The first performance noted on this list is my favorite of the decade. The remaining nine performances are given in alphabetical order by the actors’ last names.
1. Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s 1972 Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Kinski is cinema’s exemplar for pushing a characterization to its limits of humanity, and the conquistador in Herzog’s Aguirre, who encapsulates the madness of Western cultural superiority and presumption, is his greatest role. For me, Kinski has been one of my favorite actors since I wept and trembled at the fate of his character in George Seaton’s fine The Counterfeit Traitor (1962). When my parents and I went to see David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965), I muttered “Klaus” when Kinski appeared, in character, on a train. Nothing else there mattered.
But with Aguirre he is at the center of a brilliant film—Herzog’s masterpiece. Surely its most overwhelming aspect is its more than full-blooded portrait of paternal love. This madman’s tenderness toward his grown daughter, the one calming force in the midst of his storms, is always more moving than my heart can bear.
2. Harriet Andersson, Cries and Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972).
3. Ingrid Bergman, Autumn Sonata (Ingmar Bergman, 1978).
4. James Fox, Performance (Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell, 1970).
5. Jean-Pierre Léaud, The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache, 1972).
6. Fernando Rey, Elisa, My Life (Carlos Saura, 1977).
7. Hanna Schygulla, The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979).
8. Delphine Seyrig, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Äkerman, 1975).
9. Gian Maria Volontè, Christ Stopped at Eboli (Francesco Rosi, 1979).
10. Magda Teresa Wójcik, Mother of Kings (Janusz Zaorski, 1976).