Monday, March 16, 2020

Oscar Got It Wrong: Best Actor 1975

The Contenders:

Al Pacino: Dog Day Afternoon
James Whitmore: Give ‘em Hell, Harry!
Maximilian Schell: Man in the Glass Booth
Jack Nicholson: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (winner)
Walter Matthau: The Sunshine Boys

What’s Missing

There are a number of interesting possibilities for Best Actor 1975. While I was not a fan of Barry Lyndon, I’m genuinely shocked that Ryan O’Neal isn’t on the list here. Several possibilities, actually most of them, are not the typical for Oscar films, like nominating Graham Chapman for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Foreign language films are always rare choices when there’s already one on the list (in part), which will leave out Victor Lanoux for Cousin Cousine and Rainer Werner Fassbinder for Fox and His Friends. Science fiction is an even harder sell, which leaves out James Caan in Rollerball. Warren Beatty in Shampoo would have been a very interesting choice for a nomination, and I really would love to see Robert Redford here for the underknown Three Days of the Condor. There was also the rare possible double nomination for both Sean Connery and Michael Caine in The Man Who Would Be King. But really, we couldn’t get a nomination for Roy Scheider in Jaws?

Weeding through the Nominees

5. I like a lot of these performances, and that includes James Whitmore in Give ‘em Hell, Harry. The issue I have here is that this is literally a filmed stage performance of a one-man show. Don’t get me wrong here; Whitmore is good in the role and it’s a good role. It just seems like this is the kind of thing that is much more likely to be eligible for a Tony than an Oscar. It’s as if this is a movie in a technical sense and nothing more. Whitmore is fine, but this is a movie only by the barest of metrics.

4. I am similarly a fan of Walter Matthau, and I like him in The Sunshine Boys. In fact, I like Matthau more than I like the movie itself. He’s fun to watch when he’s playing a complete bastard, and that’s the role he’s playing here. I can’t say that I’m a massive fan of Neil Simon, and this movie isn’t going to make me one, but it does solidify the idea that Walter Matthau was a very solid actor and had great comedic timing. This is a strong year—I’m putting him down this far, but I don’t hate the nomination.

3. I like Maximillian Schell as an actor quite a bit, the MST3K-ized version of Hamlet notwithstanding, and I like him a lot in The Man in the Glass Booth. This is a hard role to pull off—a man who is a Nazi war criminal posing as a Jew—but Schell is more than up to the task. It’s an incredibly ugly role, but Schell is absolutely magnetic, and in a different year, he’d be even more of a contender than he is here. This might be Schell’s best work, and it’s not going to get him higher than third place.

My Choices

2. 1975 is one of those rare years where a single film won the big five Oscars, netting one for Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s easy to look at Nicholson and think that over and over he just plays himself in movies (he is frequently playing characters named Jack), but the man really can act when he’s given great material. And this is great material. Nicholson is as good as hype, and in this, he’s as good as the best of his hype. He’d be close to my choice and I don’t hate his win. But that said, he’s not my choice.

1. No, this is going to Al Pacino for Dog Day Afternoon. This is right in the middle of the sweet spot in Pacino’s career when he could do anything and he could be anybody. Of all the roles he played in the ‘70s, this is the one that I tend to think of the most. It’s a powerful and measured performance of a character barely hanging on to his own sanity and control. Pacino may have eventually (at least in part) turned into a caricature of himself, but that wasn’t the case in 1975. I might consider Roy Scheider here as well, but Pacino still probably wins in most cases for me.

Final Analysis


  1. While I can acknowledge the quality of it I did not enjoy Cuckoo's Nest in the least. That said Nicholson deserved his nomination, I prefer him in Chinatown but he does excellent work here but my vote goes to Pacino as well.

    Dog Day uses all Al's strengths and reigns in his tendency for scenery chewing or deploys it in the proper way. It's the best thing he's ever done in my opinion and that includes The Godfather.

    As for the others Man in the Glass Booth is one I've long wanted to see but its availability is nil or next to it from what I can tell.

    Matthau is okay in Sunshine Boys but the movie did little for me and I don't think he belongs here.

    I see what you mean about Give 'Em Hell, Harry! but Whitmore is so magnetic, entertaining and inimitable he really deserved that nomination and he'd still make my list.

    For those two slots that Schell and Matthau have here I'd replace them with Redford in Three Days of the Condor (a terrific performance in a film that gets better with each view) and Gene Hackman in Night Moves with Scheider a very close sixth.

    1. Night Moves is one I need to see.

      This turned out to be a surprising good year for this category.

  2. I have no argument with either Nicholson or Pacino in first place, and Scheider is also a good call. I would also add Gene Hackman in Night Moves as worthy of a nomination.

  3. Maybe I'm just being sentimental for the performance (and to be fair, I haven't seen Sunshine Boys or Glass Booth), but it sounds a bit like you're knocking Whitmore for the film's format... Want to penalize Give'em Hell, Harry for Best Picture or Best Director consideration? Very understandable. But the 'filmed stageplay' approach is completely out of James Whitmore's control.

    1. I see what you mean, but Oscar does this more or less all the time. Look at a film like The Last Seduction, denied nominations because it was released on television first. What's that other than disqualifying something for the format?

  4. Dog Day Afternoon is still a film I haven't seen but then again, there's a lot of films by Sidney Lumet that I haven't seen. I would sort of agree with Oscars on selecting Jack Nicholson though I think his performance in The Passenger was much better. Graham Chapman was severely overlooked while I would've vouched for Giancarlo Giannini for Seven Beauties, Warren Beatty for Shampoo, Rudiger Volger for Wrong Move, and Ryan O'Neal for Barry Lyndon (which I think is his best performance with Malibu's Most Wanted in 2nd).

    1. I don't know if you have a particular set against Lumet. I get that if you do--I have directors I clearly dislike no matter what others thing of them (Tarantino and Fellini come to mind), but Dog Day Afternoon is one to move to the top of your list. It's genuninely great, and Pacino is only a part of what makes it great. I rather envy you a first watch.