I remember an amazing year for the Best Actor category of the Academy Awards: 1983. There were four actors nominated from the UK and one from the US. And, of course, the American actor won. But that’s not important. There were three English actors: Michael Caine (Educating Rita), Tom Courtenay (The Dresser), and Albert Finney (The Dresser). One from Scotland: Tom Conti (Reuben, Reuben). And the one from America was Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies).
Caine is the curious one on this list, because I can’t remember ever thinking he was particularly good. That isn’t to say I don’t like him; there are lots of good Caine movies: Zulu, The Italian Job, and Sleuth come easily to mind. But is he really all that good? I doubt it. But the only proof I can provide is that he’s won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars: the first for his insipid performance in Hannah and Her Sisters, and the second for The Cider House Rules—apparently for finally being able to do an American accent in an American film. Certainly, Caine’s acting in Educating Rita was nothing special. He has an annoying tendency to over-play drunks. Enough already!
Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney show off just what the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art can do with a lot of talent. (Caine didn’t go.) Their performances in The Dresser are as riveting today as they were when I saw them almost 30 years ago on the big screen. But that’s the thing about great acting, there isn’t a lot to say about it.
Much the same can be said for 1983’s winner: Robert Duvall. He’s more or less untrained, but in America, that’s generally a good thing given the pernicious effect of the Actors Studio on the likes of Robert De Niro (even if there are Actors Studio graduates I like, such as Eli Wallach). However, I hardly think that his work on Tender Mercies is even close to his best work. Whatever.
I’ve left Tom Conti to the end, not because his performance was great or that he is a particularly good actor—he is not. Like Michael Caine, I enjoy watching Conti on film. He was trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, but he doesn’t seem to have much depth. In Reuben, Reuben his performance is nuanced, but again like Caine, his drunkenness is over-played, if not nearly so badly.
The reason I’ve left Conti to the end is that I’ve just found out that he is the father of Nina Conti, the wonderful ventriloquist in the mostly awful For Your Consideration—the film that shows what a sham the Academy Awards are. Nina Conti’s stand-up doesn’t have any more depth than her father’s acting, but it isn’t supposed to. The main thing is that, like her father but more so, she is funny.
 I’m referring to the 1972 version with Laurence Olivier. I have nothing for or against the 2007 version, except that I haven’t yet seen it.
 De Niro is a very good actor, but limited. He is the perfect example of what a lot of talent added to Lee Strasberg’s ideas can do. Imagine if De Niro had been trained in England.