THE LISTS: Top 10 actors who need a nomination, stat!

Posted by · 7:16 am · October 21st, 2008

Kevin Bacon in Mystic RiverA couple of weeks ago, we invited you to submit ideas for our ‘The Lists’ feature, and, true to form, the suggestions came thick, fast and occasionally puzzling. (The Ten Best Bond Actors, for example, would require a couple of rather inventive entries. But hey, we like challenges.) As I was sifting through the suggestions ahead of this week’s edition, I noticed that a couple of you brought up the ever-popular issue of under-rewarded performers.

No surprise there. It’s a subject that has endless mileage because our relationship with on-screen actors is so personal and idiosyncratic — everyone has their own list of thesps who we feel that tiny bit closer to than anyone else, who we’ll watch and defend even in their lowest career troughs, and whose lack of formal recognition from the likes of the Academy is something we take very, very personally. With actors, our devotion may not always be rational (as any of my friends who I’ve dragged with me to see the latest Jennifer Aniston disappointment can attest) but it is unwavering.

So it is that Oscar blogs are littered with impassioned posts about the overdue and the unfairly snubbed, with Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp seemingly the current patron saints of the ‘how have they not won’ brigade. But today I want to celebrate the victims of an even more fundamental oversight: The Un-nominated.

From Buster Keaton to Dirk Bogarde, from Marilyn Monroe to Katrin Cartlidge, the list of gifted and/or iconic actors whose careers ended without so much as a single Oscar nomination is distinguished, baffling and surprisingly long. The Academy tends to ensure that most great actors get at least one bite at the cherry, even if it’s not always for their best work. (The fact that Tim Roth’s Oscar resume begins and ends with “Rob Roy” is but one embarrassing example.)

But every now and then, for whatever reason, a worthy name continues to slip through the cracks, despite consistently doing the right work in the right films with the right people. (Just ask Mia Farrow.) For the list below, I’ve gathered 10 men and women for whom it’s not too late. All are fine, actively working actors who should have at least one — usually more — Oscar nomination by now, but thus far, the Academy has turned a blind eye. Wake up, guys.

Steve Buscemi in Ghost World10. Steve Buscemi
Indiewood’s go-to guy for neurotic, bug-eyed eccentrics ever since his immortal protest against being Mr Pink in “Reservoir Dogs,” and the comic high point in many an overblown Hollywood product, Buscemi’s Oscar drought is proof how slack Oscar can be in rewarding character actors. Passed over for his hilarious work in Best Picture nominee “Fargo,” he seemed to be on course for his first nod in 2001, when he picked up a slew of awards for his turn as sweet, socially inept record collector Seymour in “Ghost World.” Sadly, the Academy had other ideas.

Scarlett Johansson in Girl With a Pearl Earring9. Scarlett Johansson
Buscemi’s co-star in “Ghost World,” Johansson has become something of a critical punchbag of late following a spate of ill-chosen films. Certain people seem to have swiftly forgotten that in 2003, she announced herself as an actress of real grace and intelligence with the stunning one-two of “Lost in Translation” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” She earned dual Golden Globe nods and won a BAFTA, but Oscar was unmoved. Two years later, they were still napping when she electrified Woody Allen’s “Match Point.” Since then? Mainly dross, but if the Academy had thrown her bone, maybe she’d be getting better offers.

Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher8. Isabelle Huppert
She may have a BAFTA, a Cesar and awards from the Cannes, Berlin and Venice festivals, but Oscar has so far remained blind to Huppert’s prolific international career. Poised for a Hollywood breakthrough as the female lead in the infamous “Heaven’s Gate,” she responded to that film’s epic failure by returning to France and playing a million fascinating varieties of sexual repression. Her career got a second wind this decade with massive acclaim for her work in “The Piano Teacher,” but it’s unlikely she’ll ever play it safe enough for the Academy’s liking.

Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman7. Kevin Bacon
Like his relative contemporaries Dennis Quaid and Jeff Daniels, Bacon is one of those solid, unshowy actors who seems to be punished by the Academy for his reliability — after all, when you’re so consistently good, it’s difficult to have a ‘breakthrough’ of the kind Oscar voters like to reward. In 1995, “Murder in the First” brought him awards smoke but no fire, and one can only assume the film’s nervy subject matter cost him a nomination for his stunning performance as a reformed pedophile in “The Woodsman,” but that’s the voters’ failing, not his.

