best film: Klute. I adore Klute but this is Fonda’s weakness for sure. She was in a half dozen great films and she’s excellent in 10 of them (Klute being the best in both category by a decent margin) but even I, as a massive admirer of the film and Pakula’s work in general, (a tragically underrated 70’s auteur with that paranoia trilogy—which Klute is the first leg of) think it may be hard for Jane to hold onto this slot as our contemporary actresses add to their resume and we have the benefit of distance from their more current work.

best performance:  Klute’s performance has it all. She’s part sleuth, part seductress.  She’s terrified with fear in one scene and then absolutely and supremely confident (I’m not sure I’ve seen an actress more so) in her big speech about what she does and how she does it. It’s an amazing scene/speech, won her the Oscar, and a big reason why she’s so high on this list.

stylistic innovations/traits: Fonda has the depth of filmography on her side for the purposes of ranking on this list. 13 total archiveable films (all pretty substantial with her in solo lead or sharing lead for the most part—at least 10 of the 13). She had 7 Academy Award noms and deserved all of them. Her downfall is she’s not in any masterpieces but on the plus side her 8th best film/performance is just about as good as her 2nd.  As far as her acting chops, she’s could play both naivety (her back to back work with Redford in 1966-67) and then power, strength and poise. She’s almost always self-assured and centered. She owned by 1969 and 1971 for my mind—gave the best performances of both years in a key stretch for an important stretch in American cinema.

directors worked with: Only Pakula (2) twice, but we also have Lumet, Ashby, Penn, and Godard once.

Top 5 Performances:

  1. Klute
  2. They Shoot Horses Don’t They
  3. Coming Home
  4. The China Syndrome
  5. Julia

Archiveable films

1965- Cat Ballou
1966- The Chase
1967- Barefoot in the Park
1969- They Shoot Horses Don’t They
1971- Klute
1972- Tout Va Bien
1977- Julia
1978- California Suite
1978- Comes a Horseman
1978- Coming Home
1979- China Syndrome
1981- On Golden Pond
1986- The Morning After