TORONTO: Michael Caine, ‘Harry Brown’ and Oscar

Posted by · 1:03 pm · September 16th, 2009

Michael Caine in Harry BrownMichael Caine has won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor twice, the first time for his performance in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,”and the second for Lasse Hallström’s “The Cider House Rules.”  Among others, he ousted Tom Cruises’s brilliant performance in “Magnolia” with the latter.

Beloved within the business, Caine is considered an old war horse who has made as many bad movies as he has good ones (I think I’m being very fair), and it is my belief the Academy would like nothing more than to finally recognize his work as a leading man. He has been nominated in the past for “Alfie,” “Slueth,” “Educating Rita” and “The Quiet American,” but he’s never won in the category.

Let me be clear: SO WHAT?

The man has two Academy Awards on his mantle — two — while many other actors are still waiting for their first (and in some cases, many still await their first nod).  Why is it that every time Caine makes a film that is reasonably good and he offers a typically fine performance, people start talking Oscar? Personally, if I were Caine, I would find it a tad demeaning.

He is here with his new picture “Harry Brown” (**), a dark and winding film in which the actor has a good role as a man pushed to revenge by circumstances beyond his control. I was reminded of “Gran Torino” while watching the film, though Caine does not conjure up the same sort of fear or toughness as Clint Eastwood.  He can still be a frightening character. Remember his Mortwell in “Mona Lisa?”  Chilling, just freaking scary, but none of that menace is visible in this performance.

From the moment the film was announced as a TIFF title, buzz started swirling around Caine as a Best Actor candidate, and after seeing the film, I was surprised that such talk ever existed in the first place. It’s a good performance, but hardly vintage Caine. In fact, since seeing the film, this is the first time I have even thought about it. Best Actor? I doubt it, especially after the Academy so blatantly snubbed Eastwood last year!

This festival has been loaded with Best Actor prospects, but I am stating loud and clear, as much as I admire Caine, he is not among them.

“It’s all about the role,”Jack Nicholson has said.  “It doesn’t matter about the size, never has now, has it?”

Robert Duvall quite agrees, stating “the best parts are usually the supporting roles.”

Why this need to get Michael Caine a Best Actor Oscar? Let it go. If he gives a performance that knocks us on our collective asses, like Duvall in “Get Low,” then I will be the first to celebrate his work and scream for him to win an Academy Award. But come on, not for something ordinary that is not even among his best work.

And with all due respect to Mr. Caine, in 1986 Dennis Hopper gave a terrifying performance in “Blue Velvet” but was not nominated. That paved the way for Caine. The second Oscar I simply do not understand, for while his gentle doctor was a fine performance, it was not superior to either Cruise’s fire-breathing seminar speaker or even Haley Joel Osment’s hauntd chld.

I love Michael Caine, but he should not win an award because people think he is owed the damned thing.  The man was not nominated for his best work as Peachy in “The Man Who Would Be King” so why give him an Oscar for a lesser piece of work?  It compounds the problem.

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28 responses so far

  • 1 9-16-2009 at 1:07 pm

    Rob said...

    Caine is much, much better in “Harry Brown” than Duvall is in “Get Low.” Neither performance deserves award consideration though.

  • 2 9-16-2009 at 1:16 pm

    Marvin said...

    His 2nd Oscar should’ve been Jude Law’s for Ripley. I only just found out that Ozon has a new movie in Toronto. Have you seen it or heard any of it?

  • 3 9-16-2009 at 1:18 pm

    The Z said...

    While appreciate Cruise’s performance in “Magnolia,” let’s not forget that John Malkovich was ignored for his amazing portrayal of John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich.”


    I also agree with the Caine/Best Actor talk – his performance in “The Quiet American” (2002) was good, but not Best Actor nomination good. A few names come to mind who I feel should have been nominated in his place, but let’s not go down that “what if” road…

  • 4 9-16-2009 at 1:31 pm

    head_wizard said...

    I have no problem with Caine winning a best actor oscar but if should deserve it. I have seen very few make performances this year so am uncertain about my choice but I haven’t heard anything about Caine being great this year.

    But lets be honest there are a bunch of actors that we jump to the minute they are in something remotly baity. Daniel Day Lewis, Sean Penn, Morgan Freeman(who also doesn’t have a best actor oscar) Nothing unique about Caine really in that regard.

  • 5 9-16-2009 at 1:32 pm

    benito delicias said...

    Anybody who’s been paying attention should already know this….

    The reason why people always talk Oscar when Caine comes out with the lead role in a film might be because he’s been more vocal than anybody else about wanting a Lead Actor Oscar.

