Marlon Brando: The Godfather (winner)
Peter O’Toole: The Ruling Class
Michael Caine: Sleuth
Laurence Olivier: Sleuth
Paul Winfield: Sounder
The collection of nominations we have aren’t bad. I think it’s telling that we’ve got two from the same film here, because a lot of films I’d consider aren’t the sort that Oscar normally likes. Burt Lancaster in Ulzana’s Raid is probably the most “normal” film with an unnominated male performance here. Sticking to Westerns, Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter has certainly had impact, but probably wasn’t much noticed in 1972. With Deliverance, I think the question is one of whom to nominate. Cries and Whispers is one of the best movies of the year, but there’s no one to nominate for this award. Science fiction is usually skipped, which explains why Bruce Dern was ignored for Silent Running. Foreign performances get ignored, too, which is why Fernando Rey in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and especially Klaus Kinski for Aguirre: The Wrath of God were left off the list.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: I am happy to be an apologist for Peter O’Toole, and I actually like his performance in The Ruling Class, but it’s not one that I would have nominated. I think it’s clear that he had a lot of fun doing this role, but Klaus Kinski deserved to be here far more. The Ruling Class is an oddball film at best and O’Toole’s performance is an oddball performance. I won’t disagree that it’s a damn good one and O’Toole should have won at least once in his career. He just shouldn’t have even been nominated for this film.
4. I like Paul Winfield in Sounder quite a bit, but this is another nomination that I don’t quite understand. Winfield absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination for Sounder, but he really deserved it as a supporting actor. He’s not on screen for a lot of the film, even if he casts a huge shadow over everything that happens. With a much larger role in the film, Winfield would move up the ranks here. As it is, it’s difficult for me to justify ranking him higher when he was really nominated for the wrong award.
3. I like Laurence Olivier and I like him in Sleuth quite a bit. I freely admit that a big part of this is that Sleuth is a likable film. It’s mildly depraved and both of the main characters are tawdry in particular ways, but it’s a film that revels in its cleverness and wants the audience to do the same. Olivier, as the more “evil” of the two characters, is perhaps less likable. He’s great, though, playing a character who is tragic in the original sense—proud of his intellect and his wealth and seeing those two things being what bring him to ruin. I just like two other performances more.
2. One of those performances I like more than Olivier’s is Michael Caine’s in Sleuth in many respects, he is the character to watch here, the one who is really having the most fun in the role, and it’s a role that fits Caine perfectly. In 1972, Caine still had the chops and the appeal to pull off a role that was in many ways in the same vein as the character he played in Alfie six years previously. Caine is better known for a lot of other roles, but this is one of my favorites. In a different year, he’d have a good chance of winning from me, but he is beaten by one of the great performances of its decade.
1: When Oscar gets it right, it really gets it right, and Marlon Brando in The Godfather was the right choice. Brando’s performance as Don Vito Corleone is a truly towering one, the sort of performance that enters the collective consciousness of humanity. It’s still being referred to both seriously and in parody more than four decades after it was made. It’s also one of those roles where it is impossible to see someone else in the role. Brando makes it his, and there is no other way for the role to be envisioned. He was the right choice.