Monday, November 19, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1976

The Contenders:

William Holden: Network
Peter Finch: Network (winner)
Sylvester Stallone: Rocky
Giancarlo Giannini: Seven Beauties
Robert De Niro: Taxi Driver

What’s Missing

There are some interesting nominations for Best Actor 1976, and some significant misses, as tends to be the case. It’s possible that Dustin Hoffman had such a good year with both Marathon Man and All the President’s Men that voters didn’t know which performance to choose. We got two nominations for Network, and we could have gotten two for All the President’s Men, since Robert Redford was as much a lead as Hoffman. I’m a little surprised at the miss on Ben Gazzara for The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, since John Cassavetes and his films were often Oscar darlings. This was a good decade and a half before Clint Eastwood had any Oscar respect, but he could have gotten some for The Outlaw Josey Wales. David Carradine certainly could have gotten some attention for Bound for Glory. Finally, Oscar was hidebound in so many ways in 1976, and because of that, a musician like David Bowie in a science fiction film like The Man Who Fell to Earth was never going to get attention regardless of how good the performance was.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. There are times when I find it difficult to address a performance objectively in comparison to the film in question. That’s the case with Giancarlo Giannini and Seven Beauties. There’s a great deal of this film that I find objectionable, not the least of which is the fact that our main character randomly rapes a woman in an institution. The point here is that this isn’t a terrible performance, it’s just kind of an ugly one. More to the point, in a year that had so many good male performances, it’s one that doesn’t belong here.

4. I’m a William Holden fan in no small way, and while I like him well enough in Network, he’s not in any way the most compelling person on the screen in almost every scene he’s in. Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch are always more interesting than he is in this film, which is also true of Robert Duvall and Ned Beatty. Beatrice Straight, who plays his wife, won an Oscar for this role despite being on screen for just over five minutes. As much as I hate to be the one who says it, William Holden didn’t really deserve to be here. It’s a good performance, but it’s less than every other performance of note in the movie.

3. It wasn’t a real shock that Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Rocky, since in many ways, Rocky was the little film that could in 1976. It was the right movie for the right time, and it captured a lot of imaginations. A huge part of that was Stallone’s performance in the lead role. Rocky Balboa is a loveable dope, the sort of guy who couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel, and yet he’s easy to root for and to want to do well. Stallone plays him perfectly. It’s easy to forget that based on the career Stallone had in the years after.

My Choices

2. When the topic of great movie speeches comes up, there are a few that will always be mentioned, like George C. Scott in the opening moments of Patton. One that will always sit at or near the top is Peter Finch’s “mad as hell” speech from Network. What’s easily forgotten is that Finch has a bunch of rants in Network. It’s also easy to forget that a big part of that film is watching Howard Beale go from respected newsman and journalist to raving lunatic at the behest and insistence of people who don’t care about who he is. It’s a great performance, and while I wouldn’t vote for him, I understand the vote entirely.

1. Taxi Driver is an unpleasant film, and one that I’m not likely to rewatch frequently. De Niro’s Travis Bickle is equally unpleasant, and not the sort of character one enjoys spending an afternoon with. That said, it is in many ways the apotheosis of Robert De Niro in front of the camera. He’s an actor that arguably earned any number of Oscars in his career, and this is one that wouldn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to argue for. I think there were a lot of really good performances from actors in 1976 that could have won in a lot of years, but for me De Niro was the best in a very strong year.

Final Analysis


  1. I'm not a big fan of this lineup though I think all the actors, excepting Stallone, are very fine performers.

    As you said Bill Holden was better elsewhere, and while his performance is florid and interesting if overwrought so was Peter Finch. His sudden death in the thick of voting season was the push that put him over the top.

    I loathe Taxi Driver and De Niro plays a truly repugnant person....but he should have won. As horrible as Travis Bickle is De Niro makes him wholly identifiable not as someone you feel for but as someone you recognize.

    As far as who is missing I'd say Redford for All the President's Men and Hoffman for Marathon Man. Dusty is very strong in President's Men but he dominates Marathon and the role asks more of him as ATPM does of Redford.

    Otherwise I'd propose Nicol Williamson in The Seven Percent Solution but the biggest miss for me is John Wayne for The Shootist, he's bone deep weary and there seems to be an extra pathos to his work, probably aided by the knowledge of his terminal diagnosis. I wasn't always the biggest fan of his work but he's very moving in this. Had he been nominated he'd be my choice even over De Niro. If he couldn't win for (or even be nominated) for The Searchers I would have much rather have seen him win for this instead of True Grit.

    1. John Wayne in The Shootist is a significant miss on my part. It's a great role, one that in some ways he prepared for his entire life.

      De Niro's Travis Bickle is an ugly person in all respects, but it's such a complete performance by De Niro that I can't see an Oscar going elsewhere. He's so good in the role, even if the role is awful.

      We'll disagree slightly on Stallone. He's had a couple of solid performances beyond Rocky, even if at his best he's not quite Oscar material. I'd cite First Blood and especially Nighthawks as examples that he can do more than mumble and flex.

    2. I agree Stallone was strong in Nighthawks, a very good underknown film, and perhaps one or two other movies scattered throughout his filmography but he is at best an inconsistent performer while the other four were and are reliably skillful.

      Well De Niro still can be when he's not appearing in some sludge for the money phoning it in and cheapening his legacy.

    3. I'll accept that. When Stallone is actually good, I get frustrated by the collection of crap in his filmography.

  2. My 1976 choices:
    Best Picture- Network (Taxi Driver a close second)
    Best Actor- Peter Finch and Robert de Niro (tie, I can't choose between the two)
    Best Actress-Sissy Spacek (Carrie)
    Supporting Actress-Jody Foster, Taxi Driver
    Supporting Actor-Ned Beatty, Network (Though a lot of the credit for his big scene goes to the writing)
    Original Screenplay-Paddy Chayefsky, Network (How could Paul Schrader not even be nominated?)
    Adapted Screenplay-William Goldman, All the President's Men
    Song-Gonna Fly Now, Rocky
    Director-Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver (unnominated!), Sidney Lumet, a close second

    A pretty solid year, overall.

    1. I haven't done Adapted Screenplay yet and I don't do the supporting awards. So far, for the Oscars covered for 1976 on this blog, my choices have been:
      Best Picture: Network with Taxi Driver a very close second.
      Best Director: Sidney Lumet, Network
      Best Actor: De Niro, with Finch in a very close second.
      Best Actress: Faye Dunaway, Network, with Sissy Spacek in second.
      Best Original Screenplay: Network.

      You and I aren't that far apart, really.