The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1970

1970 is a painful year for me. Patton wins Best Picture, in a standard “Academy” decision, one that’s understandable but not particularly interesting. Franklin J. Schaffner wins Best Director, which makes perfect sense. George C. Scott winning Best Actor for it is actually one of the best decisions of all time in that category. These decisions aren’t what makes this year so painful for me, nor is Best Supporting Actress, which Helen Hayes won for Airport (which I talked about here).

What makes this year painful to me are the other two decisions. First, Glenda Jackson wins Best Actress for Women in Love, which is the single worst decision in the history of that category, and the history of the Academy Awards. Ali MacGraw not winning for Love Story is seriously the biggest travesty of the Academy Awards. Then the other terrible decision was this category, where there are two great performances, and the Academy went with what they did is really just an awful reality. And since only one of the other four decisions up there is legitimately good and interesting (the rest are either ho-hum or good, but ultimately pretty generic). They provide no solace whatsoever. And that’s why I hate this year.


And the nominees were…

Richard Castellano, Lovers and Other Strangers

Chief Dan George, Little Big Man

Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father

John Marley, Love Story

John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter

Castellano — Lovers and Other Strangers was not a great film, but I did enjoy it. It had very enjoyable elements. The film revolves around a wedding, that of Michael Brandon and Bonnie Bedelia (you don’t know him, but you do know her. She’s Mrs. Holly MacLane. Or Holly Gennaro, if you will). And we see what it’s like for all their family and friends as the wedding approaches (and happens). We see her parents as her father has an affair with his wife’s sister, and her sister, who is in a marriage to a man who’d rather watch TV than have sex with her, and his brother who are on the verge of a divorce, and a great story between a bridesmaid and an usher who they set up during all the events (and he hilariously tries to sleep with her during the entire weekend), and finally — this is the story we’re interested in — the groom’s parents.

The groom’s parents are played by Richard Castellano — who, if you don’t know, was Clemenza in The Godfather. The dude who teaches Michael how to make sauce, and gets the cannolis for his wife. Him — and Bea Arthur. Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s Bea. And basically, throughout the film, Bea Arthur is the hothead. She argues with her husband, and spends the entire movie on a crusade to make sure her son and his wife don’t get divorced. And Castellano just kind of sits back, watches it, and is calm as anything the whole time. The wise patriarch. And he spends most of the movie just sitting there as Bea Arthur is like, “You can’t get divorced, why you wanna get divorced?” And then he calmly sits there and then, right during the wedding reception, is like, “Look, I’ve been married to your mother for thirty-five years. I had an affair once. I thought I’d never hear the end of it. And sure, her sauce sucks, but you know, we’re together, and being together is a special thing.” And then he sits back and goes back to doing what he was doing. And right there, you’re like, “This motherfucker just did in three minutes what Bea Arthur (and others) were trying to do for the entire fucking movie.” And then, after you know he just solved shit like a boss, has that other great moment where he looks at these other people and is like, “Look at these fucking idiots,” and you’re like, “I know! Look at them! I thought nobody saw them!” It’s amazing. Castellano is a great actor. I love this dude.

As for this category, he’s not really worth voting for. But I’d put him third. Because he does command a certain amount of respect for the likability of this performance as well as the fact that he was Clemenza. So I’ll give him third for a vote. He was very enjoyable. And the movie was very enjoyable too. I recommend it. It was fun. This is what being from an Italian family from Brooklyn kind of feels like (among other things).

Chief Dan George — Oh man, Chief Dan. I feel as though I always need to call him Chief Dan George whenever I talk about him. This dude is a fucking revelation. Perhaps the most unique character actor in the history of film. Here’s a dude with a delivery unlike anyone else. Ever. No one has ever done what he does. He’s the Steven Wright of character actors. His delivery is so slow and laconic, and his humor is so dry and droll — it’s incredible. He’ll sit there and talk so slowly that you think he’s so wise, and then he’ll say this hilarious shit. It’s incredible.

