best film: Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean made three films and I’d accept any as his best film and any as his best performance. They’re all close. I’d give the edge to his work here not because of the red jacket or iconic status of the film—but because he’s the center of it for its entirety (which Giant is not) and it doesn’t have too many dips into melodrama (as I think a few scenes in East of Eden do). Again, they are really close together and he didn’t make a bad film. While we’re here though he also didn’t make a masterpiece and that hurts him when we’re comparing him with the al-time greats and he only has three archiveable films.

best performance:  Rebel Without a Cause. I think there’s a version of Giant that puts Dean in the full lead instead of Rock Hudson (who does very good work) that may be good enough to be a masterpiece and would win this category walking away. Still, there’s a reason Rebel is emulated by actors. Dean’s rawness is a more sensitive version of Brando- more adolescent and even volatile in some ways though less physical. It’s method and it’s important.

stylistic innovations/traits: Three for three in the archives (and two for two in year’s nominated for best actor) and dead at 25. Tragic and perhaps cinema’s greatest “what could have been” from an acting standpoint. James Dean made three films, is the lead (or co-lead in Giant) in all three. He’s wonderful in all three and all three films are worthy of being in their respective years’ top 10. Dean was heavily influenced by Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and the method acting movement. He’s brooding, emotionally complex and real. He’s not a machine like Bogart or Wayne. His filmography is obviously lacking depth but there’s no blemishes either. Would Dean have become Paul Newman?  Or faded like Alain Delon just before him on this list? Impossible to know but it’s tragic that we didn’t get to find out. He was more than just a star and icon- he was a great, and important, actor.

directors worked with:   Nobody twice but once a piece with Nicholas Ray, Kazan and George Stevens.

Top 5 Performances:

  1. Rebel Without a Cause
  2. Giant
  3. East of Eden

Archiveable films

1955- East of Eden
1955- Rebel Without A Cause
1956- Giant