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Best Actor versus Best Actress-- who's the best?


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The Academy separates them by gender. But what if a Best Actor nominee competed against a Best Actress nominee?

***

Who really gave the best performance in...

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 10.26.31 AM

1941: Gary Cooper for SERGEANT YORK or Joan Fontaine for SUSPICION

1943: Paul Lukas for WATCH ON THE RHINE or Jennifer Jones for SONG OF BERNADETTE

1948: Laurence Olivier for HAMLET or Jane Wyman for JOHNNY BELINDA

1952: Gary Cooper for HIGH NOON or Shirley Booth for COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA

1956: Yul Brynner for THE KING AND I or Ingrid Bergman for ANASTASIA

1961: Maximilian Schell for JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG or Sophia Loren for TWO WOMEN

1966: Paul Scofield for A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS or Liz Taylor for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? 

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23 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

1941: Gary Cooper for SERGEANT YORK or Joan Fontaine for SUSPICION

1943: Paul Lukas for WATCH ON THE RHINE or Jennifer Jones for SONG OF BERNADETTE

1948: Laurence Olivier for HAMLET or Jane Wyman for JOHNNY BELINDA

1952: Gary Cooper for HIGH NOON or Shirley Booth for COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA

1956: Yul Brynner for THE KING AND I or Ingrid Bergman for ANASTASIA

1961: Maximilian Schell for JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG or Sophia Loren for TWO WOMEN

1966: Paul Scofield for A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS or Liz Taylor for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? 

Going by the ones I saw both:

1941- I have to go with Cooper, he really embodied the role, kept my attention the whole way.

1948- Wyman, her performance moved me much more, and without saying a word.

1952- a close one, but Booth's telephone scene to her mother clinched it for me

1961- I go with Sophia, it was a difficult role and she excelled

1966- Liz Taylor for me, one of my favorite performances by an actress ever

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It's an interesting question as to why performances are divided by sex.   Why not just have a category for "best performance",  period?   But it makes it more fun to have two of each category, probably, to wrangle over, rather than just one.   And now, I do like anything that acknowledges, even tacitly, that men and women are different.

  Paul Scofield, and Paul Lukas seem to me to be clear winners in their categories.  I really liked Maximilian Schell in his role, but didn't see Sophia in "Two Women" so can't opine.

Ingrid Bergman in "Anastasia"  --  oh yes, radiant, unforgettable.

And, I'm one of those who's so smitten with what Olivier does, in virtually anything, would have to hand him the award in almost any contest, including this one.  His 'Hamlet' was so good.

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Interesting topic!  I hope you look at a few more years.

1941: Gary Cooper for SERGEANT YORK 

My choice: Bette Davis, THE LITTLE FOXES

 

1943: Jennifer Jones for SONG OF BERNADETTE

My choice: Jean Arthur, THE MORE THE MERRIER

 

1948: Laurence Olivier for HAMLET 

My choice: Humphrey Bogart, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE

 

1952: Shirley Booth for COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA

My choice: Shirley Booth for COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA

 

1956: Yul Brynner for THE KING AND I

My choice: Kirk Douglas, LUST FOR LIFE

 

1961: Maximilian Schell for JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG

My choice: Harriet Andersson, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

 

1966: Liz Taylor for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

My choice: Elizabeth Taylor for WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

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Thanks. Yes, I think there are some other interesting years to look at...for example, 1968, when we had two Best Actresses.

So who really gave the best performance--

Katharine Hepburn for A LION IN WINTER

Screen Shot 2019-11-23 at 7.45.24 AM.jpeg

Barbara Streisand for FUNNY GIRL

91BF0957-5614-4A49-86CC-511C144F35D3_4_5005_c

Or Cliff Robertson for CHARLY

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 8.14.00 AM.jpeg

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Well, this is certainly an intriguing thought experiment.

