Were she alive, Elizabeth Taylor would have celebrated her 80th birthday today. Instead, she got a fitting send-off as the finale of the "In Memoriam" montage at the 84th annual Academy Awards. When she died last March, she was one of the last of the goddesses of Hollywood's golden age, but it's clear from Sunday night that interest and affection for her have not dimmed.
To younger viewers, she may have been more famous for being famous than for her movie career, which peaked more than 40 years ago. But she became famous in the first place because she had the goods, as one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in film history. To mark her 80th birthday, Moviefone is celebrating with a list ranking her 10 best screen performances. If you've seen them, these are still movie moments that haven't lost their power to dazzle; if you haven't, check them out and see why everyone was in awe last night.
10. "Father of the Bride" (1950) A movie whose release was timed to coincide with the 18-year-old's first marriage to Nicky Hilton, it offered the heartbreakingly lovely spectacle of Taylor in a wedding gown. (Little did we know how often we would be treated to that sight over the coming years.) The movie belongs to Spencer Tracy, but it's Taylor's adieu to her own childhood that lends the film poignance.
9. "Butterfield 8" (1960) Taylor herself acknowledged that she probably won her Academy Award for this role out of sympathy over her near-fatal bout of pneumonia shortly before the Oscar votes were cast. ("I lost to a tracheotomy," complained rival Shirley MacLaine.) Still, don't sell Liz short. She's magnetic and brazen as Gloria, a Manhattan golddigger whose affections can be rented but not bought, who looks for love in all the wrong places. She even makes her then-husband, crooner Eddie Fisher, look good in a dramatic role.
8. "Cleopatra" (1963) This swords-and-sandals saga is surely more notorious for what happened off-screen –- Taylor's world-shaking affair with co-star Richard Burton, her unprecedented $1 million salary, and production drama that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox and made the movie the costliest picture of all time. But it's all there on screen, though not even the movie's sprawling, overripe spectacle is enough to upstage the sprawling, overripe Taylor. She was now queen of Hollywood, and all were helpless before her.
7. "Suddenly Last Summer" (1959) In this baroque Tennessee Williams psychodrama, Taylor plays a woman driven to her wits' end by the unspeakable fate of her cousin, and she holds her own against the fearsome Katharine Hepburn, as the aunt who would lobotomize her in order to hide the family's shame.
6. "The Taming of the Shrew" (1967) So many of the Burtons' dozen films together seemed to echo the real-life volatility of their stormy, 15-year romance. This one, at least, turns the tension into high Elizabethan comedy, with Taylor holding her own opposite her more experienced Shakespearean husband.
5. "National Velvet" (1944) This girl-and-her-horse movie, still the best of its kind, made the 12-year-old Taylor a star. Here's where the world first saw those famous violet eyes glimmer with the fire and determination that would be the hallmarks of Taylor's career.
4."Giant" (1956) In this epic history of modern Texas, Rock Hudson is the star and James Dean the scene-stealer, but Taylor is the heart and moral center of the movie. Loved by two men and submissive to neither, she gets to age about 30 years over the course of the movie, growing humbler and more accepting of change even while remaining as elegant and independent as ever.
3. "A Place in the Sun" (1951) This wasn't Taylor's first adult role, but it was her first adult performance, as the rich, vivacious dream girl who inflames Montgomery Clift's passions, leads him down a dark path, and haunts his dying reverie. Sure, he's an ambitious cad, but after his dance with Taylor, could you blame him?
2. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) Reeling from the death of her husband Mike Todd in a plane crash, Taylor poured her grief into this Tennessee Williams adaptation and delivered one of her finest, sexiest, most intense performances as Maggie the Cat, the sharpest-clawed member of a rich Southern family torn apart by greed, illness, alcohol, and love gone sour.
1. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"(1966) Taylor's finest performance, and her second Oscar-winner, is one of the landmark achievements in film history. As boozy, brawling academic couple George and Martha, the Burtons portrayed one of the most horrifyingly candid, emotionally raw marriages ever filmed, and their frankness helped put the final nail in the coffin of the old Production Code that had censored Hollywood for more than 30 years.