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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best 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

Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde

Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate

Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke

Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night

Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Analysis:

Bonnie and Clyde is one of the most iconic films ever made.

This will be a trend in this category.

Everyone knows this movie and what it’s about, and I really would rather just post a gif of the film than put out a synopsis that you don’t need (or worse, you do):

Warren Beatty plays Clyde Barrow. And he is wonderful here. Is this a performance that could have won Best Actor? I don’t think so. Is it a performance that should have won Best Actor? I also don’t think so. I think he’s wonderful and I think the nomination is more than the reward. But in a category like this, he might legitimately be the fifth choice. It’s really strong, and while he’s very good, I’m just not feeling the love for this one as Best Actor.

The Graduate is one of the most… oh fuck it.

Dustin Hoffman gives one of the great comedic performances of all time as Benjamin Braddock. It’s one of the great examples of casting against type. That is to say, the role called for Robert Redford, and they went with Hoffman, and because they did, the film soared.

Hoffman is absolutely wonderful here, and, like just about everyone in this category, you can easily consider him for a vote. He’s so wonderfully placed in this film and in these situations and he really knocks it out of the park with his deadpanned detachment and complete inability to know what to do next. I love this performance and I love this film and like everyone else in this category makes it really difficult for me to figure out what to do.

Cool Hand Luke.

The film is about Newman as a guy thrown in jail and sent to work at a labor camp. And his committment to fighting authority and rebelling against all causes is what endears him to his fellow prisoners and gets him into major trouble with the guards. It’s just a wonderful film.

Paul Newman’s Luke is one of the most iconic characters ever put to screen.

As a performance, is it really something that should have won Best Actor? Not really. He’s charming and he’s great in the role, but I think he has been better and will be better. I love the film and the performance and would want to take it, but the performance is just very good and very iconic. I consider it almost like (and not to the full extend, calm down) Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Great, and you feel like you want to take it, but it’s not a performance that really ought to have won. Though this is a weird category. Newman could sneak through in the end.

In the Heat of the Night.

It’s weird to me that between this and the next film, Sidney Poitier got no nomination. Not to mention the To Sir with Love factor as well. That dude had a hell of a year, and if he hadn’t won already, this could have been his.

The film is about a murder in a small town in the deep South, and a black detective and white police chief who must work together to solve it.

Rod Steiger plays Chief Gillespie, the head officer of this small town who has to solve a murder and doesn’t know how to. He has innate contempt for Sidney Poitier, but knows he needs his help. Which makes his character wonderfully complex.

I can’t say there’s a whole lot that Steiger does here to earn the award. Mostly it feels like he chews gum in every scene and is very low key and has a couple of solid lines. Poitier feels like the stronger presence. But I get why Steiger won. There’s more going on there thematically that made it feel like the right choice to them. I’m not sure if I take him, but he’s a solid performance that definitely contends. We’ll see.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

I’ll admit this film hasn’t held up particularly well, but I still love it.

Also, Sidney Poitier is coming to dinner.

It’s about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, whose daughter comes home with a black fiancé. And their liberal values are tested when they actually have to condone this marriage that they’ve theoretically been okay with until this exact moment when they’re directly confronted with it.

It’s a nice comedy with dramatic moments, and Tracy does a lot of his elder statesman thing for a lot of the film. But it’s the final monologue where he really shines. It’s a hell of a monologue, and his death shortly after the completion of the film adds an extra level of poignancy to it all.

I love this performance, but I get why it didn’t win. I don’t throw him out the way some would, and I firmly have him in contention for the vote. This is one of those very rare five way races where literally any of the nominees could legitimately be the vote.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: What a category. It’s not so much the performance so much as it is the iconic nature of all the films and performances.

