5. Edward Norton
There once was a time when Edward Norton was one of the most sought-after and best actors in the world. Starting off as a theatre actor, he came bursting onto the scene in 1996 with his debut performance in “Primal Fear,” a performance that stole the show and elevated a subpar film to greater heights, earning him his first Oscar nomination.
Then there was “American History X” which, for our money, is Norton’s best performance. Just like “Primal Fear,” Norton carried the whole picture on his back, making a despicable and terrible character easy to identify with. Whether he’s spewing hate or doing a complete 180 and reflecting on his past actions, Norton’s performance is mesmerizing and hypnotic.
He, unfortunately, lost to Roberto Benigni for “Life is Beautiful” in one of the most questionable Oscar nights in history that also saw Gwyneth Paltrow win big. We’ll probably never get over that one, but Norton’s performance still stands the test of time, while Benigni’s, on the other hand…
No one was surprised when J.K. Simmons bested him for Best Supporting Actor for his scene-chewing turn in “Whiplash” over Norton’s more subdued scene-chewing in “Birdman.” However, at least “Birdman” showed a world that forgot that Norton is still an amazing actor.
In between his Oscar nominations, there are great performances in films like “25th Hour,” “Fight Club,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and an unrecognizable performance in Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven.”
4. Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix should have a string of Oscars by now. The reclusive actor has given one great performance after another in what’s become one of the most exciting careers to follow.
Nominated for three acting awards, he was the best thing in “Gladiator” as the creepy and perverse Commodus who caught your attention every time he appeared onscreen. Benicio Del Toro would take home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, which we can’t argue with.
We also can’t argue with the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman besting him for Best Actor in “Capote” over Phoenix’s soulful performance as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line.” It was a tough to one call, with Phoenix giving a pitch-perfect portrayal of the “Man in Black,” getting his mannerisms and singing voice at 100 percent accuracy.
What we will argue with is Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor for “Lincoln” over Phoenix’s tour de force performance in “The Master.” Day-Lewis was spectacular as Abraham Lincoln, but Phoenix in “The Master” was something else. A brave performance that keeps your eyes glued to him the moment he appears onscreen. It sits hand-in-hand with Lewis’ performance in “There Will Be Blood” as one the greatest performances in history, which ironically, both come from Paul Thomas Anderson films.
But we’ll just pretend that the subject of Scientology and a sailor who fucks sand mermaids versus a patriotic film about an iconic American president had nothing to do with it.
3. Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal has become one of the hardest working and most consistent actors of his generation. You know that when you sit down to watch a Gyllenhaal film that he’ll be the best thing in it, whether you like the film or not.
Raised in the business with his older sister Maggie (a great actress as well), there’s no doubt that he was born to act. He’s a name you can trust, which makes it all the more shocking that he’s yet to win an acting Oscar, let alone get the nominations he deserves.
While Gyllenhaal doesn’t typically give showy performances, there are always layers of complexities and subtleties to his work that make it even more engrossing. It’s these same subtleties that perhaps make the Academy fail to recognize his work on a constant basis.
Spending countless hours on research, mannerisms and putting his body on the line for his characters, Gyllenhaal is a true definition of an actor who takes his work seriously.
To date, his only Oscar-nominated performance is in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” but there are just too many great performances to note. But we’ll try…
Gyllenhaal has given a plethora of great performances, from his star-making performance in the cult classic “Donnie Darko” to this year’s “Okja” and “Stronger.” Between those you have “Jarhead,” “Zodiac,” “End of Watch,” “Prisoners,” “Enemy” and “Nocturnal Animals.”
To cut straight to the point, the most shocking snub in recent times is for his performance in “Nightcrawler,” which will go down as not only one of his best performance but one of the greatest performances in recent times. But the Oscars are notorious for not awarding vile characters, especially those who go unpunished for their immoral acts.
2. Ralph Fiennes
Just like his fellow countrymen Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes can slip into any role in any genre as easy as that, or at least he makes it seem that way. He’s got a strong theatre background that plays a hand in giving all his performances depth, charisma and certain swag you can help but be mesmerized by.
To date, Fiennes has received two nominations for “Schindler’s List” and “The English Patient,” losing out to Tommy Lee Jones in “The Fugitive” and Geoffrey Rush in “Shine,” respectively. As much as we enjoyed Jones’ fun wisecracking US Marshal, that Oscar belonged to Fiennes hands down. Seriously people… !?
While co-star Rachel Weisz won an Oscar for “The Constant Gardner,” Fiennes was left out of the race for one of his most touching performances. And no one ever expected his Lord Voldemort performance from the Harry Potter movies to ever get nominated, but if there was one performance in the series that deserved one, it was he who shall not be named.
The biggest surprise came when “The Grand Budapest Hotel” received nine Oscar nominations and nothing for the actor as the eccentric hotel concierge who goes to bed with all his friends. In the same year that saw Jake Gyllenhaal’s work in “Nightcrawler” left out, we must wonder: was it a year of bad decisions or just too many great performances to pick from?
1. Gary Oldman
Do the British produce the world’s best actors? Perhaps, but they sure make the best villains, and for years Gary Oldman was the go-to man for charming villains who make a lasting impression.
He was typecast in the beginning of his career for his larger-than-life and hammy villains that border on overacting yet never reach the annoying point, and he’s famously known for his talent with accents (some which sound completely made up). Oldman can play any character – good, evil and in-between with equal precision and conviction.
He’s one of those actors you assume has an Oscar to his name due to his status and legendary career, but not only will you be shocked to learn he’s never won, but that he’s only been nominated once. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” saw Oldman receive his first nomination for his restrained and ambiguous performance.
However, this should all change next year as he’s already the frontrunner for Best Actor for his critically acclaimed turn as Winston Churchill. But even before this, Oldman had a racked-up string of memorable performances that rank as some of the greatest.
There are the crazy, wild and raw performances in “Sid & Nancy,” “True Romance,” “The Fifth Element” and everyone’s personal favorite antagonist in “Leon: The Professional.” Then there are the warm, somber and restrained performances in the Dark Knight trilogy, the Harry Potter series and “The Unborn.”
Then there are the mysterious performances of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and let’s not get started on the injustice of his performance as Beethoven in “Immortal Beloved” not receiving a nomination.
Oldman is a living legend for his countless contributions to cinema. You can always count on him to bring his A-game no matter how small the part and for that, he deserves his due.