Monday, October 8, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1968

The Contenders:

Cliff Robertson: Charly (winner)
Alan Bates: The Fixer
Alan Arkin: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Peter O’Toole: The Lion in Winter
Ron Moody: Oliver!

What’s Missing

So let’s talk about the nominations for Best Actor in 1968. There are some solid nominations here and a few that I wonder about considering the wealth of possibilities from this year. Yes, that means this paragraph is going to be huge. These are going to fall into three categories. The first is roles that are probably more supporting than anything else. That will include most of the male cast for Once Upon a Time in the West, specifically Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and Jason Robards. I’ll also stick John Cassavetes from Rosemary’s Baby in this category. The second group is actors who, even in the best of situations, aren’t getting a nomination because of the genre of the film or who they are. Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead and Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes are cases of genre problems. Vincent Price in Witchfinder General and Boris Karloff in Targets were more overlooked because of who they are. Malcolm McDowell in ….If might be more his age than anything else. The final group are those I see as legitimate nominees. Science fiction isn’t an Oscar darling, but Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey could have been an exception. The same is true of comedy, but I would strongly consider Zero Mostel in The Producers. Max von Sydow did both Hour of the Wolf and Shame in 1968, and either would be a fine addition here. I also love Burt Lancaster’s performance in The Swimmer. The biggest miss for me is Steve McQueen in Bullitt.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I like Cliff Robertson as much as the next person, but there’s no reason he should have been nominated here let alone awarded an Oscar. The idea is that men win Oscars for playing the physically or mentally disabled while women win Oscars for playing prostitutes. There’s some truth to that meme, and Robertson’s win for Charly is a part of it. In a year as good as this one, Robertson didn’t need to be here. McQueen, who only got nominated once in his entire career, deserved it a hell of a lot more.

4. Had Alan Arkin won for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I could have more or less written the paragraph above since he plays a man who can neither speak nor hear. It’s a fine role in a very depressing film, and Arkin is good in the role. The problem is that he’s not the best thing in the movie. That goes to Sondra Locke believably playing a character I don’t like. It doesn’t help that I find this movie unrelentingly depressing all the way through. I get the nomination, kind of, but not really.

3. I dislike Oliver! a great deal, but it bothers me not at all to suggest that Ron Moody is one of the best parts of it. His Fagin is a movie character for the ages, even if he feels a bit more supporting than lead. In fact, I’d much rather have him in the supporting race, where I would have not a second thought of voting for him. There are other main roles that were snubbed, though. It feels like Moody was bumped to this category to leave open a chance for Jack Wild in the supporting category, and that’s kind of dirty pool.

2. I consider myself a fan of Alan Bates, and his career should have netted him more than this single Oscar nomination. In no small part, Bates is ending up in second here because I like him as an actor, but it is the case that I like this performance as a lead role more than the others I’ve listed so far. And yet, for whatever reason, I don’t love The Fixer as a movie. It’s not one I’ve wanted to go back to for any real reason and not one I’ve thought about watching again. It feels less than the sum of its parts, although Bates is probably the best thing in it.

My Choice

1. Peter O’Toole was nominated for eight Oscars in his long career with zero wins. He had the terrible luck of frequently being nominated in years when someone else had a career performance. That’s absolutely not the case in 1968, and if he wasn’t going to win for Lawrence of Arabia, he sure as hell should have won for The Lion in Winter. Based on the actual nominations, O’Toole is a clear winner, and in an open field, he’s still my winner, albeit in a much closer race.

Final Analysis


  1. Peter O'Toole...Peter O'Toole!...Peter Freaking O'Toole!!!! There should have been no other winner this year. That there was is just sad. His is a titanic performance matched by Kate Hepburn every step of the way.

    It's funny but I like Oliver! (it took me a while to gain that fondness-and Ron Moody does belong in support) more than the other two films that I think have performances that belong here, the Alans Bates and Arkin. I'd watch The Fixer again before the misery buffet that is Arkin's film but wouldn't rush to either but both men are exemplary.

    From what I've read Cliff Robertson campaigned tirelessly for the win, assisted by wife Dina Merrill's E.F. Hutton/Post cereal zillions, and it obviously worked. Like you I have nothing against old Cliffie but his win is just wrong on pretty much every level. Charly isn't even his best performance and even at his best I'm not sure I ever saw something of his and thought "that should have rated an Oscar nomination."

    I like several of your suggestions for alternates and Burt Lancaster would make my list for The Swimmer any day over Robertson. McQueen is terrific in Bullitt but would just miss for me coming in sixth. The only other possibility I have is Rod Steiger in the pitch black comic murder thriller No Way to Treat a Lady. He wouldn't come close to beating O'Toole-no one does-but he'd make my list.

    1. I don't know Steiger's film, so McQueen would make my list. I think Bullitt is a hell of a good movie, and McQueen is aces in it.

      I agree that Bates and Arkin are both very good in their films, but I don't really want to rewatch either. My positioning of Arkin may well be a reaction to the film itself, which I found relentlessly depressing.

      But really, this was clearly O'Toole's Oscar if there was ever one he earned in his career.

  2. The trouble with Flowers for Algeron (or Charly if you prefer)is that the movie isn't nearly as good as the book. I hate to say that chiche, but Flowers is really one of my favorite books and I can't think of a good way to translate the book to screen that would appreciate the structure of the novel. That being said, Cliff Robertson is Charly Gordon to me. I don't have a problem with him winning despite my reservations about the movie itself. However, I think Alan Arkin is brilliant in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (also one of my favorite books). I wouldn't have had a problem with him winning either. That being said, O'Toole is certainly a worthwhile choice for The Lion in Winter, as well. A good year in this category in my opinion.

    Now my confession...I'm a big McQueen fan...yet...I've never seen Bullitt! I'm definitely going to watch it soon.