Oscar Sunday is coming up this weekend and, though I’m really looking forward to it, I have a feeling at least one of my faves won’t win. I think my predictions are pretty solid but there’s always an upset. Last year, I thought Amy Ryan’s fierce performance in Gone Baby Gone was the obvious choice for best supporting actress but no, Tilda Swinton inexplicably won for her one-note work in Michael Clayton (I like Swinton but didn’t think she deserved to win for this).
Of course, it wasn’t the first time that’s happened. Over the years, many actors have been robbed of Oscars. I’ve narrowed this very subjective list down to the ten most egregious snubs (besides Ryan’s) in the last twenty-five years, starting with the most recent.
- Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children. Seriously, did voters watch this performance? He was both creepy and impossibly sympathetic as the pedophile who loved his mama, but Alan Arkin won for his performance as a grandfather who taught his granddaughter how to dance. Whatev. Haley is bouncing back as Rorschach in the sure-to-be-blockbuster Watchmen so I guess the Academy can suck it.
- Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal. Oh my gosh, she creeped me out in this. Like Haley, Dench pulled off a character that’s both disturbing and sympathetic. Her schoolmarm with repressed desires for Cate Blanchett’s character was incredibly manipulative but Dench also made her desperate loneliness palpable. I adore Helen Mirren and thought she was good as The Queen but her performance wasn’t as complex as Dench’s.
- Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain. I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly that claimed Ledger was relieved he didn’t win. So maybe he didn’t care but he made me care. His performance as Ennis Del Mar was simply devastating. Philip Seymour Hoffman always turns in good work but Capote felt like a very good impression whereas Ledger created an indelible character from just words on a page.
- Kate Winslet for Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. This isn’t taking away from Hilary Swank’s gutsy performance in Million Dollar Baby, which deserved to win. I just wish there could have been a tie that year (hey, it happened when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn tied for 1968’s Best Actress). Winslet’s Clementine was a freewheeling, damaged soul but the actress also showed us her pluck and heart and never allowed us to feel sorry for her. Clementine might have been trying to clear her head of memories but, years later, I still can’t erase Winslet’s performance from my mind.
- Julianne Moore for The Hours. Yeah, yeah, Catherine Zeta-Jones sang and danced very well in Chicago and looked great doing it. But this is an acting award and her acting was nowhere near as affecting as Moore’s as the depressed 1950s housewife Laura Brown. Moore’s dutiful smile hid her inner anguish from everyone but the viewer. Watching her, I just wanted to reach through the screen, take the poor woman away on a tropical vacation and give her some happy pills.
- Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind. This movie won Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress. Well, it wouldn’t have won any of those categories if it hadn’t been for Crowe, who carried this movie. Crowe’s performance as John Nash elevated the work of everyone around him so it’s rude the Academy gave them Oscars but sent Crowe home empty-handed (at least for this movie).
- Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense. C’mon, that little kid was so memorable, you can probably still quote some of his lines. His performance was subtle and poignant, which is doubly impressive considering his age at the time (what life experience did he tap into?!). But noooo, Michael Caine won for The Cider House Rules. Do you even remember what that movie was about or why Caine won? Exactly.
- Leonardo DiCaprio for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with mentally handicapped people and can tell when an actor’s portrayal of a challenged person is realistic or just wrong. When I saw this movie, I thought DiCaprio was really handicapped, not an actor doing a great job. He didn’t employ some broad, cliche mannerisms; he went inside Arnie Grape’s head and skin. Though his work was a true transformation, the Academy gave the Best Supporting Actor Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones for barking out orders in The Fugitive.
- Michelle Pfeiffer for The Fabulous Baker Boys. Oh, I’m not hatin’ on the late, great Jessica Tandy, who took home the Best Actress award that year. But that was more a lifetime achievement award because surely Pfeiffer’s performance as Susie Diamond was more spectacular than Tandy’s Miss Daisy. Pfeiffer’s Susie was a gorgeous, tough chick whose looks didn’t take her as far in life as she’d hoped, a diamond whose sparkle was becoming duller by the day. And who can forget her writhing on the piano in that red dress, purring her way through “Making Whoopee”? All I remember about Miss Daisy is she was a cranky old woman.
- Holly Hunter for Broadcast News. As neurotic news producer Jane Craig, Hunter ran the gamut of being in charge to completely falling apart, sometimes within seconds. Jane was flawed, funny, frustrating—a full-bodied character. But Cher won that year for Moonstruck as a consolation prize for Silkwood.
So, do you think the Academy mostly gets it right or does it seem like they sometimes vote while high on crack? Which performances do you think were wrongly denied an Oscar? Comment away!
(Like this post? Subscribe to Obsessions of a Pop Culture Nerd by Email)