So, for the next installment in the ‘Closer Look’ series, I’m tackling the 1974 Supporting Actor race. As a refresher, here is what AMPAS nominated:
I love looking back at these earlier years and seeing that there really was no consensus, which makes Oscar watching (or Oscar discussion) so much more enjoyable. If you take the BAFTA lineup, the Globes lineup and Oscar’s lineup you only have ONE actor that appears on all three ballots; Fred Astaire. I’m not sure how the hell that happened (he even won the Globe and the BAFTA) since his performance is about as vapid and uninteresting as they come, but regardless, he made it. After him, the love was spread pretty thin.
Because of BAFTA’s weird eligibility rules and whatnot, they didn’t even nominate eligible 1974 contenders until 1975, where they only nominated Astaire and Balsam (for ‘The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three’) amidst 1975 releases. While Balsam doesn’t quite make my ballot, it would have been an inspired win compared to Astaire. He certainly works in far more layers in a similarly styled film (they are both action type thrillers). De Niro was nominated for a BAFTA, but in another category (most promising new actor) so he doesn’t really count.
Lee Strasberg was nominated in that category at the Globes (why did they ever do away with that category?) but outside of him, there really wasn’t much Godfather love at the Globes. They snubbed all contenders (outside of Pacino in Lead) and instead nominated The Great Gatsby boys, Dern and Waterston, as well as Huston’s riveting performance in ‘Chinatown’ and a really bland and clichéd performance by Eddie Albert in ‘The Longest Yard’. I LOVE Huston and think that both Dern and Waterston were inspired nominations, but you can lump in Albert with Astaire in the “what the hell were you thinking” pile.
So, Oscar went Godfather crazy and nominated THREE of their supporting (labels are subjective) men. De Niro obviously came out the champ here. Astaire probably thought he had this after that Globe win (since the BAFTA came over a year later). Really, who could blame him? Bridges and Gazzo hadn’t won anything of note (or anything period) and the best De Niro and Strasberg had come up with were second and third mentions by NYFCC. I’m sure MANY thought that Astaire was winning, but I’m thrilled that he didn’t since ANY of the other contenders would have made a far better winner.
De Niro made the best.
So that brings me to the ranking of these nominees. Like I stated, De Niro was the best performance. I personally place him in the leading category. This is for a whole other discussion (one I plan on having here soon) because I feel that category fraud and category placement is just a huge beast to tackle but one that should be discussed. Like I said, that is for another post altogether. De Niro was a total force in The Godfather, Part II, taking on the youthful Vito Corleone with a ferocity that was unmatched in 1974. He may not have had as much screen time as Pacino, but like Marlon Brando in The Godfather, he permeates the film, filling it with his presence. This is a major feat when you are in a film with such a strong ensemble. Oscar also noticed and nominated Strasberg and Gazzo (although I’m shocked Cazale was ignored) and both of them put in strong work as well. Gazzo is probably the weakest link in the ensemble, although he makes a scene and steals attention. He’s loud and abrasive and aggressive and certainly fills the screen. He also only has a few short scenes to make an impact, and he does so adequately. Strasberg, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on theatrics but simply haunts the viewer. He delivers a calculated performance that simmers under the surface to hide his character’s true intentions. I still remember that scene where he tells Michael Corleone the story of Las Vegas’s birth. His delivery is chilling to say the least.
Outside of the Godfather boys we have more category fraud and one of the most ridiculous nominations in the history of Oscar. Seriously, Astaire’s nomination is about as pointless as Mary McDonnell’s ‘Dances With Wolves’ nomination, but maybe even more ridiculous since ‘The Towering Inferno’ wasn’t the Oscar juggernaut ‘Dances With Wolves’ was. Astaire basically stands in a room for two hours, dances an awkward dance as the camera passes him by, declares his love for Jennifer Jones and hugs her cat. There is nothing more to his performance. He doesn’t convey any real emotions. I’m shocked he managed the nomination (which was obvious a career recognition type of thing) when they could have easily nominated Chamberlain or Holden or even McQueen, all of who delivered far better performances in the same film.
Bridges is amazing in ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’, but he is in no way shape or form Supporting. Who is he supporting? He is the obvious co-star, shares all of Eastwood’s scenes and carries the film’s greatest arc. He makes the film work. He steals all of the attention from Eastwood and so just because Eastwood was the bigger name should have meant nothing. I mean, HE PLAYS LIGHTFOOT! Whatever. His performance is sensational. He is fun and boisterous and personifies the everyman with bigger dreams. He layers his drama with the right pinch of comedy and makes a giant impact.
So, to recap:
1) De Niro
Now comes that part where I evaluate their careers. Strasberg can kind of get delegated to last place based on the fact that he was only in a handful of films and was predominantly an acting teacher for most of his life. That, and I’ve only seen him in this one film. BUT, before I do that I need to discuss the fact that Gazzo doesn’t fare much better considering that he mostly worked in television, and what I have seen of his doesn’t come up to what Strasberg does in this one film, so maybe Gazzo takes the last spot due to the strength of Strasberg’s performance. Fred Astaire was HUGE in his day. I personally never cared a whole lot for his acting ability. He was a great entertainer, but he was very much the same in a lot of what he did. He couldn’t compete with the likes of Grace Kelly, who could balance out entertainment with pure convictions. That being said, Astaire’s contribution to film is undeniable, and he did have some nice moments under his belt, especially in the beginning of his career.
But really, who are we kidding? These three aforementioned actors can’t even compete in the same field as the two greatest actors of their generation; Jeff Bridges and Robert De Niro. There just isn’t a comparison to be made.
Selecting a better career from these two actors is harder than one may think. Robert De Niro had the strongest run, for it is hard to compete with his string of 70’s performances. Jeff Bridges has had the most successful career though. When you look at Robert De Niro as a whole, you see that he burnt out where Bridges merely faced a lull before picking up and coming back with an almost stronger resurgence than his youthful heyday. Bridges’ lows were also never as low as De Niro’s. You can’t compare Bridges’ phoning in a stock villain in ‘Iron Man’ to De Niro basically forsaking his calling in trash like ‘Godsend’. Still, De Niro’s 70’s and 80’s work is really hard to dethrone, so he edges out Bridges (ever so slightly) because of that.
So, my ranking:
1) De Niro
But, we all know what you’ve been waiting for…the Fisti nominees for this category. Well, here you go!