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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Supporting Actor, 1969-1970)

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.

1969

Rupert Crosse, The Reivers

Elliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider

Anthony Quayle, Anne of the Thousand Days

Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Analysis:

The Reivers is a weird little comedy. One that absolutely nobody remembers.

Steve McQueen is a ne’er-do-well car thief who takes a liking to a guy’s car in town. So he steals it. Mostly for a joy ride, not for anything nefarious. And he convinces the guy’s son to come with him, so it’s technically not stealing. And they get into adventures and shit. Mostly it’s a coming of age story for the boy. More about little smaller stories than any bigger plot. It gets weird. Eventually there’s a horse race, and the kid is riding — it’s a very strange film.

Rupert Crosse plays another car thief who ends up coming along for the ride. They first discover him hiding in the trunk of the car, singing along with them as they sing a song. He’s also, thinking back… he might be the first black actor nominated in this category. Supporting Actor, I mean. Was there one before him? I don’t think there is.

Anyway, Crosse is there with McQueen for the ride. He’s fun. The whole film is almost cartoonish. All the performances are pretty over the top, looking back. Crosse is very likable, and doesn’t go too far over the line, but I don’t think the performance rates much more than a nomination. And even then, on pure performance, I don’t know if I’d go there, but the idea that no black actor was nominated here before him is kind of a joke. So I’ll always support the nomination on that alone.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a crazy late 60s sex comedy. I’m really curious how people would react to this now. Having seen a lot of movies from the era, this was a crazy divergence for me. Because no film really dealt so bluntly with this kind of subject matter before.

It’s mostly a comedy about a couple who are having marital problems, but then go to a sex retreat where they find themselves changed. They come back feeling much more open about their marriage, openly talking about their affairs and not being bothered by the other having sex with other people. And this is all put into perspective by their visits with another couple, who are much more uptight, and can’t believe the other couple is doing this. And eventually it leads to some nice wife swapping and group sex. As it does.

Elliott Gould plays the husband of the square couple. Very conservative, very uptight, and he can’t understand how his friends can live like that. Though secretly he wishes he could have an affair. Eventually he does have an affair, though, which he admits to his wife, which causes her to suggest all four of them have sex.

Gould is really good in the role. He’s not good enough to win, but it’s definitely a solid nomination. I think he’s the best of the four in the film. I’d consider him a solid third, while most might have him as a “ehh, pretty good” fourth. Still, wouldn’t take him, just really like him in the part. Also strange how this was his only nomination. You’d think he’d have managed others, but he also hasn’t had the type of career you’d think he’d have had either.

Easy Rider is one of the most famous films of all time. Though the great thing about it now — doesn’t hold up at all. It’s still good, but it’s not a masterpiece. It’s just culturally really significant and important. And it certainly has its moments.

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are two bikers who are traveling across the country on motorcycles and doing a lot of drugs. Mostly it’s about them doing their thing and the other people not liking them “hippies.” You know the drill.

Jack Nicholson plays an alcoholic lawyer who the two meet in a jail cell. They were picked up for some bullshit thing and Nicholson was picked up to sleep off a drunk. He wakes up, takes a liking to them, and uses his law skills to get them out. And then he goes along with them for a while. He’s never smoked pot before and is a complete square. But he’s amusing. And eventually he’s randomly found dead after some people attack them in their sleep.

My favorite moment of his:

He takes a drink, makes this crazy fucking noise and arm movement and then says, “Indians.” No idea what the fuck that is, but I love it.

It’s not so much a great character so much as a great performance. It shows Nicholson as an acting force to be reckoned with for years to come and introduces him. That’s what this nomination is. He shouldn’t have won so much as he should be appreciated for taking a potentially one-note minor character and playing him in a more interesting way than you’d expect. Because you can guess how a character like this would normally be portrayed. It’s not like this. So all credit goes to Nicholson there. Though I don’t see enough with the actual performance for me to want to take him. Though since this kinda weak, as far as category’s go, he will contend.

Anne of the Thousand Days is a film that I really liked. I haven’t watched it in years, and I bet I’d like it less now. Still, it appeals to me on a subject matter level.

This is A Man for All Seasons from the Henry VIII perspective. He wants a son, and his wife won’t give him one, so he wants a divorce. He ends up starting his own church so he can get one and so he can marry Anne Boleyn. And the film is about her becoming his wife and trying to bear him a son, which of course doesn’t happen which of course leads to things not ending well for her. Mostly the film is about Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold’s performances. I like it, but it’s clearly a holdover from a bygone era, the exact type of movie the Academy is both trying to get away from but also grasping onto for dear life in the face of immense industry change.

