It’s fun to vote — whether for president or for the Oscar.
But this year, I was disappointed to see that most of the leading contenders were about greed, crooked swindlers, “dirty tricks,” deception and brutal aggression.
Oh, I wasn’t “shocked, shocked” — I’ve been in the business since my first Broadway show in 1955. But I wondered if this year’s Academy Awards nominees were the best we had to offer.
Actors are less impressed with the bravura heroics in films like “Captain Phillips” or extravagant sex and drugs in “American Hustle” and “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Restraint and inner turmoil is so much harder to act.
That’s why I cast my vote for Best Supporting Actor for Jared Leto of “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” who created a character who met the challenge of living — and dying — with an original sensibility.
When I reached the category of Best Supporting Actress I was ambushed by a common actor’s problem: suddenly, there was one of my friends up there on the screen!
Nominee June Squibb of “Nebraska” and I shared taxi rides to auditions, had joyous drinks over successes and wiped tears away over disasters. We were two young, good-looking blondes who at one point played two of the strippers in Ethel Merman’s 1959 Broadway show “Gypsy.”
Now there she was, up for an Oscar for “Nebraska” and I looked at her gray wig, dowdy dress, her apron and funny shoes and I couldn’t help but giggle.
Yes, of course I voted for her.
It’s easier to vote for the Tonys than the Oscars. Stage actors are alone out there without a net. In a film, you do your work with the director, crew, script, makeup and assorted strangers all crowding about. The category Best Actress should be called Best Concentration in the Midst of Chaos.
That’s why I succumbed to another vote for Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County.” Again and again, she maintains the cool steel of a chess champion but still seems human and vulnerable.
Cate Blanchett gave a similar, accomplished performance in “Blue Jasmine,” but seeing how director Woody Allen simply “swiped” “A Streetcar Named Desire” was jarring to me.
Having originated parts in three plays by and with playwright Tennessee Williams, I kept imagining him looking at the pseudo-plagiarism with his usual friendly but manic grimace and hearing his weary, non-committal “Heh, heh, heh.”
Now, I didn’t actually cast a ballot for “Best Actor.” You can vote for all the categories or only one.
But looking back, if I had cast a vote it would have been for Chiwetel Ejiofor for his performance in “12 Years a Slave.”
Why? Well, all the other nominated actors — Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey — were too alike in their performances.
Men love to play heroic roles. It’s all about posturing and using a big voice. They feel good doing it, but it doesn’t really mean anything to the viewer.
But Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance was different. It was just so human. It really wrings your heart and reaches everybody. His performance was restrained and not at all clichéd.
Now for the so-called “big one” — the award for “Best Picture.”
One must admire “Gravity’s” technical wizardry as well as actress Sandra Bullock’s ability to endure discomfort.
But I voted for “12 Years a Slave.”
At the very least, it makes us think. And with a black president in the White House and protesters at its fence-rail waving Confederate flags, thinking might not be a waste of time.
Editor’s note: Ms. Murray, 89, is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Also a theater actress, she won a “Best Supporting Actress” in 1967 for her performance as “Fraulein Kost” in the original Broadway production of Cabaret. A founding member of Greenport’s Northeast Stage, she lives in Southold.