Monday, February 16, 2009

200 Dates with Guys

After re-screening How Green Was My Valley as preparation for the next Best Pictures... installment, I decided to pop in the last Best Picture nominee from 1941 that I hadn't seen, the delightful and much-remade celestial comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan. An even more ambitious and able director than Alexander Hall would have mined some more comic energy, I'm sure, from the second-tier players in the roles of the scheming wife, her lover-conspirator, the crooked boxing agent, etc. But as a tender, funny, consistent lark, obviously besotted with the fanciful conceits of its script but rarely weighed down by them, Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a pretty great ticket. Aware that handsomely puggish star Robert Montgomery had tried his hand at some interesting directorial experiments toward the end of the 1940s, I took a chance on his Tex-Mex neo-noir Ride the Pink Horse, which is about as inclined as you might expect to associate "Mexico" with fiestas, tequilas, crooks, shawls, and death. Yet for all that—and the film isn't nearly as exoticizing as it could be—Pink Horse succeeds excitingly at transplanting noir and gangster tropes into this unusual terrain, and Montgomery collaborates with legendary cinematographer Russell Metty to make frequently brilliant use of offscreen space, whether before, behind, or to either side of what's in the frame. And Thomas Gomez fully warrants his 1947 Best Supporting Actor nod as a corpulent carousel-operator (how's that for a character précis?) who becomes a key ally to the Montgomery character.

The happy accident of this double-header, besides yielding two solid entertainments and selling Montgomery as a limited but compelling Hollywood figure, is that I find myself on the eve of this year's Oscars at a symmetrically pleasing juncture: exactly 100 Best Actor nominees left to view after Montgomery, and 100 Best Supporting Actor nominees left after Gomez and Mr. Jordan's muggy but spryly appealing James Gleason. And no, "accident" isn't precisely the best word in this context. I'm into Oscar numerology, even when I have to force it a little. But for a site that tends to orbit obsessively around the gals, here's a nod to happy times ahead with a finite group of fellas. I'm hitting a campus screening of True Grit tomorrow, so this will quickly become dated information, but I'm excited to have so many Oliviers, Tracys, Mastroiannis, and Brandos left on my list, since I'm still resolving my feelings about these landmark figures. And for every outstanding Fanny and Wilson and Affairs of Cellini that I might have to push myself through, I have a San Francisco, a Serpico, an Under the Volcano, and a 'Round Midnight to get really psyched about.

Among the supporting blokes, I hold out the most hope for turns like Robert Mitchum's in The Story of G.I. Joe, Richard Widmark's in Kiss of Death, Richard Farnsworth's in Comes a Horseman, and Denzel Washington's in Cry Freedom, plus the nominated performances in such enticing projects as Four Daughters, Battleground, Seven Days in May, Marathon Man, and The Right Stuff. In the context of those glimmers on the horizon, who cares that I still have to deal with Mickey Rooney three more times?

I'm not going to type out a full list of my future itineraries, but by all means, fill out my picture of the field by telling me your favorite Actor and Supporting Actor nominees of years past. My most recent omissions are Depardieu and Harris in 1990 up top and David Paymer in Supporting in 1992, so err on the side of B.B.C. (Before Bill Clinton) as much as you can.

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Blogger Sam Brooks said...

A scraping through my memory (and the wikipedia pages for both) brings to mind a previous Farnsworth nominee; Comes a Horseman and especially Jason Robarts in Melvin and Howard. Love that movie, and I love him in it.

As far as Best Actor goes, I'm not nearly as passionate, but the one that endears me the most is probably 1984's lineup. (Except, as is wont with Oscar, the winner.) Finney, Hulce and Bridges stun in movies that I don't particularly like and one movie that I hate (Amadeus, probably because I had to study it. And study one scene with little relevance to the plot over and over. By a teacher who had seen the movie a day before we did.) I find Waterson respectable in The Killing Fields and I find Abraham abhorrent in Amadeus. There's just not nearly as much to get excited about in the actor's fields as there is in the actresses.

Good luck trudging through some of the more boring ones; I Never Sang For My Father and Bang The Drum Slowly await you. (Unless you've seen them.)

2:19 AM, February 17, 2009  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

I kind of share the 'Actors aren't as interesting as Actresses' philosophy but if you've still got Brando's and Mastroianni's left then that's surely good news.

Co-incidentally I've just seen a couple of Leading Actor nominees that I think is on your list of hundred -- judging by your screening lists anyway. Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous (who won!). I wasn't impressed by either but both films are great, and there's a funny, convincing performance from young Freddie Bartholomew as Tracy's co-lead. If you wanna get a Mickey Rooney film out of the way, the only one I've seen is The Human Comedy and it isn't bad. He's also very likeable in it.

As for Supporting Actor, I haven't seen enough to really recommend any. I was a bit disappointed with Olivier in Marathon Man though.

5:39 AM, February 17, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

You haven't seen Depardieu? Oh dear. Amend, amend.

A few favourites off the top of my head (though I dare say you've seen many of these):

Dexter Gordon, "'Round Midnight"
Burt Lancaster, "Atlantic City"
Richard Harris, "This Sporting Life" (great actress action from Rachel Roberts too)
Alec Guinness, "The Lavender Hill Mob"
Stuart Whitman, "The Mark" (sometimes I think I'm the only person who's seen this, it's dated but really affecting)

I'm hazier on supporting actor (it's often SUCH a dull category, I find), but few can top Sydney Greenstreet in "The Maltese Falcon."

9:08 AM, February 17, 2009  
Blogger tim r said...

Well, you may not relish Rooney, but at least it means you'll get to watch The Black Stallion, which is absolutely gorgeous.

On the minus side of Brando-hunting, good luck with A Dry White Season. Blecch.

Am I the only person who actually really likes Abraham in Amadeus? It sometimes seems so. Not so much under all that old-man make-up, admittedly.

Looks to me like you've got some treats back in 1947 -- not just Widmark, but the excellent John Garfield in Body and Soul, and Robert Ryan in Dmytryk's Crossfire, which is a cracking film all round.

Greenstreet's great, but my top ten supporting actor nominees would probably be something like:

Claude Rains in Notorious
Clifton Webb in Laura
George Sanders in All About Eve
George C Scott in The Hustler
Melvyn Douglas in Hud
Haing S Ngor in The Killing Fields
Chris Sarandon in Dog Day Afternoon
Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game
Ralph Fiennes in Schindler's List
and... Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight

6:45 PM, February 17, 2009  
Blogger Dr. S said...

I 100% heart your new picture.

12:27 AM, February 20, 2009  
Blogger Dr. S said...

By which I mean to say: I'm glad someone finally got around to giving you that Academy Award for Best Awesomeness. 'Bout freakin' time.

12:28 AM, February 20, 2009  
Blogger John T said...

Since the Best Actor's are always getting raves, here are my favorites in Supporting Actor:

1. Al Pacino (The Godfather)
2. Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List)
3. Joel Grey (Cabaret)
4. Ian McKellen (The Fellowship of the Ring)
5. Robert de Niro (The Godfather, Part II)

And the five best that weren't nominated (really, the embarrassment should be never ending on this one, particularly the first two, which would make my ten worst acting snubs of all-time) :

1. John Huston (Chinatown)
2. Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West)
3. Andy Serkis (The Two Towers)
4. Lionel Barrymore (It's a Wonderful Life)
5. John Cazale (The Godfather, Part II)

5:40 PM, March 01, 2009  

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