Best Actor – 1980

Official Nominations: Robert De Niro. John Hurt. Robert Duvall. Jack Lemmon. Peter O’Toole.

We all know who’s winning this, right? It’s almost a shame because we have multiple deserving winners in any other year. Jack Lemmon gets another shot, his second in a row. Raging Bull is one of the must sees of the 80s and the movie which cemented De Niro as a master (if it wasn’t apparent from Taxi Driver and The Godfather II). De Niro delivers one of the most iconic all time performances by putting himself a gruelling regime and body changes which would inspire the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, ushering in a new era of near over-committing to a role. Physically embodying a character is one thing, but delivering a performance which you cannot take your eyes off is another.

In any other year John Hurt would be your winner, and even here it’s a pretty close race. While the prosthetics seem like the star, there’s a man underneath, an actor who gives a passionate, sympathetic performance. Rather than Merrick himself, you need to look past the surface. It may be Hurt’s best work, and he’s had numerous classics. Robert Duvall is the only other likely winner, already on an upwards trajectory and in The Great Santini he is very strong as the stern authoritarian military pilot who wants to control his family and command their respect in the same way he expects from his co-workers. Good performance, decent film, but not as memorable, interesting, or powerful as the big boys.

The final two nominations are legacy noms, with O’Toole and Lemmon a cert for noms in most years. O’Toole is as good as ever in the underrated The Stunt Man while Lemmon is perfectly fine as the dying man trying to make amends in Tribute. 

My Winner: Robert De Niro

Revisiting the Violence and Style of Martin Scorsese's “Raging Bull” | The New Yorker

My Nominations: Robert De Niro. John Hurt. Donald Sutherland. William Hurt. Tatsuya Nakadai. Bob Hoskins. Jack Nicholson.

I carry over the front-runners to my own nominations, which include one snub, one impressive debut, and one huge star going full Nicholson. Nicholson, of course, goes full Nicholson in The Shining – as fashionable as it has become to say his performance is at 100% from the first scene, it’s much more nuanced than that. It’s clear he’s unhinged, and the character isn’t as well written or rounded as in the novel, but Nicholson steps through levels of mania, withdrawal, and obsession, topping it off with some of horror’s most famous moments.

Tatsuya Nakadai is more worthy of a legacy nom than most, appearing in the likes of The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, The Human Condition Trilogy, and Kwaidan, but his performance as both the titular Kagemusha and his double, the scheming feudal Lord is strong enough for a regular nomination. Sticking with the foreign performances, Bob Hoskins made his first major impact as the cockney gangster in over his head in The Long Good Friday, leading to bigger offers in Britain and the US.

William Hurt made his debut in Ken Russell’s eternally bewildering Altered States, experimenting on his mind and body to the point of obsession and of no return. A difficult role and subject matter to tackle, Hurt’s devolution is convincing and would open the door for the body horror sub-genre.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Best Actor – 1979

Official Nominations: Dustin Hoffman. Jack Lemmon. Al Pacino. Roy Scheider. Peter Sellers.

It seems appropriate that the final Awards of the decade should end with such a 70s looking list. Dustin Hoffman got his win as the sympathetic Daddy Kramer, another extension of the everyman characters he had been playing for much of the decade and becoming one of his most famous roles. It’s difficult to argue against him getting the win, even if I’m not the biggest fan of the film. The same could be said for any of the nominees in this category this year – Jack Lemmon would have felt like a veteran nomination, but for the fact he had already been nominated several times, and won twice by this point. Lemmon is the power plant worker who believes something is amiss and that a meltdown is imminent, tries to convince first his management and then the general public that the plant is not safe. Lemmon was also best as an Everyman, here is frustration growing steadily and convincingly – it’s easy to see why the public may not be able to tell if his character is genuine or has lost his mind.

