Roy Scheider: All That Jazz
Al Pacino: …And Justice for All
Peter Sellers: Being There
Jack Lemmon: The China Syndrome
Dustin Hoffman: Kramer vs. Kramer (winner)
It always seems like there are a few nominations that I like and a few that I think are undeserved for the particular award/year under discussion. There are a number of worthy performances that were passed over in 1979. The biggest miss in my opinion is Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, who I think could be argued for not just a nomination but a win. People seem to have forgotten how good Nick Nolte was in North Dallas Forty. Breaking Away got a number of nominations, but got nothing for Dennis Christopher, who is great in it. Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia is a long shot, but I think it’s worth calling out. Comedies are long shots, but I love both Alan Arkin and Peter Falk in The In-Laws. Finally, foreign films are generally overlooked here, but Klaus Kinski deserved some love for Nosferatu, Phantom der Nacht.
Weeding through the Nominees
5: Is there guilt putting Al Pacino last in a list of five? Sure, a little. Part of his placement here is that …And Justice for All isn’t nearly the movie it wants to be. This is an example of Pacino at his Pacino-iest, and there’s certainly a great deal of value there. But if we’re going to go down the list of his great performances, this one doesn’t make the top five, and it’s certainly not any better than most of the performances listed in the paragraph above.
4: The paragraph I just wrote about Al Pacino could be pretty much replicated here about Jack Lemmon and The China Syndrome I love Jack Lemmon and love a lot of his performances throughout his career, but this isn’t one that I would pick as one of his most memorable. In truth, the only reason he’s here above Pacino is that I genuinely like this movie better. Sure, that might be unfair, but this is my website and you don’t get to tell me how to run it.
3: With Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer, I’m getting to the place where I better understand the nomination. I think Hoffman ended up winning because this was Kramer vs. Kramer’s year (something else I disagree with). There’s nothing specifically wrong with Hoffman in this film. In fact, it’s one of his better efforts in front of a camera. As it happens, I just like other performances from this year better. If I got to nominate five, Hoffman might still make the cut, but he wouldn’t win and he wouldn’t come in third in that ideal world.
2: I don’t like the movie Being There but it’s one of the truly great performances from Peter Sellers, who had a career of great performances (and some terrible ones, too). What makes it noteworthy is not the role or Sellers, but the combination of the two. I can’t think of anyone else who could have been Chance because Sellers inhabited the role so completely. I don’t want to watch this movie again, but if I do, it will be strictly to watch Sellers.
1: A lot of times with these posts, I talk about my ideal list of nominees. For my money, the two best male performances of 1979 are Roy Scheider in All That Jazz and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. Since only one of them was nominated, I don’t have to choose between them and so I won’t. But I’d probably still come down on the side of Scheider, who did something completely unlike what he was known for in this film. It’s a beautiful and raw and fearless performance, and if I could have given the statue to anyone, I’d have given it to Roy Scheider.
I'm a huge Roy Scheider fan, so of course I'm sympathetic to your take on the '79 Oscars. Scheider was versatile: he could play an Everyman in extraordinary circumstances like Chief Brody in "Jaws"; he could play calm and authoritative, as he did as Nathan Bridger on "SeaQuest DSV"; he could zip all the way across the spectrum to play someone as will-o-the-wispy as Joe Gideon in "All That Jazz." His performance as Dr. Heywood Floyd grounded "2010: The Year We Make Contact," where he was the perfect foil opposite Helen Mirren's stern Soviet cosmonaut. For a palooka with a broken nose, Scheider had an awesome career.ReplyDelete
And of course, he graces your blog's banner in a tribute to one of the most famous moments—which includes one of the most memorable lines—in cinematic history. So I suspect you're a Scheider fan, too.
Oh, and by many accounts, the man was a mensch. I was genuinely sad when he died.
Scheider was extremely versatile and that's easy to forget. One of my favorite roles (one you either forgot or haven't seen) is as the government agent/spy/brother of Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. He was also evidently an amateur boxer with a 13-1 record...with all 13 wins coming by knockout.Delete
It's also worth noting that his famous line from Jaws was an ad-lib.
