Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1967

The Contenders:
Warren Beatty: Bonnie and Clyde
Paul Newman: Cool Hand Luke
Dustin Hoffman: The Graduate
Spencer Tracy: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Rod Steiger: In the Heat of the Night (winner)

What’s Missing

This is a genuinely good crop of nominees, although I’m mildly surprised that Sidney Poitier, more or less the star of both In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was passed over for both films, as well as for To Sir, with Love. I’d have considered Lee Marvin for The Dirty Dozen a possible candidate, and I’d have liked it more if he were nominated for Point Blank. I would have pushed hard to see Alan Arkin for his role in Wait Until Dark nominated for something, too. And how about a nod for Alain Delon in Le Samourai?

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Feel free to be mad at me for this, but I don’t love The Graduate. That’s not to say that Dustin Hoffman isn’t good in the film, but I don’t know that he’s that special. Had I seen this film maybe 20 years earlier than I did, I probably would have liked it more than I do, but again, this doesn’t really go to Hoffman’s performance. I guess what it comes down to is that Benjamin Braddock is drifting listlessly. I’m not sure that that’s very difficult for any actor to pull off. While Hoffman is good, even great, it’s a pretty low hurdle.

4: I liked Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but there’s a part of me that wonders if the nomination here wasn’t in part because of Tracy’s death following his part in the filming. It has that feel for me. It's a solid performance all the way through and the speech he gives at the end—the last piece of footage in a storied career—is poignant and beautiful. But I genuinely can’t help but think that had Spencer Tracy survived to the end of the year, he wouldn’t have been nominated for this role.

3: I’ll probably take some heat for Warren Beatty’s performance in Bonnie and Clyde being a part of weeding out nominees rather than being one of my choices. This was the hardest part of this particular issue—I knew this was going in the third position, but I struggled with putting it above or below the fold, as it were. This is a hell of a great film and it deserved all of its nominations, but ultimately, I place it in the same mental spot as Hoffman in The Graduate. While it’s great to watch, I’m not convinced the bar was particularly high for Warren Beatty to play an affable rogue.

My Choices

2: Rod Steiger walked off with this award, and I don’t take issue with that, even if he wouldn’t be my ultimate choice. I said at the top I was surprised at Poitier’s lack of a nomination, but even if he had gotten one, Steiger would rank above him in my opinion. Steiger lives in this role. He put on his character like a suit and offers a completely natural performance. More impressive to me is that he not only remains consistent as the character, he also demonstrates real growth of the character within the confines of the film. Police chief Bill Gillespie is a good old boy of the first rank. It’s easy to dislike him because of his inherent racism, and Steiger still manages to make him human and relatable.

1: That said, I think Paul Newman was robbed. In a career filled with amazing films and fantastic performances, Cool Hand Luke is the gold standard of Newman in front of the camera. Luke is the sort of character that we like immediately despite his inability to follow rules, and all of this comes from Newman. But for me, what sells the whole film is Paul Newman sitting on a bunk playing an out-of-tune banjo singing Plastic Jesus upon hearing about the death of his mother. Holy shit, that’s a thing of beauty. It’s Newman’s best moment, and his is one of the great performances of its decade.

Final Analysis

7 comments:

  1. I've seen 3 of these... Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, and Cool Hand Luke. I agree with you on The Graduate... I'm not a big fan, either. I guess I just don't "get" it like everyone else. And pretty much the same with B&C. However, when I saw just the list of nominees, I was shocked Newman hadn't won. He really was snubbed for Luke here.

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    1. It's cold comfort, but it's difficult to say that Rod Steiger didn't earn the Oscar. I just think Newman deserved it more.

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  2. Another make good by the Academy. Having by passed Stieger in "The Pawnbroker" earlier, they needed a worthy spot to make amends. Fortunately it is a deserving role. Newman is great in this film, his exhausted capitulation to the guards masks his real agenda and was believed by everyone in the film until the last act.

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  3. I agree that the Academy got it right and also would have been happy with a win by Newman or Hoffman (I'm more of an age to completely understand where young Benjamin was coming from). I looked at my list for some other candidates and can't really fault the nominee list. How about Gene Wilder for The Producers or Robert Blake for In Cold Blood?? Still would have gone with Steiger though ...

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    1. @Richard--I'll temporarily take your word for it. The Pawnbroker is a currently hole in my viewing that I'm going to try to fill by year's end. But the Academy did the same thing when they finally gave one to Newman for The Color of Money.

      @Marie--I have no real problem with Steiger winning. It's a hell of a great performance, and while I'd have voted for Newman, Steiger would've gotten the nod from me in a lot of other years for this performance.

      As for Gene Wilder, Oscar isn't a big fan of comedies, it seems. Not a lot of comic performances get nominated and even fewer win. How many real comedies or comedic performances can you name that have walked off with a statue? Let's just say that Steve Martin being snubbed in 1987 for Roxanne is one I still don't get...but we'll get there eventually.

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  4. I'll also agree on The Graduate. I felt it didn't age very well. I also agree on Poitier not being nominated being kind of strange.

    I'd have been fine with any of the four other than Hoffman winning. It wasn't a surprise to me that you picked Newman. I remember your review of Cool Hand Luke. I also remember my too brutal response to the "how could anyone not like this film" question. Separating the film from the performance, though, I agree that Newman does one hell of a job.

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    1. I'll say here what I said there--I was introduced to Cool Hand Luke by a true believer in that film. I'm not sure it would've been possible for me to dislike it. I do genuinely think that Newman's performance is one of the best of the decade, though.

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