I had been wondering for a while who my favorite actress of all-time is. Sure, sure, sure – the easy answer is to just always say Meryl Streep. Gena Rowlands is always acceptable as well, and if you find yourself in a conversation in which someone believes otherwise, never speak to that person again.
But I digress … Favorite Anything of All-Time is always a slippery slope, as there are so many brilliant artists in the world right now. Just the other day I realized Philip Seymour Hoffman is probably my favorite actor ever. At least that’s the answer right now. For a while, I said David Thewlis; for a while I said Daniel Day-Lewis; for a while I said Joaquin Phoenix; it probably is Denzel much of the time; for a very long while I said Robert De Niro was my guy; tomorrow (and ever more) I might say Denis Lavant; most folks think it’s Leo or Hanks, and I won’t argue; I wonder if it’s already Plemons; (shouldn’t Wood Harris be in this conversation by now?); and sometimes, when no one is looking, I say it’s Hoffman … Dustin Hoffman … or, wait! Philip Seymour Hoffman!
So you get it: Picking a favorite is impossible. The little details of life that we connect to most deeply are always changing. For a long time I called Martin Scorsese my all-time favorite director; then I started to say it was Godard for a bit; then I started to say it was Krzysztof Kieslowski, and that one lasted a long time. Maybe it’s just Kubrick or Tarkovsky after all? Sometimes it’s Wes Anderson and most of the time it’s Paul Thomas Anderson. Who cares about favorites, that’s my point. Picking favesies is a scam, but also, in 2022, it’s a fun structure for a conversation.
And so for the sake of typing words about film for another week, let me circle back to the lede … favorite actress of all-time.
My first favorite actress ever was Halle Berry, after seeing her legendary run of early flicks (Jungle Fever, Strictly Business, The Last Boy Scout, and Boomerang). That run owned me and my best friend, Teddy, as we were getting into movies. We had seen the future. Ha.
Then, for a while it was the inevitable cinephile pick, Juliette Binoche – an actor who knows how to pick projects and directors as well as anyone ever. Period. Like all cinephiles, I had a time in which I was also obsessed with John Casavettes’ work with his wife, Gena Rowlands. Most days I still say Rowlands is my all-time favorite. Other days Rooney Mara (Dragon Tattoo) or Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) or Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) or Frances McDormand or Amy Adams or Marion Cotillard or Cate Blanchett.
But after really digging in and doing the research, looking at the careers of all my GOATs and attempting to quantify and analyze the value of their career to me as a movie fan, I came up with an unlikely result. I thought the very vanilla pick Blanchett (or even Julia Roberts) would be my destiny, but no … it’s gotta be Binoche. Hands down favesies. Juliette, it was you all along.
Her performances speak for themselves, obviously. I’m not going to state my case for Binoche’s talent. She always shows up and she can be as big or as small as the screen needs. It’s remarkable.
I think it’s safe to say that most know Binoche for her Oscar-winning performance in The English Patient. It’s a classical, elegant, and thoughtful performance by what has to be one of the most beautiful human faces you’ll ever see on a big screen or anywhere else. She had everyone in a trance.
The English Patient was true movie star power but from this quirky, dark French girl. And Binoche won an Oscar for the performance and she was immediately an A-List talent forever. And while that might sound like a hands-down obvious Mount Rushmore moment for any actor, I’m not sure The English Patient is anywhere near a Top Four moment in Binoche’s still-very-active and interesting career.
Rather than comb through Binoche’s busy, even downright epic, 39-year career (which, by the way, includes a lead role in the upcoming Claire Denis film, Fire), I figured I’d keep it simple and give you what I believe to be a conventional wisdom-based summing up of all the classic films Binoche has been in, listed in the order in which they were released: Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood) (director Leos Carax, 1986); The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Philip Kaufman, 1988); The Lovers on the Bridge (Leos Carax, 1991); Damage (Louis Malle, 1992); Three Colors: Blue (Kieslowski, 1993); The English Patient (Anthony Minghella, 1996); Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000); Chocolat (Lasse Hallstrom, 2000); In My Country (John Boorman, 2004); Cach; (Michael Haneke, 2005); Mary (Abel Ferrara, 2005); Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008); Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010); Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, 2012); Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014); Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014); Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis, 2017); Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018); High Life (Claire Denis, 2018).
According to me, Binoche has 19 very noteworthy films spread out pretty evenly over the last 33 or so years. Incredible. And along the way she’s worked with 12 directors I would classify as highly notable (nine drop dead legends!). What a run! Four of the flims listed above would make my personal All-Time Top 50 and one of those flicks, Blue, easy nabs a stop in my Top 10.
Eventually, Binoche will win her second Oscar in a PT Anderson or Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed masterpiece, but for now she’s the under-the-radar GOAT.
Apologies to Meryl, the actress most folks consider to be the GOAT. You ranked really well for me, Meryl, but were not in my Top 5. Also, your Top 10 films can’t touch Binoche’s Top 10. So there it is, a verdict: My Favorite Actress, Juliette Binoche. The GOAT.
Send rants about your favorite actress my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.