For one thing, if the Academy had allowed a total of ten slots for "Best Acting" independent of gender, one assumes the male/female breakdown would have tended to fluctuate a good deal from one year to the next. In fact, from 1937 to 1944, The National Board of Review used to honor the best acting of the year in precisely this way, making no distinctions between genders, or even between nominally "leading" and "supporting" roles (although they did so without any set minimum or maximum number of actors to be so honored), and the resulting gender balance was quite unpredictable, although often to the disadvantage of actresses. (In 1938, for example, they honored 18 actors but only 4 actresses.)

For me, the easiest choices are in 1952, 1956, and 1966, because in each case one of the actors involved had already won a Tony Award for playing the same role for many years onstage: Shirley Booth, Yul Brynner, and Paul Scofield.  I'm probably in the minority on this point, but I view that as a sort of "double-dipping" that puts fellow film nominees (who don't have the same luxury of extensive immersion in, preparation of, and performance of a role) at an unfair disadvantage.  So however excellent each of those performances undoubtedly is, I would tend to vote for their competitor simply from a fairness point of view. (I also think Elizabeth Taylor was never better than in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

I would also vote for Sophia Loren in 1961 simply because I find that performance stunningly authentic. This is definitely nothing against Maximilian Schell, whose performance is also superb (he had also played the role previously in the original Playhouse 90 production).

I'm agnostic on the first three pairs of films, partly because I haven't seen a few of them recently (and have never seen Watch on the Rhine). I will say, however, that I have subsequently seen more convincing Hamlets than Olivier's (and aside from Montgomery Clift in The Search, he was competing against a fairly weak field of actors that year, e.g., Dan Dailey  in When My Baby Smiles at Me, and Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was not even nominated); and I would have given best actress to Irene Dunne in I Remember Mama.

 

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18 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Thanks. Yes, I think there are some other interesting years to look at...for example, 1968, when we had two Best Actresses.

So who really gave the best performance--

Katharine Hepburn for A LION IN WINTER

Barbara Streisand for FUNNY GIRL

Or Cliff Robertson for CHARLY

 

1968:  Katharine Hepburn for A LION IN WINTER

My choice: Katharine Hepburn for A LION IN WINTER

 

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17 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Thanks. Yes, I think there are some other interesting years to look at...for example, 1968, when we had two Best Actresses.

So who really gave the best performance--

Perhaps you could clock in with your choices too.  The best of the winners and your personal fave as well.

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Maybe this is in (Very) Large Part already built into the nature of this thread (but) for me alot of it revolves around exactly what (two) films are being considered.

  About three-quarters of the time, for me the "rightful" winner of any given year (regardless of Sex) isnt even Nominated (!)

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1 hour ago, Bogie56 said:

Perhaps you could clock in with your choices too.  The best of the winners and your personal fave as well.

Thanks. Re: '68, I do think Hepburn gave the best performance of anyone. 

1 hour ago, Aritosthenes said:

Maybe this is in (Very) Large Part already built into the nature of this thread (but) for me alot of it revolves around exactly what (two) films are being considered.

  About three-quarters of the time, for me the "rightful" winner of any given year (regardless of Sex) isnt even Nominated (!)

That may be true. A lot of it is studio politics. As I was looking over the Best Actor and Best Actress winners from 1927 to 2020, I could see where a lot of MGM stars had been awarded Oscars in the 30s. In the 50s and 60s, several winners were from Paramount. In the 90s, Harvey Weinstein was undoubtedly pushing his Miramax stars since someone like Gwyneth Paltrow wins for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.

There is also the trend that several stars are repeat winners...from the 30s (Spencer Tracy & Luise Rainer) up to the present (Frances McDormand & Daniel Day-Lewis).

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Different acting styles.

From 1963:

Sidney Poitier for LILIES IN THE FIELD

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 2.06.15 PM

Or Patricia Neal for HUD

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 2.03.41 PM

I'd pick Neal whom I consider a more technically polished performer than Poitier.

***

From 1969:

John Wayne for TRUE GRIT

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 3.56.05 PM.jpeg

Or Maggie Smith for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE

32M6tbEMQpSm8qhkyQcPgg_thumb_4ec.jpg

I'd pick Smith. How about you?

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1 hour ago, TopBilled said:

Different acting styles.

