Laurence Olivier: The Boys from Brazil
Gary Busey: The Buddy Holly Story
Jon Voight: Coming Home
Robert De Niro: The Deer Hunter
Warren Beatty: Heaven Can Wait
As is usually the case, I don’t love all of the nominations for this award and this year. More to the point, there are a few that I think were ignored that should not have been. To the Academy’s shame, I can see why most of these were ignored, and it doesn’t speak well of them. We can start with Richard Gere in Days of Heaven, which may have felt too insubstantial. Add to that John Travolta in Grease for the same reason. Tommy Lewis in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith may not have been well-known enough, or it may simply be a case of mild racism. The same could be said of Henry Gayle Sanders in Killer of Sheep. The one I genuinely don’t understand not being here is Brad Davis in Midnight Express.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. My problem with Warren Beatty being nominated for Heaven Can Wait has nothing to do with Warren Beatty and only a little to do with his performance. It really comes down to the film itself and how flyaway it is. This is a film that makes a lot of leaps to get to where it wants to go, and it forces the characters into situations for plot reasons rather than character reasons. It’s not a bad performance from Beatty, but I don’t think it’s a great one in part because the character isn’t that interesting, and Beatty doesn’t do anything to make the character interesting.
4. I have a similar reaction to Laurence Olivier and The Boys from Brazil. This is such a bonkers film that it’s hard for me to believe that Olivier was nominated for a reason other than the fact that he was considered the greatest actor of his generation and had only received a single Oscar in his career. Don’t get me wrong—I kind of like the movie itself in part because of how crazy it is, and I like Olivier in it, but I’m not sure that he belongs here just because this is clearly a B-movie with an A-list cast.
3. Despite what De Niro may be doing to his legacy with his recent decent into terrible comedies, there was a time when every one of his performances was something to treasure. The Deer Hunter comes from that time, so I get his nomination. The problem is that he’s not even close to the most memorable part of the film. For me, a Best Actor statue should go to someone who is so central to the movie that it can’t be imagined any other way. That’s not the case here, and that’s why even De Niro in his prime can’t rise above third place.
2. I’m not surprised that Jon Voight won this Oscar for Coming Home. I spent some time considering first and second place here, and while my vote ultimately doesn’t go to Voight, I’m not sure I can completely disagree with the decision. What power Coming Home has comes in large part from Voight, who had a difficult role in presenting someone who is so physically and emotionally damaged without the film sliding head-first into melodrama. It doesn’t, and Voight gets a large amount of the credit for that.
1. But given a vote, I’d go with Gary Busey and The Buddy Holly Story. It’s easy to forget how good Busey could be based on the baby-step-away-from-an-institution persona he has now, but this is a real, fully-fleshed performance. Put Brad Davis into the mix and we might have a longer and more boisterous discussion, and while Voight was a fine choice, it was Busey who completely embodied his character and made him real. He’s my winner.