Almost every other time when writing up these categories, I had a good idea of who I was gonna take, or at least knew that it was one person or another. Very rarely do I get into this section and have no idea who I’m voting for. But this is legitimately one of those times. I have no idea what the hell I’m gonna do. So we’re all about to find out…

I truly believe that despite the iconic nature of the performance, Warren Beatty does not accomplish all that much with his performance. Of course, that’s relative to this category and voting for the Oscars, which is a whole weird, warped scenario to begin with. But since we’re in that weird, warped zone, I have to think like that. And while I love the performance in the context of the film, but in this category, he doesn’t beat any of the other four for me.

Then… shit. I guess it’s Tracy. Outside of his final monologue and the poignancy factor, I don’t think he accomplishes a whole lot here. I love the performance, and ultimately still could take it. But in terms of pure performance, he’s probably fourth for me.

And next… it might be Paul Newman. I love the performance, but I don’t know if it actually adds all the way up for me. I never thought I’d say that, but he might actually only be third.

If you asked me when I started this that Rod Steiger would be top two, I’d have been slightly surprised. But honestly, he is really solid. Though I still don’t love the performance enough to want to vote for it.

Which means I back into Dustin Hoffman as a choice. Which I feel okay about. I love the performance and he’s really good here. Not sure I’d want to take it most of the time, but this is a very special circumstance. I think he’s worthy of the vote for me. So let’s take him.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate
  2. Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night
  3. Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke
  4. Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  5. Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde

Rankings (films):

  1. Cool Hand Luke
  2. The Graduate
  3. Bonnie and Clyde
  4. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  5. In the Heat of the Night

My Vote: Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate

Recommendations:

They’re all essential. Don’t even try to claim that any of them are not.

ALL OF THESE FILMS ARE ESSENTIAL FILMS.

I’m not even gonna split them. They’re all essential. If you remotely love movies, you must see all of these films.

The end.

The Last Word: Steiger is fine. Poitier had one, Tracy had two, Newman would get one and Hoffman would get two. Steiger fits, and this was an okay choice. I think any of these could have held up okay, but even so, Steiger was probably one of the two best choices they could have went for. I’m fine with this in a lot of ways, even though arguments could be made for an alternate choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

1968

Alan Arkin, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Alan Bates, The Fixer

Ron Moody, Oliver!

Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter

Cliff Robertson, Charly

Analysis:

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

It is.

The fact that it’s a hunter is already impressive. Now it has feelings.

This is based on a Carson McCullers novel, and I really like the adaptations of her work that there have been, including Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Member of the Wedding.

Alan Arkin plays a deaf mute who moves into a family’s house because his best friend, a large, mentally challenged man is institutionalized and he wants to be near him. As he stays in this house, he befriends the youngest daughter of the family and a black doctor.

It’s actually a hell of a performance. He doesn’t speak for the entirety of the film and uses forms of sign language and gestures to speak. Yet, you totally understand what he’s trying to convey. And he has some great dramatic moments as well in the film.

This isn’t something I’d normally take, but in this category, I can make a case for him as high as third. Theoretically even as high as second. But I don’t know. I don’t think I take him, but I think this is an underrated performance that is better than you’d think at first glance.

The Fixer is one of the more forgotten films in Oscar history.

Alan Bates plays a Russian Jew who is thrown in prison for being Jewish. That’s pretty much the film.

I get the nomination completely, but it doesn’t age particularly well as a performance. I don’t really care for it and put it fifth for a vote. He’s probably fourth on performance for me, and he’s solid, but I just don’t care for the film or love the performance enough to consider it for a vote. Ehh, is my overall feeling on this.

Oliver! is the musical version of Oliver Twist. Which is pretty self-explanatory.

Ron Moody plays Fagin. And he’s awesome here. It’s hard not to love Fagin as a character and especially Moody’s portrayal of him. Fagin is typically a strong supporting character, but I can see why they put Moody lead. Even so, he’s a third choice at best here. He shouldn’t have won here and only factors even remotely into the vote because the rest of the category is so mediocre all around.

The Lion in Winter is not a sequel to Becket, but Peter O’Toole does play the same character again, which is interesting.

