For a person of 20-going-on-21, this list is… um…. a bit embarrassing.
I like old movies (classics, please) just as my literature preferences lean more toward the 19th century.
Naturally, my favorite actors and actresses are similarly timeless/currently deceased. Mostly.
And my favorite actors are not necessarily the ‘best’ actors, but rather the people I am always happy to see on the screen. Just as when a book is written by my favorite author I try to read it, if a movie has one of these people in it, I try to watch it.
Jimmy Stewart: I date my film obsession back to when my grandmother showed me Rear Window the summer before my freshman year of high school. In reality, it had probably been seething beneath the surface before then- but the breathtaking combination of Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly (see below), and director Alfred Hitchcock caused a veritable explosion in my conception of what films could be. I like Jimmy Stewart for his self-effacing, foot-shuffling charm, whether he’s bringing it to a screwball romantic comedy (Philadelphia Story), a Western (Destry Rides Again), or the quintessential Christmas film (It’s A Wonderful Life).
Cary Grant: Calling Cary Grant conventionally charming is apt, but also an egregious understatement. If a man (or woman) sees nothing to emulate in Cary Grant, he (or she) is a lost cause (but I’m only twenty, so don’t take my word for it). If Cary Grant were a garment, he would be a suit. He is debonair. And he ran away from home at 13 to perform with a comedy troupe as a juggler. What’s not to love? Certainly not To Catch a Thief (Hello again, Grace Kelly), The Bishop’s Wife (Hello again, Christmas), or Charade (Haha, no, Cary Grant didn’t do Westerns, but that would be funny).
Humphrey Bogart: Maybe I’ll name my next pet Humphrey Bogart. That would be charming. And Humphrey is already the name of an adorable baby elephant in a children’s book (highly recommended, by the way). Humphrey Bogart played parts with grit. When he started in films it was as a gangster or stablehand (for example, The Petrified Forest and Dark Victory, respectively- both films with my eternal love Bette Davis as leading lady) and then he was eventually promoted to t
ake his rightful place as rough and dangerous leading man. And then he was in so many films that I refuse to list a one.
Clark Gable: If Clark Gable were a facial expression, he would be a self-satisfied smirk. But there are definitely days when that’s what I would be, so I feel a great spiritual kinship with him. Best to get your self-satisfied smirks out vicariously. I’m somewhat cheating because I think I may have only seen him in two films (Gone With the Wind and It Happened One Night, of course) but his gallant smarminess was so excellent that he deserves his place.
Laurence Olivier: Laurence Olivier strikes me as being a very classical actor (he did the Shakespeare thing, after all) and a possibly perfect human being. He was suave, but casually so. A much less practiced suave than Cary Grant’s suave. Lesson: While all of us riffraff are trying to emulate Cary Grant, Cary Grant was all along trying to emulate Laurence Olivier. And who can blame him? Laurence Olivier played great parts in Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice, Withering Heights, and That Hamilton Woman)(and a little thing called Spartacus)(No, I haven’t watched any of his Shakespeare things yet- I’ll get around to it).
Leslie Howard: Dear Leslie Howard looks anemic. Pale and kind of dreamy in a must-be-intellectually-profound-because-physically-he’s-not-impressive sort of way. Part of that is type casting, of course. But I suspect he was pigeonholed into those roles because of his phantom-like appearance. If phantoms had ears that stick out. Anywho, you may not see the appeal that I do, but at least Scarlett O’Hara is with me (Leslie Howard played Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind). Also see The Petrified Forest and It’s Love I’m After (both with the incomparable Bette Davis- more on her later).
Clint Eastwood: Contrary to popular opinion, Clint Eastwood’s greatest role was not opposite a chair holding a seated phantom-Obama at the 2012 Republican National Convention. No. He played his greatest role opposite The Bad, The Ugly, and an iconic parka. I think I may have spent an entire summer lounging around on a futon in the stultifying heat watching The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly over and over and over and over again. With short breaks for A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. I found Clint Eastwood exceedingly attractive in these movies and was sad to see him going senile right before my eyes (the struggle of liking older movies, no? All your celebrity crushes are checking into nursing homes or dying). I only recently saw the first Clint Eastwood film that I didn’t quite like. Here’s a hint: It wasn’t Unforgiven or Dirty Harry (that was some drastic overreach of police authority though). It wasn’t The Beguiled either because that’s such an awful movie it can’t even count as a movie and why is it being remade?
