As we hurtle towards the film industry’s awards season beyond the festival circuit, I tend to fall deep into the heartbreak of those that don’t make it to the Oscar nominations. I know, the Academy Awards are miles away, but those in the field of reporting and predicting the Oscars are already talking about it. Not all can make the final cut of course amidst the politics of preferences, and I am never short of choices that didn’t receive AMPAS recognition. It’s impossible to choose set favorites, but I picked 7 actresses and 7 actors from the array of many that the Oscars seem to have forgot. Let’s save the dominant of the species til last and start with the men.
Paul Giamatti for Sideways (2004)
Alexander Payne’s brilliant Sideways cruising through the awards season picking up big accolades left, right and center, was in the end a crushing anti-climax. As Million Dollar Baby crashed the party late on, I was mortified to find Clint Eastwood had Oscar experts ripping up their fine-tuned predictions as he landed a Best Actor nomination instead of many strong contenders. The real blow was that Paul Giamatti had to miss out for Sideways, a clear sign this movie was perhaps not going all the way after all. Bagging deserved nods all season-long, including with Oscar, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen were magnificent, but Giamatti’s Miles was the heart of the picture. Seemingly always verging on a nervous breakdown, Miles is crafted as a funny, vulnerable guy, Giamatti brings a defiant emotional response out of him, a sympathetic, often self-loathing figure, who can erupt at any time. We experience him through his passion for wine and writing, and root for him as he gradually claims the affection of a good, like-minded woman, as well as hitting new heights (both funny and poignant) with his intolerable best friend. Giamatti puts in a full shift in every movie, but this sits right at the peak of his stellar work – and a Best Actor nomination should never have been up for debate.
Harry Dean Stanton for Paris, Texas (1984)
I did not give it too much thought, but it crossed my mind that we don’t talk about Harry Dean Stanton very often. Not enough in fact. His presence in movies is often casual, a quiet man we know little about as his characters go. I am generalizing of course, but it is these thoughts and the undeniable fact that Stanton is a remarkable actor, that makes the role of Travis Henderson in Paris, Texas all too perfect for him. And we, the audience get to marvel in it. Directed superbly by Wim Wenders, Stanton’s lost man in Paris, Texas, clutching at memories of the past and dragging them closer, walks off into the burning Texan landscape in search of his brother, and more directly his son and long-lost wife. His voyage is a long one, both in distance and time gone by, Travis is given an ambiguous, but deeply sympathetic, aura by Stanton. It is a performance that requires little strenuous action or extensive dialogue, but Wenders does not need this, the story is a simple and effecting one, and the acting is deeply emotive and heart-warming, exhaustively so. We join Travis on his journey and support his plight all the way.
Robert Duvall for Network (1976)
Robert Duvall’s Executive Senior Vice President of the network Frank Hackett is not quite a bully or a thug, he is just a no-nonsense, fast-talking fellow who certainly does not mince his words. With the great, great screenplay from Paddy Chayefsky to work from, Duvall has little choice but to expel such chunks of adrenaline-fueled sentences as “I’ve had it up to here with your cruddy division!” or “It’s a big, fat, big-titted hit!” – and that is where the top-tier actor Duvall really shines here, in his sheer gut-busting delivery of the dialogue. Hackett just wants the sinking ship of a TV network to be a big fucking success, and he is knocking over the bullshit to make sure that happens. Even his flippant willing to listen to ideas from co-workers about the prospect of murdering the enigmatic Howard Beale is satirically ruthless. AMPAS went bonkers with Network in 1977, yet failed to take Best Picture and Director (Sidney Lumet), handing 3 of the 4 acting Oscars to the movie: Peter Finch (beating co-star William Holden), Faye Dunaway, and Beatrice Straight. Also nominated in Supporting Actor, for me Ned Beatty’s surprise nod over the meatier and more dynamic performance by Duvall will always remain a mystery.
