Monday, March 7, 2016

Oscar's Overlooked, Part 1

As someone who has been a student of sorts of the Oscars for more than 30 years now, I've certainly realized that picking "the best" of anything—the best performances, the best films, even the best scores—is hard to do when you're not comparing apples to apples. (Legend has it that Humphrey Bogart once suggested that all five nominees be asked to perform the same monologue, perhaps Hamlet's soliloquy, in order to determine who was the best.)

The thing with the Oscars, however, is it's kind of like a doctor's office. They're always playing catch-up. All too often the Oscars reward an actor or actress for their body of work, sometimes because the performance they most deserved to win for either wasn't recognized, or it was passed over because that year they were rewarding someone else. While the Oscars do get it right from time to time, overall, their track record is kind of mixed.

Now that this year's ceremony has passed, I thought I'd look back at some of the performances and films over the years that didn't win but, at least in my opinion, should have. (Of course this is subjective; so is choosing a winner of anything.) In some cases these individuals and movies were nominated but didn't win, and in some cases, they weren't even nominated. So, here goes...

David Oyelowo, Selma (2014)
Not nominated

The Deal: As much as I loved Eddie Redmayne's Oscar-winning performance in The Theory of Everything, David Oyelowo should have won the Best Actor Oscar last year for his utterly mesmerizing portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Ava DuVernay's fantastic Selma. He captivated King's cadences, his mannerisms, and his quiet yet fiery nature, but Oyelowo is British, to boot! While I don't think his omission from the list of nominees last year was in any way racially motivated, I do think he should have made it over Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, and should have made it directly to the podium to accept his Oscar!

Glenn Close, Fatal Attraction (1987)
Nominated but lost to Cher for Moonstruck

The Deal: Nearly 30 years later, I cannot believe Glenn Close didn't win an Oscar for her portrayal of a woman who becomes utterly unhinged after a slightly-more-than-one-night-stand spurns her hopes for a longer-term relationship. While parts of the performance were a little campy, her combination of pathos, rage, and emotional instability was truly memorable and unlike most film characters, at least in the 1980s. Yet she was passed over for an Oscar because the Academy was paying Cher back for snubbing her two years earlier for Mask. And amazingly, despite six nominations, Close still doesn't have an Oscar...let's talk about people who are overdue!!

Edward Norton, American History X (1998)
Nominated but lost to Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful

The Deal: If it were up to me, Edward Norton would have two Oscars, one for this searing performance, and one for Best Supporting Actor two years earlier for his riveting (and creepy) work in Primal Fear. (He lost to Cuba Gooding, Jr. that year.) His performance in American History X as a former neo-Nazi in prison for his crimes, who is determined that his younger brother not follow the same path he did, is so riveting. At times he is full of bravado, at times utterly vulnerable as he reaches out to unlikely allies to keep his younger brother out of trouble. It's a shame a performance this rich (but perhaps too disturbing for sensitive Academy minds in the late 1990s) was overlooked for the broad comedy of Benigni.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Emma (1996)
Not nominated

The Deal: I mentioned in my preface to this post that the Oscars are quite often about playing catch-up. Someone doesn't win for a performance they deserve to win for, so they win for a lesser performance, thus passing over the deserved winner that year. This is the case for Gwyneth Paltrow's terrific work in Emma. While I don't think she should have taken the Oscar over Frances McDormand for Fargo, she certainly deserved a nomination. But that snub, in part, was what led to her win two years later for Shakespeare in Love, which I didn't think was as good as this performance (and I might have ranked it third among the five nominees that year). She demonstrated her flair for saucy comedy as well as her sensitivity, and this is a performance I've watched more than a few times.

Paul Thomas Dano, There Will Be Blood! (2007) Not nominated

The Deal: While Daniel Day-Lewis was a mesmerizing force of nature in this movie, Paul Dano more than held his own against him. Playing two characters—a preacher and faith healer who wants the money from the sale of his family farm to fund his church, and his shyer, ne'er-do-well brother—Dano fully captures each character individually, and stokes the fire of Day-Lewis' rapidly building bluster until he explodes. While no one could have beaten Javier Bardem in 2007 for his creepy, unforgettable performance in No Country for Old Men, Dano definitely deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination alongside him. (Dano would again be passed over this year, for his terrific performance as a young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Michael Shannon, Take Shelter (2011)
Not nominated

The Deal: I talked about this performance way back in 2012, and it really hasn't left my mind. I'm a huge Michael Shannon fan (mostly), and this is one of his best performances. Playing a man trying to make sense of his increasingly disturbing (and perhaps apocalyptic) dreams. Is he hallucinating? Is he seeing visions of what is to come? Whatever the reason, Shannon does an incredible job of portraying a man just barely (if that) holding himself together. This film didn't get much (if any) exposure when it was released, but I think Shannon's performance was deserving of an Oscar, more so than that year's winner, The Artist's Jean Dujardins.

Annette Bening, Bugsy (1991)
Not nominated

The Deal: Amazingly, Annette Bening doesn't have an Oscar, despite some fantastic Oscar-nominated performances (she lost to Hilary Swank twice). And then there's this performance, which didn't even get nominated. Her portrayal of Virginia Hill the gun moll who was the love of gangster Bugsy Siegel's life, was so spot-on, sexy and brash and vulnerable and fierce all at the same time. But what you didn't realize at the time was that the chemistry between Bening's character and Warren Beatty's Bugsy Siegel was more than just good acting—it was the start of a relationship (and a marriage the following year) which has lasted for 25 years now. Watching the movie after their relationship became public imbued Bening's every line with more sensuality—when she tells Siegel to "go outside and jerk yourself a soda," you feel it. The only reason I can attribute to her snub (given that the film received 11 Oscar nominations) is that she somehow was held responsible for the film's commercial failure, while Beatty, as well as Ben Kingsley and Harvey Keitel, all received Oscar nods. Such a shame.

There are many more performances I think deserved recognition from Oscar, so I'll be back with Part II shortly! Would love to hear your thoughts on these performances—of course, these are only my opinion!

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