The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1977

1977. A year I try to mentally skip over whenever I see it. It conjures up bad memories. Annie Hall wins Best Picture this year, beating out Star Wars. That’s why. Now, granted, The Turning Point was the “favorite” to win, and by all accounts, Star Wars never had a chance, but, either way — come on.

Woody Allen wins Best Director and Diane Keaton wins Best Actress for Annie Hall, both of which I’ve talked about. Best Actor was Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl, a decision I like, and Best Supporting Actress went to Vanessa Redgrave for Julia. I’d have gone another way, but that’s probably just because the category contained a type of performance that I almost always go for. Still, that’s cool, I guess.

Overall, this isn’t a terrible year, especially considering what it could have been, but it’s still not a good year, because — really, how does Star Wars not win?


And the nominees were…

Mikhail Baryshnikov, The Turning Point

Peter Firth, Equus

Alec Guinness, Star Wars

Jason Robards, Julia

Maximilian Schell, Julia

Baryshnikov — Really, you nominate an actual dancer for playing a dancer in a film about dancing?

The film is the one about the cat fight between Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft. Both were dancers in the same company, and Shirley was the prima ballerina, but she quit in order to have a family. Anne kept going and became a superstar. Now, twenty years later, Shirley is bitter that she didn’t keep dancing and Anne is bitter she never had a family. Both resent the other but mostly keep it under wraps and are friendly around one another. Shirley’s daughter is now becoming a dancer and Anne, starting to get too old to dance, takes her under her wing as a mentor. This opens up old wounds between Anne and Shirley and leads to them beating the shit out of one another at the end of the film. Don’t worry, it’s not a full on fight. They hit each other with purses and slaps and shit, then end up being friends at the end of it. It’s not a real fight. Should have been though. Would have made the film much more interesting.

And then there’s also the side plot of the film that has to do with Shirley’s daughter. She’s played by Leslie Browne, who was Oscar nominated for the role (as were Anne and Shirley). And she goes into dance against Shirley’s wishes, but Shirley lets her. And then midway through she starts dating Baryshnikov, who is the male lead in the company and is a womanizer. He leads her into temptation, and she starts drinking before performances and partying and shit, and things almost go wrong but they don’t. This is melodrama. Full stop. That’s all.

Baryshnikov does nothing in this film. Don’t be fooled. He was nominated for his dancing and not his acting. He dances really fucking well, and that’s why they nominated him. And for that, it’s cool. But let’s not pretend his acting was any good or his character was even remotely memorable in this film. The same goes for Leslie Browne. But at least she had that drunk scene to be remembered for aside from the dancing. Baryshnikov did nothing here but dance. No way he was ever getting mine or the Academy’s vote.

Firth — Equus. I feel like everyone knows about this film but hasn’t actually seen it. Most of us today know about it because it’s the play Daniel Radcliffe performed on Broadway where he pulled his dick out for. This is the same play. Now it’s a film starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth, and directed by Sidney Lumet.

Basically the film is, Richard Burton looks at the camera and gives monologues. His patient is Peter Firth, who’s got a strange sexual fascination with horses. It’s weird. And he blinded six horses with a metal spike. And Burton needs to figure out why. And they talk through shit for a long time, and it’s really boring, even though both give strong performances, and then the kid is naked a lot, then he gets a girlfriend, then they fuck in a barn, then he runs around naked and blinds the horses with the spike. Then Burton talkes more. That’s what I got out of this film.

I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I recommend it slightly, though, because the performances in it are really good. This is Burton’s last great performance, really. So that’s something. Other than that, Firth was strong as the crazy kid, and he was naked a lot, but — I can’t vote for this. I just can’t.

Guinness — Star Wars. Do I need to stay anything here? You know about the plot. Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan. He didn’t really do much except be wise and a Jedi. I can’t really judge the performance. It’s Obi-Wan. It’s like — how do you judge Gandalf? Or Dumbledore? It’s just — it. That’s it. That’s the character. He’s there. That said, this category is so weak, watch me end up having to vote for it whether I want to or not.

Robards — Yay. Double nomination.

The film is about Lillian Hellman, who is a playwright. She writes a play, becomes darling of the town, and is living the good life. She lives with Dashiell Hammett, played by Robards, who helps her out with her plays, in as much as, she has writer’s block and writes bad plays, and he forces her to sit at a typewriter and just work. And he comes and goes. Has other girlfriends, drinks a lot, but it’s clear they’re stable most of the time. Then she gets a letter from her childhood friend Julia, who is a resistance fighter in Germany against the Nazis. She tells her she contacted her because she can trust her. She asks her to smuggle something into Germany because she needs to not get caught, and plus she wants to see her. So she agrees — Hellman is played by Jane Fonda — to go. And the middle of the film is her on trains with the contraband, hoping she isn’t caught. Then she gets there, sees Julia, they share one scene together, catch up, and then she leaves. Then she finds out Julia had a child and was killed, so she travels back to try to find the child and get custody of her so she can honor her friend’s memory. I’m not sure why it’s a film, but, it was an enjoyable one, nonetheless.

