The Ten Best Actors of All Time Relay Race

The incomparable and very clever Nostra at My Filmviews came up with one of the best ideas for a blogathon more than a month ago, and after spotting it at a couple of sites I follow, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised to see it passed on to me by Sam at Duke and the Movies. The blogathon is called “The Ten Best Actors of All Time Relay Race,” and it is a fascinating way of deducing what many will agree to be ten of the best actors (if not the ten best) of all time.

So how exactly does it work. In Nostra’s words: I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. 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 actor (that is an obligation) and add his 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 actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors. It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!”

It’s really that simple. Before, I start, I have to throw a link to the twelve blogs that have participated in this before me:

My Filmviews
The Focused Filmographer
Front Room Cinema
I Love That Film
All Eyes on Screen
Time Well Spent
The Warning Sign
And So it Begins…
cinematic corner.
Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium
Duke at the Movies

So, here are nine of the actors from Sam’s list plus one I picked to replace a certain choice.

Robert De Niro

Daniel Day-Lewis

Charlie Chaplin

Marlon Brando

Gregory Peck

Paul Newman

Max von Sydow

Jack Nicholson

Humphrey Bogart

All these are great actors. Those following the blogathon will notice one missing. Yes, I had to bid adieu to Ralph Fiennes, for as much as I loved him in Schindler’s List, I absolutely loathed The English Patient with a passion (that is, the parts of it I was awake for) and aside from Schindler’s List I can’t really remember a movie I’ve loved him in (well, maybe In Bruges), so the curtains must close for him, sadly. But I will love him, cos he is an awesome actor. Don’t forget that.

Now, choosing my actor was hard. I didn’t want to choose anyone really obscure because they wouldn’t last very long before someone would kick them out. I wanted to pick someone that perhaps you wouldn’t immediately think of, but that people could, once they think about it, agree almost unanimously that they’re worthy of a spot. All day I had loads of great actors in my head, but had to rule them out because many people probably haven’t seen them in much (like Gunnar Bjornstrand, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Anna Karina, Marcello Mastroianni and many others). I decided I would pick a well-known actor, and sat in my chair at work scribbling notes and names, tons of them. At one point I had four female actresses and was certain I would pick one of them just to be different, but then another name popped up and the four females I’d selected moved back on my list (they were Anna Karina, Juliette Binoche, Emily Watson and Isabelle Huppert), sadly. But hopefully someone will in future give some love to a wonderful woman like one of those four.

I spent a good chunk (at least an hour) of my workday either writing notes and names or thinking about chocies, until finally I had two actors left: Harry Dean Stanton and Jack Lemmon. And as much as Lemmon made me laugh in The Apartment, Some Like It Hot and Grumpy Old Men, and as absolutely frickin’ perfect as he was in Glengarry Glen Ross, I had to go with Stanton, for a few very important reasons:

  1. He wouldn’t be picked by anyone else, most likely, whereas Lemmon had a fighting chance with many classic film lovers such as the person I’m going to pass this onto.
  2. Stanton has more than 180 credits as actor on IMDb with such an incredible variety of roles, in great films such as Alien, Repo Man and The Green Mile.
  3. He’s so goddamn likeable, and yet so very mysterious.

But the main reason is for his performance in two particular films. One was a starring role for him that would define his career, and the other is for a very brief supporting performance (in fact, only one scene). The supporting performance was as the character of Freddie in Inland Empire. He has one scene where he acts so gently, so passively, and speaks simple words that are so perfectly spoken that the entire scene (which lasts only about a minute) makes me feel like crying. The cinematography of the scene is utterly beautiful beyond words, and the subtle desperation and quiet sadness with which he says the words “Can I borrow a couple of bucks? I have this damn landlord…” makes a line based on a cliché turn into something remarkably powerful, even if only for a moment. Complete perfection.

The other film I mentioned, where he has a leading role, is Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. This, too, is a perfect film. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen it, but I remember it with vivid clarity, particularly the famous “I knew these people” speech which made many viewers tear up and weep silently back in its day. It’s so utterly powerful and moving that the role of Freddie in Inland Empire seems to me to be an extension of this role; the two characters are incredibly similar, and Stanton plays them both with incredible ease and beauty.

Though Stanton hasn’t had any major roles lately, I dearly hope that before he dies, he gets at least one more role in a great film which allows him to shine like he did in Paris, Texas and Inland Empire. Those two performances aren’t the sole reason he’s my pick for this blogathon, but they were damn vital in my selection of this incredible man.

So, in short, I pick Harry Dean Stanton, and I’m passing the blogathon torch on to Anna at Defiant Success, as I know she will have a lot of fun choosing her pick for this fantastic challenge.

What about you? What do you think of Stanton? Did I make the right choice in choosing him over Jack Lemmon, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Marcello Mastroianni, Juliette Binoche and all that lot? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Posted on April 27, 2012, in Lists, Movies, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. I honestly took for granted that this list only is for actors, that actresses are ruled out. Someone could make a seperate blogathon with women only at some point.
    But you seem to have read it differently. If you’re right about this I think it’s just sad and strange that not a single woman has qualified yet….

