In The Great Santini, Michael O'Keefe makes his film debut as a high school senior who alternately loves and hates his hard-ass marine father - both a result of him just wanting that affection from his father in return. O'Keefe also appears in the comedy classic Caddyshack this year!
(The Golden Globes nominated Scott Wilson for The Ninth Configuration instead of O'Keefe - Wilson is also bordering on co-lead in said film, but Glory Osky, it is a great performance)
In Melvin and Howard, Jason Robards plays a dusty old man who identifies himself as the billionaire Howard Hughes, picked up by noted failure Melvin. Is he lying, crazy, or the real deal? This is Robards' third Oscar nomination in this category - his previous two nods resulted in back-to-back wins.
In Ordinary People, Timothy Hutton makes his film debut as a teenager grieving the loss of his older brother, recovering from his suicide attempt, and exploring a new romance. Judd Hirsch plays his therapist, who refuses to let the patient slide into easy answers or self-pity. Hirsch later won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Taxi this same year.
In Raging Bull, Joe Pesci is the brother of Jake La Motta, a former boxer trying to maintain his connections in the mob, while being a good brother...and brother-in-law. It's the first of two Pesci nominations, the second resulting in a win.
Those are the men and their characters - buy what of the performances? After the jump...
Judd Hirsch as Dr. Tyrone C. Berger
****Hirsch's somewhat quickfire way of speaking is a great fit for Dr. Berger - he's direct, a shock to the system. With a blunt speech pattern, too-casual posture, and watchful gaze, Hirsch shows Berger to be a man who knows what it takes to get through to his patients: not coddling, but truth. There is a tenderness to his terseness. Hirsch makes Berger more than an Eccentric Healer.
Timothy Hutton as Conrad Jarrett
****Hutton is the lead of this movie - he has the most screentime, he's the subject of everyone else's conversations, the movie begins and ends with him. Still, Hutton's great. The anger, the grief, the frustration, and the romance - all clear, but not so overplayed that you wonder why others ask about his mental wellness. And when he does open up, it breaks your heart. Authentic - that's what Hutton is.
Michael O'Keefe as Ben Meechum
The Great Santini
***O'Keefe is the co-lead of this movie - the arc of the film belongs to his character, as he comes to an understanding of his father. It's a very good performance - it's not his fault the script gives side characters such high stakes that his daddy issues seem trivial. He's fine!
Joe Pesci as Joey La Motta
*****There was not a moment of this performance that I doubted, not a moment where I thought of Pesci instead of La Motta, not a moment that I wasn't completely into this. Is he in love with Vikki? Maybe those looks linger too long, maybe his anger in defending her honor is a little too rough. Does he love his brother Jake? You can tell in his warmth in their talks, in his very real hurt when he's accused of betrayal, in that way he can't quite look at Jake years later. Of all the performances nominated this year - this is my favorite.
Jason Robards as Howard Hughes
Melvin and Howard
***If his screen time is anything over eight minutes, I'll be surprised. Robards makes an impression as a quiet, somewhat paranoid (but of course!), yet surprisingly charming old man who may or may not be the billionaire Howard Hughes. A gravelly singing voice charms - but honey, would this role be nominated if it wasn't two-time Oscar winner Jason Robards?
So, while the Academy as a whole was happy enough to once more honor category fraud in favor of Timothy Hutton, I give my vote to a true supporting performance:
JOEY LA MOTTA
Tomorrow - it's the writers' time to shine, with the nominees for Best Original Screenplay: Brubaker, Fame, Melvin and Howard, Mon oncle d'Amérique and Private Benjamin.