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The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1964

I like 1964. I don’t love it, since I love Dr. Strangelove and would totally have given that Best Picture, but I know the Academy would never have done that. And My Fair Lady is a great film. It’s a classic film. It’s a great choice for Best Picture. And George Cukor winning Best Director is a great decision, because the dude should have had one 30 years earlier. So that worked out really well.

Best Actress this year was Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins, which I like, based on the category. I’ll talk about why specifically when I get to that category, but the shorthand is — it’s Mary fucking Poppins. Lighten the fuck up. Best Supporting Actor this year was Peter Ustinov for Topkapi (talked about here), which I’m cool with. The category really sucked hardcore. And Best Supporting Actress was Lila Kedrova for Zorba the Greek, which, honestly, the category was so bad, I understand it. But the complete disrespect for Agnes Moorehead by the Academy is just astounding. The fact that she didn’t win (ever) really shocks me. That’s just as bad as Claude Rains never winning.

And then we end up here. I know how we all feel, so I’ll say it this way, and this is how it’s gonna stay: yes, Peter Sellers gave the best performance. Yes, I’m voting for him. No, the Academy was never going to give him the Oscar here. Yes, Rex Harrison was the best choice in that scenario. So this was actually a good decision.

BEST ACTOR – 1964

And the nominees were…

Richard Burton, Becket

Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady

Peter O’Toole, Becket

Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek

Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Burton — Look at all the double nominations this month. I love it.

Becket is a film about Henry II (O’Toole), who appoints Thomas Becket (Burton), his friend and drinking buddy, to Archbishop of Canterbury. He’s under some pressure from all sides, and figures if he appoints his friend to a position, he’ll be able to control it. But, to his surprise, Becket takes the job very seriously. He starts developing his own opinions. He refuses to go with Henry’s agenda if it does against his beliefs and against God. This causes lots of tension, and eventually leads to Henry having Becket killed. Though this leaves him with a lot of grief, because he knows he shouldn’t have.

It’s a strong film. It’s anchored by two really great performances by Burton and O’Toole. Burton plays Becket. Of the two, I liked O’Toole’s performance better. Burton, I feel, gave much better performances in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. So, if I was gonna vote for him anywhere, it would be there instead of here.

Harrison — My Fair Lady. The musical version of Pygmalion.

Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, turning her into a lady — seriously, if you don’t know this story, you really should check to see if you’re alive. You need to see this one.

Harrison is delightful as Higgins. He’s really great. He can’t sing, but makes the most of the musical numbers with his unorthodox style. He’s really great here. I honestly wouldn’t hesitate voting for him if it weren’t for Peter Sellers. I just love Dr. Strangelove too much, plus, Sellers had to play three characters. The work he put into that performance — he really should have won in my book. But Harrison was awesome, and I know the Academy would have never voted for Sellers, so I’m totally cool with Harrison winning.

O’Toole — O’Toole plays Henry, and, honestly, I’d consider him more strongly for a vote if there weren’t two other people to vote for here. He’s really strong in the role, but, Harrison and Sellers get vote consideration over O’Toole. Plus, he was always gonna split votes with Burton anyway. And, he gave a performance that was just as good (as the same character) in 1968, and that’s where he should have won his Oscar. Not here.

Quinn — Zorba the Greek is about an uptight British writer who visits Greece because he’s thinking of opening up a mine on some land his father owns. While he’s there, he meets Zorba, played by Anthony Quinn. He is the most charismatic man you could possibly meet. Zorba convinces this dude to let him tag along. They go to this town, where Zorba starts sleeping with the owner of a local inn. They try to work the mine, but can’t, because it’s dangerous. And the dude starts sleeping with a widow in the village, but, she gets killed eventually because she’s been spurning this other dude who kills himself after she sleeps with the main dude, and then the kid’s father kills her. And then the inn lady dies, and the villagers loot the hotel. And the film is mostly about Zorba teaching this guy to live life to the fullest. He dances a lot. It’s a pretty good film.

Anthony Quinn gives perhaps the best performance of his career, and it’s a shame it came this year and not the year before when he could have won. Too bad. Still, he’s really great.

Sellers — Dr. Strangelove is a film you should have seen by now. If not, you’ll have to get a synopsis on your own time. Not mine.

Peter Sellers plays Capt. Lionel Mandrake, a British officer at the base run by General Jack D. Ripper, who has to deal with his commander going a bit “funny in the head”, President Merkin Muffley, who has to deal with one of his planes about to attack Russia and start World War III, and the titular Dr. Strangelove, the crazy German scientist with a rogue hand. If you’ve seen the film, you know how good Sellers is.

I’m voting for him, that’s all there is to it.

My Thoughts: I said it in the intro. Yes, Sellers gave the best performances. No he was never going to win. I’m voting for him. But, Rex Harrison was also a great choice.

I rank the performances (in terms of how good they were) thusly: 1) Sellers, 2) O’Toole, 3) Quinn, 4) Harrison, 5) Burton. Yet I still put Harrison second for a vote, because, well I’m crazy. Either way, I’m voting for Sellers.

My Vote: Sellers

Should Have Won: Sellers, Harrison

Is the result acceptable?: Absolutely. Read the rest of the article. You should know why by now.

Performances I suggest you see: Dr. Strangelove, My Fair Lady. If you haven’t seen either of these, you’re pretty much dead to the world. If you don’t see them, you don’t really love movies.

I really like Becket. It’s a great film. I don’t like it as much as I like Anne of the Thousand Days, A Man for All Seasons and The Lion in Winter, but it’s still a very solid film with strong performances by O’Toole, Burton and Gielgud. I recommend this film. If you can deal with the costume drama, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Zorba the Greek — I don’t love it. But Anthony Quinn is so vivacious you can’t help but like it. It’s a fine film. It’s just not one I’d watch very often. Very likable, though. Check it out. Zorba’s a great character.

Rankings:

5) Burton

4) Quinn

3) O’Toole

2) Harrison

1) Sellers

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