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The 30 Greatest Movie Performances That Didn’t Receive Oscar Nominations (1990-1999)

04 February 2015 | Features, Other Lists | by Matthew Stanley

oscar snubbed performances

It is getting to be that time of the year once again. A favorite time of the year because of upcoming events. March Madness and the Academy Awards are nearly upon us. And it’s all sporty fun, pardon the intended pun. Each year we find ourselves looking at these huge events awaiting to see what will happen and the Academy Awards are no different than any of them.

It has a built-in audience every year, the stage is set, the nominees are announced and anticipation grows with each day that passes. But, unlike with actual sports where you have to win to get in, the Oscar nominees are voted on and sometimes there are glaring errors on the part of the Academy. Here are 30 performances from 1990-1999 that may had been sorely overlooked by the Academy.


30. John Candy – “Only the Lonely”


By all accounts John Candy was one of those actors who was very much like many of his screen characters. Nice, lovable, humble, and pure.

Here he gives his best performance as Danny, a cop, who has lived his life pretty much alone, only with his domineering mother (the always delightful Maureen O’Hara) as company. That is until he meets and falls in love with Theresa (a cute as ever Ally Sheedy), they fall for each other hard. Both have lived strange lonely lives and feel closer for it. Once engaged, things are hampered by Danny’s dedication to his mother and the need to be a good son. This ultimately hurts his relationship with Theresa.

Candy has never been better in what is essentially a remake of Marty. And it is in this role that he really shows the range that he had as a performer. It is deeply saddening to know that this wonderfully funny and talented man is no longer with us.


29. David Thewlis – “Naked”


David Thewlis is one of the workmanlike British actors that always brings something specialto every role. Most of us can honestly say that if we were to create a list of the greatest character actors of all time this guy would be in there for sure.

Here he plays Johnny from Manchester, who does a despicable thing and flees to London for his own safety. As he tries to forget the past, someone from his past returns and his sanity begins to wane. This is probably the richest character that Thwelis has played in his career and certainly his best performance.


28. Gabriel Byrne – “Miller’s Crossing”

Gabriel Byrne - “Miller’s Crossing”

The Coen brothers are known for collecting terrific actors and giving them career-defining roles. Looking at their filmography you would have to admit that Miller’s Crossing contains one of the greatest performances in any of their films with Gabriel Byrne’s Tom Reagan. This is one for the ages here.

Here is a genre gangster film that gets everything right. Two rival gangs are at it with anti-hero Tom Reagan caught in the middle of it all. And Byrne nails it! The darkly comedic tone of the film contrasted with highly stylized, shocking violence compliments Byrne’s portrayal of a good man who does wicked things.


27. Michael Keaton – “My Life”

Michael Keaton - “My Life”

Michael Keaton is one of those go-to actors for any kind of role. He never fails to breathe life into a character. Here, as cancer-stricken family man Bob Jones, (a terrible name for any character by the way) Keaton gives one of the most heartbreaking performances of his career in a film that lacks subtlety at times.

While those around him sometimes come off hammy and overwrought , Keaton elevates his game and those around him when it is necessary to give an otherwise average story a kick in the pants, so to speak. His video logs in which he talks to his soon-to-be-born son are at times funny, thought-provoking, and soul-crushing. Surely most of us can say that this one is a tearjerker for sure. Keaton’s character attempting to tell his unborn child how he fell in love with his wife (a charming Nicole Kidman), is one of the many highlights in the film.


26. Denzel Washington – “Philadelphia”

Philadelphia (1993)

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks, in an Oscar-winning performance), is a well-known lawyer who has been afflicted with the AIDS virus. He also happens to be a homosexual. Fired from his law firm he has no one to turn to after he sues the firm. He finds himself in an unlikely partnership with homophobic lawyer, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). With each passing day the two began to form a friendship as Miller tries to help Andrew with his plight.

Washington goes all out here as Joe Miller. Without each actor to compliment the other, neither of their performances would have worked as well. Knowing that makes it all the more disappointing that Washington received nothing for his remarkable turn in the picture.


25. Julianne Moore – “Safe”


How ironic is the title of this film in regards to Moore as an actress? Here is an actress who has been anything but that during her wildly diverse career, delivering performance after performance that blows away the viewer.

Here may be her best and most undervalued performance. That is saying a lot considering everything she has done in her career. The less that is said about the character and plot the better. Just take the advice of this columnist and seek this one out. You will not be disappointed.


24. Ray Winstone – “Nil by Mouth”

Ray Winstone - “Nil by Mouth”

Gary Oldman’s directorial debut not only established that he was just as good behind the camera as in front, but also brought Ray Winstone’s talents to the world.

