Cliff Robertson: Charly (winner)
Alan Bates: The Fixer
Alan Arkin: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Peter O’Toole: The Lion in Winter
Ron Moody: Oliver!
So let’s talk about the nominations for Best Actor in 1968. There are some solid nominations here and a few that I wonder about considering the wealth of possibilities from this year. Yes, that means this paragraph is going to be huge. These are going to fall into three categories. The first is roles that are probably more supporting than anything else. That will include most of the male cast for Once Upon a Time in the West, specifically Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards. I’ll also stick John Cassavetes from Rosemary’s Baby in this category. The second group is actors who, even in the best of situations, aren’t getting a nomination because of the genre of the film or who they are. Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead and Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes are cases of genre problems. Vincent Price in Witchfinder General and Boris Karloff in Targets were more overlooked because of who they are. Malcolm McDowell in ….If might be more his age than anything else. The final group are those I see as legitimate nominees. Science fiction isn’t an Oscar darling, but Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey could have been an exception. The same is true of comedy, but I would strongly consider Zero Mostel in The Producers. Max von Sydow did both Hour of the Wolf and Shame in 1968, and either would be a fine addition here. I also love Burt Lancaster’s performance in The Swimmer. The biggest miss for me is Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I like Cliff Robertson as much as the next person, but there’s no reason he should have been nominated here let alone awarded an Oscar. The idea is that men win Oscars for playing the physically or mentally disabled while women win Oscars for playing prostitutes. There’s some truth to that meme, and Robertson’s win for Charly is a part of it. In a year as good as this one, Robertson didn’t need to be here. McQueen, who only got nominated once in his entire career, deserved it a hell of a lot more.
4. Had Alan Arkin won for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I could have more or less written the paragraph above since he plays a man who can neither speak nor hear. It’s a fine role in a very depressing film, and Arkin is good in the role. The problem is that he’s not the best thing in the movie. That goes to Sondra Locke believably playing a character I don’t like. It doesn’t help that I find this movie unrelentingly depressing all the way through. I get the nomination, kind of, but not really.
3. I dislike Oliver! a great deal, but it bothers me not at all to suggest that Ron Moody is one of the best parts of it. His Fagin is a movie character for the ages, even if he feels a bit more supporting than lead. In fact, I’d much rather have him in the supporting race, where I would have not a second thought of voting for him. There are other main roles that were snubbed, though. It feels like Moody was bumped to this category to leave open a chance for Jack Wild in the supporting category, and that’s kind of dirty pool.
2. I consider myself a fan of Alan Bates, and his career should have netted him more than this single Oscar nomination. In no small part, Bates is ending up in second here because I like him as an actor, but it is the case that I like this performance as a lead role more than the others I’ve listed so far. And yet, for whatever reason, I don’t love The Fixer as a movie. It’s not one I’ve wanted to go back to for any real reason and not one I’ve thought about watching again. It feels less than the sum of its parts, although Bates is probably the best thing in it.
1. Peter O’Toole was nominated for eight Oscars in his long career with zero wins. He had the terrible luck of frequently being nominated in years when someone else had a career performance. That’s absolutely not the case in 1968, and if he wasn’t going to win for Lawrence of Arabia, he sure as hell should have won for The Lion in Winter. Based on the actual nominations, O’Toole is a clear winner, and in an open field, he’s still my winner, albeit in a much closer race.