Jack Nicholson: The Last Detail
Marlon Brando: The Last Tango in Paris
Jack Lemmon: Save the Tiger (winner)
Al Pacino: Serpico
Robert Redford: The Sting
There are a lot of places we could go with nominations for Best Actor in 1973, and a lot of them are really different from where we are with the five nominations we have. We can start with the fact that Paul Newman could have just as easily been nominated for The Sting as was Robert Redford. In the “not that genre, please” category we can talk about Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man and Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. The Exorcist has the same issue, but it earned multiple nominations. Max von Sydow could be argued here. The same could be said of Donald Sutherland and Don’t Look Now, especially considering that Sutherland has never been nominated. Clint Eastwood didn’t get any respect until he started directing, which explains the miss on High Plains Drifter. Martin Sheen could have been nominated for Badlands. For me, I’m surprised at the miss on Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye, but I’m floored by the fact that we’re not talking about Steve McQueen in Papillion.
Weeding through the Nominees
5. I hated pretty much everything about The Last Tango in Paris including Brando’s performance. For years, this film was built up to me about how prurient and sexy it was—“it’s all about the butter scene,” I was told. The butter scene is disgusting and rapey and this film has nothing of value to say to anyone. Brando was a great actor, I agree, or at least he could be. But he could also be unpleasant to watch on camera. That’s this movie. It doesn’t belong on this list and he didn’t deserve this nomination.
4. I like Jack Nicholson in general and I didn’t dislike him in The Last Detail, but if I’m completely honest, I think I would have rather seen Otis Young here instead of Nicholson if only because Young played the much more accessible and understandable character. The reason I didn’t mention Otis Young above is because I honestly don’t think that either of them belong here in a year when McQueen, Gould, and Sutherland were snubbed. Nicholson is fine, but this is a performance that is here because Nicholson, not because he earned it.
3. Just as I like Jack Nicholson, I like Robert Redford, and Redford had a good 1973. Along with The Sting, he was in The Way We Were. But if we are looking at a specific performance, I like Paul Newman in The Sting more than I like Redford. In fact, I like Robert Shaw’s performance more as well. There’s nothing wrong with Redford here, but if I could only nominate one actor from this film, it would be Newman, because he’s always the focus in every scene the two share.
2. I like Jack Lemmon, too. With Save the Tiger, Lemmon has put me in a difficult position. I like Lemmon’s performance here. The problem is that his performance and the one from Jack Gilford are really the only reason to watch this film at all. It’s a case where the lead performance is as strong as anything in the man’s career, but it’s done in the service of something so otherwise not worth watching that it’s hard to recommend it. I fully understand the win because Lemmon is so strong, but I’m going elsewhere.
1. Pacino should have won this Oscar, although I will admit that I’m looking at this with a certain amount of hindsight. Pacino’s single Oscar is for Scent of a Woman, which feels so much like a career Oscar in the guise of a competitive one that it hurts. There are a lot of performances that could have handed a statue to Pacino, and while Serpico may not be his quintessential performance, it’s a damn good one, and one that would at least look like it was an Oscar he legitimately earned for the performance in question.