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The Best Movie Performances of the Century So Far

The best cinematic performances don’t share some standard of craft or technique; what they have in common is a feeling of invention and discovery, of emotional depth and power, and a sense of self-consciousness regarding the idea and the art of performance itself. They also reflect broader transformations in the art of cinema during their times. Such actors as Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Jimmy Stewart were already stars in the high studio era of the nineteen-thirties, but their work became more freely expressive, more galvanic, in the postwar years, when the studios lost their tight grip on production—and when a new generation of directors made their mark in that freer environment. The French New Wave, developing new techniques with a new generation of actors (and crew), lifted layers of varnish from the art of acting to fill the screen with performances of jolting immediacy, spontaneity,

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