Oscar can seem positively ineffectual in the long view of history. A star turn that was stellar one year looks passé the next. Movies that were ignored as lurid trash when they came out are beloved classics 40 years later. Of the releases reviewed here, none contains a bad Oscar-winning performance. Yet some other important performances from the same years hold up better today:
1931: Among those not nominated: Edward G. Robinson as a snarling Little Caesar, Jimmy Cagney as a hopped-up Public Enemy, and Charlie Chaplin in City Lights, possibly his greatest film. Instead, the Best Actor Oscar goes to — Lionel Barrymore in A Free Soul?
1932: A rare, well-deserved tie for Best Actor between Wallace Beery in The Champ and Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But what about Paul Muni in Howard Hawks’ Scarface (shut out in all categories) or Boris Karloff in Frankenstein?
1958: David Niven wins Best Actor for Separate Tables, while three towering creations go unmentioned: James Stewart’s obsessed detective in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Orson Welles’ corrupt cop in Touch of Evil, and Gully Jimson, the scrofulous painter played by Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth.