The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1973

I love 1973 so much. Sandwiched between the two Godfathers, I consider this a year that’s that as strong as those two. The Sting wins Best Picture, which I think is a perfect choice (even though, I know, some people like The Exorcist and American Graffiti). George Roy Hill wins Best Director for the film as well, which, as I said here, needed to happen, since, between The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he earned an Oscar.

Best Actress this year was Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class (talked about here), which I don’t like, but only because Jackson won in 1970 in what I consider the worst Oscar decision of all time. So the spite from her winning there, along with the fact that, if Ellen Burstyn had won here for The Exorcist, it would have taken her out of the running the year after this and Gena Rowlands could have won for her brilliant performance in A Woman Under the Influence, overshadows what is actually a good performance by Glenda Jackson. Then Best Supporting Actor was John Houseman for The Paper Chase (talked about here), which I understand, even though I’d have voted for Jason Miller (or Vincent Gardenia) there. And Best Supporting Actress was Tatum O’Neal for Paper Moon (talked about here), which I’m over the — well, I love it very much. I think she was perfect in that film.

And then, this category — it had to happen. I know it’s one of (if not the) the strongest Best Actor categories of all time, but, this result had to be the one that happened here. The consolation is that the rest of the actors in the category all won Oscars (7, in fact, bringing the total number of Oscars won by the men in this category to 9. Which is pretty amazing).


And the nominees were…

Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris

Jack Lemmon, Save the Tiger

Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail

Al Pacino, Serpico

Robert Redford, The Sting

Brando — Last Tango in Paris is a film about a French woman (Maria Schneider) who takes an apartment. In the apartment she finds an American (Brando). He says it’s his apartment. They begin a passionate affair. They fuck a lot. There are ups and downs, he sodomizes her and makes her go get the butter, she ends up acting in a film and they break up. He comes back, and she stabs him and he dies. That’s pretty much the film. And they fuck a lot.

It’s an interesting film. I don’t love it, but I don’t doubt that lots of people do. I’m cool with that. I just don’t particularly care for the film all that much. As for the performance, this is not Brando at his best. The Godfather was the year before this. That’s Brando at his best. On the Waterfront, Streetcar. Those are performances he should have won for, not this. If he didn’t win for Streetcar, he shouldn’t have won for this. Case closed.

Lemmon — Save the Tiger is a passion project of sorts of Jack Lemmon’s. The film is about him, as a dress shop owner whose business is failing. He makes the dresses in-house, and is losing business to the wholesale companies who import a bunch of stuff from companies — department stores. And because of this, he hires a dude to torch his place so he can collect on the insurance. That’s sort of the basic plot of the film. The subtext of this all is the fact that he feels this great disconnect with the culture. He was a dude raised in the 30s and 40s, and here he is, in the 70s, with all these counterculture kids, smoking weed and listening to the Beatles, and he can’t connect with that. And the film is about his inability to relate to any of the current state of the world. It’s a fascinating, fascinating film. It’s really, really great.

Lemmon is just tremendous in this film. This is definitely one of the best performances he ever put on screen. That, coupled with the fact that he was so overdue — he only won one Supporting Actor Oscar for Mister Roberts, and since then, went unrewarded for his work in Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses, and all the other work he did. And, with the strength of this performance, that makes him an easy winner here. He deserved this so much.

Nicholson — The Last Detail is the first film where Nicholson went full Nicholson. You really see his “Jack” persona shine through here. It’s also a great film.

The film is about two sailors who are tasked to bring a young sailor to prison. He hit a superior officer and is going to be jailed for something like two years. And they have to move him from the base to the prison, which is like a three day journey. And they decide to show this kid a good time before he goes. And Randy Quaid plays the kid, and Nicholson is one of the sailors — Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky. He’s very cocky, and he’s pretty much the one in charge. He legit wants to show this kid a good time, but he also tells the kid, even though he starts to like him, not to run away, because they can tell the guards at the prison and get time added to his sentence. And the film is about these three men. It’s really great. Don’t think so much about plot here — just watch and enjoy. It’s a fantastic film. Really great.

