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Best Actor Oscars Bracket Game: Clark Gable vs James Stewart

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There have been some truly legendary and some sadly under appreciated performers to be named Best Actor at the yearly Oscars party. Which is which? With the 87th annual Academy Awards ceremony approaching later this month, we here at LeBlog thought we’d start up another of our popular bracket contests to throw a little attention at some of these great performances. There are only 16 available slots in these things, while there have been 86 Best Actor designees so far, leaving 70 acting greats on the outside looking in from the beginning. That’s some pretty brutal math. I tried to represent the entire history of the award by including at least two actors from each of the last eight decades and pairing those up in the first round. That will almost certainly result in some stunning early exits, but that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Today’s inaugural match up pits the only two first round combatants whose wins came in different decades. After taking a good look at what the 30s and 40s had to offer, I had a hard time thinking your interest would be held if I expanded the representation from those decades. Such a move would have made it necessary to compress the last 15 years into one category, with just 2 winners in our game. So…our 30s/40s donnybrook pits Clark Gable’s turn in 1934’s It Happened One Night against Jimmy Stewart’s performance in 1940’s The Philadelphia Story.

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When was the last time you saw a Best Actor winner from a crowd-pleasing rom com? Well that’s what we’ve got in both contestants here. Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night is often cited as the blueprint for many romantic comedies to come, and it managed to not just take home the Oscar for Gable, but also for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and for his co-star Claudette Colbert. To this day it holds down a 98% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences at the time were thrilled and scandalized when the pair of unmarried characters were forced to spend the night in the same motel room.

Legend says that after Gable’s bare-chested display, the sales of undershirts declined steeply!

George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story made use of the popular story device of having divorced characters flirt with other possible partners as well as one another. This approach allowed writers to side-step the production code which put the kibosh on extramarital affairs in films. It was purchased by Katherine Hepburn from its successful stage run for her big comeback after several flops had led to her being labeled as “box office poison.” When it came time for the Oscars, however, it was one of her A-list leading men, Jimmy Stewart, who brought home the gold. Stewart was reportedly uncomfortable with his own performance and had planned to skip the awards ceremony, but was influenced by others to appear anyway.

It’s interesting what a long run on the stage can do for dialogue. We don’t get much to rival this.

So you decide! Which of your grandparents’ favorite rom com leading men gets to move forward on our bracket?

Come back tomorrow to find out who won and vote on who else should proceed! In the meantime, feel free to comment on the topic below!

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Posted on February 11, 2015, in Awards, bracket game, comedy, Movies, Oscars, poll and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Clark Gable this round, but, wow, Daffy! These are ALL tough matchups!! Let the games begin!!

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    • They are tough match-ups, and the second round could give us DeNiro v Nicholson or Hoffman v Brando. Very tough indeed! It will be interesting to find out how our readers feel about the different performances represented here.

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  2. I saw It Happened One Night in college. It couldn’t help but disappoint. After all the years of build-up, it was pretty standard fare. Of course that happens because the movie set the standard in 1934. But after watching decades of rom coms follow that pattern, It Happened One Night didn’t have much to offer.

    You could probably say the same thing about The Philadelphia Story. But it holds up better for me. Is it because it stars three of my all-time favorite actors? That may have something to do with it. I actually prefer Grant and Hepburn in the screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby. But The Philadelphia Story is also a classic.

    So Stewart vs. Gable. If I’m being honest, my vote has less to do with the particular Oscar-winning performances than which actor I prefer overall. See, I’m thinking like an Academy voter! I’ll take Jimmy Stewart over Clark Gable every time.

    I am actually surprised Stewart got nominated in the Best Actor category for this movie. From my recollection, Grant is the lead. Stewart’s role is sizable but I would consider it a supporting role.

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    • That happens sometimes. The one that stands out is Peter Finch in Network. That is most decidedly a supporting role, but it is the most memorable character in the film, so it got nominated in, and won, the Best Actor category. With small screen time counting against him, I had to go elsewhere for my representatives of the 70s.

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      • To be honest, I always thought Network was over-rated. That’s another case where seeing the movie after decades of hype raised my expectations through the roof. It couldn’t help but underwhelm.

