As I watched these, I was also ranking the performances based on how much I thought they deserved the Oscar, which was extremely difficult, but I did my best. I'll be adding each year's winner after I watch it. I tried to rank the performance, not the movie or the actress, but I'm not sure how well I succeeded. Here goes (from worst to best):
89. Mary Pickford for Coquette (1928/1929) Think Lina Lamont in The Dueling Cavalier. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch Singin' in the Rain, but don't bother with this movie.
88. Katharine Hepburn for Morning Glory (1932/1933) Katharine Hepburn before she figured out how to act. Definitely cringe-worthy rather than Oscar-worthy.
87. Bette Davis for Dangerous (1935) Rumor has it that she won to make up for not being nominated the previous year. I think that must be true because this performance is all over the place. Not anywhere near Davis's finest performance.
86. Joan Fontaine for Suspicion (1941) Apparently all you have to do to win an Oscar is look vaguely worried for an hour and a half.
85. Glenda Jackson for Women in Love (1970) This movie is incredibly bizarre and uncomfortable, and Jackson isn't even that important in it. She does some mildly amusing strange dancing, but that's about all.
84. Diane Keaton for Annie Hall (1977) Well, la-di-da, la-di-da, la la. Iconic, but can you quote any of her other lines? This is Woody Allen's film. No one else, not even the title character, gets to shine.
83. Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo (1955) There are a few intriguing aspects of this performance, but it's mostly over-the-top and unrealistic.
82. Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) A couple of decent scenes and one mildly impressive phone call in an interminable movie should not a Best Actress Winner make. Yet it did. And I had to sit through one of the worst Best Picture Winners again. So not worth it.
81. Marie Dressler for Min and Bill (1930/1931)
Overall, the performance isn't bad, but she hardly has anything to
work with. There's just enough to see her potential and how much it's
being wasted, but personally I don't think unfulfilled potential should
be the basis of an Oscar win.
80. Bette Davis for Jezebel (1938) Better than her other win, but still far from her best work. If you want to see a Southern belle defying societal restrictions, watch Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind. If you want to see a really good Bette Davis performance, watch All About Eve.
79. Simone Signoret for Room at the Top (1959) Her performance is probably the best aspect of the movie, but that's not saying much.
78. Luise Rainer for The Good Earth (1937) Luise Rainer playing a poor peasant trying to make the most out of life? Yes, absolutely, well done. A German person playing a Chinese person? No. Just no.
77. Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) Maybe if it was someone else I would have ranked this performance slightly higher, but Maggie Smith is better than this and I expected more.
76. Geraldine Page for The Trip to Bountiful (1985) This isn't a bad performance, but nothing really happens in the movie so she didn't have much to do.
75. Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love (1998) This movie is better than people think, and Paltrow's a better actress than she's given credit for, but I don't feel like she really does that much here. She has some great moments, but not enough to deserve the Oscar.
74. Loretta Young for The Farmer's Daughter (1947) She's really good in the political storyline, and her Swedish accent isn't terrible. If only the performance didn't rely so heavily on her non-existent chemistry with her co-star.
73. Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class (1973) She clearly had fun with the role, and the performance is definitely better than her other win, but there's still not that much to it.
72. Patricia Neal for Hud (1963) If this had won Best Supporting Actress, it probably would be near the top of that list. It's just that she's not in very much of the movie and you kind of forget about her when she's not there, which makes it hard to imagine how anyone thought of this as a leading role.
71. Elizabeth Taylor for BUtterfield 8 (1960) This was one of the hardest performances to rank because it's kind of terrible, but it's also hilarious and I kind of love that it won. So I stuck it here.
70. Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012) I love J-Law, but this performance just doesn't stand out, in either the film or her body of work. She should have won for Winter's Bone.
69. Julie Christie for Darling (1965) I think I'm probably unnecessarily hard on this performance because I didn't really understand the movie and I didn't think she should have beat Julie Andrews for The Sound of Music. She had some good scenes, I think, but I'm not sure because I was confused most of the time.
