Roy Scheider: All That Jazz
Al Pacino: …And Justice for All
Peter Sellers: Being There
Jack Lemmon: The China Syndrome
Dustin Hoffman: Kramer vs. Kramer (winner)
It always seems like there are a few nominations that I like and a few that I think are undeserved for the particular award/year under discussion. There are a number of worthy performances that were passed over in 1979. The biggest miss in my opinion is Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, who I think could be argued for not just a nomination but a win. People seem to have forgotten how good Nick Nolte was in North Dallas Forty. Breaking Away got a number of nominations, but got nothing for Dennis Christopher, who is great in it. Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia is a long shot, but I think it’s worth calling out. Comedies are long shots, but I love both Alan Arkin and Peter Falk in The In-Laws. Finally, foreign films are generally overlooked here, but Klaus Kinski deserved some love for Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: Is there guilt putting Al Pacino last in a list of five? Sure, a little. Part of his placement here is that …And Justice for All isn’t nearly the movie it wants to be. This is an example of Pacino at his Pacino-iest, and there’s certainly a great deal of value there. But if we’re going to go down the list of his great performances, this one doesn’t make the top five, and it’s certainly not any better than most of the performances listed in the paragraph above.
4: The paragraph I just wrote about Al Pacino could be pretty much replicated here about Jack Lemmon and The China Syndrome I love Jack Lemmon and love a lot of his performances throughout his career, but this isn’t one that I would pick as one of his most memorable. In truth, the only reason he’s here above Pacino is that I genuinely like this movie better. Sure, that might be unfair, but this is my website and you don’t get to tell me how to run it.
3: With Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer, I’m getting to the place where I better understand the nomination. I think Hoffman ended up winning because this was Kramer vs. Kramer’s year (something else I disagree with). There’s nothing specifically wrong with Hoffman in this film. In fact, it’s one of his better efforts in front of a camera. As it happens, I just like other performances from this year better. If I got to nominate five, Hoffman might still make the cut, but he wouldn’t win and he wouldn’t come in third in that ideal world.
2: I don’t like the movie Being There but it’s one of the truly great performances from Peter Sellers, who had a career of great performances (and some terrible ones, too). What makes it noteworthy is not the role or Sellers, but the combination of the two. I can’t think of anyone else who could have been Chance because Sellers inhabited the role so completely. I don’t want to watch this movie again, but if I do, it will be strictly to watch Sellers.
1: A lot of times with these posts, I talk about my ideal list of nominees. For my money, the two best male performances of 1979 are Roy Scheider in All That Jazz and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Since only one of them was nominated, I don’t have to choose between them and so I won’t. But I’d probably still come down on the side of Scheider, who did something completely unlike what he was known for in this film. It’s a beautiful and raw and fearless performance, and if I could have given the statue to anyone, I’d have given it to Roy Scheider.