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The Oscar Quest: Weakest Best Actor Categories

This was tough, but not that tough.

Every category is going to have bad years. This one has them too. It’s just that this one’s bad years aren’t as bad as some of the other categories.

Again, let me remind you, this list is made regardless of decision. It doesn’t matter who won or who didn’t. It’s simply about overall weak categories.

That said, here’s my list of the weakest Best Actor categories:

10. 1944

  • Charles Boyer, Gaslight
  • Bing Crosby, Going My Way
  • Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way
  • Cary Grant, None But the Lonely Heart
  • Alexander Knox, Wilson
This category is weak because, even though Bing Crosby won, he should have had some competition. And he didn’t. Barry Fitzgerald was also nominated for Supporting, so, clearly he was no factor here. Cary Grant was never going to win because the film wasn’t very good. Alexander Knox was good but wasn’t going to win because it was one of those “nomination is the win” deals. And Charles Boyer — third, at best. And Bing Crosby’s performance is not exactly a Best Actor type performance. So the fact that he won without any competition really shows you how weak this category was.

9. 1977

  • Woody Allen, Annie Hall
  • Richard Burton, Equus
  • Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl
  • Marcello Mastroianni, A Special Day
  • John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever

This category is just weak as all hell. First off, Woody Allen gets nominated for playing himself. Then Richard Burton, while strong, was not going to win for this movie. It’s too — I don’t know — it just wasn’t gonna win. At best it’s a weak 4 or 5. That does not a good category make. Then Mastroianni — veteran nom at best. And Travolta — star-making performance. Those don’t win. And then there’s Richard Dreyfuss. Great performance, but probably wouldn’t win in most years. That’s why this is weak. There’s no strong #1.

8. 1943

  • Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca
  • Gary Cooper, For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine
  • Walter Pidgeon, Madame Curie
  • Mickey Rooney, The Human Comedy

Outside of Bogie — this category sucks. Mickey Rooney was great, but he’s a #4 in a good year at best. Gary Cooper didn’t really do much here for me. Weak 4 at best in a better year. Walter Pidgeon a #5 at best, and probably not nominated in stronger years. Then Paul Lukas is perhaps the single or second worst decision in Best Actor history (it’s up between him and Roberto Benigni.) It’s a terrible category no matter how you look at it.

7. 1985

  • Harrison Ford, Witness
  • William Hurt, Kiss of a Spider Woman
  • James Garner, Murphy’s Romance
  • Jack Nicholson, Prizzi’s Honor
  • Jon Voight, Runaway Train

James Garner gets nominated for a light romantic comedy. Only acceptable because he’s James Garner. Then Harrison Ford gets nominated for — I don’t know. I didn’t see him do anything here. Then Jon Voight, while awesome, in a strong year is a #2 ranking and a #4 for a vote, maybe a 3 at best. He should not be a contender here. Then Nicholson, while very entertaining, is not a contender for this. #3 at best in a strong year. Hurt, while clearly the best, is the only one worth voting for here. The rest is just weak as hell. Two comic performances and two action performances. Just weak.

6. 1945

  • Bing Crosby, The Bells of St. Mary’s
  • Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh
  • Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend
  • Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom
  • Cornel Wilde, A Song to Remember

Ray Milland aside, there’s no one worth a vote here. Bing Crosby is up for a performance he won for the year before this. Non factor. Dead spot. Cornel Wilde shouldn’t even be nominated here. Gregory Peck is a star-making turn, but not even close to a vote. And Gene Kelly should not even be close to winning, and yet, is a second choice. That’s a weak year.

5. 1971

  • Peter Finch, Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Gene Hackman, The French Connection
  • Walter Matthau, Kotch
  • George C. Scott, The Hospital
  • Topol, Fiddler on the Roof

I love Gene Hackman a lot, but the fact that he’s an easy winner for a performance where he mostly follows people and chases them in cars is really a sign of a weak year. But, him aside, Topol was great, but was never going to win, because no one knew who he was (or is) outside of that role. George C. Scott won the year before this, and this isn’t a performance that was gonna win. Matthau was good, but also not one that was gonna win. And I’m not even gonna dignify the Peter Finch nomination with a response. Weak, weak category.