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        • I might have been one of those over-selling it to you. It is perhaps the most prescient piece of filmmaking ever produced and it boasts big laughs along with thrilling acting and fascinating ideas. Network is just my kind of flick. It absolutely should have beaten Rocky. Or Taxi Driver should have. I feel like the smart films cancelled each other out that year.

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        • We hadn’t met when I saw it, so you’re off the hook. 😉

          It may be time for me to revisit Network with lowered expectations. I was expecting some witty satiric look at the media. Instead, I got a pretty sexist movie with old men yelling about how great things used to be. There really wasn’t anything about Network that connected with me the first time around and I haven’t been able to force myself to sit through it a second time.

          Film critic Nathan Rabin eviscerated Network while he was writing at the AV Club. He had a similar reaction upon viewing it the first time. Then he reappraised it at The Dissolve and liked it quite a bit better. Maybe I would have a similar reaction the second time around. But man, that first viewing was a crushing disappointment.

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        • I do find that sometimes my own expectations can undermine enjoying what a film actually is. On my first viewing of Network I had a hard time navigating the shifts in tone, even though I knew there were parts of the film I was really enjoying. Knowing the plot and knowing when to expect those shifts on following viewings has allowed me to really dig in to its charms. It still gives me chills.

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  3. Personally, I’m a big fan of “Network”, but I viewed it (borrowed from a friend in 1998, recorded it for myself in 2001) with a blank slate. I also think Faye Dunaway was one of the best actresses of the 1970’s (top three, no worse). In general, I feel the 1970’s were an awesome decade for film.

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  4. Network has always been on my to-do list, and agreed both on Dunaway and 70s cinema. There was amazing creativity. There was also substance inspired creations, and sometimes the 2 circles overlapped a bit.

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    • As an actor learning my craft in the late 80s-early 90s, a huge number of the actors and performances my peers and I revered were from the 70s. It was indeed a golden age of gritty modern realism.

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    • Dunaway’s character was one of my problems with the movie. She’s the only major female character and she is portrayed as a harpy from hell who represents everything wrong with the world. Dunaway nails the part perhaps too effectively.

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      • The character is a symbol of a particular way of doing things. You have to know and accept that to parse the film. Beatrice Strait’s big scene as the other end of the spectrum was so relieving to some Academy members that the tiny role was handed the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

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        • I rewatched that scene.

          It doesn’t do a lot to change my view that the movie is kind of sexist. I wouldn’t call it a counterpoint to Dunaway’s character.

          That dialogue is pretty painful. I keep coming back to this bellyaching middle aged white guy. He doesn’t get my sympathy. Maybe it’s not time to revisit Network yet…

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        • It is a certain style that is not intended to be realistic to its bone, but to paste realistic behaviors onto what is clearly symbolic and argumentative scenes on the script’s ideas. Strait’s character fills exactly the role described for her in the scene, but she herself is a real person. It is why the film works for me beyond what could be just really strong satire. The movie’s black heart has real victims. It reminds me of some of Stoppard’s scripts.

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      • She isn’t Mommie Dearest. I actually spent some time with her one afternoon, and she is a sweetheart. Yeah, I’m nobody. yeah, this doesn’t make sense, but it happened. I got to spend some time in conversation with her, one day, some years ago, we even touched on the acting styles of DeNiro and Pacino. It was a dream come true that an insignificant person like me would be in this conversation with Faye Dunaway discussing whether Pacino or DeNiro would be best suited for her latest project. Dunaway was articulate, gracious, charming and overall just amazing.

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  5. As someone else said in an earlier comment, voting in a poll like this, it’s very hard not to vote based on the whole of an actor’s career, as opposed to their performance in a single film that you may not have seen for several years. So I have no hesitation in voting for James Stewart, who of all the major leading men of his era probably displayed the greatest range as an actor, able to move from generally likable comedy protagonists (like in The Philadelphia Story) to the tormented souls he played in his Westerns with Anthony Mann.

    Stewart himself was a bit surprised at his Oscar win for The Philadelphia Story–he apparently felt it was sort of a “consolation prize” for his not winning the year before for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

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    • If these brackets were based on overall careers then James Stewart would win my vote all the way down the line. What can I say, Stewart is among the all-time greats. If this is based on individual performances, this could go any which way. I’ll be interested in seeing how this all plays out, as this bracket is filled with heavyweights. If I look beyond my personal favorites then I’m not even sure if there’s an obvious frontrunner here.

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