Over the years, the Academy Award nominations have been fraught with dozens of egregious errors of judgment and exclusion. Following are 30 sensational performances that were, for one reason or another, completely ignored by the Academy. I'm not saying all of them should have won, but to leave them off the ballot entirely should make any Academy member blush. Now that we are gearing up for Oscar season yet again, I thought it only right to honor a few of my favorites from the past. In random order, enjoy!
(PS: No disrespect to Geraldine Page, but in 1985 there were at least three other actresses more worthy of a nomination, let alone the win. I'm just saying.)
BEST ACTRESS 1985
Mia Farrow, The Purple Rose of Cairo
She has yet to be nominated for any movie, ever. Not Broadway Danny Rose, not The Great Gatsby, and not even Rosemary's Baby. However, the biggest oversight of them all is being ignored for her pitch perfect performance as a depression era housewife swept away by the movies. Just watch her crestfallen face as she realizes the love of her life is nothing more than a flicker on the silver screen and try not to cry. Impossible.
Who Won: Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 1977
Lily Tomlin, The Late Show
Tomlin created a wonderfully daffy character in this kooky mystery/comedy from director Robert Benton. Her off-kilter performance manages to keep up with the incomparable Art Carney, which is not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.
Who Won: Vanessa Redgrave, Julia
BEST ACTOR 1960
Anthony Perkins, Psycho
The quintessential "mama's boy," Norman Bates is equal parts sympathetic and creepy. That we are able to switch focus from Janet Leigh as our main character and care so deeply about a man we really know very little about is a remarkable achievement. Growing more paranoid and twitchy as the film progresses, Perkins is astonishing to watch as his plan unravels before our very eyes.
Who Won: Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry
BEST ACTOR 1959
James Stewart, Vertigo
Of Stewart's five nominations (and one win for The Philadelphia Story), it's impossible to understand how he was not acknowledged for his work in what is possibly the greatest film in the Alfred Hitchcock canon. Perhaps it was too startling for viewers to accept George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life as a man obsessed with the ghost of a lost love. Whatever the reason, it's a rich performance that is every bit as iconic as his roles in Harvey or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Who Won: David Niven, Separate Tables
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 2003
Patricia Clarkson, The Station Agent
While she was nominated this year for Pieces of April, it's her subtle performance here that I believe should have been recognized. As a lonely drifter among other small town odd balls, Clarkson takes what could have been a dialogue driven role and infuses it with heart and humor.
Who Won: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 2007
John Travolta, Hairspray
For the most exuberant performance in recent memory, look no further than Travolta's transformation from movie icon to large-and-in-charge 60's housewife Edna Turnblad. He shakes his ample moneymaker and sings like in the movie that made him a superstar; all the while, he creates a sweet and believable portrait of a woman who finally finds herself liberated.
Who Won: Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
BEST ACTOR 1993
Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire
Dustin Hoffman did it in Tootsie, as did John Travolta in Hairspray; however, no man has ever played a woman so convincingly as Robin Williams in his portrayal of British housekeeper Mrs. Doubtfire. In a performance that could have gone over the top, he instead plays for realism and heart, completely disappearing into the role. He is equally warm and believable in his scenes as Daniel Hillard, caught between his juvenile behavior and deep devotion for his children.
Who Won: Tom Hanks, Philadelphia
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 2003
Albert Finney, Big Fish
Finney is fantastic in any role he chooses, and his wide variety of credits proves his talent in character roles. Finney's character is confined to his deathbed for the majority of this film, but his gift for storytelling leads to a reconciliation between father and son before his death and the result is nothing short of magical.
Who Won: Tim Robbins, Mystic River
BEST ACTRESS 1996
Debbie Reynolds, Mother
I have always enjoyed Debbie Reynolds in the musical roles of her youth, but let's be honest here and admit that her acting was often wooden in those films. Well, toss out any preconceived notion you might have about her lack of ability and enjoy the many delights of her performance in Mother. She's the mother of all mothers and manages to run circles around Albert Brooks, turning her passive aggression into comedy gold.
Who Won: Frances McDormand, Fargo
BEST ACTOR 1990
James Caan, Misery
Misery is clearly Kathy Bates' movie, but she could not have done what is basically a two-hander without the support of her co-star. Caan takes all kinds of abuse from the the maniacal Annie Wilkes, but he is so intelligent that we believe as we watch him hatch a plan to escape that he has a chance for survival. And that we want him to exact his revenge makes it all the more satisfying when he finally succeeds.
Who Won: Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune
BEST ACTOR 1941
Joel McCrae, Sullivan's Travels
Joel McCrae should have been a superstar, but despite starring in over 90 movies, he never managed to rise above the minor material he was given by the studios. With barely a classic film to his name, he did manage to star in two Preston Sturges laffers, The Palm Beach Story and Sullivan's Travels. He is incredibly funny in Palm Beach, but in Travels he melds farce with pathos so beautifully that we are never quite sure whether to laugh or cry. At times there is no choice but to do both, which is the mark of a great actor.
