With the Oscar rush finally dying down, many are left relieved at the recent best actor winner, whilst some appalled at the best picture. Despite the right winner the right year this time around, there have been numerous occasions audiences’ up-cry has been heard at other Oscar ‘snubs’.
Although many actors that should have won have never won (Fassbender’s incredibly performance in ‘Shame’ being the most recent of these), there have been many times where an actor’s win seems underwhelming, acting more like an apology for not receiving the acclaim for another film years before or after. This is a list of these performances.
10. Robin Williams for “Good Will Hunting”
Should have won for “The Fisher King”
Robin Williams is unquestioningly as great a performer as he is a comedian. Although his praise was sung for “Good Will Hunting”, it was Terry Gilliam’s depressing turned hilarious comedy-drama “The Fisher King” which shocked audiences with just how good a drama performer Robin Williams was.
Jeff Bridges is a self-indulgent radio host turned manic depressant after incidentally incurring a mass murder suicide. When he comes across a homeless man searching for the Holy Grail, he is roped into aiding the man after discovering the mass-murderer he incited killed the homeless man’s wife.
Robin Williams blends a masterful performance of drama and comedy as the homeless Parry on a search for the Holy Grail, the fisher king and later companionship.
Although not a performance as powerfully chilling as Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector which took the Oscar that year, Robin had far more screen time and was the powerhouse performer of another great film somewhat forgotten in the storm that was “Silence of the Lambs” that same year.
9. Jack Lemmon for “Save the Tiger”
Should have won for “The Apartment”
An accomplished actor throughout the ages, Jack Lemmon was a prominent face through the continual development of cinema and certainly has not been forgotten for the masses. Now both performances listed were good performances, but “The Apartment” argues one of the best actor character synergies in cinema.
In “The Apartment”, Lemmon is an ambitious insurance company worker desperate to get up higher in his company, so he lends his apartment out to his employers for ‘private affairs’. When things become messy, he becomes desperate and his ambition is brought head to head with his own passion.
Lemmon gives an incredible turn and his performance is outstanding, as if the character was written for him. Lemmon embodies his character’s entirety without ever dropping a line or character on screen, this is a true performance for the decade.
The film’s impact on modern audiences is limited, with Lemmon dealing with the destruction of his dreams, he becomes bitter and searches for an escape. Not to be mistaken as a weak performance, Lemmon is never a weak performer, but the film itself is often lacking and one noted, dragging Lemmon down with it.
8. Henry Fonda for “On Golden Pond”
Should have won for “Grapes of Wrath”
Henry Fonda’s career is one of the longest and most successful of the golden age actors. With a film like “12 Angry Men” being just the tip of the iceberg for the brilliance that lays beneath and having a career that carried him from the 40’s all the way to his death in 1982, no one could argue Henry Fonda will ever be forgotten.
As Norman Thayer, Henry’s final role was the husband to Ethel Thayer (Katherine Hepburn in her fourth academy award winning role) whose dementia slowly sends him into senility, it was an incredibly moving performance however, felt to many as compensation for his first nomination exactly 40 years before.
“Grapes of Wrath” is a staple film of the golden age of cinema and one of the first 25 films ever chosen for preservation details a depression-era family out of work, struggling to find employment as wanderers.
As far as performances of the time go, Henry Fonda as Tom Joad rivals the best of Brando and Dean, with “Grapes of Wrath” acting as a cornerstone for realism in cinema and novel adaptations, the idea that Henry was robbed of the award when the winner that year’s performance has all but faded into distant memory seems shocking in the modern eye.
7. Sean Penn for “Milk”
Should have won for “Dead Man Walking”
Although receiving well deserved Oscar glory for “Mystic River”, Sean Penn nabbed his second academy award for a performance, although deserving, which was not the greatest performance of its year.
As Harvey Milk, the first openly gay official ever elected, Sean Penn was both humorous and compelling, but it was Mickey Rourke as Randy ‘the Ram’ in Darren Aranovsky’s “The Wrestler” which caused audiences to become equally moved, horrified, entertained and shocked. Winning both the BAFTA and the Golden Globe, Mickey Rourke was thought to almost have guaranteed the win, even Sean Penn was surprised when he stood up on stage.
In “Dead Man Walking”, Sean Penn played a man on death row whose sudden realisation that he is going to die brings him to seek the compassion and forgiveness of a nun (Susan Sarandon).
People didn’t see Sean Penn’s dead eyes and cold face staring at them from behind the silver screen, they saw Matthew Poncelet in a brilliant character drama between two brilliant actors.
Although losing to one of Nicolas Cage’s performance in “Leaving Las Vegas”, his performance was incomparable to the chilling yet saddening performance of a bad man destined to die, trying desperately to receive absolution before he goes.
6. Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart”
Should have won for “Starman”
Whether you know him as the loveable stoner or not, everyone recognises Jeff Bridges from somewhere or another. With one of his first nominations for “Starman”, Bridges has had many more nominations since, although arguably his least deserving nod was his first and only win. In “Crazy Heart” Bridges plays a washed up alcoholic singer (the cliché troubled folk singer) who establishes a relationship with a reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) which transforms him into a better man.
Yes, the film is campy although strong performances are all around (even from Colin Farrell), it felt more like an acknowledgement of Bridges career-long stream of great performances rather than a gift for his latest academy nod.
In Starman (a far more unique film), Bridges plays the alien who sought communication with the earth after being shot down, he is forced to enter society. The film raises many themes, xenophobia and multi-culturalism primarily, but it is the interesting and strange relationship established between the ‘Starman’ and Jenny (Karen Allen) that drives this brilliantly original piece.
Although he didn’t take home the award, Bridges garnered dozens of nominations following this, although none really hit the same mark, all of which were still worthy of the award, except perhaps the win he got it for.