Monday, January 16, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong: Best Actor 1970

The Contenders:

Jack Nicholson: Five Easy Pieces
James Earl Jones: The Great White Hope
Melvyn Douglas: I Never Sang for My Father
Ryan O’Neal: Love Story
George C. Scott: Patton (winner)

What’s Missing

There are a few interesting nominations for 1970 and a few that leave me scratching my head. There are also some choices that I think we can make to improve on the set we’ve been presented. Let’s start with Jason Robards in The Ballad of Cable Hogue. On the “recommended to me, but I’ve not seen it front” we have Jean-Claude Brialy in Claire’s Knee. Someone will bring up Jean-Louis Trintignant in Il Conformista, but I was lukewarm on that film. How about John Moulder-Brown in Deep End or Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man? Both M*A*S*H and Kelly’s Heroes are probably too ensemble to nominate anyone here. How about James Fox in Performance?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. It’s actually hard to pick a last place here, and so I’m going with the movie and character I liked the least: Ryan O’Neal’s work in Love Story. I don’t hate O’Neal, but I do hate this movie and this character. Is it a bad performance? Probably not, but I hate it anyway. It’s a bland movie filled with selfish jackasses who are selfish around each other until one of them dies. I hate it and I pretty much hate every character in it. Sorry if you disagree.

4. I like James Earl Jones and I even like The Great White Hope. His placement in fourth is more a product of the time than it is a reflection on his work. This is a film that hasn’t aged very well. The problem that the film was meant to highlight (interracial relationships and marriages) is one that has become less and less of a concern of people in general over the decades. While it may well have been an important film in 1970, the central relationship is one that today doesn’t seem that notable. It’s a good film. He’s good in it. It’s simply less meaningful now than it was 47 years ago.

3. Melvyn Douglas, at first blush, is a surprising nomination for this category, but I dare say that he earned it, and given an open field I would consider nominating him myself. Douglas’s task in I Never Sang for My Father is to present a character whom everyone likes except for the people who know him really well. It’s a hard thing to do, and Douglas does it as well as can be expected. He’s the best thing in a movie that has a lot of good things in it. It’s almost a shame that the movie itself isn’t that memorable.

2. Jack Nicholson has earned a lot of Oscar nominations in his career, and I won’t discount the quality of his performance in Five Easy Pieces. This role might be the best example of why Nicholson became so prominent as an actor. The entire thing turns on him and his varying moods and temperament. Nicholson may well have eventually gotten to a place where he just plays himself over and over, but this is before that time. His own personality is prominent here, but it really is about the character and about the role.

My Choice

1. All of that said, I think I’d still hand this to George C. Scott for Patton. It could probably be said with some accuracy that Scott won the Oscar for the opening monologue, which remains one of the greatest movie speeches ever written and one of the most effective ever delivered. Had the rest of the performance been lesser than that, he might still have won, but Scott kept up the intensity and the power of that initial scene through the course of the film. It’s a magnetic performance, and an iconic one, and that’s exactly what Oscar should be rewarding.

Final Analysis


  1. I agree and disagree here but it's a tough category because those top three performances are all really amazingly great.

    I can't even be bothered with Love Story. If ever two actors benefited from the smash success of their film it's O'Neal and Ali MacGraw. I thought they both stank and the picture was the essence of meh. But I remember the fervor with which it was embraced when it was out, one of my cousins saw if over a dozen times! I barely made it through once.

    James Earl Jones is a great actor, as is Jane Alexander, and both were fine in Great White Hope but I hated the film and wasn't that bowled over by either in it.

    Now about those top three. My personal preference would be Melvyn Douglas but both George C. and Nicholson wouldn't be bad choices.

    I didn't enjoy Five Easy Pieces, I'm not sure it was constructed to be enjoyed but this is one of the Nicholson performances I admire most along with Chinatown. GCS is a force in Patton I was simply more moved by Douglas.

    About who's missing.

    I wouldn't have minded seeing both Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland make it in for M*A*S*H.

    Something that's always befuddled me is how Glenda Jackson won all the attention in Women in Love when her performance is really supporting, she's good though she's been better elsewhere and Alan Bates to me is the real focus and delivers the showpiece work so how she made it into and won Lead Actress, which speaking of Ballad of Cable Hogue should have gone to Stella Stevens, and Bates got nothing is a puzzler.

    I'd also consider George Segal in Loving and I agree about Jason Robards in Cable Hogue.

    1. Stella Stevens will get her moment here when I get to 1970 Actresses, of course. And I agree completely. Women in Love is one that I haven't seen yet, mainly because I can't find it. I'm holding out hope for it.

      Gould and Sutherland are fair mentions. With an ensemble cast, it's harder for me to justify a lead actor or actress, and M*A*S*H is the epitome of an ensemble cast. I don't hate the nominations as an idea, though.

      I don't take any real issue with Melvyn Douglas for the win, either. He's the best thing in a movie with a trio of excellent performances. Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons are both tremendous in their roles, but Douglas was the right nomination.

      My top three here are the three nominations I'd definitely keep.

  2. A real tough call between your top two choices because they are such different movies and different types of performances. I'm such a big fan of Nicholson in one of the defining movies of 70's filmmaking, but Scott as Patton is both iconic and great. My extreme dark horse in this category might be Bud Cort in Brewster McCloud, one of my all-time favorite cult movies.

    1. Brewster McCloud is one I haven't seen, so I can't comment.

      I think there are potentially multiple right choices for this year. While there are stronger years, there are a lot of performances that could be successfully argued for.

  3. I am weak year George C. Scott wins hands down.

    1. Yeah--it is very much a solid performance in a very off year.