By Jeff Labrecque
December 20, 2011 at 01:30 PM EST
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If you had to choose one director to bring out a career performance in any actress, you can’t do much better than Woody Allen. During his amazing 45-year career as a director, he’s worked with many of the best, and Oscar has always been impressed. Diane Keaton, Penélope Cruz, Mira Sorvino, and Dianne Wiest all have trophies from their collaborations with Allen, to say nothing of the nominated performances from Samantha Morton, Judy Davis, Geraldine Page, and others.

In Midnight in Paris, Allen’s comedy-fantasy about a 21st-century writer (Owen Wilson) high on the nostalgic fumes of 1920s Paris — out today on home video and digital download — it’s Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams who get to dance with the master auteur. Actresses have always leaped at the opportunity to be Allen’s muse, and at this point of his career, any role in one of his films is an honor capable of luring even the hottest young ingenues.

But if Allen could go back to a different age — Midnight in Paris-like — what legendary Hollywood actresses would he most have wanted to cast in his films? We asked the director to name his Top 5, and he responded quickly, as if he had the list waiting in his pocket. “They were all fabulous actresses with their own styles,” he wrote in an e-mail about his selections. “But however different those styles were, they all worked on the screen and you believed them.” Click below for the leading ladies of Allen’s cinematic dreams:

Vivien Leigh (Gone With the Wind, A Streetcar Named Desire): “A great actress and sexy.”

Bette Davis (Jezebel, All About Eve): “Not very sexy but a very exciting actress.”

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Kim Stanley (Seance on a Wet Afternoon): Allen once wrote a comical essay where he envisioned the esteemed Broadway actress — and the adult voice of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird — playing the Evil Queen in an Elia Kazan stage production of Snow White. “I almost got to work with her and she was one of the most powerful actresses I ever saw,” says Allen.

Anna Magnani (The Rose Tattoo): An Italian actress who starred in films by Fellini and Rossellini, Magnani often played the passionate type of woman that Allen wrote for Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. “The most exciting actress I ever saw, and in her own way, very sexy,” says Allen.

Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday): Allen simply calls her “the funniest of all screen actresses,” and traces of her onscreen persona can be found in Mira Sorvino’s daffy hooker in Mighty Aphrodite and Jennifer Tilly’s moll in Bullets Over Broadway.

Read more:

Diane Keaton, Scarlett Johansson, and more talk Woody Allen in ‘American Masters’ doc — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

‘Midnight in Paris’ becomes Woody Allen’s all-time biggest hit. How the heck did that happen?

Diane Keaton delves into Woody Allen romance in her new memoir, ‘Then Again’

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  • PG-13
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  • 94 minutes
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