5. Michael Caine for “Cider House Rules’
Should have won for “Sleuth”
The year of “Cider House Rules” was a big year for cinema. With “American Beauty”, “The Matrix”, “Fight Club” and “Magnolia”, a lot of films were in the Oscar’s draw-pile. But it was pretty much a sure thing, Roger Ebert believed that Tom Cruise’s turn as the misogynistic motivational speaker would nab the supporting actor Oscar without a challenge.
Michael Caine’s win wasn’t for a terrible performance, indeed, as Dr Larch he was moving and gave one of his first turns as the old and wise patriarchal figure one would later see in many Christopher Nolan films, but his part was far smaller and far less compelling than his competitors that year.
Audiences consolidated that it was a win for a man whose best performances came many years ago, in particular as Milo Tindle in “Sleuth”. In a face-off with the great Lawrence Olivier, Caine not only stands his ground as a character but as a performer.
On the other end of a battle of wills and cunning as the man whom Lawrence’s character Anthony Shaffer’s wife is having an infidelity with, Caine brings a human quality to this character that not only makes his performance less villainous but makes us unsure who to actually root for. He’s charming, human and dangerous and just might be one of the best performances of the man’s great career, whilst “Cider House Rules” is much easier to forget.
4. Russel Crowe for “Gladiator”
Should have won for “A Beautiful Mind”
Russel Crowe dazzled non-australian audiences for the first time in ‘LA Confidential” as the tough and menacing anti-hero, following this he became the Insider of Michael Mann’s masterwork where he plays a weak and haunted whistle-blower at a tobacco factory and following this he became the Spaniard on a quest for vengeance against the emperor with an Aussie accent.
A bizarre choice for best actor (especially in an action epic like this), Russel is far from brilliant with Joaquin Phoenix stealing the majority of the film from under his feet, but it was neither of his previous performances the academy stole from him but his next turn the following year.
In “A Beautiful Mind”, Russel Crowe plays the disturbed Edward Nash who ‘cracked codes’. With a shocking twist and a masterful performance, the academy merely had to hold off one year to give Russel Oscar gold for a performance far more deserving than his previous, when he lost to a performance which also felt like an apology for another robbery many blamed it on his undeserving win the previous year, many would be correct.
3. Denzel Washington for “Training Day”
Should have won for “Malcolm X”
The performance that beat our previous mentions, Denzel Washington plays a corrupt rogue-detective in a drug riddled LAPD. Taking a rookie cop (Ethan Hawke) under his wing, a tired moral tale is spun with only Denzel’s charisma and energy to keep it on its toes, “Training Day” is easily forgettable in the career of such a brilliant performer.
In “Malcolm X”, Denzel plays the title character in his incredible and horrifying black rights movement and performs with such dedication and believability the Oscar was guaranteed to be his. Unfortunately, Al Pacino was also given his makeup Oscar for a half decent turn as a blind police officer the same year and Oscar glory was pulled from his reach, causing Denzel ironically to do the very same for Russel Crowe in ten years’ time.
2. Humphrey Bogart for “African Queen”
Should have won for “Casablanca”
Humphrey Bogart is one of the premier faces of the golden age of cinema, he was a noir player foremost and a master of the tough, gruff anti-hero, but he also had the ability to challenge himself with performances that hold up far better in today’s standards than many classic pieces.
When “Casablanca’ came out, it was huge, adjusted for inflation, it’s still one of the highest grossing films of all time and it was an incredible hit at the Oscars too. With seven nominations, taking home Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. However, people were surprised when it stopped there.
Even today when one reflects on the films of 1944, the winner Paul Lukas for “Watch on the Rhine” (although Lukas’s compelling rebel on the run was still a good performance) doesn’t spring to mind over ‘Casablanca”.
Bogart’s turn as the tortured war-weary man who stumbles upon an ex-lover for a turn of manipulation, both on his part and others, is emotionally charged, yet extremely reserved. It was a performance whereupon he delivers layers of humanity and real charisma in equal measure rather than leaning towards his vanilla performances in Noir film.
1. Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman”
Should have won for ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (or The Godfather Part 1, Part 2, Serpico)
Regardless of what anyone has ever said, the early 70’s had Al Pacino deliver four of some of the best performances in contemporary film. In “The Godfather”, Al Pacino’s descent from reluctant family mobster to ruthless Mafioso is tragic and compellingly powerful.
In “Serpico”, he plays do-gooder Frank Serpico in the biggest corruption bust in New York police history, this is a complete transformation and his first real method acting experience.
In “Dog Day Afternoon”, he plays Sonny, a homosexual bank robber whose luck ran dry. One of Sidney Lument’s many masterpieces, this time Sonny channels all the many facets of the 70’s changes which are all handled with the care and delicacy of a true master and boy does Al Pacino perform.
Channelling all the frustration, hopelessness, energy, desperation and pure power of his character, Al Pacino delivers one of the greatest performances in lead actor history yet failed to achieve the Oscar for the fourth nomination in a row!
When Pacino finally took home his Oscar two decades later, it was as the blind colonel in a feel-good buddy film, paling in comparison to Denzel’s performance in “Malcolm X” the same year.
In fact, Pacino had two nominations that year, another for “Glengarry Glen Ross” in a supporting role which honestly would’ve been far more suited to the actor as he breathed life into a very very challenging role. Like most misunderstood performances, these actors’ turns have become like fine wines, they become even better with age.