Some truly crazed and murderous men acting their socks off here – and one man just trying to stay alive. Not one made the short-list come Oscar time. Part 8 of our list of 100 Academy Award Absentees also includes some terrific work by the female branch, their range covers extreme loss and self-abuse. Let’s crack this wide open, though, and start with a Bond girl…
Eva Green for Casino Royale (2006)
I don’t need to scout out various lists of the best Bond Girls to know that Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale is one of the greatest of all time. Vesper molds Bond deeper into the emotionally-enclosed man we know (or should I say, not really know at all – until now). We often wonder if Bond has met his match in his various entanglements with women, and this time he, and the franchise itself, certainly have. That connection in Casino Royale comes from a deeper, vulnerable place. That’s right, 007 was slap-bang in love with Vesper. It’s a volatile relationship, sure, but not only does Vesper save Bond’s life, she also knocks down his walls and pulls off his armor. The actual first Bond girl, French actress Eva Green is a perfect choice for vesper. Seductive, beautiful, intriguing, Green is the sure-fire bet to play a character you’re not ever fully aware whether you should trust or not, but fall head-over-feels for regardless. She is heartbreaking in a Bond chapter given a real, true back-story, and she is allowed to simply soak up the screen time, imploring you the audience to feel too. Green makes Vesper a human, not an ornament, she is extremely, complicatedly smart and slick, both mentally and physically. A strong female character with depth and strength, Eva Green shook and stirred Daniel Craig’s secret agent into life, giving the phenomenon that is Bond a multitude of layers and a beating heart. A series that is such a huge part of film’s history has now given us a remarkably assured performance from Green, easily worthy of an Oscar nomination, but the Academy sadly are a far tougher cookie to break.
Anthony Perkins for Psycho (1960)
The first time we see Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s incomparable Psycho, he’s running through the rain from his house to greet Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane at the Bates Motel. Having just stolen a huge amount of money from her employer, Marion needs a quiet, safe place to stay, and it appears that she has found the perfect refuge in the virtually abandoned lodging. Norman Bates is one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history, and the most terrifying thing about him is how normal he is. When Marion meets with Norman for an impromptu dinner in the Bates Motel office, he is relaxed, charming, and completely likable. He gets agitated when it’s suggested that he put his beloved mother in a home, and we get a sliver of his buried malevolence. Norman is the ultimate mama’s boy – the original. Perkins was nominated for nothing for his portrayal. Sure, horror films are almost completely ignored by the Academy, but Leigh picked up a Best Supporting Actress nomination and a Golden Globe Award. I recently re-watched the film, and I was surprised by how much it actually scared me (I’ve seen it millions of times). The scariest thing about Perkins’ Norman Bates is that you might know a Norman Bates. He’s the guy who helps you with your luggage. The young man who genially helps you to your car. The one who answers every beck and call of his loving mother.
Robert Redford for All Is Lost (2013)
Whether it was by lack of marketing, a lack of talking, or it just was not their taste of poison, the industry at large (or the machinery behind it) seemed to grasp to Redford’s performance in J.C. Chandor’s survivalist picture and then quickly cooled as the nominal season pushed forward as it does. Which is a shame, since the chance was missed to recognize a living legend in Redford for the best acting performance in his long and storied career, up there with such defining portrayals such in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Three Days on the Condor, The Sting, Jeremiah Johnson and much more. In fact, its those performances and Redford’s entire career in general, which is what makes his performance in All Is Lost so mesmerizing – the entirety of his character (who doesn’t even have a name, and is known just as ‘Our Man,’ because Redford for so long has been our man) is nestled in our acknowledgment of Redford the actor, the presence, the man. It’s a pure movie star role – and who has been one of the better stars than Redford – that relies entirely on who this person is, what they have been able to accumulate over a long period of time and most of all, how we respond to them onscreen because of that connection. And it works incredibly, as we witness Our Man stranded out in the middle of the Indian Ocean after a brutal storm trashes his boat and he has to make with his wares to survive as long as he can. The work that Redford serves up, without much talking except for a few grunts, some calls into the radio and frustrated swears, is a sterling text of physical acting; his weathered face says so much about his condition, who he is and how he can depend on his wits and experience and about what his dire straits are as this continue to be exhausted future and further into the story. Even when all is lost, it is not. That pure adrenaline to see Redford survive, to see Our Man survive, to ourselves survive along with him in this forgiving and overwhelming circumstance is a crowning testament to what the actor was able to convey onscreen, it’s just a shame that those are able to award such a performance were lost along the way.
