Welcome to Oscar Justice, a weekly feature at Ice Creams for Freaks. It’s a simple concept: I give an Oscar to someone who rightfully deserved it, then I follow the repercussions down the line until I am satisfied.
This week on Oscar Justice: Albert Finney in The Dresser
1963 Best Actor, Tom Jones – Lost to Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field
1974 Best Actor, Murder on the Orient Express – Lost to Art Carney, Harry and Tonto
1983 Best Actor, The Dresser – Lost to Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies
1984 Best Actor, Under the Volcano – Lost to F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus
2001 Best Supporting Actor, Erin Brockovich – Lost to Benico Del Toro, Traffic
Albert Finney is one of the most accomplished film and stage actors ever to come out of England. His first film breakthrough came in 1960 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which led to a successful screen test that landed him the role of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. Finney balked at signing a lengthy contract, so the role went to Peter O’Toole.
Finney shot to stardom as the titular role in 1963’s Best Picture winner Tom Jones, earning his first Oscar nomination. Finney kept working on stage on onscreen through the 70s and 80s through 1983, when he earned his third Oscar nomination for the film adaptation of the stage play The Dresser. Playing the role of a domineering stage actor with failing mental health, Finney commands the screen alongside Tom Courtenay. The Oscars weren’t up for Finney going big, but opted for a smaller, quieter performance by Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies.
The English actor would get another Oscar nomination the next year for Under the Volcano and cap off his career with a Best Supporting Actor nomination in 2000 for Erin Brockovich. The BAFTAs gave him two wins and 13 nominations, the Golden Globes honored him with three awards in nine nominations and also won an Emmy. His final film came in 2012 in the hit James Bond film, Skyfall. Finney passed away in 2019 without ever winning an Oscar.
Albert Finney defeats Robert Duvall at the 1983 Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
WHY THIS JUSTICE?
Lack of options. Finney is consistently great in everything throughout the years, but his Oscar nominations come at terrible times. Some people have problems with Tom Jones, but I think he is brilliant. That being said, I’m not taking a historic Oscar away from Sidney Poitier. The 1974 Best Actor race is one of the most competitive group of nominees, but I have already given that Oscar away.
Finney’s performance in Under the Volcano is the performance I wanted to give him the Oscar for, but F. Murray Abraham’s performance in Amadeus is too much of a powerhouse to deny. His populist performance in Erin Brockovich is spectacular, but Benicio Del Toro deserves his Oscar for Traffic.
Of my choices, The Dresser has the smallest cultural impact of Finney’s nominations, but it also puts his best actor-ly qualities on display. He booms with fury and willows to madness from scene to scene. Very little about the film is subtle, but it is designed that way. Finney bellows when acting on stage or screaming at his superiors, or his retreats into the recesses of his own madness. How many other actors could stop a train during World War II with only the hefty baritone of his voice?
The other advantage of giving Finney the 1983 Oscar is Robert Duvall’s plentiful nominations. Tender Mercies, though a great performance, is not a known film outside of Duvall’s win. Duvall was nominated for seven Oscars throughout the years, and if he doesn’t win in 1983, he would absolutely be due for a later-years Oscar.
That Oscar would be coming in 1997 with a self-financed, self-directed star turn as a preacher on the run in The Apostle. With Duvall winning in 1997, that takes an Oscar away from Jack Nicholson for As Good As It Gets. I wouldn’t worry too much about Nicholson, as he is the most nominated male actor with 12 nominations and two other wins.
Albert Finney wins Best Actor in 1983 over Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall wins Best Actor in 1997 over Jack Nicholson
Next week on Oscar Justice…sometimes things are simple and straight. Michael Keaton gets the Oscar the world knows he deserves