THE LISTS: Top 10 ‘right actor, wrong film’ Oscars

Posted by · 12:35 pm · December 9th, 2008

As we head into the thick of awards season, one of the biggest “will-they-won’t-they” questions about this year’s Academy Awards concerns one of their most favored sons, Clint Eastwood. Specifically: despite wildly polarized responses to the film, and a widespread perception that he has already been amply rewarded in other categories, can Eastwood ride the wave of sentiment to a first acting victory for “Gran Torino?”

That sneaky National Board of Review award last week suggests it’s still very much a possibility, whether or not people believe that it’s a performance for the ages — and, more to the point, whether or not it ranks with the best of Eastwood’s own onscreen work.

It’s no secret that, in the acting races, the Academy frequently bases their vote less on the performance at hand than the actor delivering it — one can point to any number of Oscar victories determined less by merit than by personal affection for an already rewarded star (let’s say Michael Caine in “The Cider House Rules”) or industry guilt over an under-rewarded one (most recently, Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine”).

Meanwhile, recent victories by the likes of Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett point to the familiar “deferred-Oscar” syndrome, where an actor widely believed to have been snubbed in the recent past is hastily handed a statuette as a kind of cumulative acknowledgment of their recent strong work, frequently for a performance that doesn’t represent any particular breakthrough. (Kate Winslet might be vying for one of those this year.)

All are variations of the oft-lamented “right actor, wrong film” Oscars that are peppered throughout Academy history — a solution generally deemed more credible (though I’m not sure why) than the honorary “quick, before they die” lifetime achievement gongs doled out to the likes of Peter O’Toole and Kirk Douglas, actors who continually slip through the cracks in Oscar voting.

Age isn’t always the determining factor, though.  The Academy has shown in recent years by passing over Lauren Bacall and Ruby Dee — both of whom would have been exemplary “right actor, wrong film” honorees — they’re not always in a sentimental mood.  As the following list shows, reasons for rewarding actors for lesser work are many and varied: genre bias on the Academy’s part, mainstream emergence on the actor’s, or simply the voters’ collective nostalgia for a familiar face at the podium.

The one thing all these names have in common is that they’re distinguished, even great actors who deserve to have “Academy Award winner” forever attached to their monikers — just not necessarily for that performance. Will Clint Eastwood be the latest name to join their ranks? The jury is out.

10. John Wayne, “True Grit” (1969)
Wayne is one of those tricky awards cases: less a great actor than he was a great movie star, one feels he should have an Oscar, but it’s difficult to pinpoint an individual performance for which he should have won. Whatever your take, however, there were numerous better Oscar vehicles in his career than this hokey, saccharine western that surely already looked quaint in 1969. Never the most open screen presence, he wore the role (and the eye-patch) of the eccentric, soft-centered Rooster Cogburn with good humor, but it hardly played to his quiet strengths. It didn’t matter to the Academy, who finally gave him his gold watch as “Midnight Cowboy” stars Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman looked on.

9. John Gielgud, “Arthur” (1981)
How to reward the man believed by many to be the greatest Shakespearean actor in memory — but who nonetheless left much of his best work on stage rather than on screen? Simple: toss him a supporting trophy for a plummy caricature in a goofy Dudley Moore comedy that the Academy took a weird shine to back in 1981. Gielgud is funny enough as Moore’s sharp-tongued, stiff-upper-lipped butler, but it’s sitcom-level performance in a sitcom-level part that Gielgud could have tossed off in a dressing-room break between acts of “King Lear.” Acknowledgment for “Providence” or “Prospero’s Books” would have made more elegant career-cappers, but who saw those?

8. Tilda Swinton, “Michael Clayton” (2007)
It is an irony typical of Academy history that Tilda Swinton, one of the most defiantly avant-garde actresses of her generation, should finally be welcomed into the Oscar fold for a film as beigely conformist as “Michael Clayton.” I’d hardly expect the actors’ branch to vote in their droves for such fearless, weird work as “Orlando” or “Female Perversions,” and there’s nothing actually wrong with Swinton’s performance, which adds edge and eccentricity to a narrow (and borderline-sexist) role. Still, the award amounted to a misrepresentation of a rebel artist, which in turn denied Cate Blanchett recognition for her own career-best work. And so the domino effect continues.