From 1963:

Sidney Poitier for LILIES IN THE FIELD

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 2.06.15 PM

Or Patricia Neal for HUD

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 2.03.41 PM

I'd pick Neal whom I consider a more technically polished performer than Poitier.

***

From 1969:

John Wayne for TRUE GRIT

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 3.56.05 PM.jpeg

Or Maggie Smith for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE

32M6tbEMQpSm8qhkyQcPgg_thumb_4ec.jpg

I'd pick Smith. How about you?

Especially that Top One: Lilies and Hud. Choosing between those two id pretty much say "Dead Heat" for me.

From John and Maggie (below). I Think for me between those particular two id go Wayne.

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2 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Thanks. Re: '68, I do think Hepburn gave the best performance of anyone. 

That may be true. A lot of it is studio politics. As I was looking over the Best Actor and Best Actress winners from 1927 to 2020, I could see where a lot of MGM stars had been awarded Oscars in the 30s. In the 50s and 60s, several winners were from Paramount. In the 90s, Harvey Weinstein was undoubtedly pushing his Miramax stars since someone like Gwyneth Paltrow wins for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE.

There is also the trend that several stars are repeat winners...from the 30s (Spencer Tracy & Luise Rainer) up to the present (Frances McDormand & Daniel Day-Lewis).

I (Strongly) (and Subjectively) Think As Well that, many times. The Academy is Unfortunately Biased. (Which Might Very Well Play the role of kissing cousins with Respect to Your Studio Politics Observation.)

  Its A SIN that Phoenix had Not Won Squat Prior to Joker.

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32 minutes ago, Aritosthenes said:

I (Strongly) (and Subjectively) Think As Well that, many times. The Academy is Unfortunately Biased. (Which Might Very Well Play the role of kissing cousins with Respect to Your Studio Politics Observation.)

  Its A SIN that Phoenix had Not Won Squat Prior to Joker.

There is no such thing as "the Academy" as if this is one entity - instead it is groups of various individuals;   E.g.   different people vote in each Oscar category.

 

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2 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Different acting styles.

From 1963:

Sidney Poitier for LILIES IN THE FIELD

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 2.06.15 PM

Or Patricia Neal for HUD

Screen Shot 2021-10-09 at 2.03.41 PM

I'd pick Neal whom I consider a more technically polished performer than Poitier.

***

From 1969:

John Wayne for TRUE GRIT

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 3.56.05 PM.jpeg

Or Maggie Smith for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE

32M6tbEMQpSm8qhkyQcPgg_thumb_4ec.jpg

I'd pick Smith. How about you?

From 1963: Sidney Poitier for LILIES IN THE FIELD

My choice: Richard Harris, THIS SPORTING LIFE

 

From 1969: Maggie Smith for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE

My choice:  Maggie Smith for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE

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38 minutes ago, JamesJazGuitar said:

There is no such thing as "the Academy" as if this is one entity - instead it is groups of various individuals;   E.g.   different people vote in each Oscar category.

What would be interesting I think, is if we could find out how many votes or what percentage of the votes a winner received. Like if Loretta Young & Rosalind Russell had been neck-and-neck in the 1947 vote for Best Actress. Then compare that with how well Ronald Colman did in the Best Actor category. Did he win by a landslide, or was he just a few votes ahead of John Garfield, Gregory Peck, Michael Redgrave and William Powell? That sort of thing. Etc.

I'd like to know if someone ever won by just one vote.

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Okay I mentioned Hepburn & Streisand earlier. There was another tie...in 1931/32.

So who was the best out of these three:

Fredric March for DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931)

Screen Shot 2021-01-17 at 6.01.18 PM

Wallace Beery for THE CHAMP (1931)

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 3.05.51 PM.jpeg

Or Helen Hayes for THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET (1931)

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 5.28.14 PM.jpeg

I'd pick March, though Beery gives a fine performance. Hayes is quite good too. 