Al Pacino grabs another vote for one of his lesser known 70s works, this time as the jaded and fiery Defence Attorney who ends up defending a Judge he has a difficult past with. As it’s Pacino, you know you’re going to get plenty of grandstanding and explosive speeches, and that’s precisely what he delivers – while not letting the sympathetic side of the character down. Roy Scheider basically plays Bob Fosse in All That Jazz – a workaholic and pressure addict who refuses to stop or accept when enough is enough. He fully embraces his many vices and Scheider is perfect for the role – just intense enough without becoming something to be lampooned, and jittering all the way to his character’s inevitable conclusion. Finally, Peter Sellers feels like the bonus nominee here, not someone who really stood a chance against the other four. Having said that, it may be his best role, if not best performance, because while it lacks the obvious silliness of his more renowned work, this one feels more true to who he wanted to be as a performer. The character is ideal for him – a simple-minded, simple gardener who somehow becomes advisor in The White House. Honestly you can take any of these choices and not be concerned.

My Winner: Dustin Hoffman

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My Nominations: Dustin Hoffman. Al Pacino. Roy Scheider. Peter Sellers. Martin Sheen. Klaus Kinski. Phil Daniels.

As much as I’d like to put Mel Gibson here for Mad Max, I think the performance grows more in the sequel. It seems odd, especially in retrospect, that Martin Sheen wasn’t nominated here for Apocalypse Now. Possibly it’s a case of him being overshadowed somewhat by other performances in the film – with both Brando and Duvall stealing their scenes. But Sheen’s is the performance which holds the entire process together – we see the war and the journey through his eyes and he becomes increasingly crazed as the insanity around him intensifies. Klaus Kinski, in a year with a few notable vampire performances, delivers one of the all time best performances as a fanged monster. Obviously he is more visually horrific than the more romantic take on the creatures, but that doesn’t make him any less convincing, intriguing, seductive, or sympathetic – a credit to what Kinski was able to convey. Finally, Phil Daniels gives what I think is one of the finest British big screen performances of the decade in Quadrophenia – it’s authentic as hell, powerful on a number of emotional levels, and it is arguably one of the best performances focusing on teen rebellion, angst, and alienation. No-one else is ever going to go for him, so I will.

My Winner: Phil Daniels

Let us know in the comments who you pick as Best Actor of 1979!

Best Actor – 1978

Official Nominations: Jon Voight. Warren Beatty. Gary Busey. Robert De Niro. Laurence Olivier.

In the late 70s, De Niro took over from Pacino in The Best Actor official category, here gaining his third nomination. It was Jon Voight though who picked up the win in a genuinely tough category. I think all five performances here are contenders, but I would have four front-runners including Voight as the severely injured soldier Coming Home. De Niro’s performance also sees him returning home from, going to, and being in Vietnam and I feel it’s the more iconic, more rounded of the two. Gary Busey hits the big time with his superb portrayal of Buddy Holly, one of the most underrated biography performances of all time, while Laurence Olivier gets a veteran nomination as a Nazi Hunter in The Boys From Brazil. Unlike most veteran nominations, this one is deserving on its own merits. Finally, Warren Beatty is the outsider and this feels more like a ‘we love you, Warren’ nomination than anything else. A good performance sure, but not on par with the others.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

My Nominations: Jon Voight. Gary Busey. Robert De Niro. Christopher Reeve. Donald Pleasence. Jan Michael Vincent. Gregory Peck. Brad Davis. Ryan O’Neal. John Belushi.

Three make it over from the official list, joining a mixture of possible snubs and personal favourites. Christopher Reeve burst onto the scene as the only Superman who will ever matter (sorry Dean Cain), a role so all-encompassing that he could never escape it. It’s a great lead performance surrounded by a stellar cast – his comedic talents giving Clark Kent that awkward, clumsy charm while easily transitioning into the all-powerful hero figure. Also kind of playing an awkward and heroic character is Donald Pleasence as Dr Loomis in Halloween, one of the great good guys of horror cinema. the sequels have a fair bit of scenery chewing, but here Pleasence looks like he’s relishing the performance and film, having fun as this slightly manic protector of a child who wsa pure evil. Is he truly a lead though? Tough, I’m adding him.

