Friday, March 20, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1966

The Contenders:

Michael Caine: Alfie
Paul Scofield: A Man for All Seasons (winner)
Alan Arkin: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming
Steve McQueen: The Sand Pebbles
Richard Burton: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

What’s Missing

Are there actor performances worth noting from 1966? Of course there are. There are three from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly right off the top in Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, and Eli Wallach. David Hemmings in Blow Up might be worth a nod, and while most people probably won’t agree with me, I’d consider Rock Hudson in Seconds as a potential contender. I didn’t much like Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, but I did like David Warner in it quite a bit. I like Fahrenheit 451, but Oskar Werner might be a longshot for a nomination. How about Vaclav Neckar from Closely Watched Trains? Other films I liked from 1966--Persona, Au Hasard Balthazar, and Daisies don’t really have a male performance of note.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: All of that said above, this is actually a pretty tough pick. I’m putting Alan Arkin for The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming here not because it’s a bad performance but because it’s simply the weakest of the five and the nomination I understand the least. I’d much rather see several of the names above here in this spot. It doesn’t help that this film (I won’t type the name again) hasn’t aged well at all. Sorry, Alan. You got your Oscar eventually anyway.

4: I feel guilty sticking Steve McQueen’s only Oscar nomination in fourth place because I like Steve McQueen a lot. I think he was a genuinely great actor and had a lot of roles I really enjoy watching. The problem is that while The Sand Pebbles isn’t bad, it’s also not great and nothing new from him. He plays the same role here that he played in most of his movies. His nomination is not hampered by what he does, but more by the fact that he does the same thing in better movies during a lot of his career.

3: Paul Scofield ultimately won this Oscar and I have to admit that his performance as Thomas More is a good one. He brings a real dignity to the role and he’s worth watching during every frame. It’s also probably the best role of his career. The problem again is that there are better performances from this year. Scofield is the best part of a pretty good (albeit slow) movie, and while that might be good enough for the real world, it’s not good enough for the world inside my own head.

2: Ah, Michael Caine in Alfie is really Michael Caine hitting on all cylinders. He’s got the license to be naughty and chatty and fun throughout and he makes the most of it. Alfie as a character is a complete bastard, but he’s also likeable. Caine manages to make Alfie someone we enjoy spending time with even though Alfie is a jerk and treats others shamefully. That takes talent and serious chops, and Caine brings it all to bear in this film.

My Choice

1: But really, this year and this award should have belonged to Richard Burton. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof? was nominated for a whopping 13 Oscars and it won 5, but it should have won at least one more. Burton is perfect in this role, begging the question of exactly how much of this was acting and how much of this was simply Burton being himself while people called him by a different name. I don’t care either way. Sometimes, even a known ham gets it right. He’s magnetic on the screen and he should have walked away with the gold.


Final Analysis

12 comments:

  1. I usually do better with films from the 1960s but this time, sad to say, I've only see two of the nominated films - A Man for all Seasons and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. (Alfie in particular seems like a glaring omission.)

    I have to completely agree with you on Richard Burton. Virginia Woolf is a movie I've seen over and over since I first saw it about 1990. When I get it from Netflix, I always keep it for a few days and watch it more than once before I send it back. It's not just Burton, of course, because the whole cast is AMAZING, but Burton has so many great speeches, like the entire section where he's overseeing the party games:" We're not going to play "Hump the Hostess" yet, not yet! First we're going to play "Get the Guests!" (And I always laugh at Sandy Dennis getting all excited and squealing "Hump the Hostess!")

    I have two movies listed in a tie for my favorite movie of 1966, and they are Virginia Woolf and Andrei Rublev. And the guy that plays Andrei Rublev is really good! I don't think that movie would be as incredible as it is for four hours if the lead wasn't good. So I'm putting forth Anatoly Solonitsyn as another possible contender.

    (And if you've never seen Andrei Rublev, I highly recommend it as a unique cinema experience.)

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    1. I've seen Andrei Rublev. There always seems to be one or two that I miss when I do these rundowns.

      A Man for All Seasons, as the Best Picture winner, is worth your time, too. It's a slow film and most of the action happens inside people's heads, but Scofield is worth seeing in the role.

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  2. This time I haven't seen A Man for All Seasons. I also have no memory of Virginia Woolf. Don't think that would be possible if I had seen it. I love Michael Caine in Alfie.

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    1. I like Caine as well, and he's great in Alfie. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is really essential viewing.

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  3. I disagree on Alfie being so high, but I strongly agree with Burton for the win. I also agree with your order from 3-5 and your reasons; I just would have had each one notch higher.

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    1. I knew that you didn't love Alfie, and I get that even if I think it's a pretty good film. I think Caine's performance in it is pretty great, though.

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  4. A few other performances worth mentioning and viewing from 1966: Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon both do a fine job in their first on-screen teaming in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie. The historical epic Khartoum features a grim showdown in the African desert between stalwarts Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier. This one generates mixed reactions, but it is worth a look.

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    1. Both of those are on my Oscar lists on one place or another, so I'll be hitting both eventually.

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  5. I agree with you here. Scofield's work, while fine and full of dignity, is no match for Burton's towering performance. A no brainer for me.

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    1. "Towering" is the right word for it. There's no good reason he shouldn't have won.

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  6. Interesting analysis of all five performances and they line up pretty much the same for me except for Burton. He's fine in Virginia Woolf and I know his performance is venerated but to me he was much more impressive the previous two years in Night of the Iguana and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

    I'd keep Caine and Scofield and substitute Jozef Kroner in The Shop on Main Street, Alan Bates in King of Hearts and Rock Hudson in Seconds who in fact would be my choice for the prize. I was glad to see you mention him above, he wasn't always a distinguished actor but he really connected in that film, it was the best work he ever did.

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    1. Jozef Kroner is a great pick, and I love Seconds probably more than I should. It's a real against-type role for Hudson and he nailed it completely. I haven't seen King of Hearts. There's always a few from a given year that I've missed that always makes my final conclusion here a little suspect, I admit.

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