Evan Rachel Wood for Thirteen (2003)
If Mean Girls was a semi-dark comedy inspired by John Hughes coming-of-age pictures and a commentary on high school cliques and the effect it has on young girls’ self-worth & image, first-time director and co-writer Catherine Hardwicke’s harrowing drama is Mark Waters’ take on high school girls gone damn-near pitch black. At the center of youth gone to stray is Evan Rachel Wood’s Tracy, a middle school student who is bright, intelligent and struggling to fit in with her peers, along with grappling with her parents being divorced and mom recovering from alcohol addiction. She is taken under the wing of popular girl Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the screenplay) and the two instantly bond due to shared fears and coming from broken homes. What happens is a whirlwind of drugs, sex, theft and constantly egging the other to find new ways of getting high and acting out, and it’s horrifying to watch Tracy transform from where she started at the beginning to where she eventually ends up. Yet she never forgets to show us the humanity of this character, at her core: a lost girl screaming out for help. In a year where we had young talent like Keisha Castle-Hughes get an Oscar nomination, it would have been nice to see Wood recognized for this brave and brutal portrait of a girl gone wild in the worst possible way.
Paul Dano for There Will Be Blood (2007)
Paul Dano showed encouraging signs of an actor not afraid to explode feelings outward from his character in Little Miss Sunshine. In fact, the signs say he relishes this type of role. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s deep, dark There Will be Blood, Dano has to compete with the immovable Daniel Day Lewis who made career-best acting look easy. Quite a challenge then, and Dano was way beyond up for it, such an achievement, it was hardly questioned whether he would join his co-star on the gold-list. His Eli, a young pastor at the local church on oil-dwelling land, is a highly strung fellow who meets Day Lewis’ Plainview head-on. Humiliated and insulted, Eli still eventually manages to squeeze some remorse from him, though it is ultimately to his own downfall in the end. Dano is eerily good at bringing Eli’s own corrupt obsession, greed and sly nature to the screen. One of the most fascinating, brilliant performances of the year, a genuinely major surprise that Dano missed out on a Best Supporting Actor nomination given the movie’s popularity come awards season. Blessed he was not.
Christian Bale for American Psycho (1999)
Not all Oscar snubs are created equal. Some years there are only a few great performances, and so a truly remarkable performance going overlooked is a real slight. Other years the field is so deep that there are bound to be some unforgettable performances that get the shaft. The year 2000 was one of those really deep fields for lead actor, which unfortunately led to Christian Bale’s fantastic performance as Wall Street psychopath Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to go relatively unnoticed at the time. That year he was facing the formidable fivesome of Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls), Tom Hanks (Cast Away), Ed Harris (Pollack) and Geoffrey Rush (Quills), and regrettably he drew the short straw. In any other year any one of those performances could’ve walked away with the top prize, but for my money the best actor of the year was Bale. From the opening moments of the film you realize you are watching a master at work, as his physical prowess is matched by the steely cool of his voice-over work, and you get the sense right away that you are seeing and hearing something entirely original unfold on the screen. Over the course of the film you see Bale’s character slowly lose all track of reality to the point where not even he can tell if the events that are unfolding are real or not. His over-the-top style makes this performance both freighting and hysterical at the same time, an unnerving mix. One moment he’s discussing the musical merits of Phil Collins or Huey Lewis, the next he is chopping someone up with an axe or chasing them down the hall naked with a chainsaw. It’s these constant 180 degree twists that make it hard to look away from the screen, but cause a serious case of whiplash at the same time. He always keeps you guessing, and you can’t wait to see what happens next. He’s simply unforgettable. Fifteen years and a few billion dollars at the box office later, Bale is widely regarded as one of the finest actors working today. In 2000, he was simply the best.
