There are a lot of factors that play into being a great artist. Talent is the most obvious one, but without practice and determination, all the talent in the world amounts to nothing. What’s less obvious is choosing the right material to showcase your talent. The greatest artists in the world are only as good as the projects they work on.
The same is true when it comes to acting; while some actors will take whatever they’re given, some actors actively seek out roles that are both challenging and gratifying. There are many sad cases of great actors who never get to reach their fullest potential because they don’t get the right roles.
If anything, the acting categories of the Oscars are the most competitive and hardest to get nominated in, let alone win. Every year there’s plethora of great performances that sadly never make the cut. Unfortunately, getting a great performance recognized goes hand in hand with the type of film it comes from.
Even an amazing performance from an “Oscar type” of film may find itself left out in the rain if the film in question is not good enough or in line with the tastes or politics of the Academy.
This could explain why some of the best actors working today have yet to take home the trophy for any of their many amazing performances.
10. Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor is perhaps the most underrated actor on this list (why did you turn down James Bond, Ewan, why!?). McGregor is a damn fine actor with the versatility to boot. The only thing that has perhaps hindered his career are some bad choices in some subpar films. Yet, his career thus far is nothing to be ashamed of. The mere fact that he was the best thing in the Star Wars prequels deserves him all the awards in the world.
McGregor’s breakthrough role came in the 90’s cultural phenomenon “Trainspotting,” which put him on the map internationally as the next Scottish export. Playing a convincing drug addict is no easy feat. Especially one who inadvertently causes the death of a friend and does so many despicable things. Yet McGregor proved charming and engaging with a palpable charisma that was easy to root for in a role that was too rough and Scottish for the Academy.
His versatile turns started with “Velvet Goldmine,” where he stole the show from the likes of Christian Bale and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a bisexual, drug-fuelled glam rocker.
Then there was “Moulin Rouge!” with a role that no one would’ve ever imagined McGregor in, let alone succeeding in, yet again the actor showed his versatility as the likable poet, in a musical rom-com nonetheless. While Nicole Kidman received all the attention, McGregor was sadly undervalued in what should’ve earned him a nomination.
“Big Fish” saw McGregor in a tender role in Tim Burton’s fun and dramatic fantasy film, and returning to the romantic fare with the uneven “I Love You Phillip Morris,” which is watchable for the performances alone.
The fact that McGregor has yet to be nominated for a single Oscar just proves what an underrated and underused actor he is. Now that Daniel Craig’s days as James Bond are coming to a close, maybe McGregor could go back into the conversation to play the next Bond.
And now that he’s squashed his beef with Danny Boyle, hopefully the two will work together again on more groundbreaking films.
9. Tom Hardy
Even when his face is covered up, Tom Hardy can still steal the show and give one heck of a performance in whatever he’s in. With a mixture of physical intensity and a talent for accents, with eyes capable of showing more expression than some people have in their whole bodies, Hardy is one of the most refreshing actors working today.
“Bronson” is where everyone started taking note of Hardy as a leading man. It’s a role he was born to play, beefing up his body in a few months to play Britain’s most notorious prisoner. A performance the real Bronson had nothing but praise for that should’ve gotten the actor his first nomination.
“Locke” had Hardy carry an entire 90 minutes by himself as a character on a very long drive with a lot of issues to work out. “Legend” saw another great performance (two in fact) as the notorious Kray Brothers, showing each of the twin brother’s distinctive personalities and giving them a rapport even though he filmed each part separately. While these two films contain some of the actor’s best work, they are let down in other departments.
“The Revenant” rightfully earned Hardy his first nomination for his twitchy and bug-eyed antagonist that ultimately went to Mark Rylance’s brilliant work in “Bridge of Spies.” There’s also his stellar work with Christopher Nolan amongst other roles that, while not Oscar bait, is just as good.
