Thursday, February 22, 2007


The performances Oscar forgot

By Odienator
Since there are only five spots to be had for each acting category at the Oscars, names are bound to be missing come nomination day. Every year the battle rages over who got snubbed. Sometimes Oscar “rights these wrongs” by nominating the snubbed person for a lesser performance the following year, as it did with Bette Davis and Paul Giamatti. Other times, folks are just outta luck. Today, I salute some of the outta luck folks, people who should have heard their names on nomination morning.

Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter

Mitchum, with his hooded eyelids, velvety voice and aura of menace, assays the iconic image of evil in Charles Laughton’s creepy, ethereal fable. Mitchum’s preacher is suave enough to seduce Shelley Winters yet fake enough for her kids to see through his musings on right and wrong. The entire film is purposefully fake, but Mitchum’s menace is still jarring; he’s a big bad wolf threatening to leap off the screen and blow down the viewer’s house. The preacher shows us the tattooed hands bearing the words love and hate, but we know which hand we’re being dealt.

Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction

Fiorentino's fiery femme fatale "Wendy Kroy" appeared on HBO before being released theatrically, which caused the Academy to disqualify the best female performance of 1994 from best actress consideration. Fiorentino is fearless, exposing her hot body and her cold heart as she leads man after man by his dong to his doom. Her performance shows Wendy thinking quickly on (and off) her feet, scheming, plotting, and most importantly, getting away with murder. Barbara Stanwyck would be proud.

Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and wins the filibuster but loses the Oscar, so they gave it to him one year later for getting drunk. Meanwhile, Cary Grant gives a charming, comic performance, stealing the film from both Stewart and Katharine Hepburn. The real story behind The Philadelphia Story is that the wrong actor got the gold. Cary, you wuz robbed.

Debbi Morgan in Eve's Bayou

This Southern Gothic benefits from fine performances all around, including a surprisingly erotic Samuel L. Jackson, but Angie Hubbard from All My Children leaves a lasting impression as a clairvoyant whose bad luck with men is comical yet deadly. The scene that always sticks with me is her soliloquy where, while describing the fate of one of her husbands, she steps into a mirror and into her past. Later, she has one of those scenes of quiet devastation, the type of scene I love so much when an actor nails it. Had the Academy seen this film, I'm sure she, and the sweltering cinematography, would have gotten a nod.

Steve Buscemi in Fargo

The Coens love to cast, then abuse, Steve Buscemi. In Fargo, he suffers perhaps their cruelest fate, but before he does, his frustrated, hapless performance leaps from slapstick to smarminess to sadism without missing a beat. Buscemi never shuts up, and seems to wear his socks in every scene, even during sex. The Coens' constant focus on those socks pays off in the most revoltingly funny scene of the film, and one is almost sad to see Buscemi go. For an extra Oscar omission, see Buscemi in an even better performance in Ghost World.

Irma P. Hall in A Family Thing

The Coens misuse Hall in The LadyKillers, but this performance is probably what made them cast her in the first place. A fine example of what a supporting performance is supposed to be, Hall's blind Aunt Tee is an amusing adviser to lead actor Robert Duvall. Her hilarious dialogue, by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, sounds real, down to the Southern Black cadences and phrases. When Duvall, while looking at pictures of a young Hall says "you were beautiful back then," Hall snaps back "ain't nothing wrong with me now!" Apparently Oscar thought differently.

Robin Williams in Awakenings

I once wrote "Robin Williams has appeared on my ten worst lists more than the numbers 1 through 10." And he has. Awakenings is the good movie where he plays a doctor (please don't make me invoke the name of the bad one) and if the Academy saw fit to nominate De Niro, they should have nominated the other half of his performance as well.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Georgia

Mare Winningham got the Oscar nod, which seems appropriate considering the luck of Leigh's character in this film. The movie is named after Winningham's character, but it's about Leigh's self-destructive Sadie. Sadie lives in her sister Georgia's shadow, refusing to believe that Georgia is the more talented singer. Anyone who has siblings can relate to the rivalry, but Sadie brings far too much upon herself to be truly forgiven. Leigh has been accused of being grating, and here she pushes the envelope of audience endurance with a horrible 9 minute rendition of a Van Morrison tune, a scene that either pulls you in sympathy toward Sadie or pushes you away from her forever. Either way, it's sheer bravery, and Leigh's bloody, open wound of a performance went unrewarded by an Academy that obviously saw the movie.