7. Bette Davis, “Dangerous” (1935) and “Jezebel” (1938)
Perhaps the first example of shamelessly compensatory voting in Oscar history, Davis’s award for her shrill melodramatics in the dreary “Dangerous” (which has to be seen to be believed) was a blatant makeup on the Academy’s part for inexplicably failing to nominate her then revolutionary turn in “Of Human Bondage” the year before. Three years later, they still felt guilty enough to hand her a second gong for a wan turn in “Jezebel.” Pity they couldn’t wait another 12 years for “All About Eve,” but by then, they’d decided she’d had enough. Such are the traps that Oscar sets for himself.

6. Jack Lemmon, “Mister Roberts” (1955) and “Save the Tiger” (1973)
Another example of the Academy still managing to miss despite two bites at the cherry. His first prize was a just reward for a sly turn by an upcoming talent, but it only hinted at the comic genius that would shortly emerge in the one-two punch of “Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment.” Oscar, unsurprisingly, turned a blind eye, preferring to wait for a dramatic vehicle to come along — not “Days of Wine and Roses” but the dreary “Save the Tiger,” a film (and performance) remembered and treasured by precisely nobody these days. Had they known “Missing” was still to come, they might have contained themselves.

5. Judi Dench, “Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
“I should only get a little bit of him,” Dench modestly admitted after nabbing the gold for her flashy, ultimately incidental eight-minute cameo as Elizabeth I in the 1998 Oscar-guzzler. Some think she deserved rather less than that. The award was plainly a response to a widespread belief that she was robbed — she wasn’t — the previous year, when her performance as another Queen, Victoria, began her late-blooming Oscar run. Eight years later, she stunningly surpassed herself in “Notes on a Scandal,” but having rewarded her already, the Academy opted again for British monarchy, and Helen Mirren’s Elizabeth II won in a walk.

4. Morgan Freeman, “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)
One of the many esteemed victims of the Academy’s (and America’s) curious taste for Tom Hanks’s twinkly turn in the smash idiot-fairytale “Forrest Gump,” Morgan Freeman was one of those gifted, gravitas-bearing and universally-liked thesps whose Oscar day one knew would eventually come once a suitably favored vehicle came along. (Had “Driving Miss Daisy” pulled up a few years later…) That turned out to be “Million Dollar Baby,” the film that sneak-attacked the 2004 race, pulling Freeman’s sketchy, personality-powered supporting performance with it. Meanwhile, Clive Owen, so incendiary in “Closer,” awaits his own apology note from the Academy.

3. Henry Fonda, “On Golden Pond” (1981)
After passing over his haunting, career-defining turn as Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath,” the Academy had any number of opportunities — “The Lady Eve,” “My Darling Clementine,” “12 Angry Men,” “Once Upon a Time in the West” — to make it up to him. But a second nomination continued to elude him, until homespun weeper “On Golden Pond” presented a perfect storm of on- and off-screen sentimentality that Oscar couldn’t resist. A shame, then, that it was one of his least inspired performances, and that the victory came at the expense of Burt Lancaster, whose work in “Atlantic City” is the definition of a late-career grace note.

2. Katherine Hepburn, “Morning Glory” (1933), “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (1967), “The Lion in Winter” (1968) and “On Golden Pond” (1981)
Fonda’s co-star, meanwhile, occupies a unique position in this list. You’d think that in rewarding her a record-breaking four times, the Academy might have  at least once hit upon her best work. You’d be wrong. Perhaps excepting her inspired way round her miscasting as Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1968 film “The Lion in Winter,” her winning portrayals remain lesser achievements in her overall filmography.  Meanwhile, remarkable work in “Summertime” and “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” had to settle for just the nomination. Meryl Streep’s fans may complain that she is under-Oscared, but at least she won for her best work.

1. Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman” (1992)
An obvious call, but an inarguable one. Despite one of the greatest hot streaks in screen acting history — encompassing his immortal “Godfather” two-fer, “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon” — the record will forever show that the Academy waited 20 years to fete him for a broad slice of over-salted ham in “Scent of a Woman.” What’s so mortifying  isn’t the performance itself — which is entertaining in a big, dumb, bludgeoning kind of way — but the fact that it is so utterly misrepresentative of Pacino’s signature terse style. Had he not won then, he almost certainly would have for far superior work in “Donnie Brasco” a few years later…but the damage was already done.

Have your say.  What your “right actor, wrong film” choices from the Acadmey’s 80-year history?




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49 responses so far

  • 1 12-09-2008 at 12:43 pm

    Chad said...

    I thought for sure Russell Crowe in Gladiator would make this list. He certainly elevated that material in a star-making role but one year after The Insider? Come on.

  • 2 12-09-2008 at 12:44 pm

    The Z said...

    How about Robert Benigni – wrong actor, wrong film.

  • 3 12-09-2008 at 12:46 pm

    The Z said...

    I was going to mention Crowe, then I remebered the travesty that was Benigni. There’s no way to ever right that.

  • 4 12-09-2008 at 1:03 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Only Pacino and perhaps Bette Davis are the true snubbees on this list. The rest not so IMO.

  • 5 12-09-2008 at 1:07 pm

    Dave said...

    Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou stands out to me. Brilliant actor. Lame performance. I’d second Russell Crowe as well.

  • 6 12-09-2008 at 1:10 pm

    Colin said...

    wrong film, wrong actor – Anyone that won anything for Chicago.

  • 7 12-09-2008 at 1:21 pm

    Liz said...

    “Meanwhile, Clive Owen, so incendiary in ‘Closer,’ awaits his own apology note from the Academy.”

    Dead on.

  • 8 12-09-2008 at 1:33 pm

    JAB said...

    I think if Ledger would have won for Brokeback he wouldn’t be the lock for Dark Knight that he is.

  • 9 12-09-2008 at 1:33 pm

    head_wizard said...

    Good list, but I loved Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton one of the best performances of that year I couldn’t beleive it took the BAFTAs and the Academy to be the first to get that right. Shame on you SAGs

  • 10 12-09-2008 at 1:35 pm

    JAB said...

    also I think Sean Penn and Cate Blanchett’s previous wins hinder their chances this year.

  • 11 12-09-2008 at 2:03 pm

    Curtis said...

    Renee Zellweger for “Cold Mountain” (shoulda been “Chicago”)
    Nicole Kidman for “The Hours” (shoulda been “The Others”)
    Russell Crowe for “Gladiator” (shoulda been “The Insider” and “A Beautiful Mind”)
    I didn’t realize how much this happens, lol.

  • 12 12-09-2008 at 2:06 pm

    MARK said...

    right actress wrong film jessical alnge blue sky.

  • 13 12-09-2008 at 2:10 pm

    Andrew L. said...

    In retrospect, Mirren’s dominating year was a bit overkill–respectable performance, but the movie has no replay value. I, too prefer Dench’s sinister turn in NoaS.

    What about Witherspoon (Election > Walk the Line) and Clooney (Syriana < almost anything else)? And Kidman’s The Hours?

  • 14 12-09-2008 at 2:34 pm

    Chad said...

    Renee Zellweger should not have won for anything and should be banished from the acting profession for “Cold Mountain”.

  • 15 12-09-2008 at 2:38 pm

    Patrick said...

    Great list, but incomplete. Bogart winning over Brando in 1951 is arguably the biggest blunder in Oscar history. All the guilt for not winning for “Casablanca” or “Falcon.” Yes, Brando won 2 later on, but his Stanley is one of the greatest performances ever.

  • 16 12-09-2008 at 2:44 pm

    slayton said...

    I do think that Tilda Swinton was very good in “Michael Clayton”. Ruby Dee was fine, but not brilliant in “American Gangster” – right actor, wrong film right there. Lauren Bacall, in a just world, would never have been nominated at all. What a cornhole ho.

    I understand Witherspoon, too. She did great work in films like “Election”, “Freeway” and “Legally Blonde!” that deserved mention.

    Dench indeed is > than Mirren.

  • 17 12-09-2008 at 3:05 pm

    marco volpe said...

