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« Beauty Break: ASC Tributes + Best Cinematography Honors | Main | Linking Neverland »
Friday
Feb082019

Albert Finney (1936-2019)

by Nathaniel R

We had dreaded this day coming. Albert Finney has passed away at 82 years of age from a chest infection. He'd been battling health troubles for years, which is why the filmography abruptly ends at Skyfall (2012) but what a elegiac blockbuster of a swansong, yes? In recent years we'd repeatedly suggested him for an Honorary Oscar but the Academy rarely listens to our brilliant ideas. Instead he'll retain the sad distinction of being the second most-nominated male movie star never to have received a competitive OR honorary Oscar behind only Richard Burton (Character actor Arthur Kennedy was also nominated 5 times without a win, mostly in supporting, but he wasn't a headliner like Finney). But, as we've often said, awards aren't everything and cinematic legacy is far more crucial. And that, Albert Finney has. He will live on given that impressive filmography filled with rich performances.

Finney wasn't born to a family in showbusiness but was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the 'angry young man' and kitchen sink era of British filmmaking -- he reportedly disliked "snobbery" enough to turn down the British Knighthood the year of Erin Brockovich (2000). Despite humble origins he was a quick success as an actor landing his first professional gigs on stage and TV by the age of 19. At the age of 24 he was an immediate movie star... 

His star-making performance

He exploded to fame with his two very first features The Entertainer with Sir Laurence Olivier and Saturday Night Sunday Morning (1960) for which he won the BAFTA for "Most Promising Newcomer" and the NBR for Best Actor. A few years later he was Hollywood famous given the international success of the bawdy comedy / Best Picture winner Tom Jones (1963). He received his first well-deserved Oscar nomination and the Volpi Cup in Venice for his sly comic timing and dazzling charisma in the titular role.

"Two for the Road" with Audrey Hepburn

Erin Brockovich (2000) with Julia Roberts

The next two decades were filled with several more artistic or commercial hits though Finney preferred to stay out of the spotlight famously skipping awards ceremonies and not willing to campaign for prizes (which, come to think of it, might explain the lack of competitive or honorary Oscar love). His key successes in his most celebrated era include Two for the Road (1967), Scrooge (1970, Globe nomination), Gumshoe (1971, BAFTA nomination), Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Oscar nomination), Shoot the Moon (1982, BAFTA nomination), Annie (1982), The Dresser (1983, Oscar nomination) and Under the Volcano (1984, Oscar nomination). 

After his headlining days, his star faded as stars must in order to rise again with a "comeback". Finney's reputation soared again with his late-career superb work as Julia Roberts's boss in Erin Brockovich (2000) which he chased with Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Emmy wins for playing Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm (2002) and a well received performance in Tim Burton's Big Fish (2003,Globe nomination). We could go on but it's better to just point you at him in the hopes that you'll investigate the rich resume for yourself, should you have missed the highlights.

Here's to one of the true greats! 

 

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Reader Comments (31)

Beautiful write-up, Nathaniel. He was one of my favorites, too. Shoot the Moon is incomprehensibly underrated, and Under the Volcano is one of my favorite performances ever. So frustrating that Oscar didn't award him while there was still time.

February 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Finney was a God. The fact that he played so many different roles where he can play a bitter rich man who would have it all thanks to a little girl in a musical and then show the definition of BO$$ in this film clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgz-CKRzs-4

Thank you Albert for bringing us joy.

February 8, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I saw Tom Jones recently for the first time and he was great in it; sorry to hear of his passing.

February 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

Thanks for this lovely write-up.

A beloved British actor who had a big international impact.

Re: his awards, he wasn't just nominated for the Globe for Scrooge, he won it, and he won SAG for Erin Brockovich.

He's my favourite Poirot and he's neck and neck with Jack Nicholson for best male lead that year, in my opinion.

And yes, what charisma. My friend, hearing the news, called Finney a 'class act' and I think that's perfect.

R.I.P. Albert Finney.

February 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

One of the editors at Gold Derby said Finney told the Academy he would not attend any honorary ceremony. Since they're weirdly particular about giving citations to honorees who refuse to participate in the celebration that's why he never got one.

February 8, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Was saddened to hear of Finney's passing. I enjoyed many of his performances, most notably The Dresser. Wonderful filmography. RIP.

February 8, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

R.I.P my beloved uncle Ebenezer...

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthomas

I first knew him as Daddy Warbucks - we watched "Annie" 100+ times when I was growing up - but it was exciting to learn of his filmography and see how actually amazing he was. I'm glad he got a later career renaissance via "Erin Brockovich." RIP.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

One of the all time greats!
Came here to say basically exactly what @rebecca said, but also add how great he was in another late performance - Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. That film is a 5 star modern classic that seems to have been forgotten a bit.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJB

RIP Sir Tom Jones!

He shld've won for Tom Jones or The Dresser or Erin Brockovich, the last o which he came closest to a win. He won a SAG for his effort.

It's sad he nev gotten an Oscar 😕 But his works are his prizes!! Like K Hepburn, he nev turn up for the Oscar on his nom yrs.

Trivia: Finney was born on exact same day as ano British greats, Glenda Jackson!