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I thought Eugene Clark should have received recognition for his part in George Romero's Land of the Dead. Without a shred of dialogue, Clark was able to convey the growing intelligence of the lead zombie, Big Daddy. By turns humorous, poignant and thrilling. Considering some of the lesser actors who have been nominated or won Best Supporting Actor, Clark should have been nominated for his incredible performance.
The one performance whose omission has always made me nuts is Paul Dooley being overlooked for supporting actor for Breaking Away in 1979. They remembered Barbara Barrie but somehow missed him.
EC, Paul Dooley is a great choice. Don't you hate it when you know, evidenced by other nominations, that enough people in the Academy saw the film but didn't nominate a performance you found worthy? I think it's worse than if nothing got nominated; at least you can console yourself by saying nobody saw the film.

I watched Breaking Away again recently, and am still struck by how such a deceptively simple little movie about bike riding can be so entertaining and moving.

Peter, I wonder how many of the squeamish Academy voters would have made it through Land of the Dead! Your nod would have put George Romero in the same odd company as Wes Craven: a gory horror movie director who led an actor to an Oscar nomination. But Craven had Meryl Streep, so Romero's achievement would have been far more impressive.
I lurv Eve's Bayou. Good to see it get noticed.
I tell anyone who will listen that Mitchum in Night of the Hunter is one of the most terrifying performances ever. Granted, Laughton's lens had a lot to do with it, but hearing him say "chillllllldrrrrrennn" always makes me shiver.
I wish Bill Pullman had been recognized for his great comic work as Daryl Zero in Zero Effect. Now that's a movie that cries out for a sequel.
I can't believe I forgot the biggest omissions perhaps ever in the history of the Academy. In 1964, they nominated for supporting actor John Gielgud for Becket, Stanley Holloway for My Fair Lady, Edmond O'Brien for Seven Days in May and gave the prize to Peter Ustinov for Topkapi (Lee Tracy can keep his slot for The Best Man). You could remove any two of the other four to make room for George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove.
Go over to my poll, to vote on the 6th nominee. Vote for as many or as few as you like and voice your opinions. All are welcome:
I couldn't agree more with The Lady Fiorentino. And I'm glad to see somebody giving some love to Zero Effect, the movie that I'm still waiting for Jake Kasdan to prove wasn't a one-time fluke.
Adam, just reading your post made me shiver. He really puts the spin on that word.

Wagstaff, Pullman is underrated. I got a kick out of Zero Effect too.

EC, I too forgot Dr. Strangelove! I'd give the nod to Scott.

Another few omissions: Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor, Jane Horrocks in Life is Sweet, and Harvey Keitel in The Piano (had he kept his drawers on, he might have gotten in...and this is the same guy who made a movie for kids called Monkey Trouble!!!)
I liked Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor, but how about Jerry Lewis in the original. The greatest out and out comedy that's over 90 minutes long.
Another great post, Odienator. For my take on the most eggriously overlooked performances in Academy history, check out my piece for the site entitled "When Oscar Drops the Ball" - you can link to it from the sidebar. We have at least one pick in common.
It's a long, long list: Peter Saarsgard in Shattered Glass; Christian Bale in (his career) and about a zillion comedic performances in the past few decades.
Definitely agree with you on Saarsgard in Shattered Glass -- I gave him my supporting actor award that year.
Saarsgard is excellent in Shattered Glass. He made me think of Kathy Bates in Primary Colors.

As far as Bale goes, I could have seen a nomination for him for American Psycho. He's certainly the best Batman as well, and I found him the best acting thing about The New World.

There isn't enough space to list comedic performances I think Oscar screwed over!
Odie, I'll have to parrot Wagstaff: How about Jerry Lewis in Nutty Professor? It shouldn't take a Frenchman to see the purity of that performance.
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