Gong Li in Memoirs of a Geisha6. Gong Li
One of the great faces of modern cinema, Gong was instrumental in bringing Chinese cinema to Western attention in the early 1990s. However, while festival juries and the likes of the New York critics responded to her haunting star turns in such masterworks as “Raise the Red Lantern,” “The Story of Qiu Ju” and “Farewell My Concubine,” Oscar voters couldn’t look past the subtitles. After crossing over to Hollywood with a spectacularly baity performance in “Memoirs of a Geisha,” Oscar attention finally seemed to beckon, but her campaign got derailed amid the film’s critical mauling.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in Sherrybaby5. Maggie Gyllenhaal
History books will suggest that Helen Mirren gave the only award-worthy performance of 2006, but the Oscar that year actually belonged to Gyllenhaal, whose astonishingly raw, unsentimental performance as an ex-con and junkie trying to reconnect with her young daughter in “Sherrybaby” marked a watershed in an already promising career. Oscar voters foolishly ignored her, just as they did four years previously when her fierce, funny, dangerous turn in “Secretary” as the titular office worker lured into the joys of S&M announced her as a name to watch. Gyllenhaal is still only 30; one senses her time will inevitably come.

Mathieu Amalric in Munich4. Mathieu Amalric
Easily one of the most compelling actors in the world today, Amalric had amassed an impressive portfolio of work in his native France before coming to international attention in “Munich.” His performance as assassin informant Louis was the best thing in Steven Spielberg’s confused Oscar nominee, but the Academy paid no mind. Two years later he was the galvanizing human anchor of Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” but the performance was too unconventional to strike gold. Next to be seen as the villain in “Quantum of Solace,” I sense he’s on the cusp of a Bardem-style breakthrough.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia3. Jennifer Jason Leigh
1994 served up one of the weakest Best Actress fields in Oscar history, yet they still couldn’t find room for Leigh’s singularly daring interpretation of Dorothy Parker in “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.” She was even more impressive the following year in “Georgia,” but still got no love. Since then, she’s maintained one of the most consistently interesting careers in the business, turning in challenging work in such Academy-unfriendly films as “eXistenZ,” “In the Cut,” and “Margot at the Wedding.” Respected as an industry outsider, it’s hard to say if she’ll ever do something baity enough for Oscar attention.

Gael Garcia Bernal in The Motorcycle Diaries2. Gael García Bernal
If playing Che Guevara and a transsexual in the same year can’t get the Academy to notice you, what can? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Bernal has what it takes to find out. No actor of his generation has quite such an enviable CV: from his searing breakthrough in “Amores Perros,” he’s gone from strength to strength, with “Y tu Mama Tambien,” “Bad Education,” “The Motorcycle Diaries” and a mercurial comic turn in “The Science of Sleep” making good on that promise. Next year brings Jim Jarmusch’s “The Limits of Control” and Lukas Moodysson’s “Mammoth” with Michelle Williams. And he’s not yet 30…the sky’s the limit.

Gary Oldman in True Romance1. Gary Oldman
“Sid and Nancy,” “Prick Up Years Ears,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” “JFK,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Leon,” “Murder in the First,” “The Fifth Element,” “The Contender,” “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight”… Most entries on a list like this are debatable. This one is not. Now 50, Oldman still has not one major acting award — or Oscar nomination — to his name, despite one of the most exciting, chameleonic filmographies out there. With Heath Ledger grabbing all the attention in this year’s supporting race, it’s unlikely that’s about to change, but the Academy needs to address this embarrassment, and soon.

And there you have it. I know I’m going to catch hell for not having Christian Bale on the list, but that’s what the comments section is for. Have your say below.

→ 71 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Featured · The Lists

71 responses so far

  • 1 10-22-2008 at 7:33 am

    lovespike said...

    The only additions I would have to the list would probably be Maria Bello, she is well overdue.

  • 2 10-22-2008 at 7:35 am

    lovespike said...

    Also, John K, Jeffrey Wright was nominated for Basquiat just fyi

  • 3 10-22-2008 at 7:46 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    lovespike: No, he wasn’t.

  • 4 10-22-2008 at 8:59 am

    Pulovski78 said...

    Christopher Plummer,Donald Sutherland(oh!,canadians) ,are two examples of the Academy stupidity.More?,Rickman,Bacon,Bale…

  • 5 10-22-2008 at 9:21 am

    Scott said...

    Is Meg Ryan too far-fetched? I think ‘When Harry Met Sally’, ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’, ‘Courage Under Fire’ and ‘In The Cut’ earn her a place somewhere near your Top 10. Unfortunately recent surgery appears to have, shall we say, limited her scope for expression so I’m not sure she’ll ever be recognised!

  • 6 10-22-2008 at 9:55 am

    Sheila said...

