When you look at the rest of the field for Best Actor at the 1983 Academy Awards, Robert Duvall’s win — for his performance as an alcoholic ne’er-do-wellcountry singer in Tender Mercies — makes a certain kind of sense. Duvall was the only American among four British actors: Michael Caine (Educating Rita), Tom Conti (Reuben, Reuben), Tom Courtenay (The Dresser) and Albert Finney (The Dresser). More significantly, his role was the only one that was created specifically for the screen; all the others originally came from stage plays. When you add in Duvall’s longstanding goodwill within Hollywood, the (well-earned) belief that he was among his generation’s finest working actors, and the fact that he also took home Golden Globe, LA Film Critics and New York Critics Circle awards for his performance, his Oscar that year seemed pretty much foreordained.
But did Duvall deserve it? That’s what we’ve been asking Hollywood in EW’s Recall the Gold survey revisiting all the major Oscar categories from 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago, and that’s also what we’ve been asking you, PopWatchers, over the last few months. So what do you think? The contrast between Duvall and his fellow nominees is so stark, you can pretty much say exactly the same thing about why the other four men didn’t win: Their performances all felt too small and stage-y, and none of them were Robert Duvall. If any actor had even a small chance at an upset, it was probably Caine as a crappy, alcoholic professor who helps a working-class woman (fellow nominee Julie Walters) earn a degree. His career was just as storied as Duvall’s, but it was also peppered with far more dubious choices (Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, anyone?), and the Academy may have figured he’d have many more chances to take home an Oscar. (Indeed, to date, Caine has two Oscars to Duvall’s one.) Finney and Courtenay, as respectively an overbearing, alcoholic Shakespearean actor and his costumer/manservant/confidante, effectively canceled each other out. And Conti’s performance as an alcoholic (noting a pattern?) Scottish poet who sleeps his way through New England’s universities was apparently one of those tour-de-force turns with a short pop-culture half-life: Though Conti took home the National Board of Review’s award for Best Actor that year, there isn’t even a whisper of a clip from the film to be found on the internets.
The Academy had its say back in 1983, but now its your turn, PopWatchers: Which actor deserved the golden statue? We’ve got reminders from some of the films after the jump if you need them; while you’re at it, if you haven’t already, vote in all the other polls from our ongoing walk down Oscar’s memory lane. Next week, we’ll look at the 1998 race for Best Supporting Actress, and you can check out coverage of this year’s awards contenders in Dave Karger’s Oscar Watch blog.
Michael Caine, Educating Rita
Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies
Tom Courtenay & Albert Finney, The Dresser — Link to trailer on IMDb.com