best film:   The Exorcist and Requiem for a Dream are nearly interchangeable here- and what a doubleheader of darkness this pair of films would make for. The Exorcist is stunning to look and a horror landmark, but Aronofsky’s American dream turned nightmare is passionately edited masterpiece in its own right.


smack dab in the middle of her run in the 1970s is Burstyn’s work in The Exorcist– like most great films in the horror genre- from Rosemary’s Baby to Hereditary- the performances are so important to the film- and Burstyn gives the best performance in the film.


best performance:   This is a strength for Burstyn as she gives the best performance of the film in both masterpieces mentioned above. There certainly is a case to be made for her work in The Exorcist but it is her work as Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream that wins out here. It is a go for broke loud performance that absolutely lands. It is one of the high-water marks for any female actor in the 2000s decade- a true triumph of physical acting and one of the truly saddest characters in cinema history.


The stars aligned for both Aronofsky and Burstyn here in 2000’s Requiem for a Dream. It changed how Burstyn’s career should be viewed.



stylistic innovations/traits:    Ellen Burstyn is an icon of The New Hollywood who had a great run from 1971-1977. She steals every scene she is in in that talent-filled ensemble film The Last Picture Show in 1971. Burstyn continues her run with The Exorcist. She is brilliant in William Friedkin’s film– the biggest box office film of all-time at the time (unadjusted for inflation in 1973). She won an Oscar working with Scorsese (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) at a time when she had much more juice than he did- and she had five other nominations over the years (including being robbed in 2000). She had a slower 1980s and 1990s (just one archiveable film each decade) before her volcanic career-defining work in Aronofsky’s 2000 masterpiece.


Burstyn as Lois Farrow in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. Burstyn had been around, both in film and television going back to the late 1950s- but it is this film- a pillar of The New Hollywood movement- that launched her career.


directors worked with:   Darren Aronofsky (2), and then Alain Resnais, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, Tim Burton, Peter Bogdanovich, James Gray and Christopher Nolan once a piece.


Burstyn in Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. She is witty and world worn—raw. The writing is top-shelf- a few lines echo some of Nicholson’s Five Easy Pieces stuff—“would you mind turning around for me?” and Burstyn replies “I don’t sing with my ass”.  Burstyn gives a tour-de-force here in the lead- she won the Oscar for it. The ensemble is incredible as well. Diane Ladd (supporting nom), a young and eccentric Jody Foster, Kris Kristofferson’s easy charm— Harvey Keitel is too much of a New Yorker to pull off the Cowboy role here- but I would argue it is still a solid supporting performance—the scene where he breaks the glass—the domestic abuse— breathtaking—powerful.



top five performances:

  1. Requiem for a Dream
  2. The Exorcist
  3. The Last Picture Show
  4. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  5. The King of Marvin Gardens




archiveable films

1971- The Last Picture Show
1972- King of Marvin’s Gardens
1973- The Exorcist
1974- Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
1974- Harry and Tonto
1977- Providence
1985- Twice in a Lifetime
1994- Ed Wood
2000- Requiem For a Dream
2000- The Yards
2006- The Fountain
2014- Interstellar
2020- Pieces of a Woman