I laughed loud and often while reading The Shiznet’s list of “The Top 20 Crazy Bastards." Starting from the premise that it’s always more fun to watch a berserk bad guy than a goody-goody hero, they list some of the movies’ more memorable scene chewers. Jack Nicholson appears twice (for The Departed and The Shining, though they easily could have filled up all 20 slots with Jack). Also feted are Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs, John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, and Gary Oldman in—well, just about everything he’s ever done.
But I couldn’t help but notice—where are the women on this list? Any list of the top 20 bull goose looney performances that doesn’t mention Kathy Bates in Misery or Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard clearly has not thought the subject through.
Presuming that, for whatever conscious or unconscious reason, The Shiznet’s list was confined to men, I sat down to compile the distaff version—and quickly realized that this was an idea that you could spend a lifetime working on. Some actress has made entire careers out of this kind of thing: Faye Dunaway, Isabelle Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, Susan Tyrell, Edith Massey (though “actress” may not quite be the right word for the John Waters perennial)
So, in no particular order and off the top of my head, my nominations for 25 great performances as women you just don’t want to mess with:
Kathy Bates, Misery
Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard
Mary Astor, The Maltese Falcon
Elsa Lancaster, The Bride of Frankenstein
Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Batman Returns
Reese Witherspoon, Election
Kathleen Turner, The War of the Roses
Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
Nicole Kidman, To Die For
Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest
Margaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz
Linda Blair, The Exorcist
Shelly Winters, Lolita
Patty McCormack, The Bad Seed
Bettie Davis, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
Anjelica Huston, Prizzi’s Honor
Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H.
Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction
Anne Ramsey, Throw Momma from the Train
Helen Mirren, The Cook The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Kathleen Turner, Serial Mom
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill
Holly Hunter, The Piano
Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher
Patty Duke, The Miracle Worker
Let’s hear it—who did I miss?
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