Who Won: James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story
BEST ACTOR 2009
Hugh Dancy, Adam
It's easy to laud actors for playing characters who are developmentally challenged, such as Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Claire Danes in Temple Grandin, or Robert DeNiro in Awakenings. Great performances all, but there are also many examples of turning such characters into caricatures. I'm talking to you, Cuba Gooding. Hugh Dancy avoids this trap entirely as Adam, turning in a genuinely delightful performance as not a man with Asperger's syndrome, but a man in love.
Who Won: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
BEST ACTOR 1974
Gene Hackman, The Conversation
How Hackman was not Oscar nominated for one of the quintessential performances of his career is just plain nuts. He is alone onscreen for the majority of the film, given very little action and even less dialogue. The fact that he is so compelling speaks to his formidable screen presence. If ever there was a do-over in order, this is it.
Who Won: Art Carney, Harry and Tonto
BEST ACTOR 2000
Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys
Stuck in a deep rut, writer/professor Grady Tripp is perhaps the most complex character to hit the screen in over a decade. Tossing his vanity aside, Michael Douglas bravely gives us a craggy, depressed man in the middle of a mid-life crisis that has gone on for years. That he is also funny in the role is even more amazing.
Who Won: Russell Crowe, Gladiator
BEST ACTRESS 1995
Annette Bening, The American President
This delightful Capra-esque comedy boasts the luminous Annette Bening in her finest role to date. Assigned to a role that would have gone to the likes of Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert or Joan Fontaine in the 40's, Bening captures the magic of Hollywood past while adding a modern sexual twist. It's both a light and feisty performance.
Who Won: Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 2000
Jennifer Coolidge, Best in Show
I dare you not to (forgive me) pee your pants every moment Coolidge opens that genius little mouth of hers. Hands down, I have never laughed so hard at a performance before or since, and that says something given her solid company in the same film. Supporting actress seems to be the only category where comedy is routinely rewarded, so it boggles the mind she was not amongst the nominees. Her expression as she declares "we both love soup" deserves an Oscar unto itself.
Who Won: Marcia Gay Harden, Pollack
BEST ACTOR 1959
Rock Hudson, Pillow Talk
Giving Charlton Heston an Oscar is perhaps the dumbest decision in their long history (save Reese Witherspoon), especially considering his bloated performance in Ben-Hur was delivered the same year as Hudson's suave and hilarious turn in Pillow Talk. It's easy to dismiss the film as lightweight fluff, but its impact, largely thanks to the sizzle between he and Doris Day, opened the door for the Harry and Sallys, Sam and Dianes, Ross and Rachels, and Jim and Pams of today. If that doesn't deserve an award, I don't know what does.
Who Won: Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur
BEST ACTRESS 1942
Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca
"Play it, Sam." Enough said. Or at least it should be. Her chemistry with Humphrey Bogart set a precedent for every romance that followed. If you can look at Bergman's face as she sits wistfully at the piano and not get misty eyed, you simply have no heart at all.
Who Won: Greer Garson, Mrs. Miniver
BEST ACTOR 1944
Fred MacMurray, Double Indemnity
Barbara Stanwyck was nominated for her venomous performance as the ultimate femme fatale, but somehow MacMurray as a harried insurance salesman was not so lucky even though he matches her intensity from frame to frame. MacMurray is not often held in as high regard as Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant or John Wayne, yet at the time this film was made he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood and the fourth highest paid man in all of America. (For those interested, Stanwyck was the highest paid actress and woman in America.) With such a pedigree, it comes as no surprise that the film was nominated for seven Oscars, yet MacMurray curiously did not make the cut. For shame.
Who Won: Bing Crosby, Going My Way
BEST ACTOR 1938
Cary Grant, Bringing Up Baby
When someone is as good looking as Cary Grant it becomes easy to dismiss their abilities. Quite often Grant fell victim to this curse, but such is not the case in Bringing Up Baby. He was blessed with many physical perks, one of them being physical comedy, and never was his talent more ably showcased than in his whiz-bang screwball that barely stops to catch its breath. He plays suave and debonair in the same reel as delirious and daffy. And best of all, he makes it look easy. Perhaps too easy for anyone to realize what a marvel he was.
Who Won: Spencer Tracy, Boys Town
BEST ACTRESS 1985
Cher was terrific in Moonstruck and heartbreaking in Silkwood. Sandwiched between these two performances was her role in Mask; a role that completely obliterated any preconceived notion people had about her transition from television comedienne to film actress. She went on to win an Oscar for Moonstruck, which is the perfect example of the right actor/wrong year phenomenon. Russell Crowe for Gladiator instead of The Insider, Renee Zellweger for Cold Mountain instead of Chicago or Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront instead of A Streetcar Named Desire. At least she scored the award a couple of years later, but it should have been for this movie.
