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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1967-1968)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1967

John Cassavetes, The Dirty Dozen

Gene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde

Cecil Kellaway, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke

Michael J. Pollard, Bonnie and Clyde

Analysis:

The Dirty Dozen is one of the great action films of all time. Pretty much everyone sees this early on because Tarantino references it so often.

Lee Marvin is a major recruited on a suicide mission. He’s gonna be given twelve prisoners, all either sentenced to death or long stretches of hard labor, and they’re gonna be trained and sent to take out a Nazi castle. And they’re all kept in line because they’re told, if one of the men deserts, they all hang. So they have to keep each other in line. And that’s the film. And it’s perfect.

John Cassavetes — yes, that John Cassavetes, the director — plays Franko, a mobster who is a real hothead. His attitude is “I don’t give a fuck because I’m sentenced to death anyway.” So he’s the member of the group who is the live wire who is most likely to get all the other men killed. But he’s real good in the part.

I’m not sure anyone needed to be nominated here, since it’s not really about acting, but if they were gonna nominate anyone, Cassavetes is the choice. Telly Savalas is great, but Cassavetes is the choice. Though, it’s also very clear that the nomination here is the reward. No way you actually take him. At best he’s fourth in this category.

Bonnie and Clyde is the film that changed Hollywood. At least, when you read in the textbooks, it’s the film that changed Hollywood. This is what’s called the landmark film that changed how sex and violence were portrayed on screen.

It’s about Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. And they rob banks. And this is one of those movies where, if you are reading this and haven’t seen it, you might want to question how you’re going about watching movies.

Two nominees here.

Gene Hackman plays Buck Barrow, Clyde’s brother. He’s certainly lively and charming and very good in the part, but I’m not sure he has all that much to do. He’s just kind of there and part of the gang and then dies near the end. He’s very strong, but again, I’m not sure I vote for him in this category. He’s a solid third at least, but not sure he’s the vote.

Michael J. Pollard plays a kid they pick up at a gas station. C.W. Moss. You can tell how strong a film is by how well you remember all the characters names off the top of your head. He’s not too bright, but they bring him along because he’s good with cars. He almost gets them caught, but otherwise becomes part of the gang. Eventually he’s the one that ends up getting them caught, because he brings them to stay with his father, who turns them in to the cops in exchange for C.W. getting a lesser sentence.

There’s something about the way Pollard plays this that’s so authentic. I’ve grown to like this performance much, much more over the years. I like how sympathetic he is. The way Pollard plays him is perfect. It’s the type of performance where, he’s so fit for it, and he’s so difficult to cast otherwise, that this probably hurt his career in the long run, because they couldn’t see him playing anything else. But man, is he great. And I’m really thinking of a reason not to vote for him at this point.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a perfect film that seems a bit naive today. But hey, it is what it is.

Also, Sidney Poitier is coming to dinner.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are liberal San Franciscans. Their daughter is bringing her fiancé home to meet them. He’s Sidney Poitier. They think they’re liberals, but now they’re faced with their daughter marrying a black man. That tests things. So the film is about them coming to terms with this as well as Poitier’s parents (who are also coming to dinner) coming to terms with it as well. It’s pretty great.

Cecil Kellaway plays a priest who is a friend of Tracy’s and Hepburn’s. He’s the one who’s most accepting of the situation, which I guess makes it spiritually okay for Tracy and Hepburn to do so too. I’m not sure I buy that, but whatever, Kellaway is amusing. His role is mostly that of a plot device and, I guess, comic relief. It definitely doesn’t hold up very well at all. I remember feeling really embarrassed when he starts singing a Beatles song out of nowhere.

Definitely a #5 in this category. No way does anyone actually vote for him. And honestly, while I’m not opposed to the nomination, I could think of several other people who felt like better choices for this fifth spot over him. But hey, a film like that, it was gonna catch stray nominations, and this happened to the be one. So I get it. But no. Not taking him.

Cool Hand Luke is a great film. A great, great, great film. Paul Newman in a prison camp. I mean, everyone’s seen this, so I don’t even need to go over the plot. And if you haven’t seen it, then —

George Kennedy plays Dragline, basically the king prisoner of the camp. He immediately takes a disliking to Newman, which Newman welcomes, because he doesn’t give a fuck. And the two end up in a boxing match, which might be the most memorable scene in the entire movie. Kennedy beats the living shit out of Newman, who refuses to stay down, until Kennedy, in disgust, walks away. But that earns him respect. And it’s Kennedy who gives Newman the nickname “cool hand,” after he bluffs a big hand in poker with nothing. He ends up becoming Newman’s best friend and biggest supporter.

It’s a great performance. Real memorable. Not sure he needed to win, but I totally get the win. I’m having a hard time not automatically voting for him myself. This category’s a strange one.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Strong films in this category, but I’m not sure all the acting is as strong as it might seem. Kellaway is a token nomination that’s very dated, and Cassavetes’ nomination is his reward. The only three worth taking are Hackman, Kennedy and Pollard.

Between those three, I like Pollard over Hackman. Hackman is the showier of the two, but I think Pollard quietly turns in the better performance. And then there’s Kennedy, who’s just awesome. He might not give the best technical performance, but his character is great and larger than life and… yeah, I’m just gonna take Kennedy. He’s my favorite. And the vote split actually does, in this case, kind of hurt the other two. Kennedy’s my choice. I love Dragline.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category and films):

  1. George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke
  2. Michael J. Pollard, Bonnie and Clyde
  3. Gene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde
  4. John Cassavetes, The Dirty Dozen
  5. Cecil Kellaway, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

My Vote: George Kennedy, Cool Hand Luke

Recommendations:

This is easy — Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie and Clyde, The Dirty Dozen and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are all essential films. All-time essential films. Must see for anyone even remotely into movies.

That was quick.

The Last Word: Kennedy, Pollard and Hackman are the best choices. Hackman won twice later, so he (assuming the other two still happen) probably wouldn’t hold up as well. Kennedy holds up just fine. Pollard might not look great because he didn’t have much of a career. So I think ultimately they did fine with this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1968

Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses

Seymour Cassel, Faces

Daniel Massey, Star!

Jack Wild, Oliver!

Gene Wilder, The Producers

Analysis:

The Subject Was Roses — before we get into that, I’d like to say that Jack Albertson being in this category amuses the shit out of me because we have both Grandpa Joe and Willy Wonka in the same category.

Anyway, the film is about a guy, just home from Vietnam, who moves back with his parents. It used to be that he was close with his mother and fought with his father, but now the roles are switched. And there’s conflict in the family because the father is constantly cheating on the mother, and the son gets caught up in it. The film is good, but very dated and very theatrical.

Jack Albertson plays the father, and he’s honestly the best thing about the film. He plays a guy who is so selfish and locked into his ways that he has completely lost sight of everything around him, including his wife. And every time his son tries to help him out, he fucks it up. He’s really terrific here and I completely get the win.

Now, one problem… there are only about five actors in the entire movie. 90% of the film is Albertson, Patricia Neal and Martin Sheen. So they’re all leads. There are no supporting characters. The fact that he goes away for a small amount of time I guess could qualify him, but he’s really kind of a lead here, so with the category fraud and the weak category, he won this easily. Ultimately, he’s worth the vote but the category fraud is a tough pill to swallow. So we’ll see how it shakes out.

Faces is John Cassavetes. A film that I hated the first time I saw it. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate it much more. To the point where I was minutes away from taking Lynn Carlin in Supporting Actress this year.

The film is about John Marley as a dude who comes home from drinking with his friends and casually tells his wife he wants a divorce. He then goes out with another woman while the wife goes out with some friends at a club and meets Seymour Cassel, a really charming, confident man who knows he’s gonna go home with someone. And eventually it’s the wife, who eventually takes some sleeping pills, which throws Cassel completely off kilter and he has no idea what the fuck to do.

Cassel is good in the part, and I get the nomination. Wouldn’t take him, and probably wouldn’t put him any higher than third/fourth in the category. Solid performance, and I like him as an actor, but not someone I take.

Star! is a biopic of Gertrude Lawrence. Who, you know, everyone remembers. She was a big vaudeville star who broke all the conventions of what you’d expect her to be. She slept with men women, didn’t give a fuck. Hollywood likes these iconoclasts.

The film is a big lumbering musical that tries to do some interesting stuff but doesn’t hold up all that well. It’s decent, but a bit too long and too boring for most.

Daniel Massey plays Noel Coward. The famous one. He’s the witty, gay best friend. And that’s entirely the role. He’s amusing as hell and is easily the liveliest thing about this movie. That said, nah. At best he’s fourth here. No one actually votes for him. It’s more of a one-trick pony kind of role and a lot of the nomination probably has to do with the fact that he’s playing Noel Coward more than anything. Fine, but no vote. The nomination is more than the reward.

Oliver! is a big budget musical version of Oliver Twist. That’s really all you need to know.

Jack Wild plays The Artful Dodger. Who is clearly the best character in that book aside from Fagin. And Wild is awesome in the part. This is one of those nominations — if he wasn’t here, fine. And now that he is here, “Yeah, he was really good.” He’s still a child and stood no chance here. But in such a weak category, he actually stands out as maybe even a third choice here. Which is saying something.

The Producers is one of the ten best comedies ever made. That’s not an overstatement.

It’s a perfect concept. A guy realizes he could make more money on a flop than with a hit, so he sets out to make the worst play ever made. Genius.

Gene Wilder plays Leo Bloom, an accountant sent to fix Max Bialystock’s books. He’s the one who stumbles upon the idea of making a flop and keeping the extra cash. He’s a nervous fucker, and man, does Wilder play him perfectly. I don’t even know how to explain this except — Gene Wilder is great. Sure, he was better in later films and the nomination was clearly the reward for him here, but I love him so much and he’s so entertaining in this role that I kinda want to take him. And in this category, I probably could.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Jack Albertson is the best performance in the category, and I don’t think that can be argued .What can be argued is whether or not he’s a legitimate supporting performance. And the question of whether or not he is supporting is enough for me to take my favorite performance in the category, Gene Wilder. I still think Albertson did a better job, but because he might be a lead and because I just love The Producers and Gene Wilder in The Producers so goddamn much that it’s a win-win for me. I take my favorite, and either that wins and I’m happy or the best performance wins, and it’s fitting. So I’m good either way.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Gene Wilder, The Producers
  2. Jack Albertson, The Subject Was Roses
  3. Jack Wild, Oliver!
  4. Daniel Massey, Star!
  5. Seymour Cassel, Faces

Rankings (films):

  1. The Producers
  2. Oliver!
  3. The Subject Was Roses
  4. Faces
  5. Star!

My Vote: Gene Wilder, The Producers

Recommendations:

The Producers is an all-time comedy and an all-time film. This is a situation where I’d say if you have not seen this film yet deliberately, then you’re an idiot. If you just haven’t gotten to it yet because you just haven’t, then you should remedy that immediately, because you’re going to love it. It’s hilarious, and it’s a comedy masterpiece.

Oliver! is great. You know the story and the songs are good. It’s a bit lumbering and overlong, but it’s solid. And it won Best Picture, so it’s close to essential for film buffs. Also worth seeing too. A lesser essential Best Picture winner, but still worth seeing because it’s an easy watch. Don’t skip out on an easy watch.

Faces is Cassavetes, and his stuff is worth seeing for a certain segment of film buffs. Not essential, but recommended highly. In order of his films, it’s a top five essential, but if you’re gonna see one, it’s probably gonna be A Woman Under the Influence or Opening Night. This is still worth seeing and recommend it pretty highly.

The Subject Was Roses isn’t a particularly great film. But it’s a solid film. Good acting, very much a play. Essential for Oscar buffs because of the win, but casual film buffs can do with out it. But I do recommend it if you get the chance because all the actors are strong in it.

Star! — ehh. Robert Wise directs and it’s Julie Christie. There are reasons to see this but you certainly don’t have to. Get the more essential stuff out of the way and then if this seems interesting, go for it. Otherwise you don’t need to bother with this.

The Last Word: Albertson is best in the category and despite the category fraud, he holds up real well. Gene Wilder is my favorite and I imagine a lot of people will vote with the heart as  did and take him too. You can’t be too upset that he didn’t win, even though he’d have also been a fine (and clear upset) choice. The other three aren’t really worth taking and wouldn’t have held up that well as winners. They made a good choice here.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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