Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Cinema '62: Best Actor

This is my last post on a Peter O'Toole Oscar nomination! I've managed to watch them all, my thoughts on each are linked below (except for Venus, which I think I reviewed on my long-defunct LiveJournal; at the first-ever Hollmann Awards, its one acting nomination went to Leslie Phillips in Supporting). Naturally, I saved his first for last, because...well, that's just the way it worked out.

Indeed, I've managed to discuss all these actors before. They are favorites of Oscar: a total of 28 nominations, an average of 5.6 noms per actor! Not that those always translated to wins: only four statues among all five, and two of them were Jack Lemmon's. Still, compare that to 1962's Supporting Actor, a five-wide race of one-and-doners; or Supporting Actress, where both first-time nominees were also one-time nominees; or Lead Actress, where...oh, we're talking about that tomorrow. 

In the meantime, the nominees for Best Actor:

Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud
Bird Man of Alcatraz
**
past winner, third of four nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Foreign Actor; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama

A convict who becomes a renowned ornithologist without leaving solitary. Lancaster forgets to give us this man's arc. What makes Robert Stroud fascinating is that he was an unapologetically violent pimp and murderer, and yet took care of birds with such patience and sensitivity. The script calls for that performance; Lancaster, instead, believes in the nobility in this man from the beginning...or, at least, in the nobility of his performance.

Jack Lemmon as Joe Clay
Days of Wine and Roses
****
past winner, fourth of eight nominations; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Foreign Actor, Golden Globe nominee for Bst Actor in a Drama

An ad exec, husband, father - and alcoholic. His comedy chops do him well here - he's the kind of cute, fun-loving, good-time guy who you want to hang out with, whose problem is not obviously a problem until, well. His breakdown in the greenhouse, going from mischievous sneak to this desperate, sub-human thing, is a heartbreaker - you've rarely seen a movie star humble himself so. Lemmon gets the one day at a time, not completely transformed, but struggling to do his best. Not until writing about it did I realize how effective it was.

Marcello Mastroianni as Ferdinando Cefal├╣
Divorce Italian Style
****
first of three nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Foreign Actor, Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy

A married man, impoverished nobility, who wants to schtup his young cousin. I swear George Clooney modeled his Coen Brothers "Idiot Trilogy" performances off this suave buffoon. Mastroianni is self-pitying, self-regarding, self-centered - and, ultimately, spineless, a man who thinks himself clever and sophisticated, but who's really just...pathetic. Anything that works out for him is not of his doing, and to see Mastroianni's wheels turning as he processes each new turn is constantly hilarious, never stale.

Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence
Lawrence of Arabia
*****
first of eight nominations...all somehow unsuccessful; BAFTA Award winner for Best British Actor; Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor in a Drama

A British soldier who tries to fashion an Arab Empire. "The trick is not minding that it hurts." You have to believe that he believes that, that he tells himself that, whether speaking up when he's told to just observe, helping to lead forces against the Turks in Aqaba, crossing the desert to help a dying friend, embracing the personality cult around him, challenging friends and foes. Every moment you have to believe that he possesses both the strength and the quiet doubt, that he's constantly bulldozing over the latter to create his own legend, that no matter what he suffers, he can convince himself that it's all for a good cause. There is charm, strength, fear, fury in O'Toole's performance. He gives the performance Charlton Heston won for.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird
****
fifth and final nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Actor in a Drama; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Foreign Actor

Small-town lawyer and single father defending a Black man in the Deep South. The single-take six-minute closing argument is justly famous, as he stands up through logic and decency - taking appropriate pauses each time - to small-mindedness. Brilliant he is, too, in his scenes with his children, genuinely listening, processing, deciding how to approach each conversation with each individual, knowing their different temperaments. A decent man, but no superhero, just a dad, a lawyer, a citizen. An easy role to make earnestly noble, especially since it's from his kids' POV, but Peck keeps him down-to-earth.

--------------------

The winner was Gregory Peck:



And my vote, obviously, goes to:

PETER O'TOOLE
for
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA


Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Actress: Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker), Bette Davis (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?), Katharine Hepburn (Long Day's Journey Into Night), Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth), and Lee Remick (Days of Wine and Roses).

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