The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1969
I call 1969 the year that 1967 took effect. This was the kind of film that Hollywood transitioned to after they broke away from tradition. This is what the 70s were all about, films like Midnight Cowboy, which won Best Picture and Best Director for John Schlesinger (talked about here). Personally, I’d have went with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I understand the choice of Midnight Cowboy, which is why I don’t have a problem with it.
Best Actress this year was Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This was a sticky category for me, so rather than try to explain it, I’ll just say you can read about it here. Best Supporting Actor was Gig Young for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which, as I said here, was a good decision in a weak category. And Best Supporting Actress was Goldie Hawn for Cactus Flower, which I’ve yet to make up my mind on. I’ll probably be okay with it, though. It’s really just a matter of me voting for her or another nominee.
And then there’s this category. I have to tell you — thank god there’s an easy winner here, because otherwise this could have been tough. I say easy because — there are only a handful of actors in the course of Hollywood who have developed circumstances where, if they were nominated for an Oscar, any time after they’ve reached this status — they’re an automatic win every time. And those people were Humphrey Bogart, post-1950 (won 1951), Henry Fonda post-1960 (won 1981), and John Wayne. I’m sure there are more, but, these people — no matter what they win for, their stature is so strong that they, themselves transcend their performances. That’s why this was a great decision.
BEST ACTOR – 1969
And the nominees were…
Richard Burton, Anne of the Thousand Days
Dustin Hoffman, Midnight Cowboy
Peter O’Toole, Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy
John Wayne, True Grit
Burton — Anne of the Thousand Days is about Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. And it’s fucking amazing.
Burton is Henry, and he wants to divorce his first wife because she hasn’t given him an heir. He starts sleeping with Anne’s sister, but soon becomes interested in Anne. The reason he’s interested in her is because she wants nothing to do with him. He loves that she has the audacity to call him out despite the fact that she can be killed for that. So he takes her on as a mistress. She’s unhappy, because she’s in love with another man. But then she soon falls in love with Henry, and the power that the position brings. And soon she becomes the second most powerful person in the country, and is very influential about things. But she doesn’t produce an heir, and is eventually put on trial and killed because of it.
It’s such a great film. Burton and Bujold (who plays Anne) are fucking incredible here. Both of them deserved Oscars. I seriously considered still voting for Burton despite the presence of John Wayne here. But, you have to give it to Wayne. You really do. Burton, though, to me, gave the best performance by far.
Hoffman — Midnight Cowboy. And a double nomination. Love that.
Midnight Cowboy is about Jon Voight as a cowboy who leaves Texas to go to New York to become a gigolo. He was once gang-raped with his girlfriend, who went crazy and died in an asylum, and he joined the army. So now he has dreams of hitting it big. He goes to the city, figuring he’ll very quickly find women who will pay him for sex. Within about a day, he runs out of money. Then he meets Dustin Hoffman, a small-time conman — Ratso Rizzo –who actually did hustle him out of some money, and they become friends. They squat in the same building, and Hoffman agrees to be his pimp, basically. And the two go around, doing their thing, and the whole time, Hoffman, small and sickly to begin with, gets progressively sicker. And he tells Voight he wants to go down to Miami. So they go down to Miami together, but Hoffman dies just before they get there.
It’s a nice film. Really great. The thing is, though, in this category — Hoffman and Voight split the vote. I honestly couldn’t pick a winner between the two. Hoffman has the flashy role, but Voight is really strong and steady and might actually have given the better performance. So, since both men won Oscars later on, and because there are two more people to vote for, I use vote split logic and cancel them both out, making my life a hell of a lot easier.
O’Toole — Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a film about a stuffy professor who learns to appreciate life when he marries a carefree woman. But then she dies. But the whole time, he becomes a mainstay at this school, and becomes the most beloved professor there. This film was made in 1939 with Robert Donat winning an Oscar for this same role Peter O’Toole is playing. Though this one is a musical.