68. Jane Fonda for Coming Home (1978) This performance is mostly pretty good, but it pales in comparison to Jon Voight's, and her character kind of fades from importance in the second half of the movie.
67. Helen Hunt for As Good As It Gets (1997) To be fair, I don't think the character could have been played much better, but she's almost completely overshadowed by Jack Nicholson, who steals every scene.
66. Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line (2005) This performance isn't as bad as people say it is. It's actually quite good, but this is definitely more of a Joaquin Phoenix film, and if only one of them could have won an Oscar, it should have unquestionably been him.
65. Jessica Lange for Blue Sky (1994) There's a little too much over-acting, particularly toward the beginning of the film, but the performance definitely improves as the story progresses.
64. Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) I have moved this one so many times; I have no idea how to rank it! I love Kate, I love this movie, but I know too much. She's not acting; she's watching the love of her life give his last performance. If I didn't know anything about her and had watched this for the first time during this project, I probably would have ranked it higher. But I would also be a completely different person. Anyway, I love this performance, but I'm not convinced that it deserved an Oscar, and I had to put it somewhere.
63. Ingrid Bergman for Anastasia (1956) She's surprisingly convincing in the role, and it's not a bad movie. The problem is I've seen way better performances from her, and I've also seen a way more enjoyable version of Anastasia.
62. Jennifer Jones for The Song of Bernadette (1943) She's pretty much perfect for the role and does a great job for most of it. Sadly this movie kept dragging on and on until I got sick of everything in it, including her performance.
61. Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle (1940) This is some of the best dramatic acting I've seen from Ginger Rogers, but I much prefer her in comedies.
60. Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve (1957) This performance is intriguing and unusual, especially for the time period in which it was made. It's not quite believable, but it's close.
59. Greer Garson for Mrs. Miniver (1942) There's nothing bad about this performance; it's just not very exciting. She has a couple of really good scenes. I wanted more.
58. Sophia Loren for Two Women (1961) I think I was too disturbed by this movie to rank the performance any higher than this. My two main complaints are that she was way too young for the role, and that I think the film relies a little too heavily on the shock factor. Spoiler alert: I'm pretty sure she won the Oscar for the gang rape scene.
57. Ellen Burstyn for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) A very believable performance including an unusually realistic mother-son dynamic. Her singing could have been better though.
56. Cher for Moonstruck (1987) One of the few rom com performances to win, so it's a fun change of pace. Her performance isn't that outstanding, and other aspects of the movie are much better, but I still kind of love that she won.
55. Susan Sarandon for Dead Man Walking (1995) This is a fascinating portrayal of a moral dilemma that Sarandon pulls off remarkably well. However, much as it pains me to admit it, Sean Penn kind of steals the movie.
54. Nicole Kidman for The Hours (2002) I'm not sure how or why this happened, but I'm pretty okay with it. I go into that a lot more in the post, so click the link if you're curious.
53. Kate Winslet for The Reader (2008) It's an intriguing performance that shows some promise, but it leaves me unsatisfied, and there's too much nudity. To quote myself, "I would have preferred to see more acting and less of her."
52. Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce (1945) She makes Mildred a lot more sympathetic and relatable than she could have been, but I think some of the supporting performances are better than hers.
51. Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (1954) Grace Kelly plays against type, mostly successfully. A couple of scenes could have been better.
50. Janet Gaynor for 7th Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise (1927/1928) This win is almost impossible to compare with the others. It was the first year, so nobody really knew what the Oscars would become. Also no one else ever won this award for a performance in a silent film, let alone for 3 different performances at once. She's very good in all of them, although they're not without flaws, so I tried to keep her near the middle.
49. Claudette Colbert for It Happened One Night (1934) This performance basically set the stage for generations of rom com actresses. An argument can be made that the "woman in a romantic comedy" trope has since been improved upon, but without this performance, those might not exist.
48. Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich (2000) On the whole, it's an effective portrayal of an unconventional strong, independent woman. She could have been more convincing in the romantic parts. Or they could have just cut those out.
