Oscar’s Crimes – Acting
All Points Bulletin:
Be on the lookout for a small, bald, gold man. He is 13 and 1/2 inches tall, weighs 8.5 lbs, sexual organs seem to be absent, tends to stand very still, constantly wielding a crusader’s sword, and is made of gold plated britannium on a black metal base. He is wanted for a list of crimes against the art of film that spans over 83 years. Consider him to be armed and dangerous.
Acting – Oscar’s Crimes and Misdemeanors:
One of the unjust things that has happened over the years has to do with the Acting categories. Sometimes the academy will reward an older actor or actress as kind of Lifetime Achievement Award. It will often be a performer that deserved an Oscar in the past, but for some reason or another they were overlooked. Other times, the Academy simply doesn’t recognize a certain acting talent because of the kind of work they do. Sometimes it’s comic actors. Sometimes it’s action actors. Sometimes it’s an actor who is more subdued and brilliantly reacts instead of giving a showy performance that fits neatly into a clip show.
There are various and sundry reasons why these slights happen. But when they do, you can look back on them and say that a certain performer was robbed. In certain cases, when a whole career goes by without an award, it ends up being a crime. Other times, when the actor gets recognized for a less deserving performance than the one with which they are most indelibly associated, it feels like a lesser crime. A misdemeanor.
The best example that comes to mind that kind of encompasses all of this would be Paul Newman. He received one Best Actor Oscar in his long career (he also won a Humanitarian award at the Oscars one year, but that was for his charity work, not his acting). Newman was a handsome man and a marquee-level movie star. Often, because of that, his not-inconsiderable acting talents were overlooked come award season. So by the time he was nominated for The Color of Money in 1986, he had yet to win an Oscar. Ironically, he was given the award for playing Fast Eddie Felson in the Martin Scorcese-directed sequel when pretty much everyone knew that he should have won for originally playing the same character in The Hustler decades earlier. He gave many other award-worthy performances over the years, in Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Slap Shot, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Verdict, Road To Perdition, and Nobody’s Fool, just to name some. Oscar did try to rectify the situation with the Oscar he did win, so that’s why this would be a lesser crime. But when one thinks of Newman, The Hustler is the first thing that springs to mind. It’s what imprinted him into the lexicon.
If we could go back in time and reshuffle the cards so that actresses and actors got awards for what they should have been recognized for, here would be some fine examples:
John Wayne – The Duke won his only acting Oscar for the original True Grit. While many consider him to be funny and fine as Rooster Cogburn, this was another instance where the Academy was trying to make up for an entire career of slights. If you wanted to award Wayne for his most iconic role, I would suggest Stagecoach. However, his finest acting would be The Searchers. I think he definitely deserved an Oscar for that. Other films he was outstanding in include Red River, Rio Bravo, and The Quiet Man, to name a few.
Harrison Ford – He’s only been nominated for an Oscar once, for Witness. While admittedly he is plenty good in that film, he’s a Hollywood legend for two main reasons: Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Probably the definitive image of Ford will always be him in the fedora being chased by the large concrete boulder in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. That’s the icon. But Ford’s type of acting is underappreciated by elites, since it is often based on listening, reacting, and engaging in what’s around him. I once heard a critic say that his style is much like Steve McQueen’s, in that there is something going on there, but they make it look so easy that it’s often not recognized as acting. Which brings us to our next subject…
Steve McQueen – In his whole life, he was only nominated once, for 1967’s The Sand Pebbles. I wish he had won for that, because he was actually pretty remarkable in that underappreciated film. But if you want to acknowledge him as an icon, we would probably go to The Great Escape. Whether he’s stuck in solitary confinement bouncing that baseball against the wall, or in the indelible image of jumping the motorcycle over the prison fence, that’s the Steve McQueen that jumps into your head when someone mentions his name. Other roles that would have been worthy included The Cincinnati Kid, Bullitt, and Papillon.
James Dean – For the giant mark in film history that he left, he only starred in three films. But c’mon, not only is Rebel Without a Cause a touchstone in film that people reference on a daily basis, but Dean was excellent in it. His teen angst defined a generation, and he helped galvanize a method acting style that is still used to this day.
Marilyn Monroe – While I realize she is remembered more as an image than an actress, she was genuinely good in a lot of the films in which she appeared. She was more than a hot body and a pretty face. But, for sure, her mark in film history lies with Some Like It Hot. I’m sure a combination of her good looks and it being a comedic role kept the Academy from taking it too seriously. She never won an Oscar.
Glenn Close – She’s been in many memorable roles, and she has been great in them. One of my personal favorites was as Robin Williams’s mom in The World According To Garp. But her career defining moment was Fatal Attraction. She was nominated for the film, but has never won. That role defined a cultural zeitgeist and scared many married men straight. She should have been recognized for that electric performance.
Ginger Rogers – There’s an old saying that Ginger had to do everything Fred did, but backwards and in high heels. She did win in 1940 for Kitty Foyle, and I’m not dismissing that at all. But she was half of one of the screen’s most iconic couples and deserved some recognition for it. See Swing Time or Top Hat as examples.
Buster Keaton – Silent era comedians often didn’t get the recognition they deserved. Charlie Chaplin only got special Oscars awarded to him. But at least he got some sort of award. Keaton’s stone face kept the Academy from thinking he was acting, but watch the amazing physicality he used in The General or Sherlock Jr., and find someone in film who worked harder.
Myrna Loy – She was given an honorary Oscar in 1991 for career achievement. But she was also half of one of film’s greatest screen couples, Nick and Nora Charles. Playful and hilarious, watching her in the The Thin Man is an absolute joy. And she was even ignored when starring in an Oscar bait film like The Best Years Of Our Lives. She was probably the only performer in that movie that didn’t get nominated. Shame.
This list could go on for an entire book, but by now you get the idea. It would do Oscar well to broaden his scope and include performers in comedies, science fiction, horror, and other less “prestigious” genres. It would also be helpful if Oscar was a little more forward thinking at times, by acknowledging when an actor has created an icon. Those freeze frames with these people in them are the main reason we go to the movies. That memory should be rewarded, so these lesser crimes don’t occur.