    IMO, Gwyneth Paltrow should have been recognized (maybe not win, but at least nominated) for her work in Flesh and Bone.. Her subsequent Shakespeare in Love win was frankly humiliating to both Cate Blanchett and Fernanda Montenegro.
    And, to this day, I really cannot understand how Academy could choose Elizabeth Taylor (whose best work in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was ANYWAY later recognized) in Butterfield 8 over Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment, or Grace Kelly for The Country Girl (but this is a case of wrong actress wrong film.. as much as I love Grace Kelly, I don’t think she ever was award worthy) over Judy Garland in A Star Is Born.

  • 18 12-09-2008 at 3:45 pm

    Zach Baum said...

    What about Paul Newman in anything?

    The color of money? Really?

    The hustler

    Cool hand luke

    The sting

    Butch Cassidey

    Point taken

  • 19 12-09-2008 at 3:51 pm

    D. said...

    “Lauren Bacall, in a just world, would never have been nominated at all. What a cornhole ho.”

    Best. Comment. Ever.

  • 20 12-09-2008 at 3:53 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Bette Davis in “Jezebel?” That’s a marvelous performance.

    I’m also incredibly shocked (and confused) that you have Katharine Hepburn up here. Besides the fact you spelled her name wrong, her acid-tongued, viciously terse performance in “The Lion in Winter” is surely her greatest, if not among her Top 3. I can’t believe you don’t think so.

    And Fonda turned in beautiful work in “On Golden Pond.”

  • 21 12-09-2008 at 4:10 pm

    Emily said...

    What about James Stewart winning the best actor award for The Philadelphia Story??
    He should have gotten it they year before for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or Vertigo.

  • 22 12-09-2008 at 4:47 pm

    Casey said...

    its very interesting how all of this is a cycle forcing every1 else’s hand. going back to the beggining of the awards arguably. heres a string of occurences, mostly mentioned already, i’ll highlight for you to paint the picture im seeing

    1939- Robert Donat (what?) def. Stewart/(pre-victor) Gable
    1940- Stewart def. Fonda (my preference actually)
    1960 – Lancaster def. Lemmon
    1973- Lemmon def. Pacino (perhaps not his “best” but certainly close and best of the year. a worthy “career” oscar)
    1981- Fonda def. Lancaster (Lancaster’s previous win clears way for un-oscared legend)
    1992- Pacino def. Washington
    2000- Crowe wins. (my preference actually)
    2001- Washington def. Crowe (Crowe’s previous win clears way for oscar-robbed future legend) and several debatably more worthy performances. my picks would mostly be unnomd. Hackman in Tenenbaums. #1. McGregor in Moulin Rouge. Pearce in Memento. i also thot Smith was great in Ali

  • 23 12-09-2008 at 4:51 pm

    Casey said...

    scratch my 2000 comment. crowe was most deserving of the nominees imo but Christian Bale gave what has become the best perf of the decade in American Psycho the same year

  • 24 12-09-2008 at 4:55 pm

    Aaron said...

    OMG I totally agree about Renee Zellweger. I loved her performance when I was in the 9th grade…and when I watched it again recently, I literally had to turn away from the TV screen…her performance was so obnoxious it literally made me nervous…I had to smoke about three cigarettes after that atrocity…talk about feeling guilty after snubbing her the past 2 years…but frankly I do not believe her other performances in Chicago and Bridget Jones’s Diary deserved an Oscar…

    …and I agree that Judi Dench’s performance was superb in Notes on a Scandal–what an incredibly brave role….but I can’t complain with the Helen Mirren win–terrif role as well…

    …I would agree with Russell Crowe’s work in Gladiator…should’ve won for A Beautiful Mind or Insider…

    ..other ones? Cate Blanchett for The Aviator (it pisses me off she won for that when she delivered a performance for the ages in I’m Not There).

  • 25 12-09-2008 at 5:11 pm

    Jamian Bailey said...

    What about Jack Palance he won for City Slickers, and that was an injustice. Palance who was a great supporting actor in his day probably should have or could have won for earlier performances in Shane and Sudden Fear.