47. Norma Shearer for The Divorcee (1929/1930) Fascinating pre-code talkie in which Shearer very effectively plays against type. A bit of overacting - and how good other performances are - prevented me from ranking it higher.
46. Faye Dunaway for Network (1976) Satire is difficult to pull off, and for the most part Dunaway does a very good job. In the beginning the performance is a bit lacking, but it picks up a lot of steam by the end.
45. Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God (1986) Kind of the opposite of Faye Dunaway's: in the beginning it's a terrific performance, but it loses some of its heart by the end.
44. Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl (1968) It was a good decision to let her re-create her Broadway role, since I don't think the film would be nearly as good with anyone else. It's certainly not the best movie ever, but I don't think that's entirely her fault.
43. Shirley MacLaine for Terms of Endearment (1983) Her character's totally misguided and obnoxious, but man, does she sell it!
42. Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009) She very effectively embodies her character, but she's kind of upstaged by Quinton Aaron and the kid who plays her biological son.
41. Sally Field for Places in the Heart (1984) A strong performance in a beautiful movie, but I think the whole ensemble deserved to be recognized rather than just Field. Hers is by no means the strongest performance here.
40. Liza Minnelli for Cabaret (1972) Fabulous singing, near-flawless embodiment of the character, for the most part. There are a few aspects that could have been better, and she's definitely upstaged by Joel Grey.
39. Katharine Hepburn for On Golden Pond (1981) So fun to watch! The movie focuses more on Henry Fonda, so she doesn't have a whole lot to do, but what she does is delightful.
38. Jessica Tandy for Driving Miss Daisy (1989) Honestly, I think I would have ranked this higher if Morgan Freeman had also won an Oscar. It's the way the two of them play off each other that makes this movie, and I don't think she deserved more recognition than him.
37. Emma Thompson for Howards End (1992) Emma Thompson is so wonderful. This isn't her best performance ever, but it's up there.
36. Halle Berry for Monster's Ball (2001) This movie wasn't nearly as good as I wanted it to be, yet her performance was somehow way better than the whole.
35. Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine (2013) A believable portrayal of a complex mental illness, but the movie itself is kind of forgettable, and Blanchett's given much better performances.
34. Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011) It seems like it would be a daunting task to make Margaret Thatcher seem accessible, but Meryl Streep was more than up to it. I mean, it's far from her best performance, but this was better than I was expecting it to be based on what I'd heard.
33. Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday (1953) Audrey Hepburn before she was Audrey Hepburn. Immediately before, since this launched her to instant stardom. With good reason: she certainly had talent. I like her better in some of her later roles, but this is nevertheless extremely impressive.
32. Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday (1950) This gets a lot of hate for beating some iconic performances, but actually watch it before you knock it. I think it's one of the best comedic performances I've ever seen.
31. Jane Fonda for Klute (1971) Equally convincingly strong as vulnerable, Fonda's embodiment of her character is near perfect. I just wish there was more about her and less about Donald Sutherland's character.
30. Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby (2004) I hate this movie so much, but I love the performances. I'm not convinced hers is the best, but it's very impressive.
29. Sally Field for Norma Rae (1979) How well this movie works depends almost exclusively on how the title character is played, and for the most part, Field absolutely nails it.
28. Frances McDormand for Fargo (1996) She's so perfect for this role! If she was in more of the movie, I probably would have ranked this higher, but I feel like it almost belongs in the supporting category, which dropped it down a bit in my estimation.
27. Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose (2007) She successfully faces the challenge of embodying a complex character through several very different stages of life. It's unclear how much the makeup helps, but even so, I'm impressed.
26. Helen Hayes for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931/1932) This heartbreaking movie very effectively demonstrates Hayes's incredible acting skills, making it utterly unsurprising that she was the first woman to win the EGOT.
25. Olivia de Havilland for To Each His Own (1946) This performance is actually very similar to Helen Hayes's. I was slightly more intrigued by de Havilland's, so I ranked her slightly higher.
24. Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) I was already sold on her naive-but-determined manner, but watching Loretta Lynn interviews in the DVD extras clinched it for me. Spacek captured her so well!
23. Jodie Foster for The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Okay, so I know everyone associates this movie with Anthony Hopkins, but Foster's performance is probably better than you remember it.
22. Natalie Portman for Black Swan (2010) This movie is so weird, but the role seems pretty demanding, and she nails it.
21. Julianne Moore for Still Alice (2014) Since Alzheimer's involves losing your sense of self, it's unclear how Moore manages to maintain such consistency, but it's beautiful. She makes the movie even more heartbreaking than it should be, if that's even possible.
20. Helen Mirren for The Queen (2006) I never question that she's actually the Queen of England, yet I somehow also relate to her? How does Mirren do this?
19. Jodie Foster for The Accused (1988) Emotional yet perfectly controlled, my one complaint is there was no explanation for her out-of-place accent.
18. Brie Larson for Room (2015) Perfect chemistry with the actor who played her son, and expert handling of conflicted emotions. Her performance is so good that I'm genuinely angry that the movie didn't win Best Picture, but she couldn't have done it without that kid.
17. Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter (1968) Hepburn had 4 wins in this category, and this is the only one that even comes close to demonstrating what she was capable of. And she didn't even win it outright!
16. Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) She's amazing in this, but I think she's better in Gone with the Wind.
15. Elizabeth Taylor for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) I don't really like her character, but she makes her utterly believable. No mean feat, considering how bizarre she is.
14. Holly Hunter for The Piano (1993) This performance is unlike any other on the list. She shows essentially no emotion except when she's playing her instrument. Without this choice, the movie would have been completely different, and probably not nearly as effective.
13. Louise Fletcher for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) This stands out in so many ways. One of the few villain performances to win the award, one of the most iconically chilling performances of all time, pretty much the only thing Louise Fletcher is known for...basically, this Oscar was thoroughly deserved.
12. Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins (1964) We all knew this had to be high on my list. Julie Andrews gets her sweet revenge for being overlooked in My Fair Lady, becomes a movie star overnight, and leaves us with one of the most beautiful, beloved performances of all time. So much win.
11. Susan Hayward for I Want to Live! (1958) I put this higher than I think most people would simply because I wasn't expecting much and it shocked me.
10. Shirley Booth for Come Back, Little Sheba (1952) Another one that I didn't have high expectations for that then blew me away. It's not the most exciting performance, but it feels very genuine.
9. Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda (1948) For this film to work at all, Wyman's character needed to be sympathetic and realistic, and she pulls both off splendidly. You never question that she can't hear, or that the townspeople are absolutely wrong about her.
8. Kathy Bates for Misery (1990) I'm used to Kathy Bates being sassy and likeable, so I'm thoroughly impressed with how utterly terrifying she manages to become in this movie. I will never think of her the same way again.
7. Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight (1944) This is one of my favorite movies, almost exclusively because of Bergman's performance. I can't even begin to describe how good she is in a way that would remotely do it justice.
6. Olivia de Havilland for The Heiress (1949) I don't want to give her sole credit for this movie, but at the same time I think it could have easily been pretty terrible if her role had been approached in a typical fashion. She brings something indescribable to it that thoroughly earned her the Oscar.
5. Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker (1962) She could have so easily been upstaged by Patty Duke, but she wasn't. I found that extraordinary.
4. Hilary Swank for Boys Don't Cry (1999) This is an extremely emotionally demanding role, and she is 100% convincing.
3. Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind (1939) FOUR HOURS. Vivien Leigh completely and perfectly embodies this rich, complex, flawed, layered character for FOUR FREAKING HOURS' worth of movie.
2. Meryl Streep for Sophie's Choice (1982) The best performance from the best film actress of our time. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it's not. I was convinced nothing could top this, until I got to 2003.
1. Charlize Theron for Monster (2003) Charlize Theron is utterly unrecognizable in this movie, and not just because of the makeup. It legitimately freaks me out how amazingly she embodies this character. If a better performance exists, I'm not sure I want to see it.