Monday, December 10, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1977

The Contenders:

Woody Allen: Annie Hall
Richard Burton: Equus
Richard Dreyfus: The Goodbye Girl (winner)
John Travolta: Saturday Night Fever
Marcello Mastroianni: A Special Day

What’s Missing

There’s a lot I can say about the nominations for Best Actor 1977 and not a lot of it is very nice. It’s a weird year, though, one where so many of my favorite performances are either actress performances or supporting. For instance, I’d love to add Mark Hamill in Star Wars to the list here, but as much as I love the guy, he doesn’t really belong and everyone else is supporting. As much as I would have loved for Jack Nance to be nominated for Eraserhead, that was never going to happen. The same is true of Bruno S. (Bruno Schleinstein) for Herzog’s Stroszek. I’d have been interested to see Richard Chamberlain mentioned for The Last Wave and I could see Dennis Hopper here for The American Friend. Honestly, though, I think Richard Dreyfus was nominated for the wrong movie. He should really be here for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

5. I think you could argue that Richard Burton probably deserved an Oscar at some point in his career, but Equus wasn’t the movie for it. In truth, this is a screenplay that played very much to Burton’s strengths, allowing him to go full stage actor playing to the back row. Burton could be engaging when doing this, and this is directed in a way that plays to that style, but I find it very wearing. This feels like someone desperately trying to give Burton a shot at a statue knowing that there was no way he’d actually win it.

4. It would take a great deal for me to suggest that I like Woody Allen as an actor because I generally don’t. Annie Hall is a film that is about as Woody Allen as you can get, but his super-neurotic shtick gets tiresome. The best parts of Annie Hall are the screenplay and Diane Keaton. I honestly don’t hate the nomination, but given even the strange competition we have for this year, there’s no way that I’m putting Allen any higher than this. The screenplay deserves it, but Allen himself as an actor does not.

3. I said at the top that Richard Dreyfus was probably nominated for the wrong performance. If we talk about all of the roles an actor had over the course of the year, I can see Dreyfus winning, because he’s pretty great in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He also happens to be the best thing in The Goodbye Girl, but that honestly doesn’t say a great deal because I dislike this movie intensely. Still, Dreyfus is good, even if he is clearly playing a character based on nothing but what Neil Simon thought would be funny for a character who is not a person who exists in the real world.

2. A Special Day isn’t a movie that I want to watch again any time soon, but it is also a movie that trades entirely on the performances of its two stars. Of the two, Sophia Loren is the one who most people would know, but it’s Marcello Mastroianni who is by far the most interesting character in the film. Mastroianni is heartbreaking here, and coupled with Loren, they are the most compelling couple on the screen of the year. Oscar doesn’t offer a statue for best film couple, but if it did, they would be my bet. As half of that duo, Mastroianni deserves to be here.

My Choice

1. It’s easy to make fun of John Travolta, and it was easy to make fun of him in 1977. After all, he was just some young actor playing some dumb punk on a television sit-com. And yet for Saturday Night Fever, Travolta affected an entire generation. This was a huge year for movies that changed the culture--Star Wars changed everything, but don’t kid yourself; Saturday Night Fever had a massive impact as well, and a huge part of that was Travolta himself. No one really saw that in 1977, but in retrospect, he should have won this.

Final Analysis


  1. This is a weird year for lead actor with no one performance I feel particularly passionate about winning either nominated or not.

    Strange since looking over the year there were quite a few performers in television movies who did exemplary work that I would have championed had their work been released theatrically, oh well.

    Of the five we have I'd go with Mastroianni who is really moving in A Special Day despite my reservations about the overall film. But Dreyfus was on fire at this point so it's not surprising he took it even with his youth since he had toiled in bits and small parts and paid his dues for years previously.

    As to who could be substituted I'd say Art Carney in The Late Show, Robert DeNiro in New York, New York where he was very good even though I hated his character and Roy Scheider in the Wages of Fear redo Sorcerer would all make better choices than at least Burton and Allen.

    1. I don't know that Mastroianni is a bad pick. As a pure performance, it might well be the best of this year. Travolta's is iconic, though--one that has continued to be relevant and noteworthy.

      I didn't love The Late Show. I really should track down New York, New York one of these days.

    2. New York, New York has some really brilliant moments and fantastic production design plus because of Liza's involvement it's very evocative of her mother's films. But despite his solid work DeNiro's character is an almost total son of a bitch and the relationship between the lead couple toxic, it was unofficially based on Doris Day's horribly abusive first marriage. Worth seeing but very dark.

  2. I've only seen 2 of the 5 noms and, yes, Travolta was the best one by a country mile. The other was Woody Allen, but it's the same performance he's given at least a couple dozen times. The screenplay and Keaton, as you said, are the best parts of this movie. Other than that, I've nothing to add because I've watched a lot of bad movies from '77.

    1. That's exactly my take on Allen here. This is his standard "Lookit! I'm neurotic!" performance. That it's a good one doesn't change the fact that this is a slow pitched ball right in his wheelhouse.

      Of the others, A Special Day is interesting, but all about the twin performances. The Goodbye Girl is pure Neil Simon shmaltz and contains probably his least-likable character in Dreyfus's opposite number. Equus is a great play and this is probalby the best filmed version, but it's not essential.

  3. I can't argue with Travola of the five nominees, his dancing is iconic and must have taken quite a bit of training. Though I’m not a jazz expert, Robert De Niro was convincing as a saxophonist in New York, New York (1977). Must have taken plenty of dedication as well, but that movie isn't beloved the way 'Fever' is.

    1. Looking back, I think it's the peformance that has had the most impact.

      I'm putting New York, New York on my list.

  4. I agree there are few, if any, standout male leads in 77. My personal choice would be Dreyfus, Bruno S and Hauer and none of them were nominated.

    1. I still say Travolta deserves a lot of recognition.