Did They Get it Right? – Best Actor – Oscars 1981

Here are the five nominees: (Winner in Bold)

Warren Beatty (Reds)
Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond)
Burt Lancaster (Atlantic City)
Dudley Moore (Arthur)
Paul Newman (Absence of Malice)

Biggest Snub:

Treat Williams – Prince of the City

My Overall Thoughts:

This was a sentimental year since 3 of the 5 nominees were great actors who never won beforehand. The added problem was that all three gave great performances that year and any would have been a worthy winner.

My Rankings:

Acting Performances

5. Dudley Moore 
4. Burt Lancaster 
3. Paul Newman 
2. Warren Beatty 
1. Henry Fonda


5. Atlantic CityNot sure why this movie is considered to be so great. Story is average and the characters are quirky but somewhat likable, but not much more than that. Was nominate for 5 Oscars, but didn’t manage to win any of them.
4. RedsGood epic biopic but it moves way too slowly. Its easy to see how much this was a labor of love for Beatty. Amazing cast helps a bit. I can understand how this film could garner 12 Oscar Nominations with 3 wins, but the story isn’t as engaging as one would hope. Really liked how they managed to intersperse real interviews with friends and compatriots of Reed and Bryant, but as epic as it may be, it feels too disjointed.
3. Arthur – Fun movie that works really well. Moore is very entertaining here and this was probably his very best work but I’m not 100% convinced that he deserved an Oscar nomination for such a role.
2. Absence of MaliceRaises great questions about journalistic ethics and what can and should be printed and what should be kept private. Loved the way the story played out and how it stayed interesting despite the numerous threads of different parts of the that weave in and out of our focus. Brimley steals the show with his scene and I wished that he would have been in it even more. Newman and Field are both excellent actors, but I just didn’t feel the chemistry between them enough in their shared scenes.
1. On Golden Pond Excellent movie, amazing acting based on a well written play. Both Fonda and Hepburn were well deserving of their Oscars for this film.

Do I agree with the Oscar winner? – Most Definitely!  Fonda was an amazing actor and there is no better swansong than to go out on top. This was hos final role and is one of his best portrayals.  Newman would have to wait a few more years to won and Beatty won that night for Brest Director before being surprised by everyone that he didn’t get an award for Best Picture.

Let me know what you think about these films and my rankings!

One thought on “Did They Get it Right? – Best Actor – Oscars 1981

  1. Very competitive group. Moore put himself on the map with his role as “Arthur” (and turned himself, temporarily) into a movie star. Beatty was excellent (and directed himself making the achievement even more impressive. Newman was solid – maybe not his best role – but he was always good in everything. I agree that Fonda was great in a role almost tailor made for him (it wasn’t – but his daughter Jane got the rights to the play to be able to cast her father – so she could play agai8nst him – as well as getting Katharine Hepburn to play her mother – and she won her 4th Oscar). I thought Atlantic City was really good – and was intrigued by the story of the old dinosaur gangsters crossing paths with the young bucks during a transition period with gambling coming to AC. Lancaster (one of my all time favorites) was excellent here (as was Susan Sarandon) – and it’s a bit of a shame that he and another veteran – Fonda – went up against each other. I agree that Fonda nosed out the win (although in all honesty – playing the old curmudgeon with relationship problems with his daughter – which he and Jane admitted to having in real life) wasn’t as much of a stretch to play as Lancaster wise and wily and smitten throwback gangster. It would have been Lancaster’s 2nd Oscar, but it was Fonda’s first and only.


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