Friday, September 9, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1982

The Contenders:

Ben Kingsley: Gandhi (winner)
Jack Lemmon: Missing
Peter O’Toole: My Favorite Year
Dustin Hoffman: Tootsie
Paul Newman: The Verdict

What’s Missing

Without question 1982 is one of my favorite film years. That being said, many of the films I love from this year are of the type that don’t garner nominations in the major categories. I’d have been shocked to see Kurt Russell or Harrison Ford for The Thing and Blade Runner respectively, but both could have a case made for them without much difficulty. Diner has too much of an ensemble cast to pick out a single actor. I’m a little surprised that Richard Gere didn’t appear here for An Officer and a Gentleman, although I’m not sure I’d put him here myself. Tron was all about the visuals, not so much the acting. Robin Williams didn’t have the Academy's respect for The World According to Garp. But what about Mel Gibson for The Year of Living Dangerously? Who decided to keep out Klaus Kinski for Fitzcaraldo? And, since Das Boot earned other 1982 nominations, who decided to leave off Jurgen Prochnow?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’ve never been shy about liking the work of Paul Newman in general, but I don’t really know why The Verdict garnered him a nomination. His nomination almost certainly came from the closing moments of the film when he give an impassioned speech. It’s ultimately the film’s best moment in a film that has a real problem with presenting anything like reality. Paul Newman doubtless deserved to win multiple Oscars in his career, but his turn in The Verdict, while good, shouldn’t have put him in the running. I think he was nominated based on reputation, and that’s just not good enough.

4. And now we have a quandary, because I really like all four performances that remain. It’s almost physically painful to put Dustin Hoffman in fourth for Tootsie, a film that I think I like a lot more than almost everyone else. Tootsie hasn’t aged well, but it’s a film that was (and still is, in ways) surprisingly progressive. There are moments in the film when Hoffman reacts to things not as a man in drag but as a woman, and it’s pretty exceptional. It’s just not exceptional enough. The fact that this hasn’t aged well admittedly damages the perception of the film. I’m happy Hoffman was nominated, and equally happy he didn’t win.

3. I’m also sad that I have to put Peter O’Toole’s performance in My Favorite Year as low as third. I genuinely love this film and I genuinely love him in it. This is O’Toole at his comic best, a film that plays a little bit with his own drunken persona and gives him tremendous range to have a great deal of fun. This is a difficult movie to find, but I can’t recommend it enough, and most of that recommendation comes specifically for O’Toole’s wonderful antic and fantastic physical comedy. As good as it is, though, it’s not enough for the top position.

2. Now we get to the really tough stuff. For a lot of his early career, Jack Lemmon played comedic roles touched with a bit of darkness. For Missing, he goes straight to darkness and plays it perfectly. There are a lot of places Missing could have gone and a lot of people who could have been center stage, but Lemmon makes this his film. On the surface, this is the story of a young man who vanished in a foreign country. In reality, this is Lemmon showing us what happens when that young man’s father slowly comes to the realization that everything he has always believed has been a lie. It’s brutal and terrible, and also brilliant. Lemmon would win with this in a lot of years. Just not this year.

1. That leaves us with Ben Kingsley and Gandhi, who did actually win the Oscar. Gandhi is the sort of movie I don’t plan on watching again—I’ve seen it twice already, and that’s at least once more than I really need to. Here’s the thing: while the movie has its problems and desperately needed to be edited, I can’t fault Kingsley at all. He gives a near-perfect performance here in every stage of the film and of Gandhi’s life. This is Ben Kingsley at the top of his game, a piece of flawless acting stuck in the middle of a grand, but flawed, final product. Given the nominations, he was the right choice. But I’m not limited to the nominations.

My Choices

All of this puts me in a strange position, because Ben Kingsley was, in my opinion, the best of the nominations and Kingsley won. However, this is one of those rare cases where even the best of the nominations isn’t the best choice. And with that said, my winner is still a coin toss. I’m not sure if I’d give it to Kinski for Fitzcaraldo or Prochnow for Das Boot. Gun to head, I’d probably lean toward Prochnow, but only by the smallest of margins. In either case, these are the two men who deserved to be in the running and these are the two men who deserved to win.

Final Analysis


  1. Gandhi as a whole was a terrible movie, and I wouldn't have Kingsley even close to my personal nominations.

    Newman was the best from the noms, if you ask me. Such a subtle yet POWERFUL performance filled with layers of conflict and guilt. UGH!

    Then Hoffman.

    I wouldn't nominate anyone else of Oscar's five, but you mention Kinski and I would nominate him. TREMENDOUS performance, and my personal runner-up this year.

    My winner, in a very tight race (between Kinski, Newman and himself) is Albert Finney for his brilliant turn in Shoot the Moon. Just, BOW!

  2. Shoot the Moon is one that I don't know. Kinski is obviously one one which we agree. I love Prochnow's turn in Das Boot, though--there's everything you'd want in a great performance and none of it feels fake. Kinski or Prochnow are the two who really deserve to be here.

  3. There are three performances in this lineup that I love-Hoffman, Lemmon and O'Toole and two that I respect for their technical skill but was unmoved by-Kingsley and Newman.

    Between the first three it's an incredibly close call that depending on the day and which film I've seen most recently who I would choose as winner. Today I'd say O'Toole, this is my favorite of his many great performances with Henry II in Lion in Winter being second. But Hoffman finds so many layers in Dorothy Michaels/Michael Dorsey and Lemmon's slow burn change in Missing is just heartrending. So like I said an almost impossible decision.

    But there are so many great pieces of work that didn't make the final five this year. Definitely the top two you mentioned and Gibson. I'm not that crazy about Blade Runner but Ford is very good in it. Then there's Jack Nicholson in The Border, Kevin Kline in Sophie's Choice and as Fisti said most definitely Albert Finney in Shoot the Moon who if he had made the cut would have made the decision even more difficult because his work is astonishingly deep.

    I use to think Alan Bates belonged here for his brilliant work in Return of the Soldier but on re-watching it he's really supporting in that to the amazing work of Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson and he'd be my winner there.

    1. I think Hoffman is probably better than a lot of people give him credit for as well. My problem with O'Toole in this year is literally only the fact that I think I may love the performance and the film all out of bounds in relation to what most other people feel about it.

      Missing is must-see, I think. We knew for a long time that Jack Lemmon was capable as an actor, but I'm not sure it was fully realized just how good he could be in something this real, dramatic, and ultimately heartbreaking.

  4. I remember seeing The Verdict and being happy that Newman would finally get the honor he deserved. The twist, the speech and James Mason push this performance for me. And then we saw Gandhi and I realized Newman would not win. Kingsley is great in that film. My personal favorite was Peter O'Toole because I love that movie the way you seem to. I love Errol Flynn and O'Toole is the embodiment of that larger than life star.

    1. O'Toole is definitely doing an Errol Flynn turn in My Favorite Year, but I think he's referencing himself almost as much, which is what makes it work so well.

      It also contains one of my truly favorite film moments: