The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1981

We’ve discussed this before. I’ll dispense with any editorial past, 1981 sucked. Chariots of Fire. I think we all understand.

The big thing about 1981, aside from — that — was that it was the year Henry Fonda finally got his Oscar. And Kate Hepburn got her fourth. Meryl’s got the nominations, but Kate’s got the wins. All Best, too. Meryl’s only got one of each. (So you know they’re gonna give her another one soon.) So, both of them won for On Golden Pond, while John Gielgud won Best Supporting Actor for Arthur, and Maureen Stapleton won Best Supporting Actress and Warren Beatty won Best Director, both for Reds. So it was a pretty contained year, aside from — that.


And the nominees were…

Warren Beatty, Reds

Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond

Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City

Dudley Moore, Arthur

Paul Newman, Absence of Malice

Beatty — This is a tough year for Best Actor. Three of the nominees are overdue. Unfortunately for Warren Beatty, he was the least overdue of the three. But he got a Best Director out of it, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss for him.

This is the big, three hour Communist extravaganza film about the romance set against the backdrop of the Communist revolution in Russia, circa 1917. It’s long, it has lots of scenes of people shouting for a cause, and is liberal as all hell. Beatty does a good job in it, and I liked that I saw him actually acting for once. In the 70s, Warren Beatty didn’t act so much. He just kind of went around, being himself. That is — Shampoo. All he did was fuck women. That’s what Warren Beatty did all day anyway. And Heaven Can Wait, he wasn’t acting so much either. Here, it seemed like he was actually acting. And I thought he did a good job. I wouldn’t vote for him, but he did a good job. He was definitely a solid third choice here. One of those nominees but no win. But, like I said, he got a statue, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Fonda — I don’t care what anybody else did this year, Henry Fonda wasn’t losing this category. Not a fucking chance. The film was perfect to net him a win. It had everything going for it.

The film is about a retired mathematics professor who, every summer, goes — guess where — with his wife, to their lake house. And this summer, they go, and suddenly, their daughter shows up — played by Henry’s actual daughter Jane Fonda. This adds a whole new depth to the performance that really comes to a head at the end of the film. There’s a scene where Henry, in character talks about how he felt he wasn’t there enough for his daughter when she was younger. Which, does kind of mirror what happened in real life. It’s not that he was an absentee father, but, he wasn’t exactly as close as he could have been. And in this scene, you see Fonda turn his way from the camera, unable to finish his sentence. And it’s one of those pure moments that only happens once in a while in film. It’s that tiny, unplanned moment where everything is perfectly in sync. Brilliant moment.

Fonda is great in the role. He’s nice and grouchy, yet sweet at the same time. And you get this nice portrait of what seems like Fonda himself, which is why there was no way he was losing this. Seriously, no one in their right mind would actively seek to have someone else win this category.

Lancaster — Nice to see older actors getting the recognition they deserve. Burt Lancaster is a fucking legend. This was his last nomination, and since he barely won an Academy Award, its safe to say they were never gonna give it to him here. But, he was nominated, and that’s what counts.

The film is about him as an aging mobster — low level guy — who never really became the mobster he wanted to become. And he runs into Susan Sarandon one day and sees her as kind of his redemptive woman. She’s trying to make a career for herself, but is hindered by her wayward, drug-dealing brother who shows up with his pregnant wife. Lancaster then gets involved, and shit goes wrong, and eventually Lancaster has to kill a dude, and the whole thing is kind of a strange movie. It’s nice to see Lancaster acting at almost seventy, but, as a film it’s pretty so-so. I never really got into it as much as its reputation suggests. But, Lancaster is good. It’s just, I can’t vote for him. But, nice to see the veteran nomination work positively for once.

