The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1979
1979 is a year I can say a lot about. I’ll try not to here. At least, not at once. The main thing here is that Kramer vs. Kramer wins Best Picture, beating out Apocalypse Now and All That Jazz. It also beat Norma Rae and Breaking Away, but the first two are the real important ones. It’s not a question of whether or not it’s a good film, it’s just — is it really better to have won over those two? Did history really hold up on that one? I consider this one of those — the Academy being the Academy. And the Academy being wrong — decisions.
Also this year, Robert Benton wins Best Director for Kramer vs. Kramer (talked about here), because, I guess, Francis Ford Coppola and Bob Fosse didn’t produce the two best individual efforts of their careers. Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor for the film as well (talked about here), and this I agree with. He was amazing here, and due. Meryl Streep also won Best Supporting Actress for the film (talked about here). She was also amazing, and totally deserved it. And Best Actress this year was Sally Field for Norma Rae (talked about here), which is also a good decision. So, this year, on the whole, had some great decisions in it. Three, in fact. The problem here is the other three. Especially this one.
This category is the worst Best Supporting Actor decision of all time. If there ever was a year where “veteran Oscar” was what happened, this is it. I’m not even going to hide my opinion here or mask who I’m voting for. Robert Duvall delivered one of the most iconic performances of all time. Even if you haven’t seen Apocalypse Now, I bet you can quote that napalm speech. This is a character so strong, it’s possible you remember him even more than Marlon Brando in this movie. Or Dennis Hopper. That’s how fucking strong he is. Literally, the first half of this movie is his. That’s how good he is. And Melvyn Douglas wins because he’s old and dying. That’s just terrible.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1979
And the nominees were…
Melvyn Douglas, Being There
Robert Duvall, Apocalypse Now
Frederic Forrest, The Rose
Justin Henry, Kramer vs. Kramer
Mickey Rooney, The Black Stallion
Douglas — Being There is a brilliant film, and one not enough people have seen.
Peter Sellers is Chance the Gardener, who only knows what he’s seen on television. He’s been tending to the garden in this one house since he was young. He knows nothing of the outside world, and has been kept sheltered because of his simple nature. Then the master of the house dies, and he is forced to go out into the world. As he wanders around, he spots a television in a shop window and starts watching. This causes him to get hit by a car. The car turns out to be owned by Melvyn Douglas, an aging, dying billionaire, who also happens to be a close friend and top advisor to the President.
And Sellers shows up at Douglas’s house to recover from injuries sustained by the car hitting him, and he and Douglas get to talking. And Chance, speaking only in stuff heard from TV and stuff he knows about gardens, is immediately embraced by Douglas, who thinks he’s making complex statements about the state of the government and the economy, and thinks he’s some sort of economics genius. And everyone starts to think he’s this big shot, because of the way he talks, and the only one who realizes the truth is Douglas’s doctor, who doesn’t say anything because he sees that Sellers is helping Douglas accept death. And the film ends with Douglas dying and the backers of the President’s party supporting Sellers as the next candidate to run. And, at the funeral for Douglas, Sellers goes off, and there’s that famous shot of him walking on water, which is one of the most beautiful images ever put to film.
I love this film so much. And Douglas is strong in the film, but let’s not get confused here — Robert Duvall was too good to not have won here. Too good. Douglas was fine, but not here. Not against Duvall.
(Note: They tied at the Golden Globes for these two performances, which really made it inevitable that Douglas would win, just because the Academy is full of veterans who like voting for other veterans. It’s how Alan Arkin won in 2006.)
Duvall — I don’t need to say anything here, do I? Just watch this:
You know he should have won.
Forrest — I love this nomination. Because Forrest was also in Apocalypse Now, as Chef. He’ll go with you, but on the boat. And he had no shot there, so they nominated him for this, his other performance, which was just as strong as the other one. Big fan of this.
The Rose is about Bette Midler as a (let’s face it, the comparison is inevitable) Janis Joplin-like singer who boozes hard. It’s clear she’s headed for tragedy, and the film is basically us watching her reach that tragedy. It’s really strong, and Midler and Forrest are amazing in it.
Forrest plays a limo driver who meets Midler as she escapes a gig she doesn’t want to be at. And they talk as he drives her back to the city, and they fall in love. Only he slowly starts to get fed up with her behavior, and it eventually ends with him leaving her — just up and leaving her at a rest stop, hopping onto a truck and hitching a rie because he can’t deal with her behavior anymore. Which is what leads to the ultimate climax of the film, which — is pretty powerful. Really strong performance by Forrest, but unfortunately not enough to beat Duvall. But I’d actually put him second for a vote. That’s how much I liked his performance here (coupled with the Apocalypse Now performance).
Henry — Kramer vs. Kramer is about Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. She leaves him to care for their son. Hoffman becomes a better father, then Meryl comes back and wants custody. Powerful film, very brilliant.
Henry plays the son, and — he’s good here, but not good enough for a vote. He’s cute, and does a good job, but he shouldn’t have won. Just shouldn’t have. This is Duvall all the way. Henry is a distant fourth behind even Melvyn Douglas.
Rooney — What the fuck is this? A film about a horse. The horse is in Africa or something, and it gets shipped here, and then Mickey Rooney is an old jockey, and he and a kid train it to race — is this a sequel to National Velvet or something? (No, because that was International Velvet, with Tatum O’Neal.)
I was bored out of my mind during this film. And the strange thing is, this got really strong reviews when it came out! I just don’t understand it at all.
This seems like a veteran nomination for Mickey Rooney, and I’m cool with that. But not only was he not good enough to win, the film wasn’t good enough to win. Ain’t no one better than Duvall in this one.
My Thoughts: Oh, come on, this isn’t even a competition. Duvall should have won this thing by a mile. Melvyn Douglas won a clear veteran Oscar here because he was dying. Everyone acknowledges that. It’s gotta be Duvall.
My Vote: Duvall
Should Have Won: Duvall
Is the result acceptable?: The worst decision in this category of all time. I think that answers your question.
Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Apocalypse Now, Being There or Kramer vs. Kramer, you’re dead to me, we can’t be friends, you should stop watching movies, and you should probably consider ending it all. Seriously, you’re doing it wrong, if you haven’t seen any of these.
Also, The Rose is a really good film. Great Bette Midler performance, really 70s, very strong overall — definitely worth watching. Highly recommended.