    He’s said it plenty of times. Maybe people want to support him and help the guy out, sadly with two Oscars already, I doubt it’ll ever happen.

    I do agree that he hasn’t deserved either one of his Oscars. Osment and Cruise for the second, I haven’t seen all the 86 nominees…

    (by the way, Hopper was nominated for Hoosiers that year, something that really surprised and annoyed him, as I’m sure happens to everybody…)

  • 6 9-16-2009 at 1:33 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Haley Joel Osment, John Malkovich, Jude Law, Peter Sarsgaard, Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer, Tom Cruise…damn, there were a LOT of outstanding supporting performances in 1999. Why did such a weak one end up winning?

    Bitching and moaning about Oscar injustice saside, Caine is a great actor, but I agree with John that this year seems a little crowded for him to vie for Best Actor yet again.

  • 7 9-16-2009 at 1:37 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    I agree with you Robert that he is a great actor, truly, but in no way should he be considered for an Oscar this year.

  • 8 9-16-2009 at 1:44 pm

    Patryk said...

    This is how I felt when Hollywood went batty over Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets.” Didn’t get it then, don’t get it now. Hopefully the searing work of Jeremy Renner won’t be squeezed out by a performance like this.

  • 9 9-16-2009 at 1:58 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Can’t see this faint Oscar talk going anywhere with a vehicle so reportedly weak. And I do think you exaggerate the situation slightly, John — Caine’s hardly stirred any awards buzz since his (quite reasonable, but utterly hopeless) Best Actor nod for “The Quiet American” 7 years ago.

    I’d prefer to read more of your thoughts on “Harry Brown,” even if you think it’s lousy.

  • 10 9-16-2009 at 2:06 pm

    benito delicias said...

    I love how so many people are saying negative things about Caine’s Oscar chances without seeing the movie….or any other movie this year for that matter…most of the best actor hopefuls haven’t even showed up yet in theaters….many probably haven’t even seen the not so great hurt locker or the overrated chances of jeremy renner…

  • 11 9-16-2009 at 2:47 pm

    billybil said...

    OK – this is what I’m gathering from reading Toronto reports here and elsewhere:

    Real Possible Best Actor Contenders:
    George Clooney Up in the Air
    Matt Damon The Informant
    Robert De Niro Everybody’s Fine
    Robert Duvall Get Low
    Colin Firth A Single Man
    Morgan Freeman Invictus (carry over from before)
    Viggo Mortensen The Road
    and, of course,
    Daniel Day-Lewis is still hovering out there

    Real Possible Best Actress Contenders:
    Annette Bening Mother
    Carey Muligan An Education
    Robin Wright Penn Lives of Pippa Lee
    Cataline Saavedra The Maid (could this actually happen?? Durbin from the NYT sure makes it sound like it should)
    Gabourey Sidibe Precious
    Charlize Theron The Burning Plain

    Maybe Meryl is not gonna make it this year?

    Gosh, I’d sure like to see the ladies above before Hilary Swank for Amelia.

    New REAL Possibility for Supporting Actress Nomination:
    Julianne Moore A Single Man

    4 Seeming “locks” on Supporting Actor Nominations:
    Christian McKay Me and Orson Welles
    Alfred Molina An Education
    Stanley Tucci The Lovely Bones
    Christoph Waltz Inglourious Basterds

  • 12 9-16-2009 at 3:07 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Cataline Saavedra doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance. Lovely performance, though.

    And I’m surprised by the resurgence of buzz for Robin Wright — she’s good in “Pippa Lee,” but I thought the film was DOA when I saw it in June.

  • 13 9-16-2009 at 3:15 pm

    Rob said...

    “Harry Brown” is NOT lousy. Conventional story-wise, yes, but very well-done. “Get Low,” on the other hand– I haven’t a clue what people are seeing in this aimless, sentimental ball of mediocrity.

  • 14 9-16-2009 at 3:44 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s the second time you’ve spoken out on Get Low, Rob, but it’s curious that you’re literally the only one who seems to be a detractor. Neither her nor there, just interesting.

  • 15 9-16-2009 at 3:57 pm

    Jim T said...

    1) What does DOA mean?

    2) Kris and Guy, God you’ve seen like more than half of this year’s films that are expected to be really good. Jealouuuus. It’s your job I know but still. :p

  • 16 9-16-2009 at 4:02 pm

    Chris said...