    • As far as I’m concerned, ‘actor’ is a unisex term. I was damn close to picking Juliette Binoche for this, I gave her and other female actors equal consideration with the male ones. Anyone who doesn’t needs to re-examine their thinking.

      I reckon a separate blogathon in an ideal world should be unnecessary, but it would be an interesting idea if male actors were ruled out completely.

    • Jessica, the actress one is in the works. Hopefully will be able to start it the coming week!

  2. This list is getting really good now! Brilliant choice matey

  3. This list is getting insane, crazy good! So, so hard to pick!

  4. Love it how thoughtful you’ve been. Hope HDS hangs around on the list for awhile. I think you have made a bold but great decision. Shame to see Fiennes bow out so soon. I would also say Constant Gardener was a great performance.

    • I bloody love Stanton, I do hope he stays for quite a while.

      Fiennes absolutely blew me away in Schindler’s List, but I’ve never really considered him a great actor. Maybe that’s my fault. I haven’t seen The Constant Gardener.

  5. Have to say the race is turning into a motorised race, the speeds at which people are updating it is stunning. I even missed the last two and thought you’d change more 🙂

    Interesting addition, although I must admit that I do recognise the face, but not more than that. I would have loved to see Lemmon added, he was a great one as well.

    • If you only recognize Stanton’s face, then might I recommend you go and rent PARIS, TEXAS without haste as soon as possible! It is an American classic and an essential movie that I can guarantee you will love. It is impossible to not love that movie.

  6. BTW, just blindly ordered the movie…so I’ll let you know what I think of it.

  7. Nostra… I can’t recommend enough Les Blank’s documentary Burden Of Dreams which was about the making of Fitzcarraldo. It’s a Criterion disc. A great companion piece to the movie.

    I love Paris, Texas. One of my favorite movies. The scene in the sex booth is one of my favorite between Stanton and Kinski. (speaking of… she’s coincidentally the daughter of Fitzcarraldo’s Klaus Kinski 😉 ) Repo Man was great too.

    Yeah check out The Constant Gardener and Redford’s Quiz Show.

  8. Damn it. Should have known I would get tagged sooner or later. *sigh* All right, all right, I’ll quit whining and do it tomorrow.

  9. Interesting choice. I agree. HDS was sensational in Paris, Texas. You missed me, though. I was before Sam. I selected Jack Nicholson.

  10. Hi, Tyler and company:

    I can completely understand your choice of Harry Dean Stanton. The character actor’s character actor!

    Invisible in countless films, yet adding so much to them.His best work is evenly divided between ‘Paris, Texas’ and backing up Dustin Hoffman in ‘Straight Time’.

  11. Whoa, very unaccepted by spirited choice. Fucking love Stanton.

    • I have to see Paris, Texas again. It’s one of those movies that really hit me deep inside. Stanton’s monologue at the end is heartbreaking, and Nastassja Kinski is simultaneously beautiful and haunting.

  12. I appreciate he had the same world weary look as HDS most of the time and he also rarely got top billing but his roles were many and varied. Whenever he was on the screen I found him one of those guys – you wanted to watch the movie simply because he was in it!

    Who was he – the sadly now departed WARREN OATES! Great lead roles in “Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia”; “Cockfighter” and “Two Lane Blacktop” and too many supporting roles to list but I would include “The Wild Bunch”; “In the heat of the night” ; “The Hired Hand” and “Stripes”.

  13. This is a really inspired choice… LOVE IT! Stanton has been terrific in everything I have seen him in. Have you watched HBO’s Big Love series at all? He was the best part of that show, in my opinion.

    • Haven’t seen that, need to get into more Stanton stuff.

    • Fantastic blog you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any disoissucn boards that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get advice from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks a lot!

  14. Voldemort couldn’t be on the list longer than Batman. Thank you!

  15. I love the love for Harry Dean Stanton. The best part about Stanton is his diverse filmography, he’s pretty much tried everything. Even though he is mainly a supporting actor he is always memorable.

    He’s also in one of my all time fav exploitation films The Mini-Skirt Mob. I’m also glad someone mentioned Big Love.

    I know it’s probably not your kind of film but you should check out The Avengers for his nice cameo appearance.

    Paris, Texas goes without saying. He will be sorely missed when he’s gone. Until then let’s hope he gets a few more juicy roles.

    Hope someone gives Bogart the boot and replaces him with Jimmy Stewart. He was one of the greatest actors of his generation.

    I would have no idea how to pick just one out of so many. Compiling a list would only make it harder for me. Going on first to mind and gut instinct I’d probably pick Brian Cox. And I too would have got rid of Fiennes.

    • I need to see more Stanton films, but as I said in the post, I thought he was beyond phenomenal in Paris, Texas and INLAND EMPIRE.

      Brian Cox is awesome. So is Jimmy Stewart. It’d be nice to see one of them in the blogathon at one point.

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