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Excellent actor!

I’ll miss him.

Great writing: we’ll always have his performances!

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo - Brazil

@Claran, not to undermine his SAG win, but he won it because Benicio Del Toro (who went on to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) went lead at SAG that year. Had Benicio gone lead at the Oscars as well, Albert Finney probably would’ve been a lock to win there.

In any case, this is really sad news. He really was one of the greats, and every bit as important as his more celebrated American contemporaries like Hackman, Nicholson, Hoffman, etc.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEdwin

He was one of my faves ever since I saw Tom Jones in the sixties, he made so many fine films. One I haven't seen mentioned yet is the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing, one of the all-time great gangster pictures that includes a tremendous performance by Finney.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

Thanks for this write up, I loved Albert Finney in Tom Jones, Two for the Road, and all the other films you mention. I do wish Shoot the Moon would get a criterion release since it's a brilliant performance. Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, Albert Finney, Richard Burton, and Michael Caine. What a generation of actors.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

An actor of incredible talent! My favourite performances of his were Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Dresser. In particular, the way he and Tom Courtenay played off each other in The Dresser is a pleasure to behold.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Canada

Nathaniel, great write-up. Finney was indeed one of the greats. He and Diane Keaton are stupendous together in Shoot the Moon...that's my personal favorite of his. But what a powerhouse!

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

Fantastic Actor,Gr8 charisma

Top 3

Shoot The Moon
Eric Brockovich
Two for the Road

He should have had the Oscar in 2000 and he's excellent in Before The Devil knows your Dead.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Time for another wave of working class actors to shake things up a bit.

I’m fond of his later boffo curmudgeonly roles like A Good Year and Big Fish. He’s great in his earlier roles in The Dresser and Two for the Road. I wish more of his work was onscreen, but I haven’t seen all of it yet, so there’s still something more to look forward to.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenteradri

He disappeared into the role of Hercule Poirot. Masterful, one of my favorite nominations in the Best Actor category. His perfectly cantankerous performance in E.B. complimented Roberts' performance in every scene that they shared - so fun.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTravis

This is heartbreaking. My favorite actor since I saw him as a kid in MOTOE. He defied all labels—his talent was too immense to be distilled into one thing. He should have been nominated for Saturday Evening and Sunday Morning, Two For the Road, Shoot the Moon, and Big Fish. He should have won for Express. We shall never see such a talent again.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

This is crushing. One of the all time greatest. His performance in Under the Volcano is one for the ages. A very sad day indeed.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

He was definitely one of a kind, as an actor and as a human being. His performances were crucial to like so many films that I love: Tom Jones, Two for the Road, Scrooge, Murder on the Orient Express, Shoot the Moon, Under the Volcano, Miller's Crossing, Big Fish, and the great and underrated Before the Devil knows you're Dead... Finney was one of my all time favorites, it's so sad to realize that he is gone!

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoel (from Chile)

What an absolute titan. His ability to go big without ever it feeling too showy or off-putting even when he went enormous (which he often did) is nothing short of sublime. Hopefully this sad news will spur more people to check out "The Dresser" which should be required viewing for anyone acting but is woefully underseen.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermoe

He was never less than excellent in everything I ever saw him in. A class act all the way. RIP Albert.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

A great actor that should have won the Oscar. He aged from handsome leading man to master character actor

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

EUGh hes one of those actors whose mortality I took for granted :( he always just seemed like he’d be around to some capacity. I never saw him give a bad performance I never heard anything bad about him. Its the best ones we underappreciate.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkris01

R.I.P. to another great one. What a loss.

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

RIP my most favorite Poirot
Should have won at least once
What a loss

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

@edwin - this is very true - "every bit as important as his more celebrated American contemporaries like Hackman, Nicholson, Hoffman, etc."

February 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Albert Finney was a charismatic, likable, clever, powerful, brilliant actor. Watch him in one of his first roles in "The Entertainer" (1960)--he manages to do a million things within a few minutes of screen time. It would have been just for the Academy to have awarded him for "The Dresser"; he gives a hugely enjoyable, yet titanic performance--extraordinary work from an extraordinary man. I also love his acting in "Shoot the Moon," and he was a perfect Tom Jones. We're very fortunate to have this extraordinary man's body of work as a legacy.

February 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMatt L.

He seemingly has been with us forever. He became a movie star as the Beatles arrived. Generations of children know him as Scrooge and Daddy Warbucks. In Rosemary’s Baby, he is mentioned for his legendary stage performance as Luther. His costars—and shows of onscreen chemistry—have ranged from Audrey Hepburn to Julia Roberts. He was a star, but not the kind you think of. Because he defied every label. His talent was too immense to be contained within those narrow confines. I was 12 when I saw him for the first time in the cinema—or in any film for that matter. He was the lead actor of the highly awaited, star-studded Murder On the Orient Express. Here I was, infinitely astonished watching this charismatic enigma, effortlessly commanding the screen, spinning magic before my eyes, telling an array of hidden stories with all of the gifts in his possession, showing me what acting could be in its purest, most powerful and mesmerizing form. He became my favorite actor. He always will be. Albert Finney, you have been with us forever. You always will be.

February 12, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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