He only made like three movies, but all his performances are just so memorable. I can’t tell if my favorite was this one or as Lone Watie in The Outlaw Josey Wales. I guess it has to be that one, just because he’s got some of the best one-liners I’ve ever heard in that. Just watch this clip. He’s so hysterical:

That’s his character. It works perfectly here in Little Big Man. The film is about Dustin Hoffman, who at the start is the oldest man in the world (121 years old). He tells his story to a reporter, claiming to be “the sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.” And the film is basically one of the best western comedies ever made. It’s picaresque. Dustin Hoffman goes from being white, to Indian, back to white, to Indian, meeting all sorts of people — it’s just incredible.

It starts with Hoffman and his sister being captured by Indians when they attack their wagon train. And his sister is very ugly, and is dramatically like, “Oh no, if they capture us, they’re gonna rape me!”, and is pretending to be all scared, meanwhile she really wants to be ravaged by an Indian. And they’re like, “No, she’s ugly, we don’t want her. Take the boy.” And they take Hoffman and raise him as one of their own. And Chief Dan George acts as his grandfather. And Hoffman grows up as an Indian, and we spend time as he makes enemies with another Indian. The dude was like the alpha warrior of the tribe and Hoffman managed to somehow save his life once, which meant the dude owed him a debt. So the dude grew to resent him for doing that and holds a huge grudge, which always backfires on him (Hoffman manages to best him at everything even though he’s not trying to compete with him. This culminates with the moment later on when the dude comes up to him and is like, “Guess what? I’ve got a wife, and four horses.” And only at that point do we realize, humorously enough, that this is the case, as Hoffman responds, “Well, I’ve got a horse, and four wives.” It’s hilarious).

So Hoffman grows up an Indian, or a “human being” as they call themselves. He’s given the name “Little Big Man” because he’s so small yet so brave. And one day, the whites attack, and he’s saved because he reveals himself as a white man. So they take him and send him to live with a reverend and his wife, who is played by Faye Dunaway. And of course, she’s sexually frustrated and tries to sleep with him, only to scream at him whenever she succumbs to her desire. So he runs away, and then meets up with a snake-oil salesman, who is hysterical. Every time we meet up with him over the course of the film, he’s missing more body parts. He loses a leg, and then an eye, all because he’s a shyster, selling fake products to people. And then, one day, as he gets tarred and feathered, it just so happens (this happens a lot) that one of the people doing it is his sister.

So he goes with his sister, and she turns him into a gunslinger. And he goes around as a gunslinger, and meets up with Wild Bill Hickcock, and they become friends. But then Hoffman sees Hickcock kill a dude and decides he doesn’t want to do that. Then he ends up marrying a Swedish woman (who basically marries him for citizenship) and settles down to run a store. But then his partner swindles him out of the money. But, he happens to run into George Armstrong Custer, who tells them they should head further out west. So they go out west, and, his wife gets abducted, and Hoffman has to go out and find her. And along the way, he meets up with Chief Dan George again, and stays with the tribe for a while, but then goes back and joins Custer.

He works for Custer, who is portrayed as the dumbest man alive. Seriously, it’s hysterical how they do Custer here. Have you seen (and I know this is a stretch) Night at the Museum 2? The way Bill Hader plays Custer? Well, the reason he plays him like that is because of this movie. I bet you he used this film as inspiration for the way he played the character. Anyway, he joins Custer, but sees them attack Indians and kill innocent people, so he turns against them. During the battle, he meets a woman giving birth in the trees, and saves her and the baby from Custer’s men. She then becomes his wife, and he goes back with Chief Dan George and the tribe. And then his wife asks him (she asks him) to take in her three sisters (all of whom are widows) and treat them as his wives as well. Which leads to that great line of having “a horse, and four wives.” And to make it even better, the dude’s one wife ends up being Hoffman’s former Swedish wife.