  • 26 12-09-2008 at 5:50 pm

    John Foote said...

    Tommy Lee jones wins for The Fugitive when the year before he stole JFK as Clay Shaw…shameful — Art Carney for Harry and Tonto bests Pacino in The Godfather Part II and Nicholson in Chinatown? and Jack himself for As Good As It Gets over Bobby Duvall in The Apostle?? Jack did better work in About Schmidt.

  • 27 12-09-2008 at 6:35 pm

    red_wine said...

    Russel Crowe for Gladiator was shameful. It was an action movie for heaven’s sake, the role required very little acting. He should have won one year later for A Beautiful Mind.

  • 28 12-09-2008 at 6:37 pm

    Bing147 said...

    Kind of a silly list, because it assumes that someone should win for their best work. You aren’t competing against your own filmography, you’re competing against the other performances in that year.

    I’ll disagree strongly on this. Hepburn is BRILLIANT in Lion in Winter. Davis is great in both of those and Gielgud is fantastic in Arthur. And while Save the Tiger isn’t among Lemmon’s best, that was such a weak year in the category that he was as deserving as any of the nominees. (even though I feel Martin Sheen gave the best performance of the year)

  • 29 12-09-2008 at 7:29 pm

    Isaac Richter said...

    Bing147, thank you, I was just about to say that. You can not say that someone deserved to win this award or that award without first taking the competition into consideration. I agree there have been some shameful snubs and recognitions, but you still need to look at who else was in play. For example, I thought for sure that Jimmy Stewart should have won for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, until I saw Goodbye Mr. Chips and was amazed by Robert Donat. His ability to age on the screen and never feeling phony is a wonder to behold (not just the makeup, but the way he moves on the screen). I also thught for sure Jack Lemmon was robbed for The Apartment, but then I saw Elmer Gantry, and while I still liked Lemmon’s better, I cold see why they chose Burt Lancaster. His energy and coniving made for an intriguing performance.
    I feel the Academy has this thing about awarding actors. They want to reward great performances, but at the same time, they’re looking out for those who have given a great career and are looking to reward them. It’s a viscious circle, but it’s there, and I think it would be remedied by having more acting awards, like an ensemble award (multiple actors get an award in a given year, and a cast of actors can call themselves “Academy-Award winners”, so less guilt over not rewarding them sooner).

  • 30 12-09-2008 at 8:08 pm

    Casey said...

    Bing147 and Isaac Richter, its not so much supposed to be about the person winning for their best work but people being compensated for later work when they clearly should’ve won earlier in the game….
    Bing, I know you didnt just say Pacino’s Serpico was weak… what? Nicholson in The Last Detail? Brando in Last Tango in Paris? Wow, with Redford in The Sting, out of the Oscar lineup, Lemmon was actually the worst option. i would not even think twice about leaving him off the nomination ballot for Martin Sheen or even Dreyfus for American Graffiti. this was actually a great year!

  • 31 12-09-2008 at 9:30 pm

    Patrick said...

    1973=Best Actor AND Best Actress hijackings. Should have gone to Brando or Pacino and Woodward…

  • 32 12-09-2008 at 9:39 pm

    Mad Professah said...

    I love this thread.

    I totally agree with SPEAKING ENGLISH that it is absolutely insane not to include Katharine Hepburn’s performance in THE LION IN WINTER in her list of best performances ever.

    It’s clear to me that Russel Crowe should not have won for GLADIATOR but the Academy was trying to reward him for past work in THE INSIDER.

    Moving forward, I think CHRISTIAN BALE has an Oscar to look forward to probably for something crap-tastic.

  • 33 12-09-2008 at 11:09 pm

    Ryan said...

    “Russel Crowe for Gladiator was shameful. It was an action movie for heaven’s sake, the role required very little acting.”

    I think you’re selling action movies a little short there.

  • 34 12-10-2008 at 12:00 am

    Dave B said...

