Tom Courtenay: The Dresser
Albert Finney: The Dresser
Michael Caine: Educating Rita
Tom Conti: Reuben, Reuben
Robert Duvall: Tender Mercies (winner)
For me, the best movie of 1983 is The Right Stuff, but it’s an ensemble cast, which means we don’t really have a single performance that would qualify as a leading role. I guess another way of thinking is that we could just about fill the nomination ranks with actors from The Right Stuff: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Lance Henriksen. The Dead Zone isn’t the sort of film to garner nominations, but Christopher Walken earned one. Ditto for David Bowie in The Hunger, where he was more supporting anyway. Robert De Niro’s work in The King of Comedy was absolutely worth considering. This was also the breakout year for Tom Cruise with Risky Business. Scarface isn’t a movie I’d nominate, but I would entertain arguments for Pacino. How about Matthew Broderick in WarGames? Or the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd duo in Trading Places? Woody Allen in Zelig? Or Peter Riegert in Local Hero?
Weeding through the Nominees
5. This is a tough year to judge because there aren’t really any “career” performances, although many of them are good. I’m dropping Tom Conti and Reuben, Reuben off the top. Conti is fine in the film, but it’s a performance that becomes more and more trying to watch the longer the film goes on. His character is unlikable, and while there’s a bit of charm that peeks through at times, ultimately I didn’t like him and I didn’t like the movie. Conti is the best thing in a story that doesn’t work, and even he doesn’t work for me past the 45-minute or so mark.
4. One of the reasons that this year is so odd for this category is that virtually all of these films seem unknown to a broader audience. That’s a shame for a lot of them. The Dresser contains two powerhouse performances, both of which are rightly deserving of acclaim. I’m putting Albert Finney in fourth not because of anything he did wrong, but because he’s not the best thing in a good, if undertstated film. This is one worth tracking down if you are in the mood for something a little more cerebral but still containing some bombast.
3. I enjoyed Educating Rita a lot more than I thought I would, and I like Michael Caine in what is one of his more interesting roles. The problem is that when he’s on the screen with Julie Walters, all eyes are on her, because this is her movie from start to finish. He’s just not the best part of a good film. He builds such a beautiful and believable chemistry with Walters in the film, and there are moments of real heartbreak that are played out entirely on his face in several scenes. I love that he’s here. He’s just not my choice.
2. For as good as Albert Finney is in The Dresser, it is Tom Courtenay who steals the entire film. Courtenay is good through the entire thing, but the final five minutes of the film belong to him entirely and play out every bottled emotion from the drama and from a decades-long relationship in a real and believable way. I said in my review of this that I imagine the poor man spent the day after filming that scene in bed. It’s that draining and that real, and for that reason, I love that he was given a nomination. He’d win in a lot of other years for me. He doesn’t win in 1983, though.
1. I don’t know how I would rank the various roles of Robert Duvall, who seems to never give a bad performance in anything. The Apostle might be his best work, but I don’t think that Tender Mercies could be completely ignored. Duvall doesn’t play a role in this film, but instead inhabits another life so completely that not a thing he does on screen looks wrong, artificial, or affected. The Academy did right in giving him the gold statue. It’s one of the best performances of its decade and one of the best in a truly amazing career of great performances.