So, yeah. I'm a Roy Scheider fan, and that may well color my opinion here. If it does, tough. It's my damn blog.
Alas, never saw "Marathon Man." Didn't know about the ad lib, which now has the same standing, in my mind, as Harrison Ford's "I know" in "The Empire Strikes Back." Did know about the boxing, hence the affectionate "palooka" reference. Am cheering the Steve Honeywell who says things like "Sure, that might be unfair, but this is my website and you don’t get to tell me how to run it," and "...tough. It's my damn blog." Mark that territory!Delete
I agree with most of your comments here. It would be a toss-up between your top two. I might go with Sellers, but Scheider is so great in All Thst Jazz. I like Lemon in China Syndrome more than you, but agree with you on Pacino for that performance. Apocalypse, Now had its flaws, but would still be my choice for Best Picture. And 1979 gets my vote for favorite movie year.ReplyDelete
Apocalypse Now is flawed, but it's so beautifully flawed that it would be my choice for Best Picture as well. I love Sheen in it, though, as the only sane person in a world that becomes increasingly insane.Delete
Roy Scheider was so underrated, this is an opinion I can get behind. Singing, dancing and drug taking, good stuff.ReplyDelete
It's showtime, folks!Delete
Not that they would have ever come within a 100 miles of a nomination, but Mel Gibson in the original Mad Max and Michael Beck in The Warriors contributed greatly to two of my favourite 1979 movies.ReplyDelete
I didn't really consider Gibson for Mad Max, but believe it or not, Michael Beck did cross my mind when I put this together. It's one of my favorites from the year, too.Delete
I haven't seen Pacino's performance, but since you put it last I may not be missing too much.ReplyDelete
I liked Being There quite a bit as an overall movie, and especially Sellers' performance. What you wrote about Scheider playing something completely different in All That Jazz I would also say about Sellers. Every single other movie I've ever seen Sellers in he has mugged for the camera in all of them. He's usually got this "look at me, boy am I wacky" approach to try to steal scenes. With Being There, though, he went so completely against this approach that he just disappeared into the role. I was seriously impressed that he could do that, and at the end of his career.
I don't disagree with anything you wrote on Scheider; I just felt Sellers was a little better.
I don't take issue with that at all. It's not a stretch to say that it' the best performance of Sellers's career.Delete
I admit that I have a fondness for Scheider, though, and that probably influences me here.
Being There is one of my favorite movies, and Peter Sellers was at his best as "Chauncey Gardiner". I first saw this on VHS not long after it was released and recall being disappointed when Sellers failed to with the Oscar. And definitely worth re-watching :).ReplyDelete
There's something about Being There that is like biting on a piece of tinfoil for me. I don't love the movie, but I do really like Sellers in it.Delete
The lineup this year is really strong. The one key film I haven't seen is Apocalypse, Now so I can't comment on Sheen's work though he's often a superior actor so I have no doubt he's great in it.ReplyDelete
I'd keep the whole list of nominees except for Sellers. Like you I didn't like Being There and I wasn't too impressed with what he did in it. I was glad to see you mention Nolte, he'd be my replacement nominee and runner-up. Roy Scheider was impressive in All That Jazz even though I only liked certain parts of the film and Hoffman does excellent work in Kramer but I really loved Lemmon's performance in China Syndrome whose parallel enlightenment and disillusionment is expertly played.
This is a really strong year. I'm not a Being There fan at all, but Sellers is really good in the role, at least in my opinion.Delete
The fact that I love Roy Scheider (he's been my logo since this blog started, pretty much) may color my opinion on this award.
Don't get me wrong I think Scheider was terrific in Jazz and in most everything. It's a pity he didn't have more opportunities to compete he was definitely deserving of more recognition then he received. I particularly loved his work in Marathon Man and Sorcerer but he seemed to float back and forth between quality projects and junk.Delete