6. Greta Garbo – Ninotchka
You cannot deny that Greta Garbo is a screen legend. She dominated the silent era, and perfectly transitioned into the years of talking pictures. If anything, she only ended up getting bigger once talkies were introduced. She was nominated for an Oscar for her very first talkie in “Anna Christie”; that’s one hell of a way to embrace a change that ended many careers.
Garbo had a high caliber of work afterwards (“Grand Hotel”, “Camille”, “Anna Karenina”), including the Soviet comedy “Ninotchka”. With her thick accent (which has been imitated to death ever since) and her brilliant comedic timing, Garbo was surely going to venture down a new path of comedy, as if she couldn’t dominate the world of cinema more.
Not every performer can sit well with bad reviews, however. Her next experiment within the comedy genre ended up being her most criticized film: “Two-Faced Woman”. The reviews slammed the picture, which led to an early contract termination between Garbo and MGM. A few stories have circulated as to what happened afterwards. One theory is that Garbo retired after “Two-Faced Woman” because of how badly the reception went.
Another theory is that Garbo wanted to return to acting after World War II, but the work just wasn’t there. From Garbo herself—in an interview decades later– she revealed that (despite being one of the most acclaimed actresses of all time) she was not fond of her own work and truly wished for another life.
It looks like “Two-Faced Woman” was that realization, along with the odd film afterwards she agreed to work upon (but would subsequently drop out of for any given reason). Either way, “Ninotchka” is the real end note to focus on, as it is one of the great stone-faced comedic roles of all time.
7. Mo’Nique – Precious
I think it’s safe to say that everyone was not expecting the outrageous comedienne Mo’Nique to accurately portray such a terrifying character so well. After “Precious”, in which she takes on a detestably abusive mother, Mo’Nique was seen in a completely new light. Oscar winner Mo’Nique just didn’t sound possible before, but eight years after her win, there wasn’t any chance she couldn’t have won for her role. Not only was it so incredibly far from her comfort zone, it was for us, too. Mo’Nique was a brand new woman that could seemingly do anything in the film industry.
She definitely has followed up this performance with her own rules, yet they haven’t quite been what many would have expected. She had a short-lived talk show (“The Mo’Nique Show”) on BET, which showcased the Mo’Nique we’re all more familiar with. It’s a shame she hasn’t quite revisited her ability to embody a completely different character since.
While she has had only a handful of film performances since (“Almost Christmas”, “Blackbird”), none are close to even the work she was doing before “Precious”, never mind that film itself. She has claimed that respected members in the industry (including director Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey) have been shutting her out of their other works since she refused to “properly” promote her work in “Precious”. That’s too bad, because a follow up to her astounding acting would be surely cherished.
8. Peter Ostrum – Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was arguably Gene Wilder’s vehicle. If there was one other performance in the film that mesmerized children, it was their fellow kid Charlie Bucket. Bucket was played by the one-time-prodigy Peter Ostrum.
Like Wilder’s Wonka, it was hard to imagine any other face and personality for Charlie after Ostrum took the beloved film by storm. His glee was our glee. His realizations commanded us, too. When we were kids, Charlie was our entry into the titular Chocolate Factory, and Ostrum expressed our deepest dreams perfectly.
This is why it’s sad that we never saw anything from Ostrum ever again. Unlike the other actors and actresses here, there is borderline virtually nothing that came after this film. The best you’ve got is seeing footage of Charlie being appropriated for other works, and documentaries about the very same film. Ostrum’s film career wasn’t just defined by his Charlie Bucket performance – it literally was his Charlie Buckett performance. After failed attempts to continue acting, Ostrum even began to lie about having been in the film at all (he pretended it was actually his brother).
Nonetheless, he found an interest elsewhere. He developed a love for horses—and animals altogether—during the Willy Wonka shoot. He has since then devoted his life towards equine services, including horse grooming and even veterinarian practices. He has been a vet specialized on horses and cows for decades; he is more open about his short lived childhood acting career now, though.
9. Renée Jeanne Falconetti – The Passion of Joan of Arc
We have the saddest entry for last, as we will briefly observe the tragic rise and fall of the legendary Renée Jeanne Falconetti. Falconetti is almost certainly known for her performance in “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, which is arguably one of the greatest performances of all time (and the best silent film performance). As Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc), Falconetti is commanding. With director Carl Dreyer’s extreme close-ups of his actors, you can truly feel every ounce of misery and pain that Joan of Arc experienced on her deathbed. Without being heard, Falconetti still triumphs over many performances that came afterwards.
Allegedly, Dreyer harassed and abused Falconetti on set to wring the performance out of her. While there have been counter-arguments, most evidence points out that Falconetti was, in fact, tortured through verbal barrages and tumultuous actions (like making her stage physically uncomfortable scenes over and over again). Falconetti did not return to the screen after this role.
While she tried to buffer this excruciating performance with lighter stage works afterwards, she did not have nearly as much success. She reportedly suffered from mental illness for the majority of her life (it is not certain if this stemmed from her work with “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, but it likely did not help), and even died from apparent self-starvation (where she forced herself to eat as little as possible to lose weight) in 1946.
What’s left is a groundbreaking performance where every infliction of hurt shown doesn’t just resemble Joan of Arc, it resembles Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s tragic life as well.
10. Jean Dujardin – The Artist
It’s baffling that “The Artist” is already six years old. It feels like yesterday when a miracle happened: a new silent film sold out theatres worldwide and swept all sorts of awards shows. The lead heartthrob in the film was played by Jean Dujardin, who was already a seasoned star in his homeland of France (especially with the “OSS 117” parody films).
Like “The Artist”, Dujardin swept most Best Actor nominations he received (even beating out George Clooney many times). His co-star Bérénice Bejo has done well for herself, as she has starred in works like “The Past” and “The Childhood of a Leader”.
Dujardin has not had quite the same fate. He has had the occasional supporting role in films like “The Monuments Men” (directed by Clooney, the man he won against in many awards ceremonies) and a few-scene-punch-line role in “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
Otherwise, Dujardin has continued to work in French cinema. He hasn’t had quite the same level of success since his win, and it’s unfortunate. He’s even been the butt end of jokes, including an Oscars ceremony a few years after his win. While a good sport, isn’t it about time Dujardin is treated as more than the punch line? While a great comedic actor, it’s evident that Dujardin is capable of oh-so-much more.