4. 2006

  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
  • Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
  • Peter O’Toole, Venus
  • Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

DiCaprio was nominated for the wrong film, O’Toole got a veteran nomination, Whitaker is really a supporting role, Gosling was the strong indie performance that was never going to win, and Will Smith — I have no idea why he was nominated except for the fact that people got emotional while watching the movie. There is no one worth a vote here. Terrible, terrible category and the worst in recent memory.

3. 1948

  • Lew Ayres, Johnny Belinda
  • Montgomery Clift, The Search
  • Dan Dailey, When My Baby Smiles at Me
  • Laurence Olivier, Hamlet
  • Clifton Webb, Sitting Pretty

Ignoring Olivier. He was clearly very strong. Ayres was great, but was never going to win. A #2 that would be a #4 most years. Clift wasn’t that strong in the performance even though the film was very good. Star-making performance, in a way. That’s all this is. Webb was great, but it wasn’t a performance that was gonna win. Dailey — again, good, but you can’t vote for him. So, outside of Olivier, it’s pretty much a dead category.

2. 1990

  • Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves
  • Robert De Niro, Awakenings
  • Gérard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac
  • Richard Harris, The Field
  • Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

They’re all so weak. Depardieu is nominated for a performance that won already. Never gonna happen. De Niro probably wasn’t gonna win, even though he was solid. #4 at best most years. (For a vote.) Harris was solid, no problem there, even though it’s not really something that should have won. Irons is getting nominated for a performance he did two years earlier. And Costner — byproduct of the film and nothing else. This is just a terrible category all around. There’s no one to vote for here.

1. 1938

  • Charles Boyer, Algiers
  • James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces
  • Robert Donat, The Citadel
  • Leslie Howard, Pygmalion
  • Spencer Tracy, Boys Town

I’m cheating a bit here. I’m using the result to call this the weakest category of all time. Still — Henry Higgins is apparently not good enough to win. Okay. Second best performance — Jimmy Cagney. I don’t think the Academy respected the gangster film as a legitimate vote. That’s why this is the weakest. Outside of Howard, there’s really no legitimate vote. And from an Academy perspective, there’s nothing here except their golden boy, Spencer Tracy. Plus it just feels weak.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

11. 1947

  • Ronald Colman, A Double Life
  • John Garfield, Body and Soul
  • Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement
  • William Powell, Life with Father
  • Michael Redgrave, Mourning Becomes Electra

Strong actors, not a strong category. That’s all.

12. 1986

  • Dexter Gordon, Round Midnight
  • Bob Hoskins, Mona Lisa
  • William Hurt, Children of a Lesser God
  • Paul Newman, The Color of Money
  • James Woods, Salvador

This being so weak is actually a good thing, since they finally got to give Paul Newman a statue. So I’m cool with this, even though it is really weak.

13. 1987

  • Michael Douglas, Wall Street
  • William Hurt, Broadcast News
  • Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes
  • Jack Nicholson, Ironweed
  • Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam

Outside of Douglas, there’s nothing here. Nicholson had two, Hurt had just gotten one. Mastroianni was never going to happen, and Williams wasn’t either. Weak.

14. 1984

  • F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus
  • Jeff Bridges, Starman
  • Albert Finney, Under the Volcano
  • Tom Hulce, Amadeus
  • Sam Waterston, The Killing Fields

Strong Amadeus performances, and Finney was great, but outside of that, nothing much. Plus, in terms of a vote — it’s really weak. Best Actor historically is pretty strong. That’s why this is here.

15. 1963

  • Albert Finney, Tom Jones
  • Richard Harris, This Sporting Life
  • Rex Harrison, Cleopatra
  • Paul Newman, Hud
  • Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field

Strong performances all around, but not really anyone to vote for. Harrison wasn’t winning, Finney was too comic, Poitier was a magical negro (the decision is fine, but I still say it comes off as racist). This one really comes down to all the others being stronger.

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