8. Ryan Gosling
It’s easy to forget what a versatile and gifted actor Ryan Gosling is, mainly because he’s associated with playing the mysterious and silent type. Which is ironic considering his pretty boyish looks, but somehow he manages to make it work. Whether his performances are layered with hints of danger and violence or compassion and tenderness, Gosling always delivers.
Speaking of the strong and silent types, “Drive” will go down as the performance Gosling is remembered for. In speaking so little, he says so much with the ultimate personification of cool. The Academy voting committee would have to be filled with hipsters before we ever see a Nicolas Winding Refn nominated for anything other than technical awards, but give credit where credit’s due.
Of course, Gosling has already been nominated twice for Best Actor in “Half Nelson” (which still stands as one of his best performances) and “La La Land,” which he lost to Forrest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland” and Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea,” respectively
Then there are his other amazing performances like “Lars and the Real Girl,” a unique and different role from the actor that stands as one of his most touching. He stole the film from the impressive ensemble cast in “The Ides of March” and his most underrated performance and film “All Good Things” where he gives an enigmatic portrayal of David Marks.
Not to forget one of his earliest roles in indie film “The Believer” where he plays a Jew who becomes a Neo-Nazi. And not to mention those romantic comedies he’s appeared in that are a step above the average because of his presence.
7. Michael Fassbender
It’s weird remembering that Michael Fassbender got his start in minor roles in the Spielberg/Hanks/HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and the Gerald Butler led “300.” But even in those minor roles, he made an impression and since then has been one of the most absorbing, fearless and committed actors working today.
“12 Years a Slave” rightfully earned him his first Oscar nod, which he lost to Jared Leto’s more transformative performance in “The Dallas Buyers Club.” Teaming up with Danny Boyle in “Steve Jobs” would get him his second Oscar nomination, which he lost to Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in “The Revenant.” But even before his Oscar nominations, Fassbender had given some Oscar-worthy performances.
His work with Steve McQueen has become one of the greatest director/actor relationships in recent times. “Hunger” and “Shame” showed an actor not only committing his soul but his body as well in two similar but different roles, one sacrificing the body for the greater good and the other using it as a means of self-destruction.
If it wasn’t for Christopher Waltz’s equally amazing performance in “Inglourious Basterds,” Fassbender would’ve surely taken his place as the film’s best supporting actor. He’s the only thing that works in whatever Ridley Scott is trying to do with “Prometheus” and its sequel, and was just as good in the underrated “The Counselor.”
His scenes with Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method” was worthy of the admission alone. And that’s just mentioning the cream of the crop in Fassbender’s impressive filmography.
There’s no doubt that he’ll walk away with an Oscar one of these days, as he’s a too much of a consistent and hardworking actor not to do so.
6. Brad Pitt
For years, Brad Pitt’s personal life and sex appeal have taken precedence over his acting work. Everyone knows he’s a great actor, but they seem to forget that amidst the tabloid news and frequent “Sexiest Man in the World” declarations.
With three acting nominations to date, no one could’ve ever imagined that he would turn into a prestigious producer, winning two Oscars for Best Picture for “The Departed” and “12 Years a Slave.” Known for playing abrasive and crazy characters, Pitt has not only become a better actor over time but a damn fine versatile one as well.
His first nomination came with “12 Monkeys,” which showed us that no one can play crazy and unhinged quite like Pitt. Stealing the show with a character that could’ve easily turned into a cliché, Pitt’s performance gives his loony character layers of depth and ambiguity. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” saw Pitt take on a different role than we usually associate him with, earning him a second nomination, giving a character who ages backwards real heart that could’ve easily stopped at the word “gimmick.”
“Moneyball” was Pitt at his most relaxed and normal, which saw the actor get his third acting nomination for spitting Aaron Sorkin’s crackling dialogue. Between that, there are other great performances in “Inglourious Basterds,” “Seven,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” and the role he’ll always be remembered for as an arrogant personification of masculinity in “Fight Club.”