It’s about him, as Henry II, deciding which of his sons will inherit the throne from him. The entire film takes place over the Christmas holidays as he brings his wife (who was locked away in a prison) to the castle as well. And she, and he, and the sons all scheme toward their own ends. And the whole thing is just delicious in terms of performance and dialogue.

O’Toole is awesome here. This is the performance that, while it would maybe be second most years, becomes an easy #1 this year. And that’s even before I factor in the whole “Peter O’Toole, hasn’t won yet” thing. But honestly no performance in this category comes close to this one, and I’m not gonna hide that opinion to make the reconsideration part more suspenseful. It’s no contest.

Charly is based on Flowers for Algernon, and most people know this story just by having lived.

They do experiments on mice and find that they could develop a drug that makes people smarter. They use Cliff Robertson, a mentally challenged janitor, as their test subject. And it works. The drug makes him smarter and functional. And his life suddenly turns around and he’s able to do thinks he’s never dreamed of. And then, very slowly, the effects of the drug start to wear off, and he’s faced with the fact that pretty soon he will go back to being who he was before. Which, as you can imagine, is an incredibly difficult part to pull off.

It makes sense that Robertson won this, on a pure character/role level. But the film does not do him any favors. It’s very dated and very 60s, with him going off on a weird counterculture interlude that just looks ridiculous nowadays. But he is very good and admittedly would be a second choice for me in the category. Though he doesn’t beat O’Toole. The role does a lot of the work for him and while he is solid, he doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of the character for me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s O’Toole. This is the one that feels like he most got robbed. There was no competition here whatsoever. Bates never really had a shot, Moody wasn’t going to win, and Arkin didn’t seem like they took him seriously enough to vote for him. It was either him or Robertson, and they went for the obvious performance. I can’t say history has looked particularly kind on it, but that’s a discussion for down below. For me, it’s Peter O’Toole and then everyone else. He gives the best performance by a mile.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter
  2. Cliff Robertson, Charly
  3. Alan Arkin, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  4. Ron Moody, Oliver!
  5. Alan Bates, The Fixer

Rankings (films):

  1. The Lion in Winter
  2. Oliver!
  3. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
  4. Charly
  5. The Fixer

My Vote: Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter

Recommendations:

Oliver! is a Best Picture winner, which makes it essential. To an extent. I mean, sure, it’s one of the lesser essential winners, but it still won, which makes it a certain degree of essential. Plus it’s a story everyone knows and it’s an awesome musical, so you should want to watch it anyway.

The Lion in Winter is not 100% essential, but I’d have it up there. Essential for Oscar buffs because of the Hepburn win, and a really great film on its own. High recommend from me, and one I’d consider essential for most film buffs just because it’s so great and so famous. Why would you want to skip this one?

Charly is only essential for Oscar buffs. You’ve seen the story elsewhere, and I don’t even think it’s that great a version of it. It’s just okay. Catch it if it’s on TCM or whatever, but you’re okay without it. It’s just a pretty good movie that happened to win an acting Oscar.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a film I recommend highly. I really like the performances in it a lot and I think that film buffs should check this out. It’s not essential at all, but I think a lot of people will like it, especially if you liked The Member of the Wedding or Reflections in a Golden Eye.

The Fixer is a film I don’t like very much (though admittedly I haven’t seen it in five years) and think is horribly dated. Light recommend for now, and if I see it again maybe I’ll be able to recommend it more.

The Last Word: Bad decision. It was a short term decision that doesn’t look particularly great now. O’Toole was the choice. Sure, he wouldn’t have been the best choice historically, but he’d have had an Oscar for a great performance and then we could say, “Well, he didn’t win for the right performance, but he still won.” Which we say all the time. Here, you wonder how O’Toole lost to a performance that some consider completely ridiculous. I’d actually argue that Alan Arkin could have been a better choice than Robertson. Not to take away from the performance or the win, but I don’t think that one has held up particularly well at all.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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