Jan Michael Vincent didn’t really stand a chance against De Niro and Voight, but his performance in Big Wednesday shares a lot of similarities and should have been a stepping off point to much bigger things. Unfortunately, things never quite panned out that way, perhaps some critical praise would have helped. Gregory Peck goes against type and plays one of the most despicable humans ever in The Boys From Brazil – proving that everyone’s favourite wholesome figure could be much more. Brad Davis could have become a household name if he had received more high profile praise for his star making turn in Midnight Express while John Belushi became an icon after Animal House. Finally, Ryan O’Neal stars as the titular Driver in Walter Hill’s action/chase classic. When people think of Ryan O’Neal they invariably go to Love Story or Paper Moon but for me it’s The Driver which features his best performance, much against type, as the cool and detached getaway driver whose apparently obvious desires are perhaps not so obvious upon reevaluation.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Best Actor – 1977

Official Nominations: Richard Dreyfuss. Woody Allen. Richard Burton. Marcello Mastroianni. John Travlota.

Richard Dreyfuss became the youngest Best Actor winner this year for The Goodbye Girl. In all honesty, it isn’t the greatest selection of performances. Obviously Woody Allen gets a nomination for Annie Hall but he’s essentially playing the same character he always does. If you’re going to nominate his acting for any film, I suppose it’s going to be this one. We follow this with two veteran nominations – Richard Burton in Equus – fine, but hardly his best performance, and Marcello Mastroianni – again it was bound to happen sooner or later, but again not his best performance. That means it’s between Travolta and Dreyfuss. I’m not a big fan of either movie – romantic comedies and musicals are basically my two least favourite genres so there’s a certain amount of bias I would need to overcome to pick one of those two. There’s no doubting the pedigree of these movies and performances, but they’re not something I’d go out of my way to watch again. Saturday Night Fever is certainly the more iconic of the two films and Travolta’s full-blooded performance made him a star, while Dreyfuss shows keen comic ability and makes a fairly generic comedy more entertaining.

My Winner: John Travolta

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My Nominations: John Travolta. Richard Dreyfuss. Keith Carradine. Harvey Keitel. Rutger Hauer. Roy Scheider. Mark Hamill.

Only Travolta makes it over to my list. But what’s this, you say? Richard Dreyfuss is there too? Yes, that’s because of a little film called Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Carradine and Keitel get nods for their work on The Duelists while Rutger Hauer continues his sterling European work in the superb Soldier Of Orange. Roy Scheider keeps his 70s streak running with the tense and exciting remake Sorceror, while a young Mark Hamill introduces the world to Luke Skywalker, capturing perfectly the wide-eyed innocence and wonder of every kid who wants to be a hero. My bias is showing again.

My Winner: Mark Hamill

Who do you pick as the Best Actor of 1977? Let us know in the comments!

Best Actor – 1976

Official Nominations: Peter Finch. Robert De Niro. Giancarlo Giannini. William Holden. Sylvester Stallone.

This year finally broke free from the Jack and Al love fest, with neither actor getting a nomination (Pacino didn’t appear in anything this year). Peter Finch picked up the win for Network, ironically a film you could see a more aged Jack or Al play pretty well. Finch died before receiving the win. It’s a strong performance and a worthy winner, but there’s a better choice here. Giancarlo Giannini isn’t a name many will be familiar with, nor is the film he was nominated for – Seven Beauties. It’s bold and shocking and funny, and is notable for being one of the most successful foreign movies in terms of Oscars – five nominations including the first for a female director. Giannini is great in the role of protector, scoundrel, scumbag, survivor.

William Holden shines alongside Finch in Network, a friend who is disgusted by and becomes embroiled in the hysteria surrounding Finch’s angry man shtick. Sylvester Stallone is Rocky – need I say more? Finally, De Niro is Travis Bickle – again, need I say more?

My Winner: Robert De Niro

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My Nominations: Robert De Niro. Peter Finch. Robert De Niro. Giancarlo Giannini. Sylvester Stallone. David Bowie. Gregory Peck.

Most of the official nominees make my list, and only two join them. David Bowie makes his first major mark on the movie work with his performance as The Man Who Fell To Earth – who better to act as a Spaceman in a man’s skin? Gregory Peck works, kind of against cast, in Richard Donner’s classic chiller The Omen as the man who wants a son and ends up adopting one called Damien. Bringing his trademark earnest class to proceedings, he is one of many reasons why the film is such a success and why it endures – his pain at the end truly visible thanks to his guilt over avoiding the obvious for so long – and losing.

My Winner: Robert De Niro

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Actor of 1976!

Best Actor – 1975

Official Nominations: Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Walter Matthau. Maximillian Schell. James Whitmore.

Holy Heavens, the 70s are all about Al and Jack. That’s three years in a row where this pair have been fighting it out, and this year I have no clue who you are supposed to choose. Both are awesome, both deserve to win, and it really doesn’t matter which you choose. For those not in the know, Nicholson picked up the official win as RP McMurphy, a man convicted of rape who sneaks into a mental institution to avoid a harsher time in prison. There he clashes with staff and acts as some sort of inspiring hero to the other inmates. It’s perfect. Pacino is Sonny, a nobody who decides to rob a bank, but things go terribly wrong from the start. Again – perfect.

After Jack Lemmon received a nomination a few years back, Matthau gets his turn in The Sunshine Boys, a fairly famous adaptation of a fairly famous play. Alongside George Burns, he is funny, snarky, stormy, and still enthusiastic and ambitious. Schell received a nomination for The Man In The Glass Booth – a nice mirroring of Judgement Of Nuremberg. Here he plays a rich survivor of a concentration camp who is kidnapped and taken to Israel to stand trial – saying anymore would spoil things, but again he is great. Finally, James Whitmore receives a nomination for Give Em Hell, Harry! You know The Academy loves biographies, and biographies of Presidents – star in one of those and you’re almost guaranteed a nomination. It’s fine, authentic, nothing more.

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

My Nominations: Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Ryan O’Neal. Roy Scheider.

Jack and Al make it to my list, and are greeted by a couple of snubs. Ryan O’Neal was already beloved and as Barry Lyndon he should have cemented this status, though the film was not overly well received by critics or audiences at the time. Kubrick generally got terrific performances from his male leads, and here it is no different, with O’Neal as the raconteur, drunk, abuser, duelist. Schneider is an altogether more lovable character, a family man, a cop, a person who cares deeply for his town and his willing to put his own career, sanity, and life on the line to protect it. Sheriff Brody is one of Cinema’s finest lawmen and Scheider plays him almost straight down the middle – we can feel and understand his panic stricken moods, his guilt, his need to act.

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

Who gets your vote in 1975? Let us know in the comments!

Best Actor – 1974

Official Nominations: Art Carney. Albert Finney. Dustin Hoffman. Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino.

Another of the great WTFs in the history of The Academy sees Art Carney – dead last in the category by anyone’s reckoning, winning. Having said that, it’s still a good performance, worthy of a nomination, but it’s totally a nomination and win purely for the fact he had been around so long. He plays an elderly man who with his cat whose home is taken from him. He decides to travel across America with his cat to get to LA and one of his sons, but it’s more about the journey, the people he meets, the quirky situations. I feel like this should be more of a cult movie and it feels like the sort of thing hipsters would love – good film, good performance.

Almost everything else here is legendary. Albert Finney’s performance in Murder On The Orient Express is fine again, surrounded by a stellar cast, but I think we all know the real Poirot is David Suchet. It’s one of the most famous novels and mysteries of all time, and a very successful, authentic version. Dustin Hoffman is incredible as Lenny Bruce, a performance which hurries back and forth between an energetic force of nature coming up in the world, and an addict in the throes of depression and excess. Jack Nicholson gives yet another defining performance in Chinatown as a dogged PI sucked into intrigue, romance, and danger. Finally, Pacino gets another nomination, this time in The Godfather II. You already know it, it’s fantastic. Last year for me it was between Nicholson and Pacino. That time I picked Pacino, but we’ll flip it now and give it to Jack.