Then one day Custer attacks the camp, and all of Hoffman’s wives are killed, but he escapes with Chief Dan George. He then goes to kill Custer for what he did, but can’t do it. And, after he’s mocked by Custer, he becomes a drunk. While he’s a drunk, Will Bill meets up with him again and helps him clean up. And as he does, Hickcock is killed in that famous game with the “dead man’s hand.” Bill then tells Hoffman as he dies to go give his money to a woman he’d been sleeping with. Hoffman goes, and the woman ends up being a prostitute, and also Faye Dunaway again. Everything in this film shows up again later. It’s so well-written.

Then he becomes a trapper, but, one day he sees someone’s leg in a trap and gets upset. He goes to kill himself, but at that very moment runs into Custer again. So he goes back with Custer. And Custer, remembering that Hoffman tried to kill him, hires him, but assumes that anything Hoffman says to him is a lie. He tells him that he’s going to use him to find out what not to do. Which Hoffman uses to lead him into Little Bighorn, because he says, “If you go in there, you’re all going to be killed!” and Custer is like, “That means, if we go in there, we’re all going to be victorious!” And Hoffman, exasperated at how stupid this man is, is like, “Okay, fine. Whatever you do, do not go into that valley.” And Custer is like, “Call the charge!” And they all get slaughtered.

And then Hoffman goes back to Chief Dan George, who is like, oh, it’s time to die now. I’m old, it’s time to give my body up to the Great Spirit. And he goes up to a mountain top to lay down and wait for death. And the whole thing is played as this whole big spiritual thing. And you’re like, “Holy shit, this dude is so wise, he knows when he’s going to die, and is going to lay down and die when he expects to.” And he brings Dustin Hoffman on the mountain, and does a whole dance of death, and prays to the spirit one last time, and lays down to die. And it’s long and dragged out. And Hoffman is watching this, like, “No, don’t die now! I don’t want you to go, Grandfather!” And there’s this long moment where Chief Dan George is just laying there, totally still. And you think he’s actually dead. And it’s kind of sad. And then it starts to rain. And you see him blink as the rain hits his closed eyes. And Hoffman looks at him, like, “Are you still alive?” And he goes, “Am I still in this world?” And Hoffman’s like, “Yeah.” And Chief Dan George sits up and goes, “Damn. I was afraid of that.” And then he just kind of shrugs and goes, “Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.” And then he gets up and is like, “Let’s go get some dinner.” And that’s how the film ends. It’s fucking brilliant.

Chief Dan George is so good in this movie. He’s so good in every movie. It’s gonna be really hard not to vote for him. But, really, if I can do anything with this article and this category, let it be to implore you to see this movie! It’s so amazing. If you’ve seen just about any western ever made, and understand the typical conventions of the western — watch this movie. You are going to love it. It’s so hysterical. I kind of want to go watch it right now. That’s how good it is. Just talking about it is making me want to watch it. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. It’s hysterical.

Hackman — I Never Sang for My Father is a film that feels like a baby boomer version of the generation gap. You have The Graduate, which is really the definitive generation gap film of the late 60s. And this feels like the establishment version of that film.

Gene Hackman is a college professor who comes to visit his parents. Melvyn Douglas is his father, and their relationship is strained, but not on the surface. They don’t have much in common anymore, and Hackman struggles to communicate with his father beyond the three topics he knows he can discuss with him. And Hackman met a woman and wants to move out to California with her, but is worried about what it’ll do to his father. And what happens is, his mother dies very suddenly, and this makes Hackman even more hesitant about moving. And basically he has to decide between this piety he has for his father and his feelings of wanting to be with this woman who makes him happy. And the father gets sicker and weaker as the film goes on — I don’t know, it was kind of boring for me. I think my indifference toward this film has to do with the fact that I’m 22. Maybe this film will gain more significance to me as I get older. Now — meh.