Audrey Hepburn: I don’t care if this makes me a cliche. Audrey Hepburn is adorable and wears pretty dresses. But who gives a damn? Because Colette handpicked her to play Gigi on the stage, she worked as a courier for the Dutch Resistance during the Second World War, she lived in many places and spoke several languages, and she devoted much of her later life to work with UNICEF. Audrey Hepburn was an amazing actress (despite what my Mom may say to the contrary) and an amazing human being (which I don’t think anyone can argue).
Bette Davis: I was tempted to start this off with ‘Not conventionally pretty’, but that’s too often the way we talk about women as a culture, when really I should just be dedicating this entire thing to how amazingly gifted Bette Davis is as an actress. I first saw her in All About Eve, which may be her most famous movie, but I don’t consider it her best. (You’ll have to watch them all to figure that one out). She was excellent at blurring the line between good and evil (and sane and absolutely deranged), creating fascinating, complex, and unforgettable characters. Lauren Bacall admired her as an actress before Lauren Bacall was Lauren Bacall (thank god I wasn’t alive then) and you can see the similarities in the work of the two. They share a similar silky-sexy-sinister demeanor. That said, Lauren Bacall was in far fewer films and never came so close to the crazy.
Grace Kelly: Speaking of being in few films… shame she married and became Princess Grace of Monaco (I mean, congratulations and all, but really)… I think I may be almost as disappointed about Grace Kelly leaving films as Alfred Hitchcock was. Though she was frequently typecast as an ‘ice queen’, what stands out to me about Grace Kelly’s oeuvre is the grace (sorry, that is really the most appropriate word) that she brought to each and every one of her roles. She had elegance, self-respect, graciousness, and poise. Watch Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, and High Society… and you’ll have essentially run through all of her films like grains of sand slipping through your fingers. But hey, you can always watch the documentary on ballet schooling, The Children of Theatre Street, that she narrated, just to hear her voice… Not that I do that…
Lauren Bacall: My Dad has a crush on Lauren Bacall. Hell, I have a crush on Lauren Bacall. Her background is very interesting (in an inspiring kind of way- she has an autobiography) and her career began when she was 16 with To Have and Have Not (my favorite of her films, though the second place spot is a many-ways tie). While she was a darkly attractive young woman (just ask my Dad), it wasn’t just beauty (gorgeousness) that got her movie roles- she continued taking on interesting parts until very late in life (her last credit is 2014, the same year that she died) including many small voice parts in animated films (Ernest & Celestine, Scooby Doo, and Howl’s Moving Castle) all of which I love (Scooby Doo mostly due to childhood loyalty). Despite her lengthy career, I can’t help but wish she had done more (Greedygreedygreedy), particularly more film noirs… she was made for them.
Eva Green: WHAT? A modern actress?! I know, I’m surprised at myself even and a little unsure. And I haven’t even seen her as Vesper in Casino Royale… or even as Angelique in Dark Shadows. I don’t normally go around throwing ‘favorite’ designation as people after having seen only two of their movies (I’m not that kind of girl) but Cracks and Perfect Sense really impressed me.
Yiyi Zhang: ANOTHER ONE WHO’S STILL ALIVE! What is this? A revolution. Actually, it’s not my fault. I challenge anyone to watch Yiyi in a film and not find her simply fantastic. I think I first saw her in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but she’s also in 2046 and House of Flying Daggers AND Memoirs of a Geisha. Martial arts films are my jam. And while I understand that Yiyi Zhang was most likely not doing these stunts, she plays some pretty impressive women with a good dose of badassery. Long story short, she could take down Leslie Howard any old day.
Audrey Tautou: My Dad bought me Amelie one year for Christmas. And so it began. Amelie is a shamelessly buoyant, optimistic, and artsy film. But that’s who I am (at least when I am not the human equivalent of a self-satisfied smirk). And there’s also the disturbingly twisty A La Folie… Pas du Tout (one of the best films I’ve seen in school), the romantic A Very Long Engagement, and the fashion-y Coco Before Chanel. Audrey Tautou plays quirky well- always lovable, never irksome.
Less Familiar, Less Favorite: Faye Dunaway, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Keira Knightley, Daniel Day-Lewis, Orson Welles, Fred Astaire, Geoffrey Rush, Joaquin Phoenix, Russell Crowe…