The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1971
I love 1971. As a whole. Not so much this category. I’ll get to that in a second. But, for me, 1971 is really where the “70s,” as its imagined as a decade, really took hold in the Academy. 1967 is the year where most people saw a marked change in the industry, Bonnie and Clyde and all, but it never really came into the Academy until this year. Between 1967 and 1971, it was kind of like a fluorescent light flickering before it turned on. In the four years before 1971, only Midnight Cowboy felt like the kind of film that was an example of the “gritty” 70s. So that’s why I love this year.
The French Connection wins Best Picture and Best Director for William Friedkin (talked about here). I love the decisions. I think they were the best decisions they could have made. Then Best Actress was Jane Fonda for Klute, which is another great decision (it’s also a very 70s film). Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress were Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman, both from The Last Picture Show. I don’t particularly like either decision, but, as I said here, I do like the Cloris one because she’s awesome, even though I’d have voted for Ann-Margret in that category. But in all, this year is a very 70s year. And I love the 70s.
As for this particular category, it’s not that strong. And, I like it because Gene Hackman is an actor who should have an Academy Award, and he gave my favorite (and the most iconic) performance in the category. But, I feel as though if the category were stronger, he might not have won. But, fortunately, it isn’t, so it all worked out.
BEST ACTOR – 1971
And the nominees were…
Peter Finch, Sunday Bloody Sunday
Gene Hackman, The French Connection
Walter Matthau, Kotch
George C. Scott, The Hospital
Topol, Fiddler on the Roof
Finch — If there were a list of films I hated the most from this Oscar Quest (and I’m sure there wil be, knowing me), Sunday Bloody Sunday would be on it.
The film is about Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson. They’re sleeping together. However, they’re both also sleeping with another man. They both really like the other man, so they put up with the situation and each other. And the film is basically about them dealing with shit. The dude doesn’t really care about either of them, he just likes getting laid. So eventually he leaves, and they’re upset, but then they’re like, “We should probably get over this,” and do. It’s a really fucking boring film. I hated every minute of it.
Finch plays the doctor. I have no real way to judge his performance, simply because I was trying to claw the eyes out of my head while I watched this film. He’s just kind of there. He’s clearly my #5, and I honestly don’t care whether he was bad or decent because he was never going to win and was never going to get my vote. So really the difference between a #5 and a #3 is meaningless to me, because the film is just so fucking bad.
Hackman — The French Connection is such an amazing film. Just perfect from beginning to end. And how good is Gene Hackman here as Popeye Doyle?
The film is about two cops who stumble onto a major drug shipment that’s about to come into the States. And the whole film is a police procedural of sorts, but on the streets. A lot of the film is them on stakeout, tailing people, listening to conversations, shaking down informants, and chasing people down. It’s so gripping. Seriously, just watch the film, if you haven’t seen it. If you’re interested in film, you know you need to, so just watch it and don’t bother with my silly synopsis of it.
Gene Hackman is awesome. The thing is, though, while I’m voting for him all the way here — it’s not really a performance that should win. It’s not like he did much here. He even said when he won, “I guess I should thank my car.” But, in the category that he’s in (and him being Gene Hackman), it works. But, one year to the left or the right — no way he wins. That’s the nature of the beast. But, he is awesome regardless of his category, and in this one, he happens to be the best. So I vote him all the way.
Matthau — Kotch is the only film Jack Lemmon ever directed. Which is interesting in and of itself. The film, though, is not that bad. It’s just — interesting. Interesting that this is what Lemmon chose as his first directorial effort.
The film is about Walter Matthau, who is supposed to be an old man (even though he was only 50 at the time), who is driving his son and his wife nuts. He’s the kind of old man that just goes up to people and talks to them and rambles on and on, and doesn’t even notice when they walk away from him. He is just completely unaware of his surroundings. But he’s a good guy. So the family wants to put him in a home. But he wants to stay and look after his infant grandson. But they put him in the home, and the film is just about him. He’s in the home, he meets a teenage girl who babysits his grandson (he used to do it, but now he’s in the home), and she gets pregnant, and he strikes up a friendship with her — it’s honestly irrelevant. The plot is irrelevant. There really isn’t much of a plot. Most of it is Matthau’s performance, which, is charming, but — not worth voting for. This film is actually kind of like Harry and Tonto, but without a cat. Old man put where he doesn’t want to be, breaks out, meets people and nothing happens. Also not worth voting for. So, that’s it, really. The film is so-so. Watch it, don’t watch it, it’s not essential. Not bad, but, not particularly memorable. And the performance is okay, but, never going to win.
Scott — The Hospital is a weird, weird film. Paddy Chayefsky, the man who predicted the downfall of network television twenty years early, wrote a script that involves a suicidal doctor whose life (and his hospital) is falling apart. Patients are dying, people are protesting outside because they can’t get health care, and then there’s this crazy “angel of death” scenario where a dude is killing a bunch of doctors and nurses — it’s fucked up. It’s supremely fucked up. About as dark as a comedy can get.
Scott is entertaining in the role, but, having won for Patton the year before this pretty much disqualifies him from winning here. Plus — this is just too weird a film for someone to win an Oscar for (except Chayefsky himself).
Topol — Fiddler on the Roof. Does anyone not know this film? The trials of a Jewish milkman? “If I Were a Rich Man”? Everyone knows this story. I’m not summarizing it. Either you’ve seen it or you need to see it. It’s Fiddler on the Roof. How can you not have seen it? It’s so saturated within the culture.
I’ll say, though, Topol is really, really good in this movie. And honestly, if it weren’t for Gene Hackman, I’d be voting for him. But of the two actors, Hackman is really the one who should have an Oscar. That’s my tiebreaker.
My Thoughts: This is a really weak category. Gene Hackman wins purely for being awesome. Peter Finch was never winning this. George C. Scott won the year before this, so he wasn’t winning. Matthau had the poignancy thing going for him, but the film wasn’t very good. Not that that ever matters — Art Carney won for the same performance three years later (terrible decision). And Topol was great in Fiddler on the Roof, but do you really want Chaim Topol to be a Best Actor winner? Gene Hackman is the only choice here. Popeye Doyle is awesome.
My Vote: Hackman
Should Have Won: Hackman
Is the result acceptable?: The only one here, really. Maybe Matthau could have been acceptable, because he’s Walter Matthau, but, Hackman was the best choice. It paid off historically, because, outside of Matthau, Hackman’s had the best resume of anyone, and really earned this Oscar (and another one, at that). Really he was the best choice. Great decision.
Performances I suggest you see: You need to see The French Connection. It’s a perfect film. Great characters, great chases, great suspense — and it never feels like an action film. I can watch this movie over and over, it’s so good. And as a film person, you need to see this one. This is the 70s.
Fiddler on the Roof is a great film. It’s a bit — stagy. I’ll admit that. It feels like it was shot on a set on a studio lot. Kind of the way Yentl feels. They built this small village and it feels like they’re putting on a play. But, it’s so fun. The songs, the dancing — it’s a great film. Who doesn’t sing along to “If I were a rich man…”? Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum, see this movie. It’s awesome.
Other than that — maybe The Hospital. That’s a weird, fucked up movie. Very, very strange. Kind of funny, but just really out there. You may want to check it out, because it’s Paddy Chayefsky, but, this is a strange, strange film. I like it, though. It has a certain 70s charm to it.