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"For me, the easiest choices are in 1952, 1956, and 1966, because in each case one of the actors involved had already won a Tony Award for playing the same role for many years onstage: Shirley Booth, Yul Brynner, and Paul Scofield.  I'm probably in the minority on this point, but I view that as a sort of "double-dipping" that puts fellow film nominees (who don't have the same luxury of extensive immersion in, preparation of, and performance of a role) at an unfair disadvantage. ...."

=================================

-thanks,  Fausterlitz

& Totally agree

:)

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42 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

What would be interesting I think, is if we could find out how many votes or what percentage of the votes a winner received.

I'd like to know if someone ever won by just one vote.

I wrote an answer on quora.com last year that relates both to this question, and to the 1931/32 year you just mentioned:

"The individual voting used to be publicly announced, but this was changed in 1935 when Price Waterhouse took over the accounting process.

Interestingly, the first and only time there was a tie in the Best Actor category (1931–32), the two winners didn’t actually receive the same number of votes. Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Wallace Beery (The Champ) were both declared winners, even though March had actually received one more vote than Beery. This is because the rules at the time stipulated that anyone who came within three votes of winning would also receive the same award.

The only time there was a tie in the Best Actress category (1968), both actresses received exactly 3,030 votes: Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl). (Presumably the actual numbers were released in this case partly in order to verify the integrity of the process, but also because doing so didn’t materially “give anything away.”) Of course, by then the “three votes fewer is close enough” rule had long since been changed, so a genuine tie had become even more difficult to achieve.

It’s safe to assume that actors nearly always vote for themselves when they are nominated. Which means that if either March or Beery had somehow failed to do so, they would still both have won an Oscar. But if either Hepburn or Streisand had failed to do so, one of them would not."

So far I haven't been able to find any public record of the pre-1935 vote totals, but it must exist online somewhere. 

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6 minutes ago, Fausterlitz said:

I wrote an answer on quora.com last year that relates both to this question, and to the 1931/32 year you just mentioned:

"The individual voting used to be publicly announced, but this was changed in 1935 when Price Waterhouse took over the accounting process.

Interestingly, the first and only time there was a tie in the Best Actor category (1931–32), the two winners didn’t actually receive the same number of votes. Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Wallace Beery (The Champ) were both declared winners, even though March had actually received one more vote than Beery. This is because the rules at the time stipulated that anyone who came within three votes of winning would also receive the same award.

The only time there was a tie in the Best Actress category (1968), both actresses received exactly 3,030 votes: Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl). (Presumably the actual numbers were released in this case partly in order to verify the integrity of the process, but also because doing so didn’t materially “give anything away.”) Of course, by then the “three votes fewer is close enough” rule had long since been changed, so a genuine tie had become even more difficult to achieve.

It’s safe to assume that actors nearly always vote for themselves when they are nominated. Which means that if either March or Beery had somehow failed to do so, they would still both have won an Oscar. But if either Hepburn or Streisand had failed to do so, one of them would not."

So far I haven't been able to find any public record of the pre-1935 vote totals, but it must exist online somewhere. 

Thanks. Excellent post.

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22 minutes ago, Fausterlitz said:

I wrote an answer on quora.com last year that relates both to this question, and to the 1931/32 year you just mentioned:

"The individual voting used to be publicly announced, but this was changed in 1935 when Price Waterhouse took over the accounting process.

Interestingly, the first and only time there was a tie in the Best Actor category (1931–32), the two winners didn’t actually receive the same number of votes. Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and Wallace Beery (The Champ) were both declared winners, even though March had actually received one more vote than Beery. This is because the rules at the time stipulated that anyone who came within three votes of winning would also receive the same award.

The only time there was a tie in the Best Actress category (1968), both actresses received exactly 3,030 votes: Katharine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl). (Presumably the actual numbers were released in this case partly in order to verify the integrity of the process, but also because doing so didn’t materially “give anything away.”) Of course, by then the “three votes fewer is close enough” rule had long since been changed, so a genuine tie had become even more difficult to achieve.

It’s safe to assume that actors nearly always vote for themselves when they are nominated. Which means that if either March or Beery had somehow failed to do so, they would still both have won an Oscar. But if either Hepburn or Streisand had failed to do so, one of them would not."

