Monday, June 28, 2021

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Oscar '85: William Hurt and Best Actor

My two all-time favorite actors are William Hurt and Vincent Price. Only one of them won an Oscar:

It was the first of a three-year streak of the Academy loving Hurt's performances, which I've discussed before in my coverage of 1986 and 1987 (linked below). You can tell that the room was with him - a semi-standing ovation, a shout of support, an incredible wave of adulation. And being that he is my favorite actor, you could perhaps assume what my take on his performance, his win, and his competition may be. But read it for yourself:

Harrison Ford as John Book
first and only nomination; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Actor, Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama

John Book is a New York cop who goes to take care of an Amish kid in his village after the child witnesses a murder. The undercover Amish life is tough for him - he carries, first of all, which causes its own issues within the non-violent community; he's willing to punch tourists who mock the faithful, which blows one's cover; he romances the kid's widowed mother, which is verboten. Ford takes us through all of this with a mix of his stoicism and sensitivity: he's great with the kid, frustrated but respectful of this strange (to him) community, and you really feel the pull-push struggle of his feelings for the mother (a great Kelly McGillis). Tough but vulnerable, and it comes out even, especially, in his silences.

James Garner as Murphy Jones
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy

Murphy runs the local pharmacy, a small-town liberal, practical of mind and lifestyle, calmly falling in love with the newly-arrived divorcee. Garner was a star so natural he made it look effortless, a special kind of charisma that works so well for this character. He's not quite ornery, but he doesn't suffer fools and speaks his mind, a direct know-it-all whose spikiness is part of the charm. Who couldn't fall in love with him?

William Hurt as Luis Molina
Kiss of the Spider Woman
first of four nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Actor, LAFCA Award winner for Best Actor, National Board of Review's Best Actor of 1985 (tied with co-star Raul Julia); Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama, NYFCC Awards runner-up for Best Actor

Molina is first presented to us as a gay man who does drag, then reveals slowly her trans identity ("A mistake!" she cries when inmate Valentin yells that she should act like the man she was born as). I love that this masculine leading man plays femme in a way that isn't just a sketch of queerdom nor self-congratulatory. Or at least, I love that he's trying. I don't doubt the sincerity of Hurt's attempt, I believe fully in his empathy for the character, there's just something off for me. Babenco originally wanted John Hurt for the role, and honestly, if only!

Jack Nicholson as Charley Partanna
Prizzi's Honor
past two-time winner, the eighth of twelve nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Actor; LAFCA Awards runner-up for Best Actor

Charley Partanna is a hitman for the Prizzis, just your run-of-the-mill mook with enough experience to know when things aren't right. I don't know if it's the way he was directed, or if it's possible for Nicholson to be miscast, but Nicholson just isn't very...good here. He feels, not at war, but at the very least at odds with the rest of the movie. Surprisingly sleepy-eyed, with a weird mouth thing that's a very specific yet ultimately irrelevant decision.

Jon Voight as Oscar "Manny" Manheim
Runaway Train
past winner, third of four nominations; Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Drama

A ruthless con escapes prison, stows away on a train whose conductor is killed, and now must deal with the runaway aspect of this train, all while under fire from a relentless prison warden. Big gestures all around, from the makeup to the accent, the kind of performance in the kind of film that one would never, ever suspect capable of getting this nomination. Voight spits and raves, he has no interest in getting the audience on his side - the right choice, I believe. Still not crazy about it, though. It's fine! 


I can't believe someone would see this lineup and vote for anyone except:


Next, the nominees for...BEST PICTURE! The Color Purple, Kiss of the Spider WomanOut of Africa, Prizzi's Honor and Witness.

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