Ingrid Thulin for Cries and Whispers (1972)
History is strewn with nonsensical Oscar snubs for actors in Ingmar Bergman films – for all that the Academy’s actors branch made attempts at embracing his ensembles (though only when these ensembles were small and starry) in his later cinematic years, they made far too many oversights prior to that, given Bergman’s increasing popularity within the American industry through the 1960s and ’70s. If missing out on one of Cries and Whispers’ leads is one of Oscar’s more understandable faults (there are four of them, after all, and all female), it doesn’t mitigate the worthiness of Ingrid Thulin, tuning in masterful work in this masterpiece. Playing the stern, embittered sister alongside co-leads Harriet Andersson and Liv Ullmann, Thulin delivers thrilling, throttling work, seizing hold of this richest of all Bergman’s rich characters and wrestling from her an indelible performance. Whether it be a dining table bridge-burning where as much is communicated by what goes unsaid as by all of the particulars of what is said, or an unforgettable act of self-mutilation that shocks still today, Thulin is riveting in her role. She responds to one of the greatest writers of female characters of the 20th Century with one of the greatest performances of such characters.
Victoire Thivisol for Ponette (1996)
Following the tragic death of her mother in a car accident, four year-old Ponette has to stay with relatives and endure some rather unfounded taunting about her very loss. Kids can be cruel, yes. This kid though, Victoire Thivisol (who was not much older than her character at the time), is a pure revelation – to see this little girl actually acting to such emotional power with your own eyes is a thing of wonder. I mean, Ponette is traumatized, grieving, a child not fully aware of the implications and reality of her great loss, and Thivisol appears to be a natural. And this is not a supporting role either, the film focuses directly on Ponette and her mourning, a journey that makes me feel the urge to reach for tissues just thinking about it now. I loved Quvenzhané Wallis, Mary Badham, Dakota Fanning, Linda Blair, but in all honesty I have never seen anything quite like this. Victoire Thivisol is the youngest ever winner of Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival, but hardly anywhere else that year did she garner the support or acclaim she thoroughly deserved. A chance of Oscar recognition could have yielded a beloved and historical winner.
Brad Pitt for The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
Even though most of the attention went to Casey Affleck’s fantastic performance as Robert Ford in 2007, Pitt delivered an incredible performance of his own – dark, haunting, mercurial – in Andrew Dominik’s dense and hypnotic neo-Western. Playing the titular character who gets got in the film’s own title, Pitt’s James plays both sides of almost every fence one can think of; inviting and distant, cruel and playful, enigmatic and engaging, Pitt conjures a legend who is aware of his own legend and seems to be not only be capable of using it as a weapon like that of his shooters, but also wary of it at the same time. The way he engages with others, especially with the Ford Brothers, shows a lot of what he considers and thinks of others in any given scene and throughout the film as well. A family man who is the ultimate outlaw, Pitt relishes in giving such a performance that he fuels of contradictions – it is very much a weird performance that allows him to capture, paint and emphasize those contradictions overall. Be it shooting a frozen lake, having near nonsensical conversations with former members of his gang that he eventually puts down for his own self-preservation to eating (as Pitt likes to do in his films) and horsing around, Pitt breathes an entire life into his Jesse James that knows he is at the end of his rope and he sees a kindred spirit in Ford to relieve him accordingly. Even his glances tell a story of what it means to be this particular man at the end of his particular time; ‘he had a condition refereed to as granulated eyelids that caused him to blink more than usual, as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept.’ At least the Venice Film Festival knew what they found in this one.
Marion Cotillard / Matthias Schoenaerts for Rust and Bone (2012)
Oh look, I am talking about Marion Cotillard again. Well, is there any wonder? Had enough members of the Academy voted for her ridiculously emotive and penetrating performance in Jacques Audiard’s near-masterpiece Rust and Bone, there would not need to bring her up all the time. Okay, fine, I still would have. In Rust and Bone Cotillard shows us the suffering and acclimatizing following a harrowing accident leaving her without use of her legs. She is just so full of heartache and pain, yet somehow demonstrates a woman who still has it in her to blossom through it all. Cotillard is a remarkable talent, she has the presence and talent of a true movie star, bringing that endearing, poignant acting to these roles, while all the while showing an incredible range and depth. The central performance by Matthias Schoenaerts also deserves a huge mention, a dominant, compelling turn from start to finish. He also goes through a hard-fought journey, more of self-awareness than physical ailment. A brutal piece of acting, tugging at the emotional strings just enough for us to truly care about his plight. Together, Schoenaerts and Cotillard’s chemistry aligns deeply with Audiard’s raw directorial style – yet again making social pain and redemption a thing of cinematic beauty.