Jack Nicholson: Five Easy Pieces
James Earl Jones: The Great White Hope
Melvyn Douglas: I Never Sang for My Father
Ryan O’Neal: Love Story
George C. Scott: Patton (winner)
There are a few interesting nominations for 1970 and a few that leave me scratching my head. There are also some choices that I think we can make to improve on the set we’ve been presented. Let’s start with Jason Robards in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. On the “recommended to me, but I’ve not seen it front” we have Jean-Claude Brialy in Claire’s Knee. Someone will bring up Jean-Louis Trintignant in Il Conformista, but I was lukewarm on that film. How about John Moulder-Brown in Deep End or Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man? Both M*A*S*H and Kelly’s Heroes are probably too ensemble to nominate anyone here. How about James Fox in Performance?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. It’s actually hard to pick a last place here, and so I’m going with the movie and character I liked the least: Ryan O’Neal’s work in Love Story. I don’t hate O’Neal, but I do hate this movie and this character. Is it a bad performance? Probably not, but I hate it anyway. It’s a bland movie filled with selfish jackasses who are selfish around each other until one of them dies. I hate it and I pretty much hate every character in it. Sorry if you disagree.
4. I like James Earl Jones and I even like The Great White Hope. His placement in fourth is more a product of the time than it is a reflection on his work. This is a film that hasn’t aged very well. The problem that the film was meant to highlight (interracial relationships and marriages) is one that has become less and less of a concern of people in general over the decades. While it may well have been an important film in 1970, the central relationship is one that today doesn’t seem that notable. It’s a good film. He’s good in it. It’s simply less meaningful now than it was 47 years ago.
3. Melvyn Douglas, at first blush, is a surprising nomination for this category, but I dare say that he earned it, and given an open field I would consider nominating him myself. Douglas’s task in I Never Sang for My Father is to present a character whom everyone likes except for the people who know him really well. It’s a hard thing to do, and Douglas does it as well as can be expected. He’s the best thing in a movie that has a lot of good things in it. It’s almost a shame that the movie itself isn’t that memorable.
2. Jack Nicholson has earned a lot of Oscar nominations in his career, and I won’t discount the quality of his performance in Five Easy Pieces. This role might be the best example of why Nicholson became so prominent as an actor. The entire thing turns on him and his varying moods and temperament. Nicholson may well have eventually gotten to a place where he just plays himself over and over, but this is before that time. His own personality is prominent here, but it really is about the character and about the role.
1. All of that said, I think I’d still hand this to George C. Scott for Patton. It could probably be said with some accuracy that Scott won the Oscar for the opening monologue, which remains one of the greatest movie speeches ever written and one of the most effective ever delivered. Had the rest of the performance been lesser than that, he might still have won, but Scott kept up the intensity and the power of that initial scene through the course of the film. It’s a magnetic performance, and an iconic one, and that’s exactly what Oscar should be rewarding.