Matt Mazur list consisting mainly of women from Sweden, Jessica Lange, and Gena Rowlands. So, while, in many ways, this list does assess the caliber of the performance, and the skill of the performer, it in no way should be interpreted as a competition, as each woman on the list teaches the viewer a priceless lesson on the art of character acting. Each is a singular, thrilling achievement.

Second, I wanted to avoid the usual clichés, the performances that people expect to be on a list of “most important” female film performances -- but several of those requisite turns actually are so good that they absolutely warrant a blip on every film lover’s radar. This list, then, can also function as a gentle reminder that there are some films and performances that should not be ignored (hint! hint!), no matter how well-known or popular.

So, while the overwhelming critical consensus might dictate that the buxom figure of Bette Davis’ Margot Channing be affixed to the mast of the “Best Actress” ship for her untouchable work in All About Eve, she is included here, instead, for a claws-out tour-de-force that merits more attention: Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes. My intention in a case such as that one is not to be a contrarian, but to highlight some of the excellent work that too often slips through the cracks; work that is equally important in understanding the role of women in film history. So while Vivien Leigh makes the list for her iconic Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (and what list of unforgettable female characters can exist without Leigh’s inclusion?), it isn’t out of obligation, its because she deserves to be there for a performance that is so well-put together, it holds up nearly seventy years later.

And, lastly, as much as the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes might like to recognize and reward an old-school star turn like Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich, and as enjoyable as she might have been in that film, to me, the marriage of a star’s personality and off-screen persona with the character they are playing has very little to do with possessing the ability to act. Julia is lovely, but Brockovich isn’t, for me, a great acting performance by any stretch of the imagination, but an enjoyable one with a big star doing what she does best: exuding oodles of charisma.

Of course, personality and charm are big parts of what acting is, but for me, that simply isn’t enough. Therefore, you will find very few of the big, notorious Hollywood “star” turns on the list. Sure, if I were counting down “100 Most Iconic Female Acting Performances”, Audrey Hepburn for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and even Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind might score high points, but in favor of looking past the usual suspects, Hepburn misses the list altogether (you may go ahead and hate me now, if you wish, because I don’t really enjoy any of her work as an actress, though I think she was an interesting personality), while Winslet, a great star and a great actress, makes it for what I think is a more subversive display of talent, in a smaller, edgy film which happens to be directed by one of our greatest working female film directors. And no, Titanic was not directed by a woman.

Joining me to gab about these amazing women are a few good friends, who also happen to be voting members of The International Cinephile Society. A group of film lovers, journalists, columnists, bloggers, film students, and other professionals, from all over the globe, the group presently boasts members from five continents and participants in this challenge checked in from Australia and London, amongst other locales. The ICS has voted annually on their own awards of merit in film since 2003 and they know a thing or two about female acting. For further proof simply check out some of their inspired choices female acting winners over the years: Sook-Yin Lee for Short Bus? Daring. Last year their female acting awards went to Annamaria Marinca (for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) and Samantha Morton (Control). Discriminating. Their 2008 awards will be presented in February. Their commentary will appear with initials (“SB”, “TD”, “KL”, “PY” – “MM” is just me!) to protect their anonymity.

This list, inhabited by indelible characters created by the best in the industry, past and present, has been a long time in the making, and as indecisive as most people who know me know I can be about lists, I feel like I can firmly stand behind these choices. Inevitably, though, there will be accidental omissions or last minute additions with any “comprehensive” listing like this one, and there will likely also be major uproar over who was left off and why. To that I would say that my compilation of 100 Essential Female Acting Performances is definitely an alternative opinion as to who merits consideration, but it can also function as a reference to guide fans of women in film to new, possibly overlooked or unexpected places. It can be used as a checklist, or simply to keep an essential dialogue happening.

I started writing because I love watching women act. It fascinates me. The choices listed below, every single performance, has had an impact on me as a writer, and as a fan of the art of acting. These are women whose performances shaped the very core of the craft, and who all brought something inherently unique to their characterizations, be they Oscar-winning cultural phenomenons or the most low-budget of the indie darlings. Each should be viewed with respect and excitement.

And if I left someone you think is essential off, tell me!

Without further ado, I bring you 100 Essential Female Film Performances!

-- Matt Mazur

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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