Hackman is okay in the movie. Maybe others will like the performance more, but for me, it’s just a first nomination that will lead to other things — mainly him winning the year after this for The French Connection. So, I feel no need to vote for him at all. There are much better performances to vote for.

Marley — Love Story, as I like to say, is a film I came to very late. I say late because, based on the type of movie it is and the way it plays, and how perfectly it fits my tastes and even my writing style, I’m amazed I hadn’t seen it sooner. I literally watched this one night at midnight, over the summer, during the Oscar Quest, and that was only because it was expiring from Netflix Instant the next day. And within the first six minutes of the movie, I was head over heels in love with it. Good, clean love … without utensils.

The film begins with Ryan O’Neal, a Harvard Law student, son of a very rich man, and Ali MacGraw, a Radclife student studying music, from a working class Italian family, meeting in a coffee shop and starting up a conversation. And basically he starts flirting with her and she keeps shooting him down. And eventually they work up this very pure, very witty kind of banter, that to me was the most charming thing in the world. I fell in love with not only this movie, but also Ali MacGraw (which is why her not winning Best Actress this year is the biggest travesty in the history of the Academy Awards), within the first six minutes of the movie. And they start hanging out, and eventually dating, and they fall in love. And then they decide they want to get married. And his father disapproves, so he says he’s not going to speak to his father anymore. And they get married and live together in a shitty apartment in Boston as he works through law school. But they love each other, so they don’t care. And the whole time, their relationship is built on something so real, that you’re really with them all the way. And the dialogue never lets up, either. It’s brilliant all the way through.

And eventually, they decide they want to have a child, and after a while, they find they’re having trouble conceiving. And O’Neal is so distraught that it’s him — there’s something wrong with him. But then, they find out, it’s not him. Ali MacGraw actually has leukemia, and is dying. And the rest of the film is about him dealing with her dying. And he’s distraught, trying to do anything to help her, and she’s like, “I’m dying, it happens. Don’t cry over it. Let’s be happy in these last days.” And it’s so noble — most people find this ridiculous and overly sappy. I say that’s ridiculous — I’m not ashamed to say I bawled like a child at this part. And then, as she’s dying, she gets him to reconcile with his father, and there’s this great moment where she’s in the hospital bed, and he climbs in there with her and just lays with her, knowing he’s never going to see her again. It’s so heartbreaking.

Anyway, John Marley (you know him as Jack Woltz, the head of the studio who has an accident with his horse in The Godfather) plays her father. And the first time we see him is when Ryan O’Neal goes to him to ask if he can marry his daughter. And we already saw what happened when he went to his own father, so, it’s tense. And he’s like, “Are you in love?” And they say yes. And he’s like, “My daughter is all I have in the world. I love her to death. And if she says she wants to marry you, I say god bless.” He actually turns out to be a really nice and cool guy. And then later on, he shows up as she’s dying, and delivers this really poignant speech where he’s like, “I can’t do anything. My baby girl is dying and I can’t do anything about it.” Oh man, it’s so effective. This dude really was incredible here. He makes it really hard to decide between him and Chief Dan George. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with this.

Mills — And…this one. In case you don’t know, I don’t like this decision.

Ryan’s Daughter is a three hour film by David Lean. The thing with David Lean is, all of his early films are amazing. And then, after Lawrence of Arabia, he kind of hit that tipping point where, he reached the top, and kept trying to hit that bar every time after that. And he almost got there with Doctor Zhivago. That’s a great film, but it’s not quite at that Lawrence of Arabia level. Hence the reason it didn’t win Best Picture. And then, I don’t know, I guess Lean got old and out of touch, because his next (and last) two films are just really, really boring.

There is a story though, that he was so unhappy with how this film went that he stayed away from Hollywood and filmmaking for almost fifteen years (he came back to make A Passage to India, which, you saw how that turned out). Anyway, the film is about an Irish woman who has an affair with a British man. That’s the film. And it’s 195 minutes long. Because, you know, that was necessary.