Already an established character actor, here Winstone stars as Raymond, a working-class London family man who lives by a strict code of ethics. In order to relieve the stress of this he sometimes treats his family violently.. With a drug addict for a son, and a wife he sees as weak, Raymond feels the need to restore order to his family unit. Winstone shows here why he has since been one of the most sought-after actors of his or any generation.


23. Steve Buscemi – “Fargo”

fargo buscemi

Quirky, weird, enigmatic, gangly, and irreplaceable are some words that could be used to describe Buscemi as an actor. Here his talent shines through better than in any other role. Buscemi is widely known for playing crazy, odd characters and in a Coen brother film that is something that will surely be commonplace.

Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy, who has never been more slimy), is in need of quick money so he hires two henchmen to kidnap his wife and have his rich father-in-law pay the ransom. Of course, things do not go as planned and due to some detailed police work by Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand, in her Oscar-winning performance), the crime doesn’t go unpunished. Buscemi stars as the fast-talking Carl Showalter who annoyingly leads the duo of kidnappers.

Few could pull of this role as well as Buscemi, as he talks insistently about how they will pull off the crime, the pick-up, and the division of monies. It is a grand scale performance that few could match. And it really defined his place in character actor history.


22. Ralph Fiennes – “Quiz Show”

Ralph Fiennes - “Quiz Show”

Based on true events, Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is a look into the world of the 1950’s game show and how “Twenty-One” was being fixed.. Ralph Fiennes stars as Charles Van Doren, a wealthy man from a wealthy, prestigious family. Van Doren becomes a willing participant of the proceedings. Soon, a lawyer, Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), begins to suspect the show is fixed. With the help of former disgruntled contestant, Herb Stemper (John Turturro), things start to quickly unravel for everyone.

Van Doren is at first unwilling to look at the devil in the details and willingly decides to continue to be a part of misleading the American television audience and practices are put in place in order to make sure the façade goes on as long as possible. Once Van Doren seemingly starts to grow a conscience, things start to fall apart for him, just as they had done for Stemper.

Fiennes plays the role with just enough charm and likeability that you feel really sorry for him. Even though here is a man who has never wanted for anything and now is being cast in a negative light for the first time in his privileged life. It is a testament to Ralph Fiennes’ ability as an actor to make you feel so deeply for Van Doren.


21. Christopher Lee – “Jinnah”

Christopher Lee - “Jinnah”

Christopher Lee is a man who has been in 200 films throughout his career. He has been associated with some of the biggest franchises in film history: the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars, the Hobbit films, and the Hammer Dracula series. Also, having been a part of the greatest cult horror film of all time, and possibly the greatest British horror film ever made, The Wicker Man (1973).

Christopher Lee is no stranger to the small, large, or any screen for that matter. He is a legend among dedicated horror enthusiasts and filmgoers alike. That is why when he is a part of something that is not considered genre filmmaking it surprises us. He has largely been relegated to horror or fantasy roles during his career and it is a shame because he is one of the greatest actors of all time.

With Jinnah, he plays the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The film is an exercise in history and just might be Lee’s best performance outside of The Wicker Man.



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  • Benas Bačanskas

    Not a bad list, but what about Christian Bale in American Psycho?

    • Unkle Amon

      A. Psycho is from 2000.

    • John Khan Harrison

      Liotta best turn to date is NARC

  • Adam McDaniel

    Pacino’s snub for GODFATHER III is one of the most glaring in all Oscar history. I also think Paul Dano in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, Christian Bale in AMERICAN PSYCHO, and John Hawkes in SESSIONS were glaring omissions.

    • Unkle Amon

      Read the title. 1990-1999.

      • Adam McDaniel

        Oh, ok — omit Paul Dano and John Hawkes. The others stand. 🙂

        • Unkle Amon

          Agree with you on Paul Dano, he was outstanding in TWBB. Btw, American Psycho is from 2000. 😉

          • Brian Lussier

            I thought Dano WAS nominated. After reading this I we t and checked the Academy’s archives. I can’t believe it! What an oversight!

          • John Khan Harrison

            Dano will win the GG for Love & Mercy

          • Adam McDaniel

            Apparently I have no knack for years. My apologies. Foot, meet mouth. 🙂

    • John Khan Harrison

      Hawkes would have been nominated if Sessions and Martha Marcy were in cinemas same year

  • Unkle Amon

    Great list but Pam Grier, Val Kilmer and Stallone?

  • Ron Geatz

    And I would add Meryl Streep for “Plenty” (even though she already has 19 nominations) as well as Tracy Ullman and John Gielgud in the supporting categories for “Plenty” as well.

    • Ron Geatz

      Oops… sorry, that was 1985.