    I think Michael Caine is a terrific actor but for every year he has been nominated there has always been someone much better and someone much more deserving. If I had to pick a Best Actor/Supporting Actor for each year of the past 40+ years, I don’t think I would have given Caine an award for anything. Nominations certainly (Alfie, Sleuth, Hannah and Her Sisters), but no wins.

  • 17 9-16-2009 at 4:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Jim: DOA stands for “dead on arrival.” A non-starter, in other words.

  • 18 9-16-2009 at 4:22 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    By the way, of the 1986 nominees, I’d have given it to Caine by a mile. Obviously, I’d feel otherwise if Hopper had been nominated for the right performance, but that would have been such a reach for them.

    The “Cider House” win was embarrassing, though. I still have trouble choosing between Cruise and Law.

  • 19 9-16-2009 at 4:42 pm

    Bing147 said...

    Kris, just for the record, I know one person who is at TIFF and he was telling me the other night about what he’d seen and he told me he’d seen a really bad movie called Get Low but that Bill Murray was great in it. I was quite shocked with all the praise and sent him some links to coverage on it which shocked him a great deal. He couldn’t believe that anyone would talk about it for anything other than Murray.

  • 20 9-16-2009 at 4:45 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    Hard to say, in 1986 I may have chosen one of the Platoon boys, who were both amazing in the film (I’d give the edge to Willem Dafoe, even though Tom Berenger is also outstanding) but I’m glad Michael Caine won this Oscar, because I love his character in Hannah and Her Sisters. I am not a fan of Blue Velvet, at all, to be perfectly honest.

    I do think Caine is always a welcome presence. I think he’s like Morgan Freeman in the sense that there’s something very welcoming about him and we love him when we see him, even when the performance is unremarkable (that is, of course, when he plays a likable character). It’s one of the reasons why I think he was the right choice to play Alfred in the last few Batman films.

    I do think he was outstanding in Alfie and in Educating Rita. There’s a charm about him that is hard to resist. But, I do get tired of actors getting Oscar talk for every single role. This may be blasphemy, but I feel that way about maybe half of Meryl Streep’s nominations, like a poor actress who gave an amazing performance has to miss out just because they have to save a spot for Meryl Streep (like Sally Hawkins,or Michelle Williams or Kristin Scott Thomas last year). And, I agree with Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets. The more performances I see from that year, the more baffling it is that he was nominated and won.

  • 21 9-16-2009 at 5:11 pm

    Aaron said...

    I have not even heard of Harry Brown and its Oscar prospects until reading this post. Why are people seemingly beating the drum for him for something that is hardly well known, and judging from the sound of responses, a pretty big disappointment?

    I do like Michael Caine…at least I like him fine. He’s solid in mostly everything he does, but I’ve never really found him electrifying. As much as I hate Tom Cruise, his performance in Magnolia was outstanding and deserved the Oscar.

    I feel like the big actor push from Toronto will be Colin Firth from A Single Man. And I bet money that Julianne Moore will get a supporting actress nom for the same film as well.

  • 22 9-16-2009 at 6:15 pm

    Lev Lewis said...

    Having just seen “Get Low”, I’m going to have agree wholeheartedly with Rob. The very definition of middling filmmaking. Duvall and the whole film aren’t worthy of a single award.

  • 23 9-16-2009 at 8:05 pm

    Marshall1 said...

    Talking about last year, I actually think Gran Torino is one of the best movies, and Clint Eastwood really deserves a nom. Granted, it is a bit old-fashioned and heavy-handed, but there’s so much humor and joy in the movie mixed with some touching moments.

    I completely forgot about the Malkovich snub!! That movie was one of my top three favourite movies of all time.

  • 24 9-17-2009 at 1:12 am

    Hunter said...

    I think people are on the wrong track here. Caine’s Best Actor nod won’t be for Harry Brown but for the far more Academy-friendly (and much-seen and loved) Is Anybody There? – he’s already on Jeffrey Well’s shortlist.

  • 25 9-17-2009 at 1:34 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Whether “Is Anybody There?” was much-loved or not is up for discussion, but much-seen? You sure about that?

  • 26 9-17-2009 at 2:45 am

    Hunter said...

    Well, if you’re under thirty, you may not have.

  • 27 9-17-2009 at 4:27 am

    The Other James D. said...

    I just wanted to note that Dennis Hopper DID get a nomination in 1986…only for “Hoosiers”, the much safer and more Academy-friendly film. Despite that being sort of a collective nomination for both films, he was acknowledged.

    Me personally, if I were older than 4 months at the time, would’ve preferred to see Tom Berenger win for his riveting villain in “Platoon”, one of my all-time favorites.