As we get sucked into the awards season vacuum again, I grabbed hold of a few of my like-minded film-freaks (follow them on Twitter if you don’t already) to ask them about some of the acting performances over the years, and the responses came thick and fast. So with quite a number of my own, I ought to let them do the talking about Oscar absentees. Here are the first 5 of a fascinating list of 100 (enough to make you dizzy) men and women that the Academy let slip away.
James Stewart for Vertigo (1958) — Clarence Moye @chmoye
I come here to praise Jimmy Stewart’s un-nominated Vertigo performance, not bury those who were nominated in his place. Just looking at the list of nominees, Stewart’s spirit can rest easy that his towering performance in what is arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most personal film has more than stood the test of time, far outlasting the reputation of the nominated performances. Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson initially emerges as the classically affable and pleasant Jimmy Stewart character. Hitchcock loved to saddle Stewart with some sort of disability (Rear Window’s broken leg), and, here, he suffers from vertigo, causing him to sit on the sidelines of his police detective job. But Stewart’s Scottie is a broken man inside, something Stewart gradually reveals over the course of the film, more obviously toward the middle and end but present in the beginning for sure. Here, we watch one of Hollywood’s most liked actors (the Tom Hanks of his era) deteriorate into something of an anti-hero. By the end, Stewart has completely subverted his own personality to give us a completely unique and unpleasant performance of obsession, control, and callousness – namely, the traits exhibited by most great directors. With such a dark underbelly writ large in Stewart’s Scottie, it is no great surprise the Academy ignored him. After all, in Vertigo, when that bell rings, it did not mean an angel got its wings. It meant someone died. I’m not sure the Academy wanted to embrace such a brilliantly dark turn of events.
Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha (2013) — Robin Write @Filmotomy
Maybe I haven’t talked about Noah Baumbach’s delightful Frances Ha enough just yet, as I and many, many others still wonder with shaking heads how the charming, cute-as-hell Greta Gerwig was not considered for the Best Actress Oscar. I’ve become accustomed to being in love with those that get left behind. You can’t win them all? Those of us that follow the somewhat eventual downer that is the Oscar race know that comedy has an extra struggle to get its foot in the door and, well, be taken seriously. And we know Frances Ha is a small film, and that Gerwig is sensational, but in a fleeting narrative. I could make excuses all day long as to why Gerwig was absent, but it is not the kind of torture I opt for in spite of my awards-critique endurance. The fact is, Gerwig gives one of the most energetic, amusing, and down-right real performances of the year. Of many a year. She brings a young woman floating gradually from a secure, successful life right back towards us, and makes us care and want to join her in her struggles. Gerwig (who co-wrote the film with partner Baumbach – a formidable duo right now) puts her whole heart and soul into the role of Frances, all the while making the acting look effortless, and giving the character an endearing charm impossible to resist. I fell in love right away.
Brie Larson for Short Term 12 (2013) — Robin Write @Filmotomy
I once described Brie Larson as a magnetic kind of chameleon actress as she turned up here and there on film and TV (Scott Pilgrim, Community, Greenberg for example) and I was drawn to her varying, sporadic activity immediately. She can turn her talented hands to anything it seems, she was proving it then and is doing it now. Larson is hard to forget, so when she turned up in the lead role of Short Term 12 as a young people’s support worker it was inevitable I guess that she would blow me away. Grace balances the tensions, highly-strung emotions of the troubled youngsters with her own insecurities not just to hold down her relationship but also accepting the potential responsibility of taking care of her own child. Oozing the vulnerability and passion of Grace as she ties herself in knots while trying to remain strong, Larson has the whole movie in the palm of her hand. Even while surrounded by characters with their own issues spilling out, we latch onto Grace, hoping that she keeps it together and finds the courage to follow her heart. It’s a subtle, almost devastating performance by Larson, easily one of the best of the year, as well as once again one of the most talked about actresses that year in regards to the Oscar nomination omission. Like that’s really important though, right? At only 27 now, brilliant Brie is an Oscar winner recently for Room, but no matter, we shall always beat a strong heart for Short Term 12.
Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler (2014) — Tim J. Krieg @FiveStarFlicks
I watched Birdman and Nightcrawler on the same day, both impressive in their own ways, but a few days later I was still only thinking about one thing: Jake Gyllenhaal. His gaunt, emaciated frame. His perfect mixture of Norman Bates naiveté with the loneliness of Travis Bickle. And those eyes, those terrifying eyes. A few months later, when the Oscar nominations rolled in, Birdman was showered with praise, including Michael Keaton, joined in the best actor race by Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Eddie Redmayne, the eventual winner. It had to be a mistake, right? Where was Jake Gyllenhaal? Where was the man with that gung-ho spirit and can-do initiative, willing to do whatever it takes to get the shot and win the ratings? Where was God’s other lonely man? Towering above them all, Jake Gyllenhaal gave a masterful portrayal of Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, a character and a film that perhaps fits better alongside the films of 1976 (Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men, Network) than 2014. Dark, menacing, meticulous, taut and intense, Gyllenhaal owns the screen, appearing in nearly every frame. He is down in the gutter, but he’s looking up at the stars. He’s an independent, hardworking, ambitious risk-taker, the embodiment of someone chasing the mythic American dream. He knows that “if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket”. He also realizes that oftentimes it’s easier to ignore the rules in order to get ahead. In the end what he shows us is that some of the most beautiful caterpillars turn into the ugliest moths, and sometimes the American dream is actually a nightmare.
Michael Fassbender for Hunger (2008) — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag
Hunger was the first feature film of artist-turned-director Steve McQueen and the first truly leading role of for actor Michael Fassbender – the results, for the few who first saw the film, were the career equivalent to the “big bang”. Fassbender’s portrayal of Irish activist Bobby Sands’ journey to self-destruction by way of a hunger strike that occurs within McQueen’s impressionistic portrait of the British-operated prison system leaves a series of indelible memories. One of those memories, a long scene between Fassbender and Liam Cunningham as Father Moran, should be viewed by anyone who appreciates brilliant screen acting. Done in mostly what is a single take with McQueen moving in with his camera so slowly it’s almost painful, Sands and Fr. Moran discuss the morality of Bobby’s intentions and we get a brief glimpse into Bobby’s past through an anecdote that breaks your heart. In one scene, this novice, Fassbender, gives a master class on screen acting. Not only did AMPAS take a pass on Fassbender in Hunger, arguably the best performance of the year, but they also ignored his next venture with McQueen, Shame, which was also the best performance of the year. Although he was finally nominated for his portrayal of a brutally unbalanced slave owner in 12 Years a Slave, Fassie was not to win. The latter two Academy mistakes are indeed worth shaking one’s head at, but you always remember your “first”. If you’ve never seen Hunger, do so.