    Some interesting choices there, but Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Whoa. That is one of her best performances, and was certainly the best performance of that year by an actress. The only other portrayal as good was co-star Peter O’Toole, who should of won as well. You’re way off on that one. I can see Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, though it’s a terrific portrayal, she won over Faye Dunaway and Edith Evans. On Golden Pond was also excellent, though the best perf by an actress that year wasn’t nominated, Glenda Jackson in Stevie. And for 1933, she was actually better in Little Women, but I couldn’t argue with awarding either performance.

    The list is long for others: James Stewart should have won for Mr Smith, but won for Phila Story. That robbed Henry Fonda, who had to wait 41 years. Of course, Ginger Rogers’ was a career nod, as Kate was the best perf for Phila Story in 1940.

    You mention Jack Lemmon: He deserved the Mr. Roberts Oscar. But since he didn’t win in 1960 for The Apartment (Lancaster did), he got the Save the Tiger consollation prize.

    I’d have to say rather than Kate or Jack or Bette or John Gielgud (remember, he won almost all the critics’ awards), I’d mention Michael Douglas for Wall Street (Steve Martin should have won for Roxanne but wasn’t nominated…I’d have given Douglas Best Actor for Wonder Boys), Tom Hanks in Philadelphia (right film right time, though most gays saw past the perf), 1998 winners Roberto Benigni and Gwyneth Paltrow over Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters) and Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth), and Liz Taylor’s first win for Butterfield 8 (given cause of her being sick), should have gone to Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment (though Liz definitely deserved it for Virginia Woolf).

    Joan Fontaine won in 1941 for Suspicion for not winning Rebecca the year before – Barbara Stanwyck (Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve) and Bette Davis (The Little Foxes) far more compelling works.

    And finally Charlton Heston, who won for being Charlton Heston, beating 3 great perfs that year: James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder. Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot and Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

  • 35 12-10-2008 at 12:09 am

    ChrissyT said...

    Has everyone forgotten Paltrow over Blanchett for that hideous Shakespear movie? Shame on those Academy hos.

  • 36 12-10-2008 at 1:40 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Lots of good suggestions here, many of which were considered when I drew up the list — it was a surprisingly difficult one to boil down to ten.

    Russell Crowe almost made my list, though I think he’s actually superb in Gladiator — far exceeding what the role required of him.

    And to Bing and Isaac: of course I took the competition into account. In every single case listed, I think they beat a more deserving nominee — as I mention in several of the entries.

  • 37 12-10-2008 at 2:03 am

    Eunice said...

    Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love should have been high up on the list. The Oscar that year should have been Cate Blanchett’s.

    Judi Dench’s turn in Notes on a Scandal–such a riveting film for a short screentime–should have won her the Oscar instead of her portrayal of Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love. In hindsight, if you’ll look at the three contenders for BA during that year, Dench and Streep’s performances easily outshine Helen Mirren’s. They’re both fascinating to watch, and between Streep and Dench I would have given the Best Actress award to Dench simply because she has the better material.

    Speaking of Notes on a Scandal, Tilda Swinton really should have won for Orlando, and Cate Blanchett should have taken Oscar home for ‘I’m Not There’. Just sayin’.

    Also, Al Pacino’s Scent of a Woman win is, I believe, the definition of the ‘right actor, wrong film’ Oscar, which is why I agree with your number 1. The Academy could have given him the Oscar for either of the first two Godfather movies, or for Dog Day Afternoon, but they gave it to this cheesy coming-of-age movie that misrepresents the man. How sad.

    Jack Lemmon should have won for either Some Like It Hot or The Apartment. I don’t even know the two movies he won for.

    Guy, I agree with you on Kate Winslet’s campaign this year. I think she really is gunning for a ‘right actor, wrong film’ Oscar this year. I would have given her the trophy for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but alas, the Oscars are no ‘American Idol’-type contest.

    And I’d also agree with you on the Meryl Streep comment. Even though I think she should’ve been rewarded more than twice, she was given the statue for her best performances, not because she’s Meryl Streep, and it’s a good thing that keeping the Oscar from her has pushed her to challenge herself even more, instead of resting on her laurels.

    Oh, and Bette Davis! Why she never got an Oscar for All About Eve… well, let’s just not get into the discussion.

    I’d have to disagree with you on Hepburn’s Oscars. I thought that she was worthy for ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?’, but as for the other three, I’ll have to see.