So far I haven't been able to find any public record of the pre-1935 vote totals, but it must exist online somewhere. 

So do the men and women vote for each other, or do they just vote for the nominees in their particular category?

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Well, the current rules are that all actors + actresses may vote in any and all acting categories.  Not sure whether that has always been the case.  The nominating process, at least, was much less democratic in the early years, and there were many fewer voters involved.  The first year, for example,

"Each Academy member would cast one nominating vote in his branch. Period. Then a Board of Judges from each branch would count the votes and determine the nominations, turning them over to a Central Board of Judges. This Central Board was comprised of one representative from each branch and these five people would pick the Academy Award winners." [from Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona]

I believe the term "actors branch" was always meant to include both actors and actresses, so the phrase "one nominating vote in his branch. Period." in the above quote is unfortunately somewhat ambiguous.

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I am thinking direct competition between the genders isn't necessarily impossible, as modern culture seems to be largely eliminating the term "actress", and I believe the Oscar categories now refer to "Best Leading Performance by  a Male Actor" and "Best Leading Performance by a Female Actor" or their supporting category equivalents. it's certainly not impossible to assume in the near future gender distinctions will be irrelevant. I probably run the risk of speaking of "the Academy" in general as being stupid, observing JamesJazzGuitar's earlier post, but let's say "That portion of the Academy responsible for voting for the acting categories'> 

As for my personal picks, I will follow the lead of Det. Jim McLeod and go only with the years I've seen the performances of both.  In most instances, I must confess, I'm relying on the movie I'd rather watch again right now rather than on the merits of the individual performance, though those are often important contributors to a movie.

1941 - Boy, it's a relatively big yawn for either for me. Cooper's "aw, shucks" personality taken to its hillbilly extreme and Fontaine's passivity the same. I think the energy Fontaine carried over from Rebecca would make me give the slight preference to her. 

1943 - Hmmmm. This year is another head-scratcher. Jones' performance is earnest if a bit wearying in its sincerity. She was a new screen presence, and I can understand the Academy being overwhelmed with her charm, much like they were with Audrey Hepburn 10 years later. Lucas was a character actor suddenly thrust into a leading role, and somehow managed to get the winning vote over Humphrey Bogart's greatest performance of all time in CasablancaI think the injustice in the male category would tend to make me vote for Jones, though I find both movies hard watches, Vincent Price's delightful performance in Bernadette aside.

1948 - Wow, this is a hard one, given the very different nature of the movies. I saw Johnny Belinda for I think the second time ever earlier this year on TCM, and I've also seen Hamlet multiple times but probably not for 30 years. I think in the latter I probably admire Olivier the director more than the actor, and so, I will once again  cast my vote for the female performance. 

1952 - Oh, man, Shirley Booth is really a performer who grates on my nerves as I've mentioned in several previous threads. Extremely easy for me to see why Burt Lancaster was drawn to the idea of infidelity in this movie. High Noon is a great movie, though stone-face Cooper doesn't give my favorite performance of his in this one, either. But my intense dislike for the Booth performance makes me give the edge for the first time to the male actor in this one.

1956 - Another hard pick, since Yul Brynner was in both movies, and I think it was one of those years when an actor's win came for more performances than he/she was able to nominated for. But I find The King and I sort of long, drawn out and boring. Anastasia has more intrigue to it, and I love that long extended scene where we wait to see whether the two leads will end up in each other's rooms by the end of the night. Ingrid certainly deserved to win for something, so I'll go with her.

Okay, all I can do tonight. Perhaps I will pick this up tomorrow.

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, JamesJazGuitar said:

There is no such thing as "the Academy" as if this is one entity - instead it is groups of various individuals;   E.g.   different people vote in each Oscar category.

 

Well. Im Not Trying to be a Pompous Prickle Porcupine Here, but; that is also the jist of what is meant.

Be That As It May; Regardless of if .. such an "Institution" Solely Encompasses One Entity or if it is made of smaller principalities.. While (This is) Not Neccesarily a Guarantee, the groups of various individuals "within" each respective Oscar Genre can still be a Fickle, Biased, (and Blind) Lot.

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