Wednesday, May 12, 2021

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1972: Joel Grey and Best Supporting Actor

With Eileen Heckart having won, the ceremony continued. Elke Sommer (of Baron Blood) and Jack Valenti (head of the MPAA) presented the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, while John Gavin and Katharine Ross (who had two movies out, Get to Know Your Rabbit and They Only Kill Their Masters) revealed that The Hot Rock lost its only Oscar bid to, wouldn't you know it, Cabaret. Then Diana Ross, nominated this evening in Best Actress for Lady Sings the Blues, took the stage alongside James Coburn, having a very prolific year of US releases with Duck You Sucker, The Carey Treatment, The Honkers and A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die. The category? Best Supporting Actor, which accounted for three of The Godfather's ten nominations. The mob blockbuster already lost two categories to Cabaret ... this one would make it a third.

I'll have more to say about The Godfather and Cabaret when we discuss Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Picture. Let's look at the individual nominees:

Eddie Albert as Mr. Corcoran
The Heartbreak Kid
second and final nomination; NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Supporting Actor

Plays Mr. Corcoran, the wealthy father of Cybill Shepherd, the object of affection for newlywed Charles Grodin. Albert's performance is my favorite aspect of a film full of unexpected pleasures. He clocks Grodin immediately, hates him on sight - who wouldn't be suspicious of a married man with designs on their collegiate little girl? Beneath the naked hatred is also bewilderment - at Lenny's persistence in the face of obvious opposition, at Mrs. Corcoran's willingness to go along, at what the world is coming to. Albert mastered comic befuddlement on Green Acres, the underlying violence is a new, very welcome wrinkle.

James Caan as Sonny Corleone
The Godfather
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Supporting Actor

Sonny is the eldest of the Corleone siblings, next in line. Even before circumstances force Michael into the power position, Caan reveals how Sonny may have loyalty to the Family, but just isn't suited to head it. His sexual appetites aren't merely voracious, but acted on unwisely, unsubtly. His temper is violent: beating his abusive brother-in-law in the streets may be just, but it isn't smart. He's big, the loudest person in the room whether he's laughing, shouting, fucking. And part of that bigness is his heart: you don't doubt for a moment the very real love he has for everyone in his family, from his parents to Tom to Michael...even to his wife, God bless her, though what he does behind her back! Caan's Sonny is so lovable, so human - he has to be for his plot to have the impact it does.
Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen
The Godfather
first of seven nominations; NYFCC Awards winner for Best Supporting Actor; BAFTA Awards nominee for Best Supporting Actor

Tom Hagen is the German-Irish adopted son of Vito Corleone. While his lineage prevents him from ever taking over the family business, he serves as consigliere, adviser, to the Don and his affair - and that law degree is a big help, too. Duvall's not doing fancy accent work like he is in Tomorrow, he's not yelling dramatically like he would in Network. Instead, his Tom is subdued, polite; not menacing, but clearly the guy whose appearance presages violence, unless... But, too, that lack of menace proves Michael's point: as hurt as he looks when removed as consigliere, he can't argue against Michael saying he's "not a wartime consigliere." He's not cold-blooded, just cool-headed.

Joel Grey as The Emcee
first and only nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor, National Board of Review - Best Supporting Actor of 1972

The Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club, the personification of amusing ourselves to death. Impish smile, diabolically friendly eyes, a strange beauty in garish makeup, Grey's presence is impossible to forget...hell, it's impossible, period, a strange creature that feels less acted than it is summoned after a particularly exciting Black Mass. Whenever we cut back to the Club, we can't help but fall completely in with whatever he's doing - to see him perform with Sally, too, you get why she keeps coming back to this world. Not just the look, the sounds he makes are unforgettable: there's an odd warble in all his vowels. He's the devil, and the devil is hot.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone
The Godfather
first of nine nominations; National Board of Review - Best Supporting Actor of 1972; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama

As the youngest son, Michael was never meant to even take part in the Corleone family's business, but circumstances develop to eventually make him lead it. One choice of Pacino's that I like is, from the very beginning, making Michael a coiled cobra - watchful, quiet, direct. He doesn't play Michael's arc like a corruption of the soul, but an awakening of what was already lying dormant: a cold-blooded killer, a lethal leader, far more capable than any of his brothers, uncles, or rival family head of taking care of business. Pacino makes that awakening compelling: that scene with Apollonia's father is pure menace. But I ding a point, yes I do, I ding a point because Pacino is the lead of his film - it's his arc that we follow.


I have a special rule of my own, one I learned from StinkyLulu, that says I can't give the same ranking of stars to more than two movies. I broke that rule today because, honestly, four of these five performances are perfect, the reason why this category exists in the first place. But who's the best? Tough to say. Who's my favorite? Still a tough choice, and I feel like my mind could change depending on the day, the hour. Today, this hour, my vote goes to:


Could it be the freshness of it - it's the only movie here I had never seen before - but good Lord do I love watching and re-watching his scenes, his stillness, his fury. "There's no deceit in the cauliflower?"

Tomorrow, the nominees for Original and Musical Scoring - Cabaret, ImagesLady Sings the Blues, LimelightNapoleon and SamanthaMan of La Mancha, The Poseidon Adventure, and Sleuth.

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