I present: Actors who deserved to win an Oscar but did not. An incomplete list:
* – An asterisk indicates that the actor was at least nominated for the performance.
Robert Duvall, The Apostle*
This role was a revelation. It’s one of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen. The Apostle was a movie based around one titanic performance by one of the greatest living actors. I swear I’m not given to superlatives, but this was a performance that transcended acting and sank into my soul.
And who did win the Oscar that year? Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. I love Jack, but I hate it when famous actors play themselves with a slight twist and get an Oscar for it. It could have been worse, though; Matt Damon was nominated that year for Good Will Hunting.
SEE ALSO: Robert Duvall, Get Low; Robert Duvall, The Godfather*; maybe even True Grit, The Godfather Part II and The Natural
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone*
As good as Natalie Portman was in Black Swan, Lawrence might have been better. She was brilliantly understated, and Winter’s Bone was a haunting film.
Peter Lorre, M
What, like I have to defend this? I’ll admit that I haven’t seen Lionel Barrymore in A Free Soul (he won the Oscar that year), I refuse to admit that Lorre didn’t earn at least a nomination. And it’s not because it was a German film, because Emil Jannings won the first-ever Best Actor Oscar.
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler*
Again I must offer the highest praise to the actor who did win the Oscar that year: Sean Penn. Sean Penn as Harvey Milk was a completely different person than Sean Penn in every other role he played. If you could split an Oscar, I’d agree to give half to Penn and half to Rourke.
But The Wrestler was just SO good …
Charles Laughton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Charles Laughton is my favorite actor, so I’m admittedly biased here. But Laughton transformed himself from the typical stuffy British character he typically played into Quasimodo – flawlessly. He deserves two Oscars for this role.
Perhaps he didn’t win because he’d just won a couple years earlier for The Private Life of Henry VIII, and deservedly so. Also, Hunchback came out in 1939, the golden year for movies, so there was some stiff competition. Robert Donat won the Oscar for his role in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, which was a good performance I suppose but not at all great. Clark Gable was nominated for Gone with the Wind, and Jimmy Stewart was nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which might be his best performance (except for one that shows up later on this list). But Laughton wasn’t nominated, and Mickey Rooney was – for wearing blackface in the most insipid musical in the history of theatre and film, Babes in Arms.
SEE ALSO: Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty*; Charles Laughton, Advise & Consent; Charles Laughton, Hobson’s Choice. Maybe even The Island of Lost Souls? And I haven’t even seen him in Spartacus, The Sign of the Cross, The Barretts of Wimpole Street or Les Miserables.
Claude Rains, Casablanca*
Again, I don’t really feel like I need to defend this choice. I always thought Rains was terrific; a truly underrated actor. And he really is the one that places Casablanca in its own cinematic world; he’s the perfect enigmatic Frenchman with a dubious sense of loyalty who represents Vichy France – and its colonies – perfectly. It’s hard for me to believe that Charles Coburn was better in The More the Merrier.
SEE ALSO: Claude Rains, The Invisible Man; Claude Rains, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington*; Claude Rains, Notorious* And with all due respect to Lon Chaney, Jr., he really made The Wolf Man what it was.
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain*
Like I mentioned before, there are some years when you need to give out two Oscars. One went to Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Capote, which is hard to argue with, but damned if I didn’t think Ledger was better in Brokeback Mountain. It was, in my opinion, just as good – if completely different – than his turn as the Joker.
The same year also saw David Strathairn nominated for Good Night, and Good Luck. So maybe there were three winners that year …
Bruno Ganz, Downfall
Here’s a challenge for you, Mr. Jewish Person: play the best Hitler in film history.
Challenge accepted; challenge won.
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake*
I wish I knew another word for brilliant, but nothing else comes to mind to describe Staunton’s work in Mike Leigh’s understated masterpiece. I guess the greatest compliment I can give is that I never doubted for a second that she was Vera Drake.
Hilary Swank beat out Staunton that year for Million Dollar Baby. I think Hilary Swank is a great actress, sure. But how does she have two more Oscars than Peter O’Toole? (Oops, spoiler alert!)
Toshiro Mifune, The Seven Samurai
Very rarely does an actor possess a charisma so special that you lean forward in your seat every time they appear. Mifune’s work in this film is even better, since you truly NEVER know what his unbalanced character is going to do next.
Hollywood decided not to nominate Mr. Mifune, but instead to hand the Oscar to Yul Brynner for The King and I. I’ve never seen it, and I’m sure Brynner is fine. But Mifune put on an acting clinic in Kurosawa’s film that any actor could learn from.
STILL TO COME IN PART 2: Peter O’Toole, naturally; another Oscar to split between two people, this time in the same 1967 film; and Emily Watson.