Moore — This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I fucking love this movie so much. Okay, here’s your synopsis:

Dudley Moore is a billionaire. The heir to a fortune. He’s rich and spoiled. He goes out every night and drinks. He’s a raging alcoholic. But he’s charming. He picks up prostitutes and brings them to insanely fancy restaurants. He gets arrested constantly and then gets out of it because he’s rich. He’s also looked after by his amazingly dry butler, Hobson, who is the quintessential proper butler, but is perhaps the most wonderfully sarcastic character ever put to film. Then, one day Arthur’s mother tells him that if he doesn’t marry the woman they picked to marry him, they’ll disown him and he’ll be poor. At the same time, Arthur runs into Liza Minnelli, who is a poor girl, making ends meet the only way she knows how. She gives phony tours of New York City and swindles tourists out of a few bucks. Arthur starts dating her while also going through with the marriage plans so as to not lose his money. And the film becomes a wonderful romance by the end of it. Oh yeah, and it’s fucking hysterical the entire time. Here’s some sample quotes from the film:

“A real woman could stop you from drinking.”
“It’d have to be a real BIG woman.”

“I hate it here!”
“Of course you hate it. People work here.”

“My mother died when I was six.”
“Son of a bitch! Don’t they know what they do to kids?”
My father raped me when I was twelve.”
So, you had six relatively good years?”

“Arthur, will you take my hand?”
That would leave you with one!”

The fact that he’s intoxicated throughout the entire film makes the witty dialogue work so much better. The performance is so brilliant it can’t be put into words. This is by far my favorite performance on this list. I am, however, aware, that it would never win in a million years. So — what I’m gonna do is, since we all know Henry Fonda can’t lose, is vote for Dudley Moore, maintain my principles, and know that Fonda deserved the Oscar most.

Seriously though, this is a brilliant movie. I also don’t do this very often, but, it’s available Watch Instantly on Netflix. I highly recommend everyone check it out. This movie is almost as essential to knowing me as The Thin Man is. Drunk and witty is how I like my characters.

Newman — Yeah, I really didn’t like this movie. I’m not sure what the movie was trying to be. It’s about Sally Field as a newspaper reporter who does a story that accidentally suggests that Newman, the son of a mobster, who I think is a teacher, is in some way connected to the mob. And this ruins his life, and the life of his friend, because they get involved with something and it puts their livs at risk. Then it becomes a romance and he’s with Sally Field for part of the movie. And I think the movie is about the media, but I can’t be too sure. Basically the main thing is that they made libelous statements, then illegally surveilled Newman to prove he was illegitimate. But then there’s the romance. I don’t know. I really didn’t like the movie. This is a #5 for me, which sucks, because Newman was horrendously overdue by this point as well. Just, not as much as Henry Fonda. This was one of the performances I felt would have been terrible had it won off the veteran nomination. On Golden Pond had at least some interest to it and was a good movie. This, should never have won Newman his Academy Award. So, no vote.

My Thoughts: I’m voting Dudley Moore, because I need to stick by my absolute favorites. But, Henry Fonda should have won this, and there was no way he wasn’t going to win, so my vote won’t affect anything. This was Henry Fonda’s category all the way.

My Vote: Moore

Should Have Won: Fonda

Is the result acceptable?: Should have happened 41 years earlier. This is how badly a makeup Oscar can distort things. Thank god the performance is really good, because I’d hate to have seen him get a career achievement Oscar for doing nothing. (Like, say, 1974.) He earned it. He deserved it. Perfect choice.

Performances I suggest you see: Arthur is one of my favorite movies and completely deserves to be seen by all. It’s so fucking funny it’s ridiculous. Dudley Moore is so good he manages to make you forget the dude is a pathetic alcoholic. And even when he is a pathetic alcoholic and says so himself, he’s still charming and you root for him. This is a once in a lifetime performance and is note perfect. The movie is perfect too. Also, On Golden Pond is a near perfect film too. It’s a beautiful piece of film on aging and getting old, and provides a perfect final note to Henry Fonda’s brilliant career. I definitely recommend this to all, especially those that like to see films like this, with great actors getting old and still doing it. Also, if you can handle Reds, it is a good film. But it’s not for the weak of heart. It takes patience to get through it. You might need to be a history buff or a film fan to get through it. Oh, and Atlantic City is worthwhile for those reasons I said up there about Henry Fonda. If you want to see Burt Lancaster old and acting with a really young Susan Sarandon.


5) Newman

4) Lancaster

3) Beatty

2) Fonda

1) Moore

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