Who Won: Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 1959
Marilyn Monroe, Some Like it Hot
Monroe had the "dumb blonde" down pat, which sadly meant the world viewed her as such. What a pity, given her roster of truly incredible movies and indelible screen persona. She may have been a pain in the neck to work with, but the fuss was always worth the extra effort. Cast alongside Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, she shook what the good Lord gave her and added just the right amount of sass to come up with the joyously original "Sugar Kane." She did it so well, most likely the Academy didn't even know she was acting.
Who Won: Shelley Winters, The Diary of Anne Frank
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 1974
Teri Garr, Young Frankenstein
Wide-eyed and hysterically naive as Inga, the buxom lab assistant to Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein, Garr's performance is inspired in all its black and white glory. What's funniest is how she seems to have absolutely no idea how sexy she is, which is terrific given the amount of screen time dedicated to her ample assets. She's so good that you almost forget about her beauty as she delivers one punchline after another. Almost.
Who Won: Ingrid Bergman, Murder on the Orient Express
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 1998
Joan Allen, Pleasantville
Whether in black and white or technicolor, Joan Allen is always a wonder to behold. Her sexual awakening in Pleasantville could have been the ending to a thin one-joke comedy, but in this Gary Ross masterpiece, it is merely the beginning of a poignant journey about a woman trying to escape from a 1950's suburban utopia. I love Judi Dench, but her 8 minutes in Shakespeare in Love come nowhere close to the impact of Allen's bittersweet turn.
Who Won: Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR 1946
Lionel Barrymore, It's a Wonderful Life
Christmas just wouldn't be the same without Mr. Potter in this holiday classic. As a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge (well, it was modern at the time), Barrymore is such a horrifying presence that I was loathe to open a bank account as a teenager. As one misfortune after another piles on poor George Bailey, Barrymore's tyrant takes the cake, sending our hero off a bridge and into the icy river.
Who Won: Harold Russell, The Best Years of Our Lives
BEST ACTOR 1994
Johnny Depp, Ed Wood
Before Johnny Depp became a mega-star thanks to Walt Disney and a pirate costume, he regularly took on bizarre roles that could have destroyed his career were he not so damned cool. He peaked in 1994 when he took on the role of schlock director Ed Wood. He's so phenomenal that if I didn't know it was Depp, I would believe it was someone else entirely.
Who Won: Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS 1997
Sigourney Weaver, The Ice Storm
Ang Lee's maudlin tale about adultery, alcoholism and social unrest during a sub-zero Connecticut Thanksgiving boasts a number of solid performances from its ensemble cast. Coldest (and best) among them is Sigourney Weaver as Janey, a housewife with numerous lovers scattered around the neighborhood. As she tries to maintain her image as caring parent and kitten-with-a-whip, she grows increasingly intense until she finally shuts down completely. It's one hell of a great performance.
Who Won: Kim Basinger, LA Confidential
BEST ACTRESS 1985
Julie Hagerty, Lost in America
It's hard to believe Hagerty's first film role was the lead in what is arguably the funniest movie of all time, Airplane!. Blessed be the directors of that classic for discovering such an original, if only so that she could go on to star with Albert Brooks and a Winnebago in this hysterical satire about marriage and greed. I still get the giggles whenever I hear the number "twenty two" because all I picture is Hagerty's frazzled face and she hovers dangerously over the roulette table and gambles away her nest-egg.
Who Won: Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful
BEST ACTOR 1952
Gene Kelly, Singing in the Rain
The Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire war continues to wage on in my head and heart. Most people have a favorite between the pair, but I have never been able to decide. Kelly's dancing is broad and athletic, while Astaire is more graceful and appears to be lighter than air. That said, Astaire was not much of an actor while Kelly excelled at being arrogant and adorable at the same time. Singing is not my favorite movie of his (that would be Summer Stock), but I do think it contains his finest performance that taught me the best life lesson I could have ever learned. Whenever it rains, I still want to go outside and splash around in the puddles. Who could ask for more?
Who Won: Gary Cooper, High Noon
BEST ACTRESS 1939
Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz
The Academy really didn't start taking child actors seriously until the 70's, when Tatum O'Neal, Justin Henry and Quinn Cummings were all nominated. Sure, they gave Garland a crappy miniature Oscar as if to say "aww, how cute," but looking back it's ridiculous that the most instantly recognizable and memorable performance ever did not win a competitive award. I keep saying the Academy Awards have been messed up for the last decade or so, but proof that it might have always been case is in the pudding, when a little girl from Kansas found her way home from the Kingdom of Oz and all she got was the equivalent of a lousy T-shirt.
Who Won: Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind