The Oscars That Got Away

By Tom Titus

Before we take a look at the best movies ever made (at least in this column’s opinion), let’s check out a quick list of some actors and pictures that should have thanked the academy on Oscar Night, but didn’t get that opportunity. In other words, those who were robbed.

Let’s start at 1941 and the picture that’s traditionally included in the triumvirate of critics’ choices for “Best Movies Ever.” That would be “Citizen Kane,” written by, directed by and starring Orson Welles. Welles got the Oscar for original screenplay, but was snubbed for acting and directing honors.

Another young director with an early-career magnum opus was Peter Bogdanovich, who brilliantly directed “The Last Picture Show” in 1971, but saw it lose to William Friedken and “The French Connection.” Pete’s only consolation were the supporting Oscars won by Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson for their memorable characterizations in “Picture Show.”

Peter Ustinov won two acting Oscars, for “Spartacus” and “Topkapi,” but his signature role was that of the mad emperor Nero in “Quo Vadis” (1951). Can anyone who’s seen it ever forget his line: “Petronius? Dead? By his own hand? WITHOUT MY PERMISSION?”

Both Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole were tremendous actors, as well as drinking buddies. But each went to his grave without an Oscar, only a plethora of nominations. Burton should have won for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” while O’Toole was robbed for not scoring in “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Lion in Winter.”

Angela Lansbury is a legend both on Broadway (“Mame” and “Sweeney Todd”) and on television (“Murder, She Wrote”). In Hollywood, she won an Oscar nomination in her first movie (“Gaslight”) and definitely should have won for her evil mother role in “The Manchurian Candidate.” So, in fact, should have her co-star in that flick, Laurence Harvey.

Rod Steiger, one of our most powerful actors, won for “In the Heat of the Night,” but he should have been honored years before for his outstanding performance as “The Pawnbroker.” Guess who beat him out — Lee Marvin in “Cat Ballou.”

In 1961, Maximillian Schell won the best actor Oscar for his role as the Nazi defender in “Judgment at Nuremberg.” But Richard Widmark was equally strong as his rival, the military prosecutor, and certainly outperformed the eventual supporting actor winner, George Chakiris in “West Side Story.”

Jack Lemmon was honored twice, for “Mister Roberts” and “Save the Tiger.” He should have taken home a third Oscar, for “The Days of Wine and Roses” (and so should have co-star Lee Remick), not to mention his great supporting performance in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Andy Griffith will be remembered as Mayberry’s sheriff and attorney Matlock, but he delivered a powerhouse performance in “A Face in the Crowd” as a low-life drifter who becomes a media demagogue. Out of character? You bet.

Frances McDormand won an Oscar as the pregnant police chief in “Fargo,” but another should have gone to the actor who played her quarry. William H. Macy was brilliant as the double-dealing car salesman and now he’s tearing up the TV screens each week on “Shameless.”

Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his Oscar, for “The Revenant,” after a string of award-worthy performances, one of the best of which was as Howard Hughes in “The Aviator.”

Finally, I bring up the name of an actor I once interviewed when he was directing a show at South Coast Repertory, but with whom you’re probably unfamiliar – Andy Robinson. This unheralded actor brilliantly played the psychotic serial killer in the first “Dirty Harry” movie and should have been Oscared on the spot.

Next time around, we’ll take a look at some of the best motion pictures in the first in a variety of categories. Stay tuned.

Making Movies and TV Audience Friendly

By Tom Titus

Readers of this occasional blog more than likely expect a comment or three about local theater. After all, that’s been my stock in trade for the past half century.

But I was a movie fan long before I discovered the wonders of live theater. And today I’d like to offer a few suggestions to the motion picture and television industries that would prove beneficial both to them and, most importantly, to their audiences.

When did Hollywood start the abysmal practice of starting a movie without tellng the viewers the identity of the actors and actresses playing major roles in the picture? Today, it seems, we don’t actually know who’s in the flick until the closing credits roll.

Let’s return to the traditional “Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in ‘Double Indemnity’ “ opening credits (and, on that topic, don’t miss “Billy & Ray” at the Laguna Playhouse before it closes Oct. 30). I couldn’t resist throwing in that theatrical tidbit.

And, while we’re at it, how about borrowing a tactic from the producers of such movies as “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Great Escape” and “Take the High Ground,” among others. That is, why not identify each actor and actress with his or her picture as a sort of cinematic curtain call?

Turning to television, one of the industry’s most grievous faults is identifying actors at the start of a show, but not showing the character they play, as did programs like “Dallas” and “M*A*S*H.” Some shows still practice that laudable method – including “Criminal Minds,” “Law & Order” and “Blue Bloods.”

But watch a show like “Gray’s Anatomy,” for instance, and you get the names at the outset, but if you’re new to the program you have no idea who the people are portraying. Let’s see their likeness as they’re identified.

Those are just a few things I’d be attending to if I were in charge of movies or TV shows. In the next few editions of this column, I’ll take a look backward and come up with a few “top 10″ lists vis the IMOHO (in my own humble opinion) technique.

I’ll be starting with an honor roll of actors and movies that should have been honored by the Academy, but weren’t. Stay tuned.