Wednesday, December 16, 2020

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1970, Day Ten: Actor

The Best Actor nominees this year were all nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama. That includes, among the other previously discussed and soon-to-be-discussed films, The Great White Hope, a compelling drama about a black boxer who becomes a target of the US government not just because of his becoming heavyweight champion of the world over all the white competitors, but because of his relationship with a white woman. Thoughtfully written, perfectly cast (in addition to nominees James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, the ensemble boasts Lou Gilbert, Beah Richards, Marlene Warfield and Hal Holbrook), with an eye for detail and a scale of design on par with most epics.

But there were no Comedy/Musical Globe nominees! Just straight-faced misses. That means the Oscars skipped out on:

  • Richard Benjamin for Diary of a Mad Housewife. As the ambitious husband pressuring his wife to help him surpass the Joneses, Benjamin is obnoxious, thoughtless, amusing. He's also supporting Carrie Snodgress, and supporting is where he belongs!
  • Albert Finney for Scrooge, a musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Finney was in his early 30s when he took the role of 50+ Ebenezer Scrooge. Despite winning the Golden Globe and already being a nominee for Best Actor, he missed out...though he'd eventually return to the Academy's good graces. I'm glad they didn't. He's...miscast.
  • Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland for MASH. As Trapper John, M.D., and Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce, respectively, Gould and Sutherland anchor the anarchy. Gould was nominated the year before for Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice; Sutherland is still waiting.
  • Jack Lemmon for The Out-of-Towners. Lemmon's everyman routine gets an edge. Visiting NYC for a business meeting that he hoped to parlay into a getaway with his wife, the domino effect of just terrible mishaps that greet them quickly take him from harried businessman to entitled asshole. It is hostile and the best.
Instead, they went for:

Melvyn Douglas as Tom Garrison
I Never Sang for My Father
second of three nominations, past winner; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama, NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actor

He's gruff! He's tough! He's a mean ol' son-of-a-bitch and an absolute charmer! He's about what you expect from a role like this. It's not terribly revelatory, but he plays it well, defensive about his sacrifices, perhaps a little too overzealous in his achievements, stubborn and self-centered. Yeah, he's good, he hits it all. I mean, what else do you want?

James Earl Jones as Jack Jefferson
The Great White Hope
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama

A heartbreaking arc, Jones takes Jack Jefferson from the great black hope to a man beaten down by America (it is the government itself which targets Jefferson), his triumph being a refusal to stay down as he gets pummeled in Havana. At his height, he is proud, sexy, swaggering. At his lowest, his whole body is bent, his voice exhausted and broken, his eyes furious. Jones digs deep.

Jack Nicholson as Robert "Bobby" Eroica Dupee
Five Easy Pieces
second of twelve nominations; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama, NYFCC Awards second runner-up for Best Actor

He's not a happy man, he takes it out on those around him, but you can tell he wants better - nothing specific, just better. Easily irritated, his disgust is equally directed towards himself as it is towards those around him. The flickers of the better man come through, one feels that what he needs is to just give himself a break. His scene with his father is justly famous: he seems surprised by his own emotions.

Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett III
Love Story
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama

He matches MacGraw in his ability to play the most surface-level character with a naturalism that makes you identify with his emotions, if not his specific situation. They share terrific chemistry: I believe his love for her, I buy his tears, I know his pain. He hits everything that he needs to.

George C. Scott as General George S. Patton
third of four nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Drama, National Board of Review's Best Actor, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actor; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Actor

Almost frightening, in depicting Patton's intense focus. No flicker of doubt, just disappointment at the rabble he has to deal with. He does not despise fascism, just the other guy's fascism. Despite this ferocity, there is something undeniably magnetic about him. That disarming smile, his sincerity, the devotion he fosters in his men. Scott captures the best and the worst of this towering figure.


George C. Scott did not show up - indeed, he publicly protested the idea of artistic merit awards, period. Nevertheless, this was his third nomination, his first in lead, and so perhaps it was inevitable:

God, he's close to my vote, too, but by a nose, I vote for:


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actress: Jane Alexander (The Great White Hope), Glenda Jackson (Women in Love), Ali MacGraw (Love Story), Sarah Miles (Ryan's Daughter) and Carrie Snodgress (Diary of a Mad Housewife).

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