The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1968

1968 is one of the weakest overall Academy years. Oliver! is a great film, don’t get me wrong, but it probably shouldn’t have won Best Picture. Then again, the film most of us would have liked to see win Best Picture, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was never going to win. It was way too ahead of its time to win. I understand that. I just feel the rest of the year around it was so weak that what we ended up with was a good film winning in a shitty category, which feels like a weak choice.

Carol Reed wins Best Director for Oliver!, which I find fitting, because him losing Best Director for The Third Man is the worst decision of all time in the Best Director category, and this decision, which made up for that one, is the second worst decision, since he beat Stanley Kubrick for 2001, who clearly should have won. So, in a way, they cancel out, but in another way, they’re both terrible. Then Best Actress was the only exact tie in Academy history, with both Katharine Hepburn winning for The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand winning for Funny Girl (talked about here). Honestly, Streisand should have won, so the tie works out just fine. Best Supporting Actress was Jack Albertson for The Subject was Roses (talked about here), which I guess is okay, even though I couldn’t not vote for Gene Wilder in The Producers there. And Best Supporting Actress was Ruth Gordon for Rosemary’s Baby (talked about here). I can’t really complain about it, despite the fact that I’d have voted for Sondra Locke in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Which brings us to this category. What a fucking terrible decision they made here.

(Note: This was written before Cliff Robertson died. I chose to leave it as was because — opinions shouldn’t change because people are dead.)


And the nominees were…

Alan Arkin, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Alan Bates, The Fixer

Ron Moody, Oliver!

Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter

Cliff Robertson, Charly

Arkin — The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is an interesting film. There were parts of it I found captivating and parts I found a bit on the boring side. Yet, as a whole, it was a very compelling watch.

It’s about Alan Arkin, a deaf mute whose somewhat developmentally disabled friend (his only friend) gets sent to a psychiatric hospital. And he and the friend sort of took care of one another, so he’s upset about it. So what he does is go rent a room in another part of the city, as sort of a vacation. And the room he rents is in the house of Sondra Locke and her family. And she’s a teenage girl, just coming into her own. And she has dreams bigger than her town, and is trying to find a way to not get stuck in this town, and is also getting into boys and all that (her character is wonderfully captured. I loved how Sondra Locke played this. I voted for her in Supporting Actress because of it). And she and Arkin become friends, and he shows her classical music, and she comes to him for advice and companionship and all of that. And then there’s this subplot with Arkin helping a local black doctor, and his problems — a lot of stuff. And eventually, Arkin’s friend dies — I think he kills himself. Which leads to Arkin killing himself.

I wasn’t so much interested in the story as much as I was interested in the performances. Alan Arkin and Sondra Locke did great jobs with their roles. Arkin has a tough job. He has to communicate without saying anything. Because not many people can sign with him. So he has to communicate completely silently without signing for the entire film. And it works. He does a lot of good work. The thing is, though — it wasn’t, to me, good enough to vote for. Solid for the nomination, but not for the win.

Bates — The Fixer is a film that just had to be a play. Or a book. It’s about a Jew in Russia who gets arrested and thrown in jail because he’s Jewish. And Alan Bates plays the main character. And the first, like, hour of the film is a bunch of random shit with him and other people — none of it is interesting at all. Then he gets thrown in prison, and the rest of the film is him in prison for no reason, unable to do anything about it because it’s a totalitarian state, and him trying to last until his trial. He’s pretty defiant, but they tell him, “No matter how much they provoke you, don’t do anything, because all you need to do is touch them, and they can kill you with cause.” So the film becomes about him trying to survive until he gets to court — which, happens, and the film ends with him entering the courthouse.

I didn’t much like this film at all, though it did get more interesting when he got thrown in prison. There’s something about prison life films and courtroom films that just make them always interesting to watch.

Anyway, Bates — meh, he was fine in the film, but, I wouldn’t vote for him. That’s really all there is to it. I just, don’t think the performance was worth voting for.

