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Who said may the best person win?

March 22, 2003

For every effusive winner clutching his or her Oscar on Sunday night

and thanking everyone he or she came in contact with since

kindergarten while trying to avoid a Halle Berry meltdown, there are

four other nominees in the audience who will be wondering just what

they did wrong.

Well, for the most part, probably nothing. No one ever said the

true best actor or actress walks off with the statuette. Consider the

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litany of losers -- I really dislike that term; let's make it

non-winners -- who are very good company.

Many cineastes consider "Citizen Kane" to be the best motion

picture ever made. Funny, you won't find it on the list of Oscar

winners, nor its actor-director, Orson Welles, who captured Hollywood

in his mid-20s just before World War II.

I personally favor "The Last Picture Show" for that designation.

That's not on Oscar's honor roll, either. Peter Bogdanovich's early

masterpiece lost out to the cop caper "The French Connection" in one

of the more blatant miscarriages of Oscar-related justice.

On Sunday, they'll present actor Peter O'Toole with a lifetime

achievement award. After seven nominations and no wins, that's the

very least they could do. But another great actor, Richard Burton,

also went 0 for 7 and died without receiving any recognition.

Next year, before it's too late, the academy should give another

lifetime achievement trophy for one of Hollywood's best actors who

also never got the big O -- Richard Widmark. From "Kiss of Death" to

"Take the High Ground" and "Judgment at Nuremberg," Widmark has

etched an illustrious, though un-Oscared, career.

In a Hollywood where Burton, Widmark and O'Toole have heretofore

gone unrecognized while John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Gary Cooper

(twice) have stepped to the podium, the academy voters have a lot to

answer for. But sometimes, they do manage to correct their earlier

misjudgments.

Elizabeth Taylor, for instance, delivered brilliant performances

in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Suddenly Last Summer," both of which

went unrewarded at Oscar time. Then a lesser vehicle called

"Butterfield 8" broke the jinx, and a stellar turn in "Who's Afraid

of Virginia Woolf?" produced a second statuette.

Rod Steiger turned in probably the greatest un-Oscared performance

of all time in "The Pawnbroker," but lost out to -- no kidding --

Marvin's tipsy gunslinger in "Cat Ballou." Thankfully, Steiger got

his due a couple of years later for his redneck police chief in "In

the Heat of the Night."

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