Depending on which film nerd you talk to, the greatest travesty of the 1980 Academy Awards is that Ordinary People beat out Raging Bull for Best Picture. In hindsight, there are people who argue that it was a mistake of getting caught up in the movie of the moment versus a more daring all-time classic.
I’m just gonna put this out there. I don’t like boxing movies, I don’t really like Scorsese movies, and Ordinary People is one of the ten best movies I have ever seen. So my biases are right out in the open when I say what I am about to say:
The biggest travesty of the 1980 Academy Awards is not Raging Bull losing Best Picture. It is the fact Donald Sutherland wasn’t even nominated for Best Actor even though he is the most important part of Ordinary People.
If you’re not familiar with the movie, Ordinary People deals with a family trying to cope with the loss of a son and the attempted suicide of their remaining son. It is a beautifully crafted, understated story of how grief can completely wreck a family, how being the one who survived is oftentimes just as horrific as dying young, and how much we all put on facades, claiming to be ordinary people, even though all of us are a giant mess.
The movie earned three acting nominations and one win. Newcomer Timothy Hutton won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the juicy part of Conrad, the suicidal son struggling with survivor’s syndrome. He gets the flashy part. Sure, there are times Con is guarded, but he breaks down in the therapist’s office, he fights with his mom. It is a great performance, but it is great in a very obvious way.
Judd Hirsch got a Supporting Actor nod for doing the chunky-sweater wearing unconventional “it’s not your fault” thing 17 years before Robin Williams did in Good Will Hunting. He is also great, but has some great lines and serves as Hutton’s primary sparring partner.
And then there is Mary Tyler Moore, who I think we all know I idolize, but she has it easiest of all because all she really has to do is play against type. Instead of being the human embodiment of spunk, she is cold, hard, and shrewish, but can put on that fake Mary Richards sheen with a moment’s notice.
The toughest role is Sutherland’s, the father who is torn between trying to keep his marriage stable, grieving over a lost son, and absolutely flummoxed as to how he can keep his remaining son not only alive, but in a state that doesn’t include rampant depression, self-doubt, and anxiety. He is the unnoticed cement holding the Yellow Brick Road together. While everyone else gets to act out, his whole role is about what he keeps in. He visits the therapist, but remains calm and controlled. Even his final beautiful scene with his wife at the crack of Dawn, Sutherland barely changes his timbre (and his voice is the best in Hollywood), but in every word, every blink, every pause, he is conveying an unparalleled grief.
And he is the one left outside looking in because he doesn’t even get nominated. I am guessing it is a politics problem. The producers know no one is beating De Niro’s bombastic performance as Jake LaMotta, so they take the real lead of the film, Hutton, and shuttle him into the Supporting Actor category. Sutherland has around the same amount of screen time, but you can’t really pitch him as Best Actor.
Sutherland has a lot of incredible roles, but his role as Calvin in Ordinary People is far and away his best. Some prefer his turn in Klute or Never Look Back. Fans of his comedic chops cite Animal House or M*A*S*H*. He even can take a part that doesn’t even have a name, the mysterious and Deep Throat-esque Mr. X in Oliver Stone’s JFK, where he has the unenviable task of basically delivering a six-minute solely expositional monologue where all he does is spout out somewhere in the vicinity of 100 important facts about the day JFK was shot and yet it is probably the most compelling performance of the whole movie. You hang on his every word, in part because he just has that amazing voice and because he can take the most mundane thing and make it utterly and completely fascinating.
Which brings me to my problem: We have not only never given Donald Sutherland an Academy Award. We’ve never even NOMINATED him for one. So, I have a proposition, and it is gonna sound ridiculous, I know, but bear with me:
We need to nominate Sutherland for his performance as President Snow in the fourth and final installment of The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 2. As an Oscar lover and film purist, I would normally be against giving anything with a title as stupid as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 a major Oscar, but the thing is we are running out of time. The man is 80. Let that sink in. He won’t be making films that much longer. Moreover, 2015 is turning out to be a particularly weak year for movies and the Supporting Actor category is basically gonna be Mark Rylance (who will win) Mark Ruffalo and/or Keaton for Spotlight (and they will cancel each other out), someone from The Big Short maybe and we are really going to give the token sentimental spot to Sylvester Stallone for playing Rocky Balboa for the *seventh* time?
Lionsgate, find some money, place some Hollywood Reporter ads, and get Donald Sutherland the Oscar nomination he deserves. This is a year where we are seriously talking about another movie with a colon, Mad Max: Fury Road, getting a Best Picture nod. It is a weak year, he gives a stellar turn with less than stellar material, and we may not get another chance to right a wrong way worse than Ordinary People beating Raging Bull.
You can hear me rant about the underappreciated Donald Sutherland in the second episode of my new podcast adventure, Beg to Differ with Matt Matros. Even if you don’t want to hear our discussion of Mockingjay, if you are a fan of YA literature, Matt and my former college roommate Heather Demetrios talk about her acclaimed book I’ll Meet You There and how YA has taken the world by storm. The pod is embedded below with time stamps if you want to jump to some parts over others.
0:30: You can follow Heather on Twitter @HDemetrios or check her out at www.heatherdemetrios.com. Here are her mentions on Bustle and Barnes and Noble. You can check out I’ll Meet You There on Amazon as well.
6:00 More on the Live Your What Scholarship
7:00 What is YA? Who is reading it? Why is it so popular for adults?
12:30 Cursing, sex, and what is appropriate and inappropriate in YA books?
15:00 Young Writing Workshops discussion
21:15 YA novels and how brutally honest they should be, particularly The Hunger Games trilogy
25:45 Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
31:30 We are about to talk about both the book Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. If you haven’t read and don’t want it spoiled, tap out now.
34:00 Okay, seriously, this is your last chance, tap out now or the spoilers are on you.
36:00 The problems of translating a book to a movie
39:00 The specific issues of translating the Hunger Games trilogy into movies
40:30 The treatment of Gale specifically
43:00 The treatment of the suicide bomber/Coming to the Tree scene in Mockingjay Part 1
45:00 Why are parents okay with kids reading this violent stuff and dealing with adult themes verses not watching them on TV and in movies? Are they okay? How do they come to this decision?
46:30 How the MPAA rates movies. Here is a good discussion from Entertainment Weekly on why this is a problematic movie. If you are interested in more absurdities of the MPAA, Jess highly recommends the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
50:00 Battle Royale is currently available on Netflix. You’ll notice it is NR, which means “not rated”
52:00 Mockingjay Part 2 sewer scene. These are what the Mockingjay lizard people look like. This is what the monsters in The Descent look like. Why are we sacrificing thematic moments in this movie for horror movie violence?
56:00 How the movie handles Primm’s death
60:00 Dealing with not having Phillip Seymour Hoffman available for the last film
63:00 The great casting of The Hunger Games
65:00 Jess hops on her Donald Sutherland soap box. Not only has this guy not won an Oscar, he has never even been nominated. People. We live in a world where Jonah Hill has been nominated twice. Someone who competed on American Idol won an Oscar and we’ve never even nominated this man for anything. If you do want to see more, Jess recommends Ordinary People while Matt would suggest Don’t Look Now.
68:00 The future for Hunger Games movies. Here is the article Matt references. And here is more info on the Mary Poppins sequel.
One thought on “Oscars, Donald Sutherland, YA, and Podcasts”
Your writing has certainly got me hankerin’ to see Ordinary People again! That was a powerful movie. So, to whom does one address a campaign to get an Oscar for Sutherland? Thanks for your writing. Love,