Sarah Miles lives in an Irish village, and she’s bored. She hates it there. And Robert Mitchum is a schoolteacher from out of town. And she falls in love with him. Because he’s been places. Never mind that he’s thirty years older than her. So she marries him, and pretty soon is bored. Every try fucking an old person for ten years when you’re 21? It doesn’t work out. Trust me. (Or rather, don’t. That made it sound like I had experience in the matter.)

So there’s a British army base nearby, and the town hates them, naturally. And then she starts fucking a solider, and a bunch of shit happens, and eventually the British dude dies by blowing himself up. It’s just — I’d rather not get into it. It’s a three hour film, and it’s all so pointless. Let’s just get to the performance.

John Mills is the village idiot. I am not kidding. He doesn’t talk, and gestures wildly to explain what he’s talking about and makes those guttural noises like he’s Helen Keller or something. And he doesn’t know any better, so he basically wanders around, being picked on by all the assholes, and just doing what he does. And he ends up telling people about the affair, and they flip out, and then later on, he finds a bunch of explosives on the beach, which the dude uses to kill himself. That’s it. He does nothing in this movie. I am amazed that this performance won. It’s like Glenda Jackson winning this year. What the hell were they thinking? In a three+ hour movie, he’s in it for about, oh, ten minutes. Maybe more, but, he doesn’t do anything! This is seriously the second-worst decision of all time in this category.

My Thoughts: To me, this category comes down between the best performance and the most entertaining performance. Chief Dan George gave — by far — the most entertaining performance, and on that alone, is worth a vote. John Marley, however, gave the best performance. And that’s where I find myself right now. Do I vote for Chief Dan George because he stole the movie, or do I vote for John Marley for an exceptional supporting turn that also really deserves an award? I don’t know.

And yet — I totally do. I have to go with Chief Dan George. How can you not? How did they not? How did they not vote for this? (I guess, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.)

My Vote: Chief Dan George

Should Have Won: Marley, George

Is the result acceptable?: This is seriously the second worst decision of all time in this category (behind Robert Duvall losing in 1979). This was perhaps the least interesting and most undeserving performance on this list. He’s fourth, at best, for a vote, maybe third (for some people), but, winning — no, this is not acceptable no matter how you look at it. Or rather, maybe acceptable is the wrong word. A bad decision is what this is. Acceptable is a matter of — it has to be acceptable because it happened. But a good decision this is not. Second worst of all time.

Performances I suggest you see: Watch Little Big Man. Trust me on this. If you’re even remotely a fan of movies, and are at all familiar with the western genre (whether you like it or not. But the more you like it, the better it will be), you will love this movie. It’s so fucking funny. It’s amazing. And Chief Dan George, if you haven’t seen him before, will be a revelation to you. If there’s a film I think most people who are only broadly into movies (like, on the fringe of being a film buff for real, who knows about almost everything) will end up loving. That’s how confident I am in this. See it.

Love Story is also an essential film. If not for everyone (though why not for everyone? It’s one of the most famous romances ever put to screen, and has one of the top 13 quotes of all time as voted by AFI), for me. You need to see this movie is you even want to think about talking about good movies with me. I’ll talk about movies with you, but I won’t even begin to listen to your opinion about what’s good and what isn’t unless you’ve seen this one.

Then, Lovers and Other Strangers is actually a very enjoyable movie. I recommend it. It’s a fun little 70s family comedy of sorts. My Big Fat Italian Wedding, maybe. There are a nice amount of famous and recognizable faces in this, and the whole thing is really engaging and just fun. Check it out. Especially if you’re from an Italian family from New York. Even if you’re not, it’s definitely worth checking out. I enjoyed this film very much.


5) Mills

4) Hackman

3) Castellano

2) Marley

1) George

One response

  1. MovieFan

    Would probably vote for Hackman, more to do with favoritism because I love the guy lol. Another great read

    August 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm

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