To celebrate Al Pacino’s 71st birthday today, I’d like to suggest something drastic. I’d like the Academy to exchange his Oscar for Scent of a Woman for another honoring his role as Michael Corleone in either of the first two Godfather films. No need to steal trophies back from other deserving actors, like Joel Grey (Cabaret) or the late Art Carney (Harry and Tonto) — this isn’t about them. This is about Pacino, whose magnificent film work in the 1970s has aged like a fine wine. Nominated for an Oscar for four straight years — for the two Godfather movies, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon — Pacino simply breathed life into characters that no one else could play, then or now.
It’s not my intent to disparage Scent of a Woman or Pacino’s award-winning performance as the blind Lt. Col. Frank Slade. It’s a decent movie and a fine role, but it also epitomizes the hooah-type characters that Pacino made a habit of playing to diminishing returns in the 20 years since Scent came out. Some 50 years from now, some curious young cinephile who’s yet to see a Pacino film might start with Scent of a Woman. After all, that was his Academy Award-winning role. But that’s not the Pacino that blew everyone away like the chilling, stone-eyed mafioso’s son or the unhinged bank robber who can’t do anything right. It’s not even the one who reminded us of his early brilliance, in later films like Donnie Brasco. In a perfect world, his Oscar would have a different title engraved on it.
Maybe the Academy can make an unwritten rule, designed special for the greats: For every five nominations, winners earn the right to trade an Oscar in for the performance of their choosing. For example, Paul Newman could have swapped his Best Acting Oscar from The Color of Money for another for The Verdict. Martin Scorsese could trade-in The Departed for Taxi Driver or Raging Bull.
Where would you rank Pacino’s performance in Scent of a Woman among his best roles? What other actors or directors would you like to see trade-in their Academy Awards for greater yet uncrowned performances?