best film:   JFK from Oliver Stone. Other films in the mix include Brian De Palma’s Carrie and Terrence Malick’s sublime debut Badlands. JFK is one of the most ambitious films of the 1990s. JFK is a major artistic landmark when talking about the history of film editing. It has been mentioned that that there are 3000+ shots that comprise the film. The cast is massive (at least six Oscar winners by my count- including Sissy Spacek), the running time is 3+ hours, it features the work of both composer John Williams and cinematographer Robert Richardson as well. The supporting cast (surrounding white hot Kevin Costner who was just about the biggest star on the planet in 1991) is one of the best ever assembled. The six Oscar winners are Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Joe Pesci.  Spacek is not front and center in Oliver Stone’s montage masterpiece- it is an ensemble piece- but she does play an important supporting role (and a tough role- a very unlikable character as Kevin Costner’s wife in the film Liz Garrison).


best performance:  Carrie. But this is not a landslide. Spacek’s breakout Badlands is very close here. Spacek is eerie yet sympathetic in Carrie and her cold, detached voice-over in Badlands is one of cinema’s finest. Both Carrie and Badlands are superior works- so that does not break the tie either.


the horror genre proves yet again to provide fertile grounds for great female actor performances- from Brian De Palma and Stephen King’s Carrie


stylistic innovations/traits:   In Spacek’s two greatest roles (and three of her best four) she is soft spoken, shy- an outsider- not the so-called prototypical Hollywood leading lady or beauty. She survived and flourished as an actor because of her considerable talent. Her best work was in the ten year stretch from 1973 to 1982 from Badlands to Missing. Malick cast her and Martin Sheen as the two lovers on the run. Both actors had appeared in films before, but this made their careers. Spacek is a Texan- and sneaky old (24 here in 1973 for Badlands) but believable as a 15-year-old.  Throughout her career Spacek proved she could do slow-mounting rage (the dish breaking scene in In the Bedroom), a person with a disability (The Straight Story), carry a biopic as a star musician doing all her own singing (Coal Miner’s Daughter).  Spacek is excellent in big cinematic moments that are now part of not only great art– but our collective memory of iconic movie scenes. She is in the big climax in Carrie, and of course the s iconic moments from Malick’s debut – the best of which is the scene of her and Martin Sheen dancing here.


Sheen and Spacek are both dazzling in Badlands. Sheen’s Kit is a James Dean look-alike. He has that tiny little frame, the jean jacket, the colossal hair. He is both a heartthrob, and a charming sociopath. Spacek’s (playing Holly) distanced, often unsettling, voice-over is one of cinema’s finest. Even in the scene where she cries, she has that far-away look in her eyes. Malick’s musical choices and curation throughout is as genius as anything from Scorsese in this era. You have Nat King Cole late in the film, Orloff’s “Musica Poetica” during the arson scene, and Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” is one of the best 30 second stretches of cinema in the 1970s- the scene is the dance between the two lovers with Sheen’s bobbing hair, white t-shirt and hands tucked into his back pocket while Spacek dances barefoot.


directors worked with:   Spacek’s archiveable collection of films do not include a director more than once, but she has worked with some greats: Terrence Malick, Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, Alan Rudolph, Oliver Stone, Paul Schrader and David Lynch.


Spacek is hypnotically bizarre in Altman’s 3 Women– an important film for Spacek’s resume- it gives her a pretty impeccable top five performances



top five performances:

  1. Carrie
  2. Badlands
  3. 3 Women
  4. In the Bedroom
  5. Coal Minder’s Daughter




archiveable films

1973- Badlands
1976- Carrie
1976- Welcome to L.A.
1977- Three Women
1980- Coal Miner’s Daughter
1982- Missing
1991- JFK
1997- Affliction
1999- The Straight Story
2001- In the Bedroom
2005- Nine Lives
2009- Get Low
2018- Homecoming