There is no question Barbra Streisand is an icon, a gifted songstress with that soaring God-given voice that has brought many songs to life, she is a fine filmmaker, and a good bad actress. She has been great twice, once winning the Academy Award for Best Actress (well, tying) for Funny Girl (1968). Streisand would famously tie the Great Katherine Hepburn in A Lion in Winter (1968) for Best Actress, stunning the industry with an Oscar for her film debut. The knock against her as an actress is she always seemed to be the same in one role to the next, there was little different about her from film to film, and when she did go wildly into a character as she did in the criminally under appreciated court drama Nuts (1987) critics beat her up for the effort.
Though considered a major film star, her filmography is light on great films and performances. It needs to be remembered she is first and foremost a recording star, not an actress, not a director. And in films she is as Peter O’Toole roared “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” Snubbed by the Academy for a directing nomination she deserved in 1991 she is a DGA Awards nominee, and said to be very good with actors. Here’s the list of top 10 movies of Barbra Streisand.
10. All Night Long (1983)
An underrated comedy with Gene Hackman that should have found a greater audience. Though they appear to be the least likely couple on screen, they bounce off one another nicely, creating a lovely chemistry with one another that allows the film to move beautifully through the narrative. Great art? Nope, of course not, but more fun than most of the romantic films released that year.
9. Yentl (1983)
Though never much of a fan of this film, which she directed, produced, wrote and starred in, the craft behind it cannot be denied. She fought hard to get it made, she fought harder to be permitted to direct, and I think people were pleasantly surprised with what she created. Streisand portrays a smart young Jewish bookworm who wants to be educated like the men, so she masquerades as a man and goes to school. Problems arise when she falls for a man, and attracts the attention of a young girl. Stately, respectful, lacks the heat of a romantic film, but entertaining and beautifully put together. The beginning of her casting herself in films she directs when another actress might have been a stronger choice.
8. Nuts (1987)
A great play by Tom Topor gets the film treatment with a terrific cast and strong actors director, Martin Ritt. By this point in her career she had directed, thus was always second guessing Ritt, a fine, Oscar nominated filmmaker. The results were mixed, she gives a powerful, haunting performance as a hooker accused of murder, the victim of intense abuse as a child. Richard Dreyfus is strong as her lawyer, but it is her show, which she saw too directing scenes she felt needed more her, and going into the editing room. Despite her ego, it is a fine performance that deserved more attention than it received.
7. A Star is Born (1976)
Though reviled by critics and the press when it was released there is much to admire in the film including the song Score, the stunning cinematography, a glimpse into the life of a rock star, and the burnt out performance of Kris Kristofferson as rocker John Norman Howard. Though she wanted Elvis Presley for the film, he refused, mercifully because Kristofferson is brilliant in capturing the sad decline of a man who just does not care anymore. Streisand is good as Esther, the lounge singer he makes a superstar by producing her work, forever in love with him, but knowing he is doomed. She won an Oscar for her love song Evergreen, and the film won Golden Globes for Best Film (Comedy/Musical), Best Actor, Actress and Song. It was a huge box office hit despite the fact she waged war with Director Frank Pierson. The behind the scenes horror stories of she and Jon Peters bullying the director made her no friends, and likely contributed to the negative reviews. The eight minute close up on her face singing at Howard’s funeral did not help either.
6. The Owl and the Pussycat (1970)
Streisand displayed some decent comedic talent in this adaptation of the Broadway play in which she starred with George Segel. As a hooker who connects with the unlikely Segal, the film is hers to steal and she does so with ease. After the staggering flops Hello Dolly (1969) and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) she knewca change of pace was needed. No more musicals for a while. It was the beginning of her most popular period asca film actress, 1970-1976. A very playful, funny performance.
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5. What’s Up Doc? (1971)
Peter Bogdanovich exploded onto the forefront of American cinema with his stunning ode to John Ford in The Last Picture (1971). Driven by a massive, expanding ego, he was all but finished five years later but he did direct this lovely screwball comedy, an ode to Howard Hawks with Streisand at her kooky best as a goofy schemer. She was growing as a comedic actress but wanted respect as an actress, which this did not bring her.
4. Funny Lady (1975)
Seven years after Funny Girl (1968) she agreed to reprise her role as Fanny Brice, exploring her romance with Billy Rose, portrayed in the film by James Caan. While she is brilliant, again deserving of an Oscar nomination that did not come the film, however beautiful had shortcomings. Chief among them was Caan, who just does not work as a romantic leading man. Cast Ryan O’Neal, they would have had a Best Picture nominee. Carrying on with the role that won her an Oscar, she is superb.
3. The Prince of Tides (1991)
Based on Pat Conroy’s extraordinary book, for the most part the actress and director of the film seems on track to create a masterpiece. Nick Nolte is in fine form as a high school coach with a past steeped in horrific abuse he jokes about, refusing to face his demons. Through flashbacks we come to understand the true horror of his past, which he confesses to Dr. Lowenstein while in her office. The two fall in love, but he cannot escape his wound, which is geography, something calls him back to the South, beyond his marriage, his children, the marshes of salt water. The Great weakness in the film is Streisand as Lowenstein, portraying a healing Mother Earth type, she shoots herself in soft focus. Had she cast Veronica Hamel of Hill Street Blues fame or Meryl Streep, we have a stunning work or art. A case of ego getting in the way of creating art.
2. Funny Girl (1968)
Already a star of pop culture, by the time her first film was released, an entertaining biography of Fanny Brice, she was among the most famous women on the planet. Directed by the great William Wyler, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance, tying Katherine Hepburn in A Lion in Winter (1968) for the award. And she was magnificent as Fanny, proving to be a star, belting out the tunes with such confidence. She was instantly a movie star, which is not the same as being an actress. Quirky, interesting, not your average leading lady, she conquered Hollywood in hervfirst film and never looked back.
1. The Way We Were (1973)
Her greatest performance in her finest film, this iconic love story offered her the best role of her career opposite Robert Redford as a radical who falls in love with a WASP. The love they feel cannot be questioned, but they differ in their manner of being accepted. She believes he is a great writer selling out to the movies, he cannot understand her inability to keep her mouth shut at the height of McCarthyism. They marry, but of course it does not last, leading to a haunting meeting years later where their adoration of one another shines in their eyes. Forever soul mates. Streisand was nominate$, and should have won Best Actress and of course sang the popular song Memoriesbfor the film. A massive hit, this one remains her greatest and most beloved work.
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