And the Oscar goes to …
There is no doubt the 94th Academy Awards will be remembered for the slap. Not since Virgil Tibbs struck Mr. Endicott (Sidney Poitier and Larry Gates, “In the Heat of the Night”), or Vito Corleone cuffed Johnny Fontane (Marlon Brando and Al Martino, “The Godfather”) has a hand to the face caught cinephiles’ attention.
Yet, every year there are injustices with films and performances that fail to be nominated or fail to win a coveted Oscar. And some of those nominees include…
As most of us remember, the Best Actor trophy has historically been presented last. It wasn’t until a few years ago, amidst the #metoo movement that Best Actress occupied the telecast’s prime slot. That tradition was one piece of a century-long diminishment of women performers in the film industry, and below are some of their finest achievements, which often came in second to more commercial (and bland) Hollywood performances.
There are few film roles as surreal as Kim Stanley in “Séance on a Wet Afternoon” (1964). Playing an emotionally unstable psychic (and potentially psychotic), she coaxes her husband (Richard Attenborough) to commit a heinous crime so that she can benefit from its resolution. Stanley’s spellbinding in the role, commanding the audience’s attention throughout the entire film. She lost that year to an admirable, but predictable, Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins,” only one year shy of her finest performance in “The Sound of Music,” for which she lost.
Admittedly, 1974 was a tough year to compete. Ellen Burstyn won Best Actress that year for her excellent performance in “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” and she was up against a few other legends, including Faye Dunaway in “Chinatown.” But it’s Gena Rowlands in “A Woman Under the Influence” that forever changed the course of film history. Maybe unbeknownst at the time, Rowlands’ performance in her husband John Cassavettes’ film about a deteriorating blue-collar family (matched by the underappreciated Peter Falk) was the defining female performance of the new wave of American cinema. The fact that the film was independently financed, and existed largely outside of Hollywood, only made her searing revelations more prescient.
Finally, this year’s statue went to Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and there wasn’t even a nomination for Tessa Thompson as Irene Redfield in “Passing.” Thompson, amidst an ensemble of Oscar-worthy (and snubbed) performances, was the most understated and elegant film portrayal in years. Yet she was rejected for big name stars in laughably trite roles (*cough, cough* Nicole Kidman in “Being the Ricardos”). Perhaps Hollywood has begun to recognize the amazing work of women who have supported its fortunes. And maybe, as Thompson’s passing proves, the work is never done.
In 1969, the Academy awarded John Wayne his only competitive Oscar for his portrayal of “Rooster” Cogburn in “True Grit.” Many viewed the vote as a lifetime achievement reward for the Duke’s performance as an overweight, drunken marshal, a caricature of his cinematic western persona. The best screen characterization that year undoubtedly was Dustin Hoffman as the seedy, homeless grifter “Ratso” Rizzo in John Schlesinger’s Best Picture winner “Midnight Cowboy.” In two short years Hoffman transformed from an all-American college daydreamer, Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate,” to the vile, greasy Rizzo surviving on the streets of New York City. Hoffman was nominated for each role but watched others collect the Best Actor Oscar.
In 1979, Hoffman got his revenge, winning his first Best Actor Oscar for his role as the custodial father in Robert Benton’s “Kramer vs Kramer.” The superior performance that year was actually delivered by Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon, an amphetamine-driven dancer/director based on Broadway legend Bob Fosse in Fosse’s own autobiographical film, “All That Jazz.”
The winner for Best Picture at the 25th Academy Awards in 1953 was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” long considered by many critics (including both of these amateurs) to be one of the worst Best Picture winners. Other top prize nominees that year included Fred Zinnemann’s classic western “High Noon” and John Ford’s “The Quiet Man,” which won Ford his fourth Oscar as Best Director. Amazingly, the now-often-proclaimed “greatest musical of all time”, “Singin’ in the Rain,” was not nominated for Best Picture.
Finally, don’t get me started on the 31st Academy Awards, in 1959, that awarded “Gigi” Best Picture over an not-nominated Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece “Vertigo,” or the 41st Academy Awards in 1969, awarding Best Picture to “Oliver” over the not-nominated masterwork “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Stanley Kubrick.
(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)