Robards plays Dashiell Hammett, and, in typical Jason Robards fashion, he doesn’t do much on screen, yet is great. It’s amazing how that works. He does it again in 1980, where he plays Howard Hughes. He shows up on screen literally for about five minutes at the beginning of the film, and does nothing, and yet, got some of the best reviews of his career. It’s incredible. Anyway, he’s fine here. It’s nice to see him, but, I don’t remember him actually doing anything in the movie. But, he’s Jason Robards, and that makes him always up for a vote. He’s awesome. Problem is, he won the year before this, and he beat people I felt should have won instead. So, that makes me not want to vote for him. But then, is there anyone else to vote for? God, I hate this category.

Schell — We got one down, here’s the second one. Right afterwards too. I like this.

Schell plays Julia’s co-revolutionary. Or whatever her job description is. He spoke to Julia, who told him to help out Lillian. And he meets Lillian at the train station, gives her the stuff she needs to smuggle, and helps her out. I don’t really remember specifically what he did, only that he was very effective in the role. The kind of thing where, it won’t win awards, but added a lot of credibility to the film. Know what I mean? The dude only functioned as part of the plot, so much so that, if you look up the film, it’s possible he isn’t mentioned at all in a synopsis past a few words. He’s the dude that gets scenes with her where, he gets to act tense when she’s almost caught and shit like that. It’s fine, I just, can’t vote for it. It’s not a very major part and doesn’t function as anything more than a narrative piece.

My Thoughts: I don’t like anyone in this category for a vote. Baryshnikov was never gonna happen. Robards would have been okay again if he hadn’t won last year, because at least this year he wasn’t beating deserving performances. But after last year, I can’t vote for him. I didn’t like the performance that much. Schell’s performance I liked a lot, but, he already won one I feel he shouldn’t have (and that was lead), so that means I’m not voting for him. Firth was good, just — creepy. And I didn’t like the film all that much, so, no. Which leaves Guinness. Not a must-win performance by any stretch of the imagination, but, it’s Obi-Wan, and I have no one else, so, let’s go Obi-Wan.

My Vote: Guinness

Should Have Won: Absolutely no preference. It’s a terrible year.

Is the result acceptable?: I guess it has to be. Because this category was awful. I like Jason Robards, so I’m cool with him having two, even though the first one stung a bit based on who he beat. So, yeah. All the other big actors here had Oscars already, so, it was cool. Two Supportings equal one lead, I guess.

Performances I suggest you see: Well, everyone must see Star Wars in their lifetime. That’s a given. That’s for the film. The performance is just a bonus within the film. So that’s one. And Julia is a very good movie. Not for everyone, but it does get tense on that train ride, and that part keeps coming back to me and reminding me why I gave it four stars. I think I found it a three star movie but gave it four based on the strength of that sequence. So, it’s a very good movie and I recommend it, but I’m not sure how many people would enjoy it. I can’t really adapt this film to people’s tastes. You kind of need to figure it out on your own. And that’s it, really. I said this was a really weak category.


5) Barysnikov

4) Firth

3) Schell

2) Robards

1) Guinness

2 responses

  1. Jason Hawkins

    The thing is, when you are watching All The President’s Men, Robards really controls and captivates every scene he is in. As soon as he is in the room you are paying attention to him. I would argue that even for the early scenes he appears in where he doesn’t do as much. Like the scene where he asks John McMartin to stay after the editors meeting to get his opinion. You care about McMartin’s opinion because Robards/Bradley does and all you care about really is how Bradley/Robards will react to what he hears. He is so perfect for that part and he creates the authority that part needs. Very deserving!

    April 2, 2012 at 7:42 pm

  2. anonymous

    Looking back to 1977 from a very long cultural distance in 2012, it is rather shocking to see that all of these performances, with the exception of Alec Guinness, have been utterly forgotten and hold virtually no place in the collective consciousness of a 21st century audience….which leads me to a very radical opinion.Only one film that year other than STAR WARS is still as iconic, if not even more artistically venerated, in the minds of cinematic historians and critcs: SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

    Travolta had his nomination as Best Actor….but it is Barry Miller, as Bobby C. the tragically doomed teenager who falls to his death from the Verazanno-Narrows Bridge, who deserved to be nominated and should have won. If that had happened, he would have been the youngest actor to win Best Supporting Actor in Academy Awards history, at 19.

    He won a Tony Award 8 years later.

    April 26, 2012 at 4:59 am

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