It speaks volumes that only a single woman makes into the list of the best performances in the films of Steven Spielberg, making it clear that the gifted director prefers to tell the stories of men in his work. Nothing wrong with that, not at all, but I rarely get caught off guard, and that did catch me off guard. Perhaps it is because I remember constant female presences in his work, but in quick review, they are usually wives, mothers, supporting roles. If the list were longer, Samantha Morton would be there for ‘Minority Report’, as would Sally Field for ‘Lincoln’, and Embeth Davidtz for ‘Schindler’s List’.
Throughout his impressive career, actors in Spielberg films have won just two Academy Awards for their work, and all of them quite recently. Daniel Day-Lewis would win for his astounding ‘Lincoln’ while Mark Rylance would take home the Best Supporting Actor statuette for ‘Bridge of Spies’. Just thirteen actors have been nominated for their work in the master’s films, with many fine performances snubbed through the years. Sadly, actors in a Spielberg film have often been overlooked because they are in a Spielberg film, the thought being that the director is the star, and the actors secondary. Spielberg however will tell you that it is totally wrong. Without the actors in his films, he has nothing, and what he gives them as a director is what every actor dreams of – freedom and collaborative work with a director who trusts them with his vision. Even prickly actors such as Tommy Lee Jones come away singing his praises.
Though not widely known as an actor’s director, you will be hard pressed to find an actor who does not revere him. I am not sure how the Academy missed nominating Robert Shaw (‘Jaws’), Richard Dreyfuss (‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’), Harrison Ford (‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’), Henry Thomas (‘E.T.’), Christian Bale (‘Empire of the Sun’), Ben Kingsley and Embeth Davidtz (‘Schindler’s List’), Jude Law (‘A.I.’), Samantha Morton (‘Minority Report’), Leonardo Di Caprio (‘Catch Me If You Can’), Lynn Cohen (‘Munich’) and Tom Hanks (‘Bridge of Spies’), but they did.
The best work by actors in a Spielberg film? For me, they are the following.
10. Christian Bale – Empire of the Sun (1987)