  • Brian Lussier

    I want to say two things. First off, Gary Oldman was great in The Professional, but I think the real ones overlooked for that film are Natalie Portman and Jean Reno. Oldman gives the flashy performance, but Portman and Reno have the more difficult roles here. And second, EVERYONE in Magnolia was deserving of a nomination, not just Baker Hall.

    • Mikey O.

      Great observation regarding MAGNOLIA. Who didn’t deserve a nomination? I’d even say that Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, & John C. Reilly were more deserving than Hall, but all were stellar…

  • ben

    Agree, Winstone is extremely underrated.

    • John Khan Harrison

      Jack Nicholson plays an irish mob boss
      who did they cast as his bodyguard ? ray winstone
      that’s speaks volumes imo

  • Guest

    Albert Brooks in Drive! What a snub!

  • Mikey O.

    Fine list. Some omissions: Björk, Dancer In the Dark; Emma Thompson, Love Actually; Toni Colette, Muriel’s Wedding; Courtney Love, The People vs Larry Flynt; Jane Horrocks, Little Voice; Gillian Anderson, House of Mirth; Kathy Bates, Dolores Claiborne; Doug Hutchison, The Green Mile; Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge, Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense; Cher, Tea With Mussolini; Meryl Streep, Marvin’ s Room; Sally Field, Steel Magnolias (1989, but still); Kirsten Dunst, Intervew With the Vampire, Christina Ricci, The Opposite of Sex; Nathan Lane, the birdcage, and Juliette Lewis, The Other Sister (clunker movie, great performance). Don’t get me started on years beyond 1999…that’s a bigger list.

    • Ricardo Correia

      “Dont get me started on years beyond 1999” the first two performances he says are from the 2000s

      • “He”? As if I don’t exist somehow because I made a silly err 3 yrs ago which you (like so many other people) take precious time to point out things like this to everyone.
        Does it make you feel smarter or why take the time to point out negative instead of the positive things too? Genuinely?

  • Samuel Butler

    Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. Understated, allowed Tommy Lee Jones the showy role, and carried the entire film with great emotional depth and very few lines. As for Al Pacino being number one. Give me a break. De Niro, fine, but Pacino entered this awful stage of SHOUTY acting around Scent of a Woman, and it’s awfully hammy! I think Heat was probably hi at his Hammy Shouty peak! That who who what are you a f****** owl scene is cringing!

  • Kim

    Russell Crowe deserved Best Actor for his portrayal of Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider. His performance was outstanding to say the least.

    • John Khan Harrison

      Kilmer would have been better

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  • Zach

    Did this guy actually call DeNiro’s performance in Heat the best of his career?

    Has he even seen Taxi Driver, The Godfather Pt II, The King of Comedy, Once Upon a Time in America, Raging Bull, Awakenings, Mean Streets, or The Deer Hunter?

    And the diner scene in Heat is the best scene in film history? That’s just absurd, it’s a great scene, but there are about 1,000 more I can think of.

  • Iam_Spartacus

    I can’t believe Robert Shaw in Jaws wasn’t listed. Totally iconic.

  • Qualiarella18

    plz, join this cinema forums 😉 !!

  • Tony

    Gary Oldman’s performance was the most horrible and ridiculous I’ve ever seen.

    • John Khan Harrison

      by his own admission Oldman did those villain roles for the money so he could get Nil By Mouth made

  • Gonzalo Castañeda

    What about Linda Florentino in “The Last Seduction” (1994)? I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t because the movie went in TV before cinemas, she would been nominated and even won the Oscar to Best Actress.

  • rikntx

    Can get behind most of the list, at least among those I saw. I might list John Turturro for “Quiz Show”, Jean Reno for “Leon: The Professional”. Two I would add would be George Clooney for another Coen Brothers film “O Brother, Where Art Thou? and one that is criminally overlooked, Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont in “Singing in the Rain”

  • Karen Lustañas

    River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho!!!!!

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  • Ricardo Correia

    Al Pacino is horrendous omg
    When 2 of 3 best performances of the 90s are not in this list, Irene Jacob for The Double Life Of Veronique and Chen-Nan Tsai for A Borrowed Life, and in the top 10 most of the performances are mediocre at best, you realize how miserable this list is

  • Ricardo Correia

    Well, from all the persons who should have won Best Actor in the 90s only Duvall and Nick Nolte were nominated
    Jason Patric (After Dark My Sweet), River Phoenix (My Own Private Idaho), Danirl Ateuil (Un Coer In Hiver), David Thewlis (Naked), Chen-Nan Tsai (A Borrowed Life), Yevgeni Mironov (Moslem), James Spader (Crash) and Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai) all deserved to win and none was nominated