best film: JFK (1991) emerges from a crowded category with M*A*S*H (1970) and Don’t Look Now (1973) as the closest competition. Oliver Stone’s film is a miracle of film editing – but it also features one of the best collections of acting talent in cinema history. Even amongst all that talent, Sutherland still stands out as just “X” – he has crucial scenes with Kevin Costner’s character propelling the narrative. Sutherland has three (3) more films that have to be mentioned in this category as well. Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976) is not far behind the aforementioned films from Stone, Nicolas Roeg and Robert Altman. So far, that is four (4) for (4) as far as Sutherland doing real quality work in these films. The last two mentions, both in the 21st century: Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (2005) – and James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019) – do not include key parts for Sutherland. However, Sutherland’s Mr. Bennett character and performance (so warm and inviting) could not be more diametrically opposed to his work as a walking horror of a man (something he tends to specialize in) in films like 1900 or even Backdraft – so Pride & Prejudice serves as not only another superior film for Sutherland – but evidence of his range.
best performance: Sutherland’s work as John Baxter in Don’t Look Now surpasses the others here – but it is about the collective body of work for Sutherland more than one (1) big film or performance. As Baxter, Sutherland gets to play the leading man in a Roeg horror film (Julie Christie is not in as much of the film as you may remember) with both highly skilled moments of internalized subtlety and louder demonstrations of high emotion. Sutherland is Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H (same thing here as with Christie in Don’t Look Now – there is far more Sutherland than Elliott Gould in the film) – showing off his comedic chops. Sutherland turns around the next year and does Steve McQueen stoic in Klute (1971) and then goes gloriously over-the-top evil in 1900 – quite the small arsenal of four (4) varying roles.
stylistic innovations/traits: Donald Sutherland – the 6’4 Canadian actor with nineteen (19) archiveable films had his first archiveable films in 1967 and his last (to date) in 2019 – a span of over fifty (50) years. Sutherland has never received the proper respect in terms of awards – but he has clearly been dedicated to the craft of acting (he seems to relish even the smallest of roles and make the most of those opportunities) taking on bold role choices – often with eccentric auteurs. No one would mistake Sutherland’s resume for Al Pacino or Jack Nicholson’s – but his own work in the 1970s included eight (8) archiveable films with four (4) commendable performances in films graded out as Must See or better. In the middle of that successful run in Hollywood in the 1970s – Sutherland decided to go to Italy and take on challenging work with Federico Fellini (Fellini’s Casanova) and Bernardo Bertolucci (1900) – and he should be acknowledged for that even if they did not quite turn into La Dolce Vita and The Conformist. Sutherland shows a great rapport with Sean Connery in The Great Train Robbery (1978) – “You don’t trust me?” – “I don’t trust you at all” with devilish smile from Connery. He then flips and goes totally understated and sensitive in Ordinary People before returning to his scene-stealing best in something like 1991’s Backdraft where he chews the hell out of his two scenes and gives a top-notch Kurt Russell (who otherwise walks away with the film) a run for his money and a great acting sparring partner.
directors worked with: Robert Aldrich (1), Robert Altman (1), Alan Pakula (1), Nicolas Roeg (1), John Schlesinger (1), Bernardo Bertolucci (1), Federico Fellini (1), Oliver Stone (1), Anthony Minghella (1), Joe Wright (1), James Gray (1). Oddly enough, there is not one director listed with multiple films here – but over half of Sutherland’s films have come from a top 250 director – so he seems always to be in good company with solid collaborators.
top five performances:
- Don’t Look Now
|1967- The Dirty Dozen|
|1973- Don’t Look Now|
|1975- The Day of the Locust|
|1976- Fellini’s Casanova|
|1978- Animal House|
|1978- Invasion of Body Snatchers|
|1978- The Great Train Robbery|
|1980- Ordinary People|
|1989- A Dry White Season|
|1993- Six Degrees of Separation|
|1996- A Time to Kill|
|2003- Cold Mountain|
|2005- Pride and Prejudice|
|2019- Ad Astra|