Anthony Quayle plays Cardinal Wolsey, the same part played by Orson Welles in A Man for All Seasons. They play them differently, so we’ll focus on the one at hand. This character is played much more as a chess player and a scheming kind of guy. Henry uses him to break up Anne’s engagement to her fiancé so she can be his mistress. And he doesn’t think of her as anything, but then, after Anne gets the king’s ear, she completely marginalizes him and drives him out. And this is while Wolsey is telling Henry he shouldn’t go through with a divorce for political reasons and also as he’s unable to get a divorce decree from the Pope for Henry. So he’s pretty much driven out at that point. And what I remember best about the performance is his last scene with Anne, when she’s all like, “Yeah, motherfucker, I’m the one with all the power now.” And the whole time, he’s been this underhanded character and she’s been treating him like a villain almost, and rather than be a villain, he’s like, “Yeah, all right, whatever, you win. But now, when things go south, that shit’s on you, not me.”

I really like this performance. That said, at best he’s a fourth choice here, if not an outright fifth. He’s solid, but nah. A veteran actor getting a nomination for a solid performance, but it’s not strong enough or memorable enough to take over the frontrunner in this category. I’d rather the flashy but shallow Nicholson performance over this one. So Quayle is solid but will never be the vote for me.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is one of the most bizarre, yet wonderful films I’ve ever seen. I didn’t know what to expect going in, and I got one of the best movies I’ve ever seen out of it.

It’s about a dance competition in the 30s on the Santa Monica boardwalk. A bunch of people enter, and the idea is, you dance non-stop for 12 hours a day, and if you stop dancing, you’re out. And the last couple standing wins. And we follow a bunch of people involved in it. It’s great. It’s really, really, really great.

Gig Young plays Rocky, the emcee of the competition. And this is by far the best performance he’d ever give on screen. He’s great in this. Such an unscrupulous, manipulative guy who just does not give a fuck about anything he does to these people. And yet, you get the inherent isolation and loneliness of the character. You watch him exploit these people after he gets to know about them. He does anything he can to get more people to show up in the stands. One character has a nervous breakdown that’s directly brought on by him, which we find out later. She thinks another competitor stole her (pretty much only) nice dress, but we find out later he took it just to fuck with her and make for a better show. He’s so oily and wonderful here, there’s really no other choice in the category. This is one of the most deserved Oscars they’ve given out in this category. He deserved ever ounce of this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Gig Young. He’s the winner here and he’s the choice. No one else comes close. Crosse looks good on paper, but the performance isn’t there. Quayle is okay but wouldn’t hold up. Nicholson would look good, but the performance is more enjoyable than it is good. Wouldn’t really hold up all that much. Gould is good, but definitely wouldn’t have held up. Young is by far the best performance and is the only person you can take here. I don’t even hesitate with this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  2. Jack Nicholson, Easy Rider
  3. Elliott Gould, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
  4. Anthony Quayle, Anne of the Thousand Days
  5. Rupert Crosse, The Reivers

Rankings (films):

  1. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  2. Anne of the Thousand Days
  3. Easy Rider
  4. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
  5. The Reivers

My Vote: Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Recommendations:

Easy Rider is culturally essential and must be seen by all film buffs.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a film I’m telling you is essential. Any film fan should see this, because it’s one of the most oddly captivating movies I’ve ever seen. It draws you into the subject matter until you’re utterly riveted, and then it changes gears on your right near the end. It’s extremely underseen and underrated now and I think everyone ought to see this. Because it’s fantastic. Consider this essential round these parts.

Anne of the Thousand Days is a costume drama. If you like A Man for All Seasons, The Lion in Winter and Becket, you’ll like this. It’s probably the lesser of all those films, but it’s very much the same thing. Richard Burton is great, Genevieve Bujold is great, and it’s worth seeing. It’s the least essential of the four, but I still recommend it strongly just because of the great acting in it and the good writing of the play it’s based on.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a movie that I recommend, just because it’s so very late 60s that the fact that its dated actually helps it. It’s a good movie with good actors that is just fascinating to watch. Not essential, but it’s Paul Mazursky, who by now has this underground kind of following. He’s one of those people that film buffs get into after they have a nice amount of stuff under their belt. It was like Frank Perry for me. I had no idea who Frank Perry was until much later in the game, and then after seeing one or two of his films I decided I had to see them all. Mazursky is kind of the same way, and his stuff is all worth seeing. This one is good and I recommend it, though if you skipped this you wouldn’t be ridiculed for doing so. I do recommend it though.