I’m not voting for O’Toole here for several reasons. One, this role won an Oscar already. Two, I didn’t like this film better than the other version. It seemed unnecessarily longer, and it didn’t hold the emotional weight the first one did, for me. That, and — he’s been so much better. This might be O’Toole’s weakest nominated performance. Lawrence of Arabia, The Lion in Winter, Becket, The Ruling Class, My Favorite Year, The Stunt Man — and you’re gonna give him an Oscar for Goodbye, Mr. Chips? Really? This and Venus are his two weakest performances. He shouldn’t have won here. Not at all.
Voight — Voight as I said up there, may have actually given a better performance than Hoffman, who is generally remembered as having given the more memorable performance. But since I can’t really decide between the two of them, I use vote split logic and take off the pair, since this clearly should be between Burton and Wayne.
Wayne — I’m guessing most people have seen the Coen brothers version of True Grit, so you should know the story.
Just know, though, these films are not at all similar past a basic premise. This movie is not True Grit. This is a John Wayne movie. You have to understand that. It’s just the fact that he’s a legend, and that Rooster Cogburn is such a goddamn great character, that he won. Even he said, when he won, “If I’d known this was all it was gonna take, I’d have put that eye patch on thirty years ago.” Because John Wayne didn’t do anything different. He’s John Wayne. He was a bit more humorous than normal. Got to play drunk. But he was basically John Wayne with an eye patch. He just won because he’s John Wayne. And honestly, that’s enough of a reason for me to give the man an Oscar. Sure as hell makes this category a hell of a lot easier.
My Thoughts: I think John Wayne was the perfect decision here. Let me explain why. First off, he’s John Wayne.
That should be enough, but I do want to actually explain why with logic rather than just leaving it at that.
The second reason is the vote split. Hoffman and Voight are splitting votes, which makes it okay that neither won. Plus they’d both get Oscars later on (Hoffman would get two).
Now, O’Toole, great actor, never got an Oscar — not this category’s fault. Why? Robert Donat won an Oscar for the same role (albeit a non-musical version) exactly thirty years before this. Peter O’Toole was never going to win this. Plus, if they really wanted to give him a competitive Oscar, they’d have given it to him the year before this for The Lion in Winter. That’s where they fucked up. I mean, Cliff Robertson, really?
And Richard Burton? Yes, that’s the most regrettable part of this category. Because in my mind, Burton did give the best performance and did deserve this award. But two things make me say Wayne was a better decision. One — in the pantheon of movies and actors — John Wayne is much higher than Richard Burton. Burton was great, but John Wayne was John Wayne. Which is why Wayne was a good decision here.
Now, as for a vote — Richard Burton gave the best performance, but I still vote for John Wayne. I mean — he’s John Wayne. Let him have an Oscar.
My Vote: Wayne
Should Have Won: Wayne, Burton
Is the result acceptable?: Yes. For all the reasons stated above in My Thoughts. (To sum it up — He’s John Wayne.)
Performances I suggest you see: Midnight Cowboy is a classic, and is pretty essential, all things considered.
True Grit is True Grit, and is a classic. I feel everyone should see this along with the Coen brothers’ remake, just because — you see just how much John Wayne factored into films. Don’t just assume they’re the same movie. They’re not. The Coen brothers version is True Grit. This True Grit is a John Wayne movie. You can’t compare them. Both are incredible, but for very different reasons.
Anne of the Thousand Days — I love this film. I think it’s incredible, and I think both leads deserved Oscars. No doubt about it. I think everyone should see this, because I bet you get totally invested in it. It’s really incredible. Perhaps my favorite costume drama.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips — I say watch the 1939 version. I don’t particularly care for this one at all. But, if you want to see Peter O’Toole in a musical, I guess maybe you could watch it, but, honestly, if you want a better film with Peter O’Toole singing and dancing — watch The Ruling Class. Holy shit is that a great film. This — I say watch the Donat version. I think it’s better.