    OMG, well done on the list….all honourable, (I SO agree about Kevin Bacon & the amazing Steve Buscemi) but your no. 1 spot was 100% bang on!!!!!!!!
    Gary DEFO deserves an Oscar, but he’s so cool, he doesn’t “need” one!! THEE most amazingly gifted actor EVER!

    If I were to add to the list, I would put Alan Rickman and Bale on there….

  • 7 10-22-2008 at 10:36 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Hugh Jackman.

  • 8 10-22-2008 at 10:58 am

    Barry said...

    Uma Thurman was ridiculously and unjustly snubbed out of nominations for both Kill Bill movies.

    Jim Carrey has deserved 3 nominations so far in my book: The Truman Show, Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

  • 9 10-22-2008 at 10:59 am

    Barry said...

    Cameron Diaz as well for Vanilla Sky and Being John Malkovich.

  • 10 10-22-2008 at 10:59 am

    Barry said...

    OH! and Christina Ricci deserves a nomination for a bunch of movies!

  • 11 10-22-2008 at 11:58 am

    Colin said...

    How Hugh Jackman wasn’t nominated for The Fountain was criminal. Christian Bale, Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey also make the list.

  • 12 10-22-2008 at 3:39 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I agree Thurman deserved a nod for Kill Bill Vol. 1. (The second, not so much.)

    But at least she got nominated for “Pulp Fiction” (should have won too), so not eligible for this list.

    Barry, I’m surprised you’re the first to bring up Ricci — she was on my shortlist. Between “The Ice Storm,” “Buffalo 66” and “The Opposite of Sex” especially, she should have got at least one.

  • 13 10-22-2008 at 4:52 pm

    Justin Turner said...

    A name I feel needs to be mentioned is Mark Ruffalo. He was great in the very underrated Zodiac and has had several other great performances. I also agree with the Christian Bale love and Joseph Gordon Levitt Love. Also gotta throw some love out for Ben Affleck. He got a nom for writing but not acting yet. Let the hating begin.

  • 14 10-22-2008 at 5:55 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    You won’t get any Ben Affleck hating from me, Justin — always thought of him as a decent guy and, when he connects with the right role, a solid enough actor.

  • 15 10-22-2008 at 6:00 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Oh, what I really meant to say there is that Ruffalo has been in my good books for some time — anyone who can carry fluff like “13 Going on 30” as comfortably as, say, “You Can Count on Me” has serious skills.

  • 16 10-22-2008 at 9:12 pm

    lulu8888 said...

    What about Harvey Keitel , Jeremy Norton, Dennis Quaid, Kurt Russell, Guy Pearce, Jamie Lee Curtis, Aaron Eckhart, & Linda Fiorentino ( I just love her haunting breakthrough performance in ” The Last Seduction”, she came close to an Oscar nomination, but the Academy rules don’t support films that premiere on tv before hitting the movie screens.).

  • 17 10-23-2008 at 9:23 pm

    Patrick said...

    Steve Zahn…should have won for “Happy, Texas” and at least a nomination for “Rescue Dawn.”

  • 18 10-24-2008 at 5:18 am

    Bill H said...

    Hearty agreements on Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Buscemi and John Cusack among others, especially John Turturro (was shocked to realize that he hadn’t been nominated yet!)

    I’ll add two great ones – Philip Baker Hall and Steve Martin.

  • 19 10-28-2008 at 2:50 am

    Alex said...

    Gillian Anderson for The House of Mirth, the best peformance by an actress in the year 2000 and completely ignored.

  • 20 12-06-2008 at 8:53 am

    braveheart said...

    I gotta agree Gary Oldman is a fantastic actor and
    a chameleon who can go from playing psychos to
    wizards to an honest cop. Oldamn truly deserves
    a nomination for playing Jim Gordon so well
    in The Dark Knight along with Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger, who will deservedly win. These 3 actors all gave so much and the last time 3 actors from the same film were nominated was
    The Godfather II and that like The Dark Knight
    was an amazing sequel.
    Oldman, Eckhart this year should get some credit and co-star Christian Bale was cruelly
    overlooked for his brilliant role in The Machinist, which to me was one of the greatest travesties i’ve ever seen in acting terms.

  • 21 6-05-2009 at 12:36 pm

    sophie said...

    i quite agree with you when you say Oldman nd Bale deserve a nomination: one for his spectacular transformation in the machinist and other for his role in several movies such as Sid and Nancy or Mozart’s biopic.
    I forgot evan mc gregor, excellent actor.
    last choice: Vincent Cassel

    for the women: I don’t have any idea….