Ranking Best Actor, 1960s edition

Marlon Brando receded in the decade when the studio system collapsed, replaced by corporate fealty to youth culture in all its forms even if it meant John Wayne and Kirk Douglas growing mutton chops. At the end the decade Bonnie and Clyde and Midnight Cowboy would scare the hell out of the geezers. Peter O’Toole became the hot young British actor, which meant Hollywood had to slip into sandals and robes. Close behind was Richard Burton, O’Toole’s co-star in the queer royal drama Becket (both actors know exactly what they’re doing), yet his two best film performances were in contemporary fare (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

I found more meh than terrible this decade among performances, with delighted, enthusiastic scorn for Cliff Robertson’s bat shit win and Anthony Quinn’s galumphing on the beach. Although it hurts to stick Sidney Poitier in the former, I can’t stomach Lilies of the Field and would’ve said the same in 1963. Of course I preferred the Poitier of No Way Out, A Raisin in the Sun, and In the Heat of the Night, even The Defiant Ones. Mark Harris’ seminal Pictures at a Revolution detailed the sense of tension within Poitier: how the pressure to play acceptable black men in the aftermath of Watts and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. led to an aesthetic breakdown.

The Hague

Cliff Robertson – Charly
Spencer Tracy – Inherit the Wind
Anthony Quinn – Zorba the Greek


Rex Harrison – My Fair Lady
Oskar Werner – Ship of Fools
Maximilian Schell – Judgment at Nuremberg
Sidney Poitier – Lilies of the Field
Spencer Tracy – Judgment at Nuremberg
Alan Arkin – The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
Steve McQueen – The Sand Pebbles
Peter O’Toole – Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Richard Harris – This Sporting Life

Sound, Solid Entertainments

Peter O’Toole – The Lion in Winter
Burt Lancaster – Birdman of Alcatraz
Rod Steiger – In the Heat of the Night
Albert Finney – Tom Jones
Paul Newman – The Hustler
Lee Marvin – Cat Ballou
Michael Caine – Alfie
Jack Lemmon – Days of Wine and Roses
Paul Scofield – A Man for All Seasons
Lawrence Olivier – Othello
Spencer Tracy – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Paul Newman – Cool Hand Luke
Marcello Mastrioanni – Divorce, Italian Style
Burt Lancaster – Elmer Gantry
Richard Burton – Anne of the Thousand Days
Rex Harrison – Cleopatra
Trevor Howard – Sons and Lovers
Dustin Hoffman – The Graduate
John Wayne – True Grit
Ron Moody – Oliver!
Peter O’Toole – Becket
Richard Burton – Becket
Gregory Peck – To Kill a Mockingbird

Good to Great

Peter O’Toole – Lawrence of Arabia
Jon Voight – Midnight Cowboy
Paul Newman – Hud
Warren Beatty – Bonnie and Clyde
Richard Burton – The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Jack Lemmon – The Apartment
Dustin Hoffman – Midnight Cowboy
Rod Steiger – The Pawnbroker
Peter Sellers – Dr. Strangelove
Richard Burton – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Lawrence Olivier – The Entertainer

The Jury’s Out

Stuart Whitman – The Mark
Charles Boyer – Fanny
Alan Bates – The Fixer
Alan Arkin – The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

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