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

My Nominations: Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Dustin Hoffman. Gene Wilder. Gene Hackman.

Three of the official nominees cross over, leaving two new choices who arguably deserve to have officially replaced Carney and Finney. Interestingly, both Wilder and Hackman appear in Young Frankenstein, but it’s Wilder’s wide-eyes, manic comedic masterclass which gets the nod, while Hackman’s geeky voyeur introvert who grows increasingly paranoid is, for me, the best thing about The Conversation. 

My Winner: Jack Nicholson

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Actor of 1974!

Best Actor – 1973

Official Nominations: Jack Lemmon. Marlon Brando. Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Robert Redford.

This is one of the few years in this category where I can’t argue against any of the choices. I mean, I won’t be picking Lemmon as winner but it’s still a terrific performance. Save The Tiger isn’t the best movie but it’s still a good find for anyone catching up on their 70s cinema and it’s difficult to picture anyone other than Lemmon in the role, thanks to his pathos and world weary everyman persona.

Even though Brando pissed off the Academy with his incident surrounding The Godfather win, he was nominated again 12 months later. Again, it’s difficult to argue against his brutal powerhouse showing in Las Tango In Paris. Nicholson continues his incredible 70s run with a film you feel doesn’t get enough attention now – The Last Detail runs the gamut from hilarious to tragic and Nicholson is alarmingly good. In the same boat is Al Pacino for Serpico – a good cop who is exposed to city wide corruption and tries to expose it all without getting cast out or hurt. Expect a lot of sudden shouts and energetic speeches, though his performance here is nowhere near top of the full Pacino volume scale as he reach later. Finally, another iconic performance by Redford in The Sting as a charming grifter who wants to learn and earn one big job, getting himself into trouble with cops and crooks along the way. Again you feel like Redford was made for the part.

My Winner: Al Pacino

My Nominations: Jack Lemmon. Marlon Brando. Jack Nicholson. Al Pacino. Robert Redford. Martin Sheen. Donald Sutherland. Harvey Keitel. Ryan O’Neal. Steve McQueen. Gene Hackman.

I copy all five official nominees over with the additional caveat that Pacino gets additional nomination for Scarecrow. He plays alongside Gene Hackman, who I also nominate – both are strong as drifters intent on starting a car wash. They meet on the road, strike up a friendship and decide upon the business venture but get into various scrapes along the way. It’s a classic cult road movie where we just watch the characters riff on each other and try to get on in the face of tragedy and hardship.

Hardship and tragedy are a common theme in the category this year – Donald Sutherland giving a convincing portrayal of grief and obsession in Don’t Look Now and Martin Sheen as the increasingly unstable, violent, and charismatic Kit in Badlands. Harvey Keitel tries to avoid violence and protect an increasingly unstable friend while hoping to be noticed by Mafia superiors – it’s a nice counter-balance to De Niro’s ‘not quite there yet’ performance. Steve McQueen gives one of his last great performances in Papillon as a wrongly convicted man planning escape from a tough prison – McQueen showing more than the mere ‘cool’ he was typically known for. Finally, a more lighter-hearted effort with Ryan O’Neal in Paper Moon. His real life daughter got the official plaudits, but O’Neal is rarely better as the con man who agrees to take an orphan to her auntie – their relationship works because it feels genuine and both show great charm.

My Winner: Al Pacino.

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Actor of 1973!

Best Actor – 1972

Official Nominations: Marlon Brando. Michael Caine. Laurence Olivier. Peter O’Toole. Paul Winfield.

The 1972 saw at least two of who most critics consider the ‘best actor ever’ going toe to toe – with Brando coming out on top for The Godfather – one of the single most famous performances in history. Olivier, already a Best Actor winning an million time nominee is typically brilliant in Sleuth, and yet he is overshadowed by Michael Caine who delivers a performance good enough to win any year that he doesn’t go up against Don Corleone. Peter O’Toole can make a claim for appearing on any Best Actor Ever list, here picking up one of his many nominations and certainly his most bizarre. I can’t see a film like The Ruling Class ever being made outside of the weirdest Indie House, never mind it being featured at The Oscars. Nevertheless, it leaves an impression and O’Toole is great – you can’t help but wonder if Jack Nicholson had starred instead, would he have won? Finally, Paul Winfield has a more wholesome nomination for Sounder – a little film completely lost to time but one worthy of catching, not least because Winfield gets a deserved nod.

