The Oscar Quest: Best Actor – 1983

1983 is one of the not dull spots of the 80s. It’s not particularly bright, but it’s — cheap fluorescent. I’ll take that.

Terms of Endearment wins Best Picture, which is not a terrible choice (though I loved The Right Stuff so much more), considering the weak set of nominees, but it is a weak Best Picture choice, considering many of the films that won the award. It also won Best Director for James L. Brooks (talked about here), which makes sense, since Phillip Kaufman inexplicably wasn’t nominated, Best Actress for Shirley MacLaine (talked about here), which was 23 years overdue, and Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson (talked about here), which I don’t understand past, “It’s Jack, we have to vote for him.” I go Sam Shepard all the way there.

The other non-Endearment winner this year, besides this category was Best Supporting Actress, which went to Linda Hunt for The Year of Living Dangerously (talked about here). In case you don’t know or haven’t seen the film — she plays a man! And nobody notices!

Okay, that brings us to this category. It had to happen. I don’t love the performance (much the way I didn’t love Jeff Bridges’ country singer Oscar winner performance (you know you loved those rhymes)), but (more so than the Bridges one) this had to happen because — Duvall’s snub in 1979 was so bad, so horrible, that he should have won for any performance he gave this year, whatever it was. (Sorry Michael Caine, but, blame the Academy. Though he got two awards later on, so he came out all right.)


And the nominees were…

Michael Caine, Educating Rita

Tom Conti, Reuben, Reuben

Tom Courtenay, The Dresser

Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies

Albert Finney, The Dresser

Caine — Educating Rita is a great film. Basically Pygmalion. Just updated.

Michael Caine is a drunken English professor who has lost his passion for teaching. Julie Walters (aka Molly Weasley) is a lower class woman upset with her station in life. She wants more. She wants to be cultured. So she goes to Caine to get him to tutor her, and he eventually agrees, and they bond as she gets cultured, and — just see it. The performances are incredible.

Honestly, if Duvall wasn’t so overdue, Caine really should have won here. But because Duvall was the victim of one of the worst Oscar snubs ever, I have to take Duvall, even though Caine’s performance was my favorite.

Conti — Reuben Reuben is a film that I know almost no one has seen because it was one of the last I saw. It’s nearly impossible to find.

The film is about Tom Conti as a poet who is a womanizer, a drinker (not really a drunk, just a drinker), who hasn’t written anything in years, but still uses his fame to sleep with women. And that’s basically the film. We just follow him. It’s not terribly interesting, though I’m sure some people really love it. I was mostly indifferent toward the whole thing.

I personally don’t see why Conti was nominated, but honestly, 1983 is such a weak year, I don’t care. I’m not voting for him, though, since Duvall, Caine and Finney had not won Oscars by this point. So I don’t see how, even if you did love this performance, how you can put him any higher than a #4. Okay, maybe #3, if you use hindsight to know Caine would win twice after this in Supporting. But there’s no way you can vote for him, so it’s all pretty irrelevant. He’s a “just lucky to be nominated” nominee.

Courtenay — Yay, double nomination.

The Dresser is a fucked up movie. Albert Finney is a batshit insane actor who is also genius in his roles. Thing is, the entire film basically takes place in his dressing room. It’s basically a play on screen. And Finney is batshit crazy, and Courtenay is his assistant who basically has to deal with the craziness and get him out on stage.

It’s a weird movie. It’s basically the two of them on screen for the entirety, and both are really good. I’ll explain what I think about them in terms of this category once I get to Finney, but just know: I liked the film and loved the performances.

Duvall — Tender Mercies is a film that I like to call Crazy Heart of the 80s. Duvall is an alcoholic country singer who is now living a quiet life and trying to avoid being recognized. It’s a quiet story of redemption and all that. you know how it is.

I enjoyed the film moderately. I don’t love it. I don’t even think Duvall’s performance is all that amazing. I do, however, think this man needed an Oscar, and I’m glad he got it. Plus this category is not that good, so it makes it easy to vote for him regardless of the performance. (And that Apocalypse snub was just horrible. This is one of those rare instances where everything aligned and I’m actually like, “Take it. Take the makeup Oscar. Please.”)

Finney — Finney, as I said up there, is the batshit insane actor. And it’s a great, flashy, over the top performance. Thing is, though, as much as I love Albert Finney, and I think he should have an Oscar… I thought Courtenay was better.

Here’s how it works: Finney is the big actor with the flashy part. He’s Albert Finney, so he’s gonna get noticed. But Courtenay — he’s the backbone of the movie. His performance is really the one that carries it. He has to put in the legwork while Finney gets to show up and hit home runs. I thought Courtenay had the harder job and pulled it off much better than Finney did. Unfortunately, though, with Finney’s status being what it is, it basically cancels the two of them out. Which sucks. But it also makes it easier to vote for Duvall, who was terribly overdue by this point. So that’s nice.

My Thoughts: It’s Duvall. It’s not even a contest. Here’s how it works:

Courtenay and Finney split the vote. Courtenay gave the better performance, but Finney is more flashy and more likely to get Academy votes. Plus he’s Albert Finney, and deserves an Oscar more than Tom Courtenay. So that’s where the votes get split. People like me vote Courtenay because he was better in the film, but most people vote Finney. The result? Neither wins. So I don’t vote either.

Conti, I haven’t seen yet, and I’ll update the article when I do, but no matter how good his performance is, I’m still gonna vote for Duvall. I’m still voting for him while thinking Caine gave the best performance, so even if I love Conti’s performance, he’s still not getting a vote. So the lack of seeing the performance won’t change anything.

Caine was my favorite performance in the category, but I’m not voting for him. Because:

Duvall needed to win. The man earned an Oscar, from his first performance as Boo Radley, all the way through the 70s, The Godfather and all those great performances, culminating with the WORST SNUB OF ALL TIME IN THE BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR CATEGORY when he lost for Apocalypse Now. Because he lost for that film, it doesn’t matter how good or bad he or anyone else was in this category — he had to win, and that’s that.

Plus, the category isn’t that strong (with the vote split in order, and the fact that, of all these actors, Dvuall is the most deserving of an Oscar), Caine won twice later, and this was Duvall’s only Oscar. But that’s all just backwards rationalization. The snub alone (plus the category) puts Duvall as a must-vote.

My Vote: Duvall

Should Have Won: Duvall, Caine

Is the result acceptable?: Yes. This was his only Oscar. A thousand times yes.

Performances I suggest you see: Educating Rita is a great film. Really great performances, Pygmalion-like story — absolutely wonderful. Highly recommended.

The Dresser is interesting, because Finney is just so batshit insane in it, but it’s not for everyone. It’s good, but not for everyone. Recommended, though. Especially if you like performances that rate high on the Nic Cage scale of insanity.

Tender Mercies is okay, but I don’t love it. Just an above average film that most people would not need to see at all if not for the fact that it won. The fact that he won for it (and it was nominated so many times) is really the reason it’s worth seeing.


5) Conti

4) Finney

3) Duvall

2) Courtenay

1) Caine


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