R. Lee Ermey for Full Metal Jacket (1987)
What more is there to be said about R. Lee Ermey’s unforgettable portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s attempt at heavy morality warfare in Full Metal Jacket? Taking his own personal experiences of being a U.S. Marine drill instructor and serving in the Vietnam War, Ermey explodes authentically yet terrifyingly across that first act, meaning that you are still in the fall-out of his foul-mouthed disciplinarian even during the harrowing scenes in Vietnam that follow. Brandishing a lot of his own dialogue, the violence and abuse that flow from his mouth during the opening kill-training is both extremely explicit and blackly funny: “You best unfuck yourself or I will unscrew your head and shit down your neck!”. We’ve all quoted this film, but I suspect we wouldn’t be anywhere near close to laughing were we one of his Private Warfaces. Ermey has been an outright contender for years as one of the worst omissions in the Academy’s history. His brutal, frenetic performance is relentlessly brilliant, Ermey doesn’t appear to pause or take breath for a second. He’s inspired many such cruel characters since then, arguably this would include the 2014 Best Supporting Actor winner – I hope J.K. tipped his hat to R. Lee in some way.
Robert Shaw for Jaws (1975)
From the moment his fingernails claw across the blackboard, until long after the great shark takes him, there is a heroic and lasting impression left by Robert Shaw’s Quint. A character who ultimately grows on you more than you would have imagined as Jaws progresses through it’s small-town horror tale and becomes something of an encouraging, convincing buddy movie. Quint’s shocking, brutal death becomes all the more bittersweet in the end, no offence to Hooper or Brody, as he is the man you long to survive and be standing come the film’s close. Shaw brings the raw charisma and confidence to Quint not many other actors could have pulled off so effectively. With surprisingly only one single acting Oscar nomination to his name (A Man for All Seasons), Shaw was classic Supporting Actor material here. Neither Roy Scheider nor Richard Dreyfuss made the acting short-lists, neither did the writers Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, not to mention of course the film’s super-talented director Steven Spielberg. Like his remarkable career, Spielberg’s neglected Academy Award journey still had a way to go.
Paul Dano for There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Dano showed encouraging signs of an actor not afraid to explode feelings outward from his character in Little Miss Sunshine. In fact, the signs say he relishes this type of role. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s deep, dark There Will be Blood, Dano has to compete with the immovable Daniel Day Lewis who made career-best acting look easy. Quite a challenge then, and Dano was way beyond up for it, such an achievement, it was hardly questioned whether he would join his co-star on the gold-list. His Eli, a young pastor at the local church on oil-dwelling land, is a highly strung fellow who meets Day Lewis’ Plainview head-on. Humiliated and insulted, Eli still eventually manages to squeeze some remorse from him, though it is ultimately to his own downfall in the end. Dano is eerily good at bringing Eli’s own corrupt obsession, greed and sly nature to the screen. One of the most fascinating, brilliant performances of the year, a genuinely major surprise that Dano missed out on a Best Supporting Actor nomination given the movie’s popularity come awards season. Blessed he was not.
Andy Serkis for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Andy Serkis was listed as a cast member that was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for all 3 The Lord of the Rings films by the Screen Actors Guild. Why then is he not recognized individually for his performance-capture, computer-aided, consistently brilliant work? Not just those films, but his excellent contribution in King Kong and the Apes franchise too. As Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers there was a strong push by the film’s makers to garner some award attention for Serkis. This was thoroughly deserved, and in a normal world his undeniable talent would have made the cut without any pushing at all. I am not going to get technical, I know there were many behind the scenes that helped bring Gollum to life on the screen, but Serkis’ mesmerizing delivery and performance shone through, making the creature-formerly-known-as-Sméagol come to life before your eyes. The scene encompassing Gollums’ conflicting personalities is breathtaking. Actors have worn masks, prosthetics, make-up, and been nominated for Oscars without question. Serkis was not just some corpse, an entity to fill the spaces and join the dots, this guy acted. Acted his socks off. You know this as you read my words, you’ve seen the footage of Serkis suited up and playing Gollum before the visual effects and cherry on top were later added. A remarkable achievement on any level of acting, Serkis continued to be the man to go to as he played King Kong and Caesar with similar awesomeness. The cinema world ought to continue to embrace the ground-breaking work from those that create, and Serkis provides breakthrough in various fields. Like many of the film industries blind spots and minorities, are the Academy just not ready to change their own history yet? Wise up.
What actors would make your list?