The Reivers isn’t particularly great. Based on Faulkner, and I don’t know if they’ve ever made a good movie out of his stuff. It’s amusing. Cartoonish. Steve McQueen is in it. So there’s that. Not something I really recommend all that much.

The Last Word: This is Gig Young’s category by a mile. He’s the best performance, he’s held up the best. There’s no question about this one. There’s not even an alternative here. This is all Gig Young and it’s probably one of the best decisions of all time in the category.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1970

Richard S. Castellano, Lovers and Other Strangers

Chief Dan George, Little Big Man

Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father

John Marley, Love Story

John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter

Analysis:

Lovers and Other Strangers is an ensemble film about a wedding. We follow two families through all the process, culminating with the wedding reception. And all the different storylines play out. That’s really it.

Richard Castellano (Clemenza for those who don’t immediately recognize the name) plays the groom’s father. Bea Arthur plays his wife. She’s the loud one and he’s the laid back one. Their whole plotline is, while their one son gets married, their other one is on the verge of a divorce. So Bea Arthur is screaming, “Don’t get divorced!” and he’s sitting there, not saying anything. And then, at the right moment, he tells this simple story that puts everything in perspective and makes all the difference. That’s the character. He sits back, speaks when he needs to, and then is like, “Can you believe all these assholes?” I love it.

Castellano is awesome in the movie, but the nomination is the reward. That’s the extent of it. You can’t take him, but I love that he’s here. He rates fourth in terms of likability and fifth on pure performance.

Little Big Man is one of the best westerns of all time. It’s so underrated as a film, too.

The film begins with Dustin Hoffman, at 121 years old, recounting his life, as the “sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.” As a child, his family was killed by Indians and he and his sister were taken by them. The sister runs away, but he’s raised as one of them. And over the course of the rest of the film, he bounces around both sides, whites and Indians, getting into all sorts of crazy situations. It’s like the Forrest Gump of westerns, and it really takes the piss out of all the western tropes really well.

Chief Dan George plays Hoffman’s grandfather, and leader of the tribe, Old Lodge Skins. There’s no way to really describe the character, since he doesn’t have an arc so much as he’s the most memorable thing about the movie. I just need to show you a clip, if you don’t know already.

The way he talks is so perfect. He’s by far my favorite performance in the category. Is the the best performance? Probably not. But does it matter? I don’t know. We’ll see.

I Never Sang for My Father is a play on film featuring two great actors. Makes sense they nominated it, but no one remembers this movie today.

Gene Hackman is a teacher who is dating a woman across the country and wants to move over there to be with her. And his mother understands that but his father is that old-school principled guy who doesn’t. And then his mother dies suddenly and now Hackman is torn about what to do. So he stays and cares for his father, who he doesn’t want to disappoint.

It’s a kind of generational gap movie. Hackman and his father don’t really have anything in common, and he’s caring for this guy, and that sort of brings them together as the father dies.

I mean… it’s a film all about the performances, and Hackman is very good in it. I just don’t love the performance all that much. It’s solid, but it doesn’t make me want to vote for it. And this isn’t just about voting for what’s technically a great performance. You have to also love the performance, or at least consider it worth voting for in order to take it. So while I don’t begrudge anyone who would want to take Hackman, I don’t think I can. Not to mention — co-lead. But that’s beside the point that I don’t like the performance enough to take it over some others in the category.

Love Story is one of the best film romances of all time. And yes, I understand that some people will find this movie horribly dated. But I don’t care. I love it, and it’s a classic no matter how you slice it.

Ryan O’Neal is a rich kid in Harvard, and Ali MacGraw is a poor girl in… some sister school of Harvard’s nearby. They meet and fall in love. That’s pretty much the movie. More stuff happens, but, that’s all you really need.

John Marley plays MacGraw’s father. He’s a salt of the earth type who loves his daughter and is very religious. He doesn’t have an arc so much as he’s the supportive father who loves his daughter more than anything else in the world. So as soon as he knows O’Neal loves her and is gonna care for her, he’s happy. It gets really poignant in the end when (spoiler alert) MacGraw is dying and he’s in the hospital, knowing he can’t do anything to prevent it. And it’s killing him.

Like I said, there’s no real change in the character, but Marley provides constant, solid support throughout and is exactly what this category is all about. To me, he’s top two for performance and top three for a vote. We’ll see where we go with it, but he rates very, very highly for me.

Ryan’s Daughter is David Lean right at the time when he started losing his touch. This movie is three and a half hours long, and boy, is it no Doctor Zhivago, let alone Lawrence of Arabia.

It’s about a girl who grows up in Ireland and ends up in an affair with a British soldier. As you know, there were tensions between the two sides. And shit happens, people die, you know the drill.

John Mills plays Michael, the village idiot. He’s a likable guy, but so much of it feels like him really playing to the rafters, if you know what I mean. The whole thing feels like too much. It’s too easy to give him an Oscar for this, and I’d wager he got one on a veteran situation. The category’s not too strong, and I figure he was the easiest choice for them. I don’t love the performance at all and think it’s one of the weakest winners they’ve had on pure performance.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I’ve been hiding the fact that my heart was in one place and one place only from the start. It’s clearly Chief Dan George for me. He’s so fucking good. The unorthodox rhythms of him as an actor and the way he’s so quietly hysterical and accomplishes so much with what could be such a limited, throwaway role.

Not to mention — Hackman is the lead of his film, Marley is really solid but clearly came along with his film, Castellano clearly is a ‘nomination is the reward’ scenario, and Mills — I just don’t see it. I think the performance is okay, and I guess the nomination is fine. But I really, really don’t see it. At all.

So, given a weak category, I’ll take Chief Dan George all day, every day. There was no way they were gonna let him win, but what does that matter to me? He gave the best performance in my mind, she he’s my vote.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Chief Dan George, Little Big Man
  2. John Marley, Love Story
  3. Gene Hackman, I Never Sang for My Father
  4. Richard S. Castellano, Lovers and Other Strangers
  5. John Mills, Ryan’s Daughter

Rankings (films):

  1. Love Story
  2. Little Big Man
  3. Lovers and Other Strangers
  4. Ryan’s Daughter
  5. I Never Sang for My Father

My Vote: Chief Dan George, Little Big Man

Recommendations:

Love Story is essential because of how much it means to the 70s. This was at one time one of the highest grossing movies of all time and literally saved Paramount from bankruptcy. It spawned one of the most famous film lines of all time and while it might seem dated and hokey now, it’s still an important film for its era, one film buffs need to see.

Little Big Man is an essential western. It’s a great comedy, and it’s got a fantastic cast. Essential in a lot of ways, and all film buffs should see this because it’s really enjoyable on a lot of levels. Trust me on this, you need to see it.

Ryan’s Daughter is overlong, overmade, and just pretty good at best. It’s David Lean, so that makes it slightly essential, but you could be fine never seeing this. It’s not that big a deal. Oscar buffs need to see it because of the win, otherwise, not that major a film, really. If you have three and a half hours to spare and really love David Lean, go for it.

Lovers and Other Strangers is a solid 70s movie. Not great, not terrible. Just pretty good. Not essential and not something you really ever need to rush out and see. But it’s got a solid ensemble cast and is worth watching if you ever stumble upon it.

I Never Sang for My Father is not my favorite movie. It’s fine, but I don’t really love it all that much. Hackman and Douglas are the best things in it, and they’re the only reasons to see it.

The Last Word: Mills is a bad winner in my mind. The category’s not strong enough for this to make a show of itself as a bad winner, but I don’t think the performance is up to snuff for this category. He’s a beloved actor and that’s why he won, but I don’t see any reason the performance holds up at all. Hackman is affecting, but he’d go on to give better ones. So a win here wouldn’t have held up all that much (especially given him being a co-lead). Castellano wouldn’t have held up just because of how subdued he is for much of the film and how little remembered the film is. Marley would have looked like a weak win because of the fact that he’d been better in other films (like Faces, two years before this). He’d be okay, probably about as much as Mills. And Chief Dan George — honestly, if he won, to me, that’s best case scenario here. He’s funny, he’s memorable, and he’s Native American. So you have the bonus of, well they went diverse, even if it is a comic performance. The veteran win can be understandable, but I just don’t think it was a very good choice. Blame the lack of a category, blame whatever, I still don’t think it’s particularly great as a winner.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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