Monday, March 12, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1963

The Contenders:

Rex Harrison: Cleopatra
Paul Newman: Hud
Sidney Poitier: Lilies of the Field (winner)
Richard Harris: This Sporting Life
Albert Finney: Tom Jones

What’s Missing

Lots of great performances from the men in 1963, and while some of them did get nominations, not all of them did. There are a few we can start with right away here that didn’t get nominated for a reason. Shock Corridor and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes are movies I love, but Oscar’s not a fan of B-science fiction, so Peter Breck and Ray Milland (respectively) weren’t going to get any love. Movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Escape are fun (and great in the latter case), but are also ensemble casts with no clear lead role. There are also a few roles that I think fit in the “good, but not necessarily worth a nomination” but that might be better than what we have in a couple of cases. These include Tom Tryon in The Cardinal and Steve McQueen in Love with the Proper Stranger. I’d probably also put Cary Grant in Charade in this group. It’s been too long since I’ve seen The Pink Panther, but I recall Peter Sellers as being pretty iconic. Burt Lancaster being ignored in The Leopard seems like a shock to me. I’d also strongly consider Stathis Giallelis in America, America. The real misses for me, though, are both James Fox and especially Dirk Bogarde in The Servant.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I understand that Tom Jones put Albert Finney on the map, but it’s not a role or a movie that does a lot for me. Sadly, it seems like a case where Finney almost had to be nominated as the clear lead in a movie that eventually won Best Picture. In truth, while it’s a fine performance, I don’t think it’s really anything that special, and given a few of our snubs, it’s not a performance that I think belongs here. Finney has been nominated too many times to not have a win, but he’s not getting this one from me.

4. Cleopatra is not a great movie, and I’m not sure I can be convinced that it’s even a very good one in most respects. It’s got a lot of pageantry and costumes and it’s got Liz Taylor in her prime, but other than that, it doesn’t have a great deal that recommends it except for the exceptional performance of Roddy McDowall, who was snubbed because of studio idiocy. He’s the best thing in the film without question, and could he have legitimately been nominated for a lead role, I’d consider him. Instead, we’ve got Rex Harrison, who isn’t in the second half of the film. Huh?

3. Far be it from me to take Sidney Poitier’s only competitive Oscar away from him, but that’s what I’m going to do here. He should have been nominated multiple times in other years, so I’ll fall back on that. I don’t hate this nomination, and Poitier is one of those actors who is instantly likeable on screen and who combines that with a real gravitas when he needs it. Seriously, the only thing that keeps him from the top for me here is that I genuinely like the other two performances a lot more in movies that I like a lot more than Lilies of the Field.

2. Paul Newman won a lot of Oscars before he actually won one for real. To my mind, he turned in the single best performance in the 1960s in Cool Hand Luke, and he didn’t win for that, so why would he win for an almost as electrifying performance in Hud? This is in that difficult spot in his career. After Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Hustler, greatness was expected of him in every role. We expected Newman to be as flawless as he could be, and so he was always passed over for someone having a career year. I wouldn’t complain too much had Newman won, but he really didn’t deserve this one.

My Choice

1. The best performance of this year is that of Richard Harris in This Sporting Life. Harris is absolutely mesmerizing and magnetic in a role of a man who is truly an awful human being. It’s not easy to be this compelling and this terrible, but Harris manages it by making Frank sympathetic and understandable. Frank wants what he can’t have, which includes respectability and acceptance into society. It’s easy to get that and just as easy to understand Frank’s constant rage at the life he’s been given to live. Harris could not be better in this. Were Dirk Bogarde nominated, he’d be in the hunt for second, but this was so clearly Harris’s Oscar that I don’t know how he didn’t win.

Final Analysis


  1. Well first off though Harrison was quite good in the overblown pageant that is Cleopatra he's more of a supporting actor so out he goes.

    Lilies of the Field annoyed more than it charmed me and while I didn't think Poitier was bad he shouldn't have won for it, he's been better elsewhere.

    The Academy was so in love with Tom Jones this year nominating it right, left and center for anything at all, it's three Supporting Actress nominations are silly stupid, that I'm rather shocked that Finney didn't win. He does carry the film effortless and is very engaging and at one time I probably would have nominated him but he'd come in about sixth for me now.

    So that leaves Newman and Harris neither of whom played people that you'd want to spend much time around but do so beautifully. I lean more towards Newman but wouldn't have been upset if either had taken the top prize of the nominees.

    But out of the entirety of available work for the year my choice would be Dirk Bogarde who is amazing in The Servant.

    Even though he's my choice there was much left out that could have taken three of the spots. I didn't care too much for The Leopard but thought Lancaster was dynamite in it. Then there's Tom Courtenay in Billy Liar, James Fox in The Servant, Dean Martin was very good in Toys in the Attic but he takes a back seat to Geraldine Page and Wendy Hiller and Sellers who is just comic gold in Pink Panther.

    There are two from this year that I've heard praised to the skies but that are still gaps in my viewing Maurice Ronet in The Fire Within and Toshiro Mifune in High and Low.

    1. I wouldn't have a huge issue with Bogarde winning this. Had he been nominated, I'd fit him in between Newman and Harris, and I think he'd be closer to Harris. Any of those three would have been dandy winners and while my heart will go to Harris on this one, I wouldn't complain about any of them walking off with the statue.

      Your gaps are mine--as are a few of your mentions toward the end.

    2. I was having trouble picking somebody, and then Billy Liar was mentioned. And then High and Low! And that just makes it TOO HARD!

      I haven't seen Billy Liar for quite a while. It's great! If you haven't seen it, consider it a major Blind Spot!

      And as for High and Low ... well, Kurosawa is my favorite filmmaker. I've seen all but three of the movies he made after 1945. Yojimbo is my favorite, and High and Low is second.

      Mifune and Courtenay would certainly be contenders.

      I guess I should add that I haven't seen The Servant, but I plan to watch it within the next few weeks.

    3. My guess is that The Servant will only make this a harder choice for you. James Fox is very good. Dirk Bogarde is amazing.

  2. Of the nominees I have only see Paul Newman. Harris must have been truly awesome to be better than Newman.
    As much as I did not like The Leopard that much I do agree Burt Lancaster deserved a nomination and for me he would be in contention.

    1. Harris is transcendent. He's like a caged tiger in human form, a man whose entire existence is a constant scream and a clenched fist.

  3. Haven't seen most of these but have a couple on my watchlist. I agree Poitier is instantly likeable in Lilies of the Field. The Servant I found a bit slow going but Dirk Bogarde's performance was indeed really good. Bergman's Winter Light (1963) had a strong lead performance if I recall.

    1. Winter Light might have been worth a mention above. It's a good thought.