Nicholson is fantastic here, and he gives a performance that’s electric enough where he could have deservedly won here. But he’d give better performances than this in Chinatown and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Against Lemmon, he didn’t really have a shot here. He was great, but not better than (other) Jack.

Pacino — Serpico is — Serpico. You probably should have seen this. It’s a pretty famous film.

Pacino plays Serpico, the cop who wouldn’t take a bribe, and he’s great. It’s a classic character. He’s fantastic here. But he shouldn’t have won for it. Not against Lemmon. Pacino’s Oscar should have come the year after this for Godfather Part II. Not here. This is Lemmon’s year.

Redford — The Sting is another movie you should have seen. It’s classic, and it’s fucking amazing. No synopsis. Just watch it if you haven’t.

Redford plays Johnny Hooker, and basically — I don’t really know why he got nominated here. I guess because he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and the film needed one acting nomination in order to win Best Picture. Redford doesn’t do all too much here, and he himself said that all he did was run in the film. It’s not a performance that wins Best Actor. But, he’s great, the film’s great, and he provides a nice boost to the strength of the category, even though he had no shot at winning. I like that.

My Thoughts: Despite the absolute stacked list of nominees here — right? How fucking great is this list? — I do actually vote Jack Lemmon. The dude was passed over for an Oscar so many times (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Days of Wine and Roses), and this is one of his finest performances.

The other reason I vote for him with no guilt whatsoever is because — Brando won the year before, and had two at this point (plus he won for The Godfather, which, you’re not topping that the very next year, no matter what you do), Pacino should have won for The Godfather Part II the year after this (and would win for Scent of a Woman), Nicholson would win for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and As Good as It Gets (plus a Supporting for Terms of Endearment), and Redford would win Best Director for Ordinary People (and as much as I love Redford, I think we can all agree he wasn’t better than Jack Lemmon here. He even said himself that all he did was run around in this movie). Plus, all these guys were basically just starting out. Lemmon had been at it for 20 years. To me, Lemmon is the clear winner here.

My Vote: Lemmon

Should Have Won: Lemmon

Is the result acceptable?: Yup. Jack Lemmon deserved this. This was, without a doubt, one of his top three finest acting performances ever put to film. And since everyone else on this list, in one way or another, got an Oscar (or two. Though Redford’s was for Directing, which, isn’t as great, but, hey, it’s something). So, Lemmon was the best choice here.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen The Sting, you’re dead to both me and the world Ya follow?

The same probably also applies to Serpico and The Last Detail. They’re very major films. Serpico, you should know you need to see it. The Last Detail, you might not know you need to see it, but you do. You really do. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see Nicholson go crazy and shout “I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!” This is the first time he goes full Nicholson.

Save the Tiger is a great film. It’s seriously one of Lemmon’s finest performances. The film itself is not for everyone, but if you’re a true film fan, you owe it to yourself to see this movie. It’s so rich. There’s so much stuff about this that makes it worth watching — Lemmon’s performance, the 70s-ness of it, and the fact that it’s definitely a very particular snapshot of the era. If I wanted to try to recreate the 70s, this is one of the films I’d look at. Seriously, check this one out. I recommend it very, very highly.

And, Last Tango in Paris — I like the film, and most people would consider this an essential classic, but to me — I think its legacy is stronger than the actual film. I’ve seen this film twice and I still don’t particularly enjoy watching it. So I feel people should watch this once, and at the very least respect its status as a well-revered classic. Otherwise, I consider this the lesser of the films on this list. It’s just not for me.


5) Brando

4) Redford

3) Pacino

2) Nicholson

1) Lemmon

One response

  1. The way I see it:
    1. Jack Lemmon, Save the Tiger (probably the best performance of his career)
    2. Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail
    3. Al Pacino, Serpico
    4. Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris
    5. Robert Redford, The Sting (still very good, performance-wise)

    Even a #4 or a #5 this year, would be a #2 or #3 most other years. That’s how fucking strong this category is.

    September 23, 2013 at 9:27 am

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