One other notable thing to mention is that each of the nominees this year made other notable performances in different films, some of them worthy of nominations themselves – Brando has Last Tango In Paris, Winfield had Trouble Man (maybe not..), Caine had Pulp, O’Toole had Man Of La Mancha, and Olivier had Lady Caroline Lamb. There’s not many years these days where the many or any of the nominees have multiple notable movies in a single year.

My Winner: Marlon Brando

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My Nominations: Marlon Brando. Michael Caine. Robert Redford. Bruce Dern. Bruce Lee.

The five officials are good enough to be on any list, but I’ll switch things up a little more and keep the only two genuine official contenders. I’d also be tempted to include Pacino here rather than the supporting category, but lets give someone else a chance. Robert Redford had two hits this year, with Jeremiah Johnson where he stars as a veteran and mountain man and The Candidate as a Democrat asked to enter a political race against the Republican powerhouse. Both these films are wonderful Redford showcases but feel as if they have been left behind in time. Although Dern deserves a shout for The King Of Marvin Gardens it is Silent Running which gets my vote. Dern gives a one man show for much of the film, growing steadily more manic and desperate, though his wide-eyed behaviour may be too much for some. Finally, Bruce Lee also appears in a couple of hits this year – while there doesn’t appear to be a lot of difference between the two characters he plays – both are moral and driven to rage and revenge by tragedy – but you’d be hard-pushed to find anyone who commanded the screen with such vitality than Lee.

My Winner: Marlon Brando

Let us know in the comments who you pick as the Best Actor of 1972!

Best Actor – 1971

Official Nominations: Gene Hackman. Peter Finch. Walter Matthau. George C Scott. Chaim Topol.

There were two clear front-runners this year, with Gene Hackman picking up the win for his (arguably) career best performance in The French Connection. Missing out was Topol in Fiddler In The Roof – a full-blooded performance but one I’m never going to pick over Hackman. Peter Finch plays one third of a sexual triangle in Sunday Bloody Sunday, a million miles away from camp, while Walter Matthau is not grumpy in the forgotten, curious, and light Kotch. Finally, George C Scott is grumpy and stressed and more besides in The Hospital. As mentioned – only one winner.

My Winner: Gene Hackman

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My Nominations: Gene Hackman. Gene Wilder. Dustin Hoffman. Al Pacino. Sean Connery. Malcolm McDowell. Oliver Reed. Michael Caine. Warren Beatty. Richard Roundtree. Robert Duvall.

Only Hackman transcends reality to make it onto my list, joining a list of snubs and others. Gene Wilder seems like a major snub here, at least with hindsight – his portrayal of Willy Wonka one of the most beloved ever, commanding every scene he is in and providing many memorable moments. Similarly, Dustin Hoffman may feel aggrieved that he didn’t get a nomination for Straw Dogs – Hoffman slowly cracking then shattering. Al Pacino got off to his first major lead role in Panic In Needle Park, an interesting film raised by his performance while Sean Connery plays a more dastardly version of Bond in The Anderson Tapes. Malcolm McDowell gives a tour de force performance as Alex in A Clockwork Orange, ensuring he would have a career playing madcap characters while Oliver Reed furthered his legend with The Devils. Staying in England, Michael Caine earns another nomination from me thanks to his meanest performance in Get Carter while back in the US, Warren Beatty should feel aggrieved by not getting a nomination for Mccabe & Mrs Miller. Finally, two performances which never would have got a nomination – Robert Duvall in a rare lead role for THX 1138 and Richard Roundtree for the ground-breaking Shaft. 

This is a tough one, but I think it’s between Wilder and McDowell for me.

My Winner: Gene Wilder

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Who do you pick as the Best Actor of 1971? Let us know in the comments!