The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1980

God, I hate 1980. And that hate can be summed up in two words: Ordinary People. Or, more appropriately, “Fucking Academy…”

Ordinary People wins Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Redford (talked about here) over Raging Bull. Yeah…

Timothy Hutton also won Best Supporting Actor for the film (talked about here), which is actually a good decision, all thing’s considered. Sissy Spacek wins Best Actress for Coal Miner’s Daughter (talked about here), which I’m all for. And Mary Steenburgen wins Best Supporting Actress for Melvin and Howard (talked about here), which I guess is acceptable, even though I have my reservations.

And then there’s this category. Do I even need to say anything?


And the nominees were…

Robert De Niro, Raging Bull

Robert Duvall, The Great Santini

John Hurt, The Elephant Man

Jack Lemmon, Tribute

Peter O’Toole, The Stunt Man

De Niro — It’s De Niro. It’s Raging Bull. End of story.

Duvall — The Great Santini is a terrific film, anchored by a great performance by Robert Duvall.

Duvall plays an army pilot, who is a career man. He’s perfect for the military. Unfortunately, that makes him a very difficult person to be around at home. And it becomes personified by a clash between him and his son, played by Michael O’Keefe (aka Danny Noonan from Caddyshack). It’s a terrific, terrific film.

Duvall is amazing in it, and were it not for De Niro, he’d have won this category (because of the horrible snub the year before this).

Hurt — Most people think John Hurt would have won this were it not for De Niro. False. He had no chance. This has nothing to do with him or his performance, but rather the fact that it’s a David Lynch film, and the voting Academy is physically incapable of actually awarding a David Lynch film anything, much the way they were incapable of awarding a Stanley Kubrick film anything.

Also, The Elephant Man is really famous. If you haven’t seen it, what are you even doing reading this blog?

Hurt is absolutely terrific in the film, and in most other years, would totally win this category. But — De Niro.

(I love that I can just end with “But De Niro” and it makes perfect sense.)

Lemmon — Tribute is an interesting film. It’s very… TV movie. Not really, but it’s very stagy. And after 1970, stagy means it looks like a TV movie.

Lemmon plays a publicist who has been very freewheeling throughout his life. He’s neglected his family for years. He regularly visits hookers and parties all night. And he finds out he has cancer. And when he is told that, he sees it as a death sentence. They tell him there’s a decent chance they could possibly treat it, but he’d have to start chemotherapy immediately. He hears death sentence, and figures he’s just going to enjoy it on his way out. He goes and tells his wife, with whom he’s still good friends, and tries to get his son to stay with him so he can spend some quality time with him. Thing is, his son doesn’t like him because of what he did to him and his mother. But his son stays with him, but pretty much spends the whole time berating him and his choice of activities. But the son finds love, and Lemmon continues to party it up and ignore the cancer. Eventually he smartens up and agrees to the treatment, and the cancer goes into remission. And he and the son get closer — you know how it is.

But it’s not exactly “how it is.” Trust me on that. The film is better than just a standard version of the story that you have in your head when you read that synopsis. It’s much better than that standard fare. It’s actually a really good movie. And Lemmon is really good in it. What I like best about it is how much in denial he is about the whole thing, and also how accepting he is of death (or at least pretends to be). I really enjoyed that aspect of the performance. He was never going to win, but the performance is pretty solid.

O’Toole — The Stunt Man. What a film.

It begins with a wanted man on the run from police. He stumbles onto a film set during a stunt in which a car is driven off a bridge. The stunt man driving the car is killed. The film’s director (Peter O’Toole) tells the guy he’ll hire him to replace the dead stunt man (so no one knows about the accident, essentially). And the rest of the film is basically about the guy not knowing just how much danger he’s actually in. The whole thing is shot so you don’t know what’s real and what’s fake. And it’s terrific. Peter O’Toole is awesome as the director. He’s an egotistical autocrat and is all the best qualities of Peter O’Toole as an actor. It’s one of those performances (like most of O’Toole’s nominations) that you wished you could vote for. But… De Niro.

My Thoughts: It’s De Niro. It’s Raging Bull.

My Vote: De Niro

Should Have Won: De Niro

Is the result acceptable?: It’s De Niro. It’s Raging Bull.

Performances I suggest you see: If you haven’t seen Raging Bull, you’re dead to me and the world. Don’t be an animal, Larry.

If you haven’t seen The Elephant Man, you’re dead to me.

You should really see The Stunt Man. If you love movies (and why are you reading this blog if you don’t?), you need to see this one. You really do. See it. Don’t be a schmuck.

The Great Santini is a fantastic film. A really fantastic film. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. You really should see it.


5) Lemmon

4) Duvall

3) O’Toole

2) Hurt

1) De Niro

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