Monday, May 22, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1983

The Contenders:

Tom Courtenay: The Dresser
Albert Finney: The Dresser
Michael Caine: Educating Rita
Tom Conti: Reuben, Reuben
Robert Duvall: Tender Mercies (winner)

What’s Missing

For me, the best movie of 1983 is The Right Stuff, but it’s an ensemble cast, which means we don’t really have a single performance that would qualify as a leading role. I guess another way of thinking is that we could just about fill the nomination ranks with actors from The Right Stuff: Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward, Lance Henriksen. The Dead Zone isn’t the sort of film to garner nominations, but Christopher Walken earned one. Ditto for David Bowie in The Hunger, where he was more supporting anyway. Robert De Niro’s work in The King of Comedy was absolutely worth considering. This was also the breakout year for Tom Cruise with Risky Business. Scarface isn’t a movie I’d nominate, but I would entertain arguments for Pacino. How about Matthew Broderick in WarGames? Or the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd duo in Trading Places? Woody Allen in Zelig? Or Peter Riegert in Local Hero?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. This is a tough year to judge because there aren’t really any “career” performances, although many of them are good. I’m dropping Tom Conti and Reuben, Reuben off the top. Conti is fine in the film, but it’s a performance that becomes more and more trying to watch the longer the film goes on. His character is unlikable, and while there’s a bit of charm that peeks through at times, ultimately I didn’t like him and I didn’t like the movie. Conti is the best thing in a story that doesn’t work, and even he doesn’t work for me past the 45-minute or so mark.

4. One of the reasons that this year is so odd for this category is that virtually all of these films seem unknown to a broader audience. That’s a shame for a lot of them. The Dresser contains two powerhouse performances, both of which are rightly deserving of acclaim. I’m putting Albert Finney in fourth not because of anything he did wrong, but because he’s not the best thing in a good, if undertstated film. This is one worth tracking down if you are in the mood for something a little more cerebral but still containing some bombast.

3. I enjoyed Educating Rita a lot more than I thought I would, and I like Michael Caine in what is one of his more interesting roles. The problem is that when he’s on the screen with Julie Walters, all eyes are on her, because this is her movie from start to finish. He’s just not the best part of a good film. He builds such a beautiful and believable chemistry with Walters in the film, and there are moments of real heartbreak that are played out entirely on his face in several scenes. I love that he’s here. He’s just not my choice.

2. For as good as Albert Finney is in The Dresser, it is Tom Courtenay who steals the entire film. Courtenay is good through the entire thing, but the final five minutes of the film belong to him entirely and play out every bottled emotion from the drama and from a decades-long relationship in a real and believable way. I said in my review of this that I imagine the poor man spent the day after filming that scene in bed. It’s that draining and that real, and for that reason, I love that he was given a nomination. He’d win in a lot of other years for me. He doesn’t win in 1983, though.

My Choices

1. I don’t know how I would rank the various roles of Robert Duvall, who seems to never give a bad performance in anything. The Apostle might be his best work, but I don’t think that Tender Mercies could be completely ignored. Duvall doesn’t play a role in this film, but instead inhabits another life so completely that not a thing he does on screen looks wrong, artificial, or affected. The Academy did right in giving him the gold statue. It’s one of the best performances of its decade and one of the best in a truly amazing career of great performances.

Final Analysis


  1. Love what you said about Michael Caine in Educating Rita. It's so true that Rita is Julie Walters's film top to bottom but it just wouldn't have the same spirit without Caine's contribution. I don’t object to any of the nominations, though a couple wouldn’t be mine, except Tom Conti-an actor I love just not in that movie.

    I think Duvall does beautiful work, not surprising, and I'm glad he has an Oscar but he wouldn't be my winner out of this troupe. My vote would go to Courtenay whose work I found just a little bit more extraordinary.

    As to who is missing for at least consideration I like the mention of Broderick in WarGames and even Cruise, I'm not much of a fan but he was dynamic in Risky Business. I'd also put Eric Roberts in Star 80 and Kevin Kline in Pirates of Penzance and maybe Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom in that runner up grouping.

    But the two biggest misses are Jeroen Krabbe in the trippy Fourth Man and Nick Nolte who would be my winner if he had been nominated for Under Fire, a criminally under known film jam packed with award worthy work.

    1. I considered Jeroen Krabbe briefly, but I don't like the movie much and I don't really remember it that well, so I didn't include him. I considered Courtenay for the top--it's a hell of a performance, but I don't see any faults in what Duvall did.

  2. I loved Caine in Educating Rita, but fully understand and agree with your assessment that he isn't the best part of the movie. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of the other nominees. That said, Pacino's Tony Montana is one of my favorite performances of all-time, so that would get my vote.

    1. I'm note 100% convinced that any of the other movies are absolute must-see. The Dresser is slow, but very good. Tender Mercies could be described the same way. Both films have incredible performances from the leads. Reuben, Reuben is entirely forgettable and not worth hunting down.

  3. Agree with you here. Tender Mercies is a great favorite of mine and Duvall makes it so.

    1. He's the best part of a well-made film. While I could see people arguing other nominees (or snubs), I can't find any fault in what he did on screen.

  4. There are A LOT of Oscar categories where I haven't seen all the movies but I do believe this is the first time that you have written up a category where I haven't see any of the movies.

    I went to my IMDB list to see what I listed as my favorite movie of 1983: Rumble Fish!

    So yeah I would totally consider Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke for this category.

  5. Tender Mercies, Educating Rita, and The Dresser are all worth tracking down. The first is just a good story, the second is surprisingly effective despite being a new version of Pygmalion, and the third is a master class in acting.

    1. I've been wanting to see The Dresser for years.

    2. Evidently, NetFlix no longer has it. That's a shame.

      Well, there's always the library!