The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1976

I love 1976. How can you not? Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, Network and Rocky. And Bound for Glory, but, whatever on that one. But those first four — wow. For me, 1976 was going to be a great year no matter what they chose for Best Picture. Personally I thought they made the best choice with Rocky, though I bet that’s the one choice people bitch about the most. Best Director for John G. Avildsesn — okay, fine, maybe Sidney Lumet or Alan Pakula should have won. But, hey, Avildsen also directed the Karate Kid, so at least he’s got two redeemable movies on his resume. I think that’s enough for him to have earned it (independent of those two.

Also this year, Peter Finch wins Best Actor for Network, which I swear I just talked about. Oh, wait, that was Beatrice Straight for Best Supporting Actress, which I talked about here. And also Faye Dunaway wins Best Actress for Network as well. So really that film swept almost every other major award at the ceremony except Picture, Director, and this one. This one, now, is a horse of a different color.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I love Jason Robards, but, he won twice, in a row, here and in 1977, and I feel as though he only needed one. And that’s really because, in this category, I really think someone else should have won. But, outside of that, can we all just agree on how amazingly stacked this category is, with the performances and the films they were in? Holy fuck it’s good, right?


And the nominees were…

Ned Beatty, Network

Burgess Meredith, Rocky

Laurence Olivier, Marathon Man

Jason Robards, All the President’s Men

Burt Young, Rocky

Beatty — Okay, we start with Network. I’m sure you know all about the film — especially since I only talked about it like four days ago. Plus, it’s such an essential film, how the fuck haven’t you see it (if, in fact you haven’t)?

Just as a recap — news anchor, fired, has a breakdown, announces he’s going to kill himself on his last show, starts going on crazy rants live on the air. Very dedicated executive decides to give him his own show because he’s getting ratings. She doesn’t care about anything but success. She develops a reality show that stars a legit terrorist group. The head of the news division feels bad for the anchor, but starts sleeping with the executive, so he lets it happen. And the film is about the whole inhumanity in television as we see it today. It predicted it twenty years earlier. Basically, TV doesn’t care about anything but ratings. They’ll air a beheading if they think people will tune in. Complete disregard for people’s lives.

Anyway, Ned Beatty comes in almost at the end of our story. All throughout the film, Peter Finch, the anchor, has gone crazy and has been ranting and raving on TV. And he’s been ranting about whatever — the shit that grinds his gears, mostly about all the stuff that most people can’t stand. And he eventually hears about a merger the network is involved in that will have the station, already owned by a big faceless conglomerate, owned by an even bigger faceless conglomerate. And he starts ranting about that, telling people to write their congressperson in order to stop the merger from happening. But that’s when it starts being bad for business. They can’t have that happen.

So they bring in Beatty. He’s a higher up from the network. He shows up for one scene — but it’s a powerful scene. He sits in a darkened room, with light from the window coming in on him. And Finch, who’s unstable as it is, asks him if he’s a higher power of sorts, because, he thinks this is God or something. And Beatty, knowing how insane this man is, goes with it. He says he is a higher power and starts drawing him in, telling him the noble work he’s doing, and basically manipulating him. He draws him in, then uses roundabout logic to basically tell him to talk about things that aren’t the merger. But rather than tell him not to do it, he does it in such a way that has Finch convince himself he needs to be talking about all these other things (which are basically — the agenda the network wants him to spout, which leads to him getting lower ratings and brings about the end of the film, where they have him killed live on the air by the terrorist group as a good lead in to the season premiere of their show). The performance is brilliant. He starts very soft, and eventually starts shouting louder than Finch does. And he literally scares the shit out of Finch, the way a higher power would. And he says what he has to, and Finch goes on his way. It’s a brilliant moment.

Beatty was absolutely perfect here, and honestly, is a possibility to get my vote. The only negative to the performance is that he’s only in one scene. That’s the reason I didn’t vote for Beatrice Straight, when I talked about that category. I don’t know if I can vote for someone who’s only in one scene, no matter how good that scene is. (Or rather, screen time. It can be one scene, but if it’s like, 15 minutes of film, then it’s more okay. But he’s only in there for five minutes.) So, we’ll see where the vote ends up. But he was fucking amazing in this. Actually, here — watch the scene. You be the judge:

Meredith — Oh boy, a double nomination. Love these. And for Rocky too, which makes the whole thing even better.

You know about Rocky, right? Small-time boxer, randomly gets picked to face the heavyweight champ as a publicity stunt? But the film’s not about that at all, really, since the fight happens at the very end of the film. It’s about him turning his life around, finding love and trying to prove himself as a real fighter by just going the distance with the champ. But you know this, because you’ve seen it. (And if you haven’t — oh man, that’s embarrassing. Plus it’s just stupid. Do you realize what you’re missing?)

Burgess Meredith plays Mickey, the trainer of a local gym who regards Rocky as a “bum.” He takes away his locker because he doesn’t even think he’s worth training. And then when Rocky gets the shot, we get this great scene where he comes over, with his tail between his legs, asking, even begging, to be Rocky’s manager. It’s a really touching scene. Then he becomes Rocky’s trainer and trains him, and he gets to be the old, grizzled trainer. It’s a perfect role, and is played perfectly by Meredith. It’s the type of role that wins awards. And I’m shocked he didn’t win this one. Shocked. Not sure if I’m gonna vote for him (I guess I can’t be that shocked), but — Jesus Christ, he’s Mick! You know him winning this would have been totally fine.

Olivier — This is the only Supporting nomination Laurence Olivier got during his career. The rest were all for lead. And it’s for a great film, which is probably why he got it.

I don’t know how many people have seen Marathon Man. I feel like, if you don’t see it as a child somehow, then you actually need to seek it out, because it’s not the first thing you go and see when you start watching movies. I didn’t see it until this year, I think, for the first time. Everybody knows about the sadistic dentist and the “Is it safe?”, but I’m not sure how many people have actually seen the film.

It’s about Dustin Hoffman, as a regular dude, in grad school, runs a lot. His brother is Roy Scheider, who is secretly working for the CIA (or something like that), unbeknownst to his brother. And what happens is, Scheider is investigating the return of a Nazi war criminal into the states with stolen Nazi gold. And he intends to arrest the doctor — played by Olivier. The reason he’s there is because his brother, who had the key, was killed in a traffic accident. And Hoffman starts dating this woman who claims she’s from Switzerland, and everything seems pretty normal, until — Scheider comes to visit and gets her to let slip that she may have lied to him and is in fact working for the doctor. And Scheider gets knifed by the doctor and ends up dying in Hoffman’s apartment. And then Hoffman gets embroiled in the whole thing because nobody knows if Scheider told him anything (which he didn’t). And they take Hoffman to the doctor, and Olivier performs the painful tooth-pulling on him, asking, “Is it safe?” And then the film turns into an action-thriller of sorts after that. I don’t want to give it away. There are twists and turns and all that, and it’s all very exciting, and even better because it’s the 70s and shit was so much more realistic then than it is now.

Anyway, Olivier is good as the doctor. He did a good job. I’m glad he was nominated. But because this is such a stacked category, he’s actually no better than a fifth choice here. Seriously. Olivier plays the role well, but, I just can’t bring myself to vote for him. He won one, and, the category is just too good. He’s my #5. But a pretty good one, as #5’s go.

Robards — All the President’s Men is a perfect film. And in a way, it’s a film that will never happen again, because, no one would ever have the balls to present a film quite like this one did. First off — it’s about Woodward and Bernstein covering the Watergate break-in. And at first it’s just a story and no one really pays it any attention. But Woodward starts noticing a couple of fishy details on his coverage of it. He notices a high-priced lawyer sitting in the court for the men, “unofficially,” and when he tries to follow up a simple lead, a Library of Congress librarian says one thing, then recants her statement after going away from the phone for a few seconds. So he starts looking into the case.

And Bernstein gets onto it, if you remember the film (I’m assuming you’ve seen it, because if not, what’s wrong with you?), when he goes over and reads Woodward’s story and “punches it up” without telling him. And then the two of them just go on it together from there on out. And they’re the only paper following up on the story when every other one has completely dropped it as a non-story. And they slowly start uncovering this huge conspiracy going on in Washington, that reaches all the way into the Oval Office of the White House. And the film is really just them following one lead after another lead. No unnecessary scenes of action or suspense, the way modern films would add some sort of car chase or foot chase or something. The only scenes that get tense are when they realize they’re onto something and that it goes up high, and they’re always looking around to see if anyone is following them. And even then, you’re never quite sure.

So they’re on the story, printing all these accusations that have been given to them by sources they cannot name because they work amongst the guilty parties — including Deep Throat, which I’m sure we all know about — and the government is really piling shit on the paper for talking about it, meanwhile they’er right the whole time.

And the reason I say this is a film that will never happen again is because — the film doesn’t end with them succeeding. Not really, anyway. The climax of the film is them getting the confirmation of all the names in on the conspiracy and the okay from Ben Bradlee to print the story. And then the actual end of the film is them putting in an article and Nixon getting re-elected. And then the final image is just a series of headlines being printed that show all the guilty men pleading guilty and admitting to their wrongdoings, ending with Nixon resigning. They literally end the film with straight facts. They don’t give you that wrap up moment of “Due to Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation, 35 men went to prison, and Richard Nixon resigned. It was a landmark day for freedom of the press” or whatever the fuck they write on the titles. That might be the most brilliant part of the whole film — the non ending. Something Hollywood today could take a couple of lessons from.

Anyway, Jason Robards plays Ben Bradlee, their editor. And he’s only really shown in glimpses. Most of the time, he’s in his office, reclining, going over the ethics of whether or not they can print something. And he’s like, “You got sources?” And they’re like, “Yeah,” and he’s like, “All right, print it.” That’s all what he does for like 70% of the film. He really gets three moments to shine, and they’re all pretty short. The first is when the White House hits back hard against the paper and he decides to “stand by the boys,” and let the story stand. It’s a big moment in the film because, had he not done that — boom, it ends right there. The other moment is when he tells them the story about when he wrote a story about how Lyndon Johnson was gonna make J. Edgar Hoover resign, or something about not wanting him as head of the CIA or something, and then the next day Johnson made Hoover the director for life. And when the press conference was over, he turned to his chief of staff and said, “Tell Ben Bradlee ‘fuck you’.” I thought that was a great story. And his other moment is at the end when they come to his house in the middle of the night and tell him about the conspiracy they uncovered, and he agrees to let them print the story. He’s terrific here.

When I originally wrote this article, I said I’d vote for Burt Young. But I’ve changed my mind. Robards deserved this.

Young — And the other Rocky nomination. Paulie. Paulie might be my favorite character in the whole of the Rocky series. Burt Young is just so fucking good at it. He plays Rocky’s drinking buddy down at the bar, whose sister is Talia Shire. She’s a shy girl who works at the local pet store who Rocky has a crush on. He’s been trying to talk to her for months, but she never really shows any interest. And Pauly, the drunk that he is, decides to set the two up without telling her. That’s the kind of character he is. He lives with his sister, is a drunk, and she takes care of him, and he’s the kind of guy who will set a girl up without telling her. And he works in the meat packing plant and lets Rocky train there. But his real big moment comes when he sees Rocky and Adrian start getting on together. And he shows up drunk and yells at them because he thinks Rocky will forget about him. He’s the one who introduced him to her. It’s a great role. Everybody knows Paulie.

Young is fucking great in the role. But (and this is me saying this months after originally writing this article), I think it’s better that he didn’t win. Because him and Meredith really did split votes. And Robards — the more I see that performance, the more I think it should have won. So it’s Robards.

My Thoughts: I changed my mind. When I originally wrote this article, the vote was Young. But now — Robards. Robards all the way.

My Vote: Robards

Should Have Won: Robards, Young, Meredith.

Is the result acceptable?: Yes, objectively, but no, subjectively. Jason Robards is awesome. That’s one. But for me, I loved the Rocky performances so much, plus Robards won the year after this so — no, I don’t find this acceptable because everybody could have been happy if either Meredith or Young won here. So, yes and no.

Performances I suggest you see: Rocky — see it. If you haven’t, go to the corner. It’s a perfect film. If you hate it you have no soul. Network, brilliant film. Wonderfully acted — essential for any lover of film. See it. All the President’s Men — essential for any American. Know your goddamn history, motherfucker! Also, the film is perfect and entertaining to boot. It’s a best case scenario for everyone. Plus, if you’re watching movies, this is an essential film. You must see this. If not, your opinion doesn’t count as much for anything film-related. And Marathon Man — great film. Really great film. Highly, highly recommended. Not essential, but really great. 70s. Very 70s. And very well done. Dustin Hoffman was on fire this year. Roy Scheider is in it. Laurence Olivier is scary as fuck. One of those “What the fuck is going on here?” movies. Really recommended. What a stacked category this is.


5) Olivier

4) Beatty

3) Meredith

2) Young

1) Robards

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