    Nice Top 10 list by the way–very timely.

  • 38 12-10-2008 at 2:26 am

    Scott said...

    I couldn’t disagree more about Swinton. It’s a shame that Blanchett’s searingly good mimicry had the misfortune to come up against Swinton, but the latter won on merit. Sure, Michael Clayton is not a film for the ages, it’s perhaps not even a very good one. But that performance is one of the finest examples of nuance and character inhabitation that I can think of – in each scene there are layers upon layers of nervousness and self-doubt that a lesser actress would never have known to tap into. Flawless.

  • 39 12-10-2008 at 3:30 am

    red_wine said...

    Guy, I have very deep reservations about the film itself and Gladiator winning an ACTING award of all things, really surprises me. Giving Crowe the Oscar for Gladiator is akin to giving Gerard Butler the Oscar for 300. Both roles had very similar requirements.

  • 40 12-10-2008 at 3:44 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Giving Crowe the Oscar for Gladiator is akin to giving Gerard Butler the Oscar for 300. Both roles had very similar requirements.”

    Similar requirements, perhaps, but you can’t see how much more interestingly Crowe fulfilled them than Butler?

    Anyway, I agree he was robbed for “The Insider” — the Oscar that he did win rightfully belonged to Javier Bardem.

  • 41 12-10-2008 at 6:23 am

    alluhrey said...

    denzel washington, who should have won best actor for “the hurricane” or “malcolm x”, instead of the beyond-redemption bad cop character in “training day”.

  • 42 12-10-2008 at 1:47 pm

    Chad said...

    I can’t believe no one has brought up Sean Penn. Particularly if he loses this year. His work in “Milk” and “Sweet and Lowdown” are two fully realized performances while his work in “Mystic River” is an embarassing slice of overcooked ham.

  • 43 12-10-2008 at 2:26 pm

    Tim Correa said...

    Tom Hanks.

    Philadelphia + Forrest Gump <<< Big + Castaway

    and Dustin Hoffman. Rainman <<< Tootsie

  • 44 12-10-2008 at 6:02 pm

    Dean Treadway said...

    I would agree with almost everything on your list. However, Gielgud as DEFINITELY the most talked-about supporting performance of 1981. So I have no problem with that. But your Number 1: yes, indeed, if they had just waited for DONNIE BRASCO, all would be well. I have to say, too, that, Freeman’s award came at the right time. And that Lemmon should have won over Heston in 1959.

  • 45 12-11-2008 at 8:26 pm

    Kip Mooney said...

    Obviously Denzel in ‘Training Day.’

  • 46 12-12-2008 at 1:54 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I disagree on Denzel Washington, actually. I’ve never liked him much as an actor, but I think “Training Day” ranks with “Malcolm X” as one of his most interesting performances, even if the film isn’t up to much.

    (I prefer both the performance and the film to the dreary “The Hurricane.” I remain forever grateful to Kevin Spacey for swooping in and preventing that from happening.)

  • 47 8-31-2009 at 5:41 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I decided to take a look at this entry again for some reason, and as some of the commenters predicted, Kate Winslet did indeed earn a “Right Actor, Wrong Film” Oscar, which makes it the SECOND time this has happened for a Stephen Daldry film (Nicole Kidman giving much better performances in Dogville, Birth, The Others, and especially To Die For). If this list were modified, I would probably place her between Morgan Freeman and Henry Fonda.

    I feel I should also comment about Gwyneth Paltrow, since so many are hammering her for beating Cate Blanchett without mentioning her truly amazing turn in The Royal Tenenbaums, which would have been a much smarter choice for Best Supporting Actress over Jennifer Connelly’s mushy work in A Beautiful Mind.

  • 48 9-01-2009 at 12:21 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Oh, and Guy, how could you write “one feels he [John Wayne] should have an Oscar, but it’s difficult to pinpoint an individual performance for which he should have won” when it’s so obvious that individual performance was as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers?

  • 49 9-01-2009 at 1:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I realize my phrasing was misleading — I meant to imply it’s difficult to find an occasion when he delivered the year’s best work. Entirely arguable, of course.