Monday, October 29, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1969

The Contenders:

Richard Burton: Anne of the Thousand Days
Peter O’Toole: Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Dustin Hoffman: Midnight Cowboy
Jon Voight: Midnight Cowboy
John Wayne: True Grit (winner)

What’s Missing

It turns out that 1969 is a weird year for Best Actor nominations. Looking at them, I’m a bit stunned by what we have. Our winner this year was probably inevitable given the nominees. There are some interesting possibilities with other performances, though. We can start with the one that probably doesn’t really deserve it—Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant. Our non-English contingent could easily be filled by Yves Montand in Z or by Jean-Louis Trintignant in My Night at Maud’s. Perhaps the most interesting possibility is Michael Sarrazin in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? 1969 also seems an interesting year in terms of actor duos. We got two nominations from Midnight Cowboy. We could have gotten two for Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, and two more for Paul Newman and Robert Redford for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I’ve sung the praises of Peter O’Toole many times on this blog, but I’m not going to do it for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I mean, I like O’Toole as an actor a great deal, but this was a movie that didn’t seem to have any point to it. And it’s a musical for no purpose other than it might as well be. I didn’t love the original incarnation of the story that much and I liked this version a great deal less. I mean, I love Petula Clark, but I didn’t really need a retreaded story with songs forced into it. As much as I love Peter, he doesn’t really belong here.

4. Richard Burton is another one of those actors who seems to be in the conversation frequently but never got a statue. He’s not going to get one for his performance in Anne of the Thousand Days, even from me. I’d love to say something nice about Burton’s performance in this, but the best one-word description I can think of is “Shatnerian.” Burton was always prone to chewing as much scenery as he could fit in his mouth, and that may not be more the case anywhere more than it is here. It’s almost surprising he’s not in fifth place.

3. It was probably inevitable that John Wayne would win this Oscar. He was a beloved actor who had had a 30+ year career at this point, and he’d honestly already earned an Oscar for The Searchers. His performance in True Grit is a good one; it’s not necessarily an Oscar-worthy performance, but it’s pretty solid. Wayne was going to win one at some point, and there could have been worse choices than this. I get the win; I just don’t know that I fully support it. If we were talking about The Searchers, we’d have a different story.

2. What this means is that we’ve got two performances from the same movie in my top two positions. So who goes where? For me, Jon Voight comes in second place. That’s nothing against Jon Voight, an actor who I rather like. His performance as Joe Buck is a good one, and ultimately, I’m rather pleased that he got the nomination. But he’s not the most memorable thing in the movie, and that works against him in terms of winning the statue. In this case, the most memorable thing in the movie is the person I’m giving the Oscar to.

My Choice

1. Dustin Hoffman has had plenty of memorable and important roles in his career. He’s been nominated for seven Oscars and won two. The truth is that I don’t think he deserved the one in 1979. He deserved this one, though. Ratso Rizzo is a character for the ages, one who is immediately recognizable from his speech, his appearance, and even the way that he walks. And this is the problem with Oscar over and over. It failed to reward John Wayne when it should have, and stole Hoffman’s Oscar here, which caused Hoffman to steal someone else’s in 1979. And so it goes.

Final Analysis


  1. Hoffman would come out on top for me as well and the rest would line up pretty much the same as well.

    That the Duke didn't receive even a nod for The Searchers still is so perplexing to me. So I suppose this was an inevitable win for him plus the fact that he had been ill and recently been pronounced cancer free so many waves of good will were coming his way. Also how could they know that The Shootist was in the future.

    I agree with most of your suggestions except the Easy Rider pair, God how I hate that movie!! Trintignant especially since he was so strong in Z as well as Maud's. I'd add Robert Forster in Medium Cool who would make my list and Lino Ventura in Army of Shadows.

    1. I think I remembered that you didn't like Easy Rider. I have fond memories of Dennis Hopper--I interviewed him a million years ago, and he was nicer to me than I had any right to expect, so I'm partial to giving him a break on things.

      But yeah--Wayne should have at least been nominated for The Searchers, and The Shootist might well be the best he ever was (although for my money The Searchers is the best western ever made).

  2. I would not have minded seeing Paul Newman an Robert Redford on that list and close to the top too. John Wayne's win looks more like a lifetime achievement award than a win for the actual performance. I was somewhat underwhelmed by that movie. In the final analysis I cannot argue your pick.

    1. I agree. It's a career award in the guise of a competitive one. And Wayne could have legitimately won for The Searchers or The Quiet Man.