Moody — Ah, now here’s a Jew I can vote for!

By the way, I use the word Jew because that’s how Dickens describes him. And also because it’s accurate. Just in case some PC asshole wants to get all up in arms about it. (Fuck you people.)

Oliver!, is, of course, a musical version of Oliver Twist. With some great songs “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “Pick a Pocket or Two,” “I’d Do Anything” — great stuff. And, the story is just interesting enough to work really well as a musical, because it cuts out all the extra fat off the Dickens prose. If you’ve seen a straight adaptation of Dickens (see: Little Dorrit), you’d know — boring as fuck. You need to do some cutting when it becomes a film. So, here, you get the story — Oliver, orphan, workhouse, wants some more, sent out, thinks he’s finally gonna have a family, they think he stole a dude’s wallet, ends up with thieves — etc, etc, etc. (Note: This isn’t The King and I.) Great film.

And, as we all know, Fagin is the most interesting character in Oliver Twist. Well — him and the Artful Dodger. But there, the name has like, 60% to do with it. But, Fagin is such a great character, because — he’s likable, and yet he’s also not a good guy. He goes both ways, if you know what I mean (English majors).

And Ron Moody really does a great job with the Old Jew here. He sings and dances — it’s the kind of performance I want to be able to vote for, but can’t because it’s just not a performance you vote for. Especially with Peter O’Toole sitting here, never having won an Oscar and giving the performance he did this year.

O’Toole — The Lion in Winter is a great film. I’m a man who is notorious for not liking costume dramas, but man — the 60s sure did have a couple of great ones, specifically, this, Anne of the Thousand Days, A Man for All Seasons, and, to a lesser extent, Becket. The acting is so great in all of these films that it completely overcomes the fact that they’re all set inside a castle and everything is pretty much just shot tableau style.

The film is about Henry II — several years after Becket — dealing with the matter of inheritance. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), is kept locked in a tower at all times (mostly so he can be with his mistress). But he brings her out from time to time when he needs her advice. So he brings her over and is like, “I’m having trouble with this whole inheritance thing.” He wants his son Prince John to inherit, but she wants Richard the Lionheart (Anthony Hopkins). And the whole film is about scheming and plotting. Like, Henry is sleeping with Eleanor’s ex-husband’s half-sister (it’s great, it’s like soap operas in castles), and the ex-husband is like, “All right, either marry her, or return the dowry.” So Henry’s like, “Yo, Richard, you marry her.” And he goes and makes Richard his heir. But he then makes a deal with Eleanor that’s like, “Okay, you got your heir. Now, I want my choice to get your land. In return you can be free.” But then Richard finds out about the deal and is like, “Fuck this, I won’t do it.” And then, John, upset that he was passed over, goes to Eleanor’s ex-husband and is like, “Yo, let’s declare war on these fucks.” Then Henry finds out about all of this and is like, “All three of you are pieces of shit and are unworthy of my throne,” and throws them in a fucking dungeon. He then decides he wants to divorce Eleanor so he can have more kids with his mistress, to find a suitable heir. But then Eleanor’s like, “Yeah, but, if that happens, you’d have to keep your sons in jail for the rest of their lives because they’ll want to kill your new kid.” And he’s like, “Shit. She’s right,” so he lets all the sons out and sends his wife back to be locked up in her tower.

It’s a great film. Also, just so we’re clear — nothing of what happens in the film is accurate at all. Basically, they took the history — what happened to the characters, where they began and where they ended up — and fictionalized the whole story. And that makes it awesome.

O’Toole is fucking great as Henry. I’m guessing the reason they didn’t vote for him is because he already played this character before, in Becket. But I don’t see that as a reason not to vote for him. In this category — to me he’s the only vote. It’s really a shame that every time he gave one of his brilliant performances, there was always someone who was a better choice for the Oscar that year. Except here! So why not vote for him?

Robertson — Charly is basically just Flowers for Algernon. They just figured Charly was a better title for a film.

Charly is a dumb janitor who wants to be smarter. He takes night classes, but is still unable to even write his own name. His professor finds out about a procedure that’s looking for human test subjects. Charly goes through with it, and eventually becomes smarter. We know this because they test him by having him race Algernon, a mouse, through a maze, while he completes a maze on paper. And he keeps losing to Algernon, until eventually he starts beating him. And he gets smarter, to the point where he’s even smarter than his professor. And then he becomes a regular dude. Which means, he starts having certain, thoughts, about his professor. And one night he tries to get with her, she says no, and he disappears. He goes on a weird, crazy, 60s jaunt on a motorcycle. And then eventually he realizes the treatment won’t last and that he’ll end up back the way he was, and the final shot is the doctor coming to see him and realizing he’s back to being the way he used to be.

It’s a good film — very poignant. And Robertson is really good in it. Problem is — he didn’t deserve to win here. Because, the performance is good, but it’s not undisputed, “has to win.” It’s, “maybe, depending on the category.” And the thing is — Peter O’Toole was just as good, if not better. And Peter O’Toole, as an actor, should have an Oscar more than Cliff Robertson. So that’s why, no matter how much I liked the performance and was emotionally manipulated moved by the film, I have to vote for O’Toole over him. I just do.

My Thoughts: Yeah, Peter O’Toole should have won this. There’s no reason you even think about giving it to Cliff Robertson. He was good and all, but, his resume is nowhere near as strong as Peter O’Toole’s, and honestly, I thought Peter O’Toole gave a better performance than Robertson did. So did Ron Moody. So I put Robertson third, at best (though, admittedly, second for a vote). I don’t get it. Why not give it to O’Toole? This was his year.

My Vote: O’Toole

Should Have Won: O’Toole

Is the result acceptable?: No. No matter which way you cut it. I mean, Charly is a pretty good film, and Cliff Robertson did a good and poignant job with it, and it is a nice little snapshot of the late 60s with that weird, trippy little interlude it takes when he gets smart, but it’s really not a performance that should have won. Historically it’s not a great decision, either. Robertson’s definitely in the bottom five or ten actors that won this award. Seriously, who should have a Best Actor award, Uncle Ben or Peter O’Toole? Peter O’Toole would really have been the best decision here, and I’m not sure why they didn’t give it to him. So, no, unacceptable. Pretty bad, historically, as well.

Performances I suggest you see: The Lion in Winter is a great film. It really is. If you love dialogue — this is a film for you. It’s not witty or anything, it’s just — strong. Really strong. This is a film you can just listen to, because it’s so well-written. And well-acted. Everyone in it is great. Really, I can’t recommend this film highly enough. And if you have a bias against costume dramas, keep in mind, so do I. And I’m still recommending this film highly to you.

Oliver! is such an awesome film. Why wouldn’t you see it? This is one of the seminal works of literature. And it’s a musical. So you get fun and you get a famous story. Watching this movie will make having to read the book in school so much easier. Because at least you have the basic plot points, which means you can totally skimp on the reading and do spark notes and not have to do any work. Win win. But, better than that is — the film is fucking amazing. Really, it’s just great. And it’s a Best Picture winner. There’s really no reason for you not to see it.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a good film, and I like it a lot, but I’ll admit — it’s not for everyone. However, Arkin and Locke’s performances are so good that it doesn’t matter. I recommend this film because of that. They do really great jobs here.

Charly is a good film, but a strange one. It’s very late 1960s. And, while the story is strong on its own, I didn’t love this film. I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it. Though, if you haven’t seen any film versions of this story, you probably should. It’s pretty major. So, check this out. If anything, you’ll be able to say you saw a Best Actor-winning performance.


5) Bates

4) Robertson

3) Arkin

2) O’Toole

1) Moody

One response

  1. Pingback: The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Actor, 1967-1968) – Site Title

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