Friday, June 3, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1972

The Contenders:

Marlon Brando: The Godfather (winner)
Peter O’Toole: The Ruling Class
Michael Caine: Sleuth
Laurence Olivier: Sleuth
Paul Winfield: Sounder

What’s Missing

The collection of nominations we have aren’t bad. I think it’s telling that we’ve got two from the same film here, because a lot of films I’d consider aren’t the sort that Oscar normally likes. Burt Lancaster in Ulzana’s Raid is probably the most “normal” film with an unnominated male performance here. Sticking to Westerns, Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter has certainly had impact, but probably wasn’t much noticed in 1972. With Deliverance, I think the question is one of whom to nominate. Cries and Whispers is one of the best movies of the year, but there’s no one to nominate for this award. Science fiction is usually skipped, which explains why Bruce Dern was ignored for Silent Running. Foreign performances get ignored, too, which is why Fernando Rey in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and especially Klaus Kinski for Aguirre: The Wrath of God were left off the list.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: I am happy to be an apologist for Peter O’Toole, and I actually like his performance in The Ruling Class, but it’s not one that I would have nominated. I think it’s clear that he had a lot of fun doing this role, but Klaus Kinski deserved to be here far more. The Ruling Class is an oddball film at best and O’Toole’s performance is an oddball performance. I won’t disagree that it’s a damn good one and O’Toole should have won at least once in his career. He just shouldn’t have even been nominated for this film.

4. I like Paul Winfield in Sounder quite a bit, but this is another nomination that I don’t quite understand. Winfield absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination for Sounder, but he really deserved it as a supporting actor. He’s not on screen for a lot of the film, even if he casts a huge shadow over everything that happens. With a much larger role in the film, Winfield would move up the ranks here. As it is, it’s difficult for me to justify ranking him higher when he was really nominated for the wrong award.

3. I like Laurence Olivier and I like him in Sleuth quite a bit. I freely admit that a big part of this is that Sleuth is a likable film. It’s mildly depraved and both of the main characters are tawdry in particular ways, but it’s a film that revels in its cleverness and wants the audience to do the same. Olivier, as the more “evil” of the two characters, is perhaps less likable. He’s great, though, playing a character who is tragic in the original sense—proud of his intellect and his wealth and seeing those two things being what bring him to ruin. I just like two other performances more.

2. One of those performances I like more than Olivier’s is Michael Caine’s in Sleuth in many respects, he is the character to watch here, the one who is really having the most fun in the role, and it’s a role that fits Caine perfectly. In 1972, Caine still had the chops and the appeal to pull off a role that was in many ways in the same vein as the character he played in Alfie six years previously. Caine is better known for a lot of other roles, but this is one of my favorites. In a different year, he’d have a good chance of winning from me, but he is beaten by one of the great performances of its decade.

My Choice

1: When Oscar gets it right, it really gets it right, and Marlon Brando in The Godfather was the right choice. Brando’s performance as Don Vito Corleone is a truly towering one, the sort of performance that enters the collective consciousness of humanity. It’s still being referred to both seriously and in parody more than four decades after it was made. It’s also one of those roles where it is impossible to see someone else in the role. Brando makes it his, and there is no other way for the role to be envisioned. He was the right choice.

Final Analysis


  1. Since Brando's performance is the one of these I've seen, I guess they got it right, and I hate to be THAT guy, but...

    I'm always a bit perplexed by this win and I have my reasons. To start with, he's not the lead. Pacino is the lead as much of Brando's time is spent off screen in a hospital bed. He really only has a handful of scenes. Iconic scenes, mind you, but only a handful. I'd give him Best Supporting in a heartbeat. And, I think DeNiro played the same character better in the sequel. I know that has no bearing on this Oscar race, but I thought I'd slip that in.

    1. I get that, but I think Brando is really central to the movie. I don't think the movie exists without him, and even when he's not on screen, everything that happens happens in reference to him.

      For me, The Godfather Part II is Pacino's movie.

  2. I can't argue with anything you said really. I hated The Ruling Class however I thought Peter O'Toole did terrific work with what he was given but not worthy of a nomination. I agree about Paul Winfield too he does beautiful work in Sounder but it's clearly supporting. The other three absolutely belong here. The dance between Olivier and Caine is such a shared one it's impossible for me to say one is better than the other. So of the nominees it rightly was Brando.

    But if I could replace O'Toole and Winfield I'd put Steve McQueen for Junior Bonner in place of O'Toole and flip flop Winfield with Al Pacino who nonsensically WAS nominated for supporting when he belonged in lead alongside Brando. With that change I'd hand the award to Pacino. Brando's excellent but some of the power of his performance is aided by his transformative makeup whereas Pacino's is strictly through the force of his personality, gravitas and nuance.

    What's really a shame is that Pacino didn't win this year. If he had we could have been spared the spectacle of him winning for one of his worst performances in the odious Scent of a Woman.

    1. This year or in 1974. I have yet to get to this award for 1974, but I imagine that it's not one where I'm going to agree with the Academy.

      I genuinely like Peter O'Toole in general, and I love him when his roles lean more toward the comedic. His work in The Ruling Class is great, but it's great in service of something that ultimtaely isn't very good.

      I flip-flopped on Caine and Olivier a couple of times.

  3. In the alternate Oscar book, they give the award to Woody Allen for Play It Again,Sam. The reason being, as mentioned above, was the fact that the author called Brando's role a supporting one. Personally, I can't take Brando's Oscar from him, though he didn't take it anyway! I do like Pacino for 1974 as others have mentioned.

    1. I've seen pieces of Play It Again, Sam but have not seen the whole thing straight through.

      My guess is that 1974 Best Actor is going to look very different when I get done with it.

  4. I've been meaning to get back to this for a couple of days, because I recently re-discovered a performance that deserves to be considered in this category. Stacy Keach in "Fat City" gives a brutally honest portrayal of a self destructive boxer, a little passed his prime and not able to overcome his demons. There are moments when he will infuriate you and others where you will want to reach out and offer a hand up and he delivers in all of those scenes. His co-star Susan Tyrell got the attention of people when the film was first out, but Keach is the focus of the film and gave a performance that impressed me immensely.

    1. Keach is good in Fat City. Probably a miss on my part, at least in terms of consideration. At the very least, he probably deserves to be here more than Peter O'Toole.

  5. This is Brando's Oscar. There is no serious alternative in 72.

    1. Track down Sleuth. It's worth seeing, and not just for two fantastic performances.