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Oscar’s 20 Most Unbelievable Acting Snubs

Some of Hollywood's most unforgettable performances were passed over at the time.

by
Kyle Smith

Bio

March 2, 2014 - 8:00 am

The Oscars can’t be expected to get it right every time, but when it comes to the acting categories it’s particularly obtuse. (Joel Grey in Cabaret over Al Pacino in The Godfather? Art Carney in Harry & Tonto over Pacino in The Godfather, Part II? Pacino in Scent of a Woman over Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven? ) Often, great performances don’t even land a nomination. Here’s a list of 20 of the most unbelievable acting Oscar snubs.

1. Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca (1942)

It’s hard to believe, but the future winner of three Academy Awards had just started working in Hollywood and wasn’t nominated for her most immortal performance, the one that defined screen glamor.

casablanca-ingrid-bergman-as-ilsa-with-tears-in-eyes

2. James Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat (1949)

One of the original crazily entertaining anti-heroes, Cagney was incendiary as a ruthless desperado with a mommy fixation.

3. Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Lancaster’s silky voice and controlled movements were like a cookie loaded with arsenic when he played the cruel gossip columnist modeled on Walter Winchell in one of the best and edgiest Hollywood films of the 1950s.

4. Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Another film that cut against the grain of the prevailing costume epics of the time, this nasty satire of, in part, populists like Will Rogers showed off the wicked appeal of Griffith as a folk singer turned TV star who leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.

5. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960)

The little brother everyone would love to have in their family, Perkins was sweetly harmless as a nice young man with an endearing love of taxidermy and a touching devotion to his ailing mother.

6. Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Making his twisted character madly appealing and even hilarious couldn’t have been easy. To this day, McDowell has still never been nominated for an Oscar. 

7. Gene Hackman as Harry Caul in The Conversation (1974)

The standard for restrained, interior acting, Hackman’s performance as a surveillance expert who stumbles into a murder plot drove one of the strongest films from Hollywood’s paranoid 70s.

8. Robert Shaw as Quint in Jaws (1975)

Even without his memorable monologue about the shark attack that followed the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis during World War II, Shaw should have won for being a crafty old sea salt so tough he made for a plausible opponent to a shark.

9. John Cazale as Sal in Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

In his short life, Cazale appeared in five Best Picture-nominated films but never scored a nomination himself. His woebegone, low I.Q. bank robber was his most heartbreaking performance. 

10. and 11. Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now (1979)

There were a lot of strong performances that year — Apocalype’s Robert Duvall was nominated for playing Col. Kilgore — but Sheen’s determination and Brando’s dead-eyed imperiousness should have been recognized also.  

12. R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket (1987)

An ex-drill instructor originally hired as a technical instructor, Ermey was so hilariously gung-ho that Stanley Kubrick fired the actor he had originally cast and replaced him with Ermey on the spot. 

13. Johnny Depp as Edward in Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Then known primarily as a teen idol and hunky star of the cop TV show 21 Jump Street, Depp was tender and tragic as the lost boy with the Freddy Krueger fingers in a magical fairy tale that marked the first of his eight nutty collaborations with director Tim Burton. 

14. Sean Penn as Kleinfeld in Carlito’s Way (1993)

Penn took his game to another level while playing a squirrely cokehead lawyer to a Puerto Rican ex-con trying to stay straight in this intense 1970s drama, one of Brian De Palma’s best films.

15. Bill Murray as Herman Blume in Rushmore (1998)

Having faded as a comedy star, Murray relaunched a second career as a curmudgeonly millionaire who develops a strange friendship with an obnoxious prep school student in this spiky comedy.

16. Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick in Election (1999)

Cute, smug, ambitious and entirely devious, Witherspoon gave no quarter in Alexander Payne’s most perfect satire.

17. Naomi Watts as Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch’s dreamy and operatic L.A. noir was his best film since Blue Velvet, and it turned largely on the dual performance of the then-unknown Watts as both a troubled siren and as a Doris Day-style naif.

18. Bill Nighy as Billy Mack in Love Actually (2002)

Nighy’s loopy, aging rocker gave the film its most hilarious and irresistible character, who grew more charming with every wobble and off-kilter line reading.  

19. Matthew McConaughey as Dallas in Magic Mike (2012)

For years, McConaughey was a joke, a guy whose Texas twang and laid-back laziness had long since turned into self parody. His strip club owner, though, showed a steely and sinister core that re-established him as an actor with demons and dimensions.

20. Scarlett Johansson as Samantha in Her (2013)

Name another actress whose voice is so sexy that she doesn’t even need to be seen in the film to be the kind of girl who (in the worlds of Raymond Chandler) could “make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”

Kyle Smith is a film critic for the the New York Post. His website is at www.kylesmithonline.com.

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Top Rated Comments   
Just a highly personal note here: Sam Elliott for Best Supporting in "We Were Soldiers". His portrayla of Sergeant Major Basil Plumley was uncanny. the fact that there was not even a nomination or honorable mention indicated a lot of Hollywood bias to my way of thinking.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (23)
All Comments   (23)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Burt Lancaster in Flim Flam Man
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Val Kilmer in Tombstone. An amazing performance at all levels.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jon Voight as Manny in 'Runaway Train'.
Best. Performance. Ever.
He lost the Oscar to William Hurt of the very forgettable 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jimmy Stuart in Vertigo. The anguish on his face and in his voice during his last lines in the bell tower are unforgettable.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sorry, misspelled his name. It's Stewart.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Orson Welles in "Touch of Evil."

38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jim Carey as Andy Kaufman in 'Man on the Moon'.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cary Grant for Arsenic and Old Lace. It's hard to do comedy and harder to do farce. Grant was wonderful in this.

Steve Martin in Roxanne. This update of Cyrano de Bergerac was so good and he was funny and touching as could be. But the Academy does not like comedy

Claude Rains in just about anything. The man could not give a bad performance, but I'd like to single out his work in Notorious.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is even a bigger can of worms than best film. How about Jeff Daniels in Gettysburg, or the amazing performances of Chris Tucker and Mila Jovovich in The Fifth Element? Rosalind Russel in His Girl Friday and Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was actually more struck in Gettysburg by Stephen Lang's Pickett, and yes, by Martin Sheen, who turned in an extraordinary (if ironic being Sheen) performance as Lee, of which his only flaw was that he needed to be about eight inches taller.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Robert E. Lee was 5'10", Sheen's 5'7" according to his IMDB page. People often thought Lee was taller because his legs were short; those who didn't *know* him during the war, but saw him, usually observed him on horseback, and it has often been observed he looked taller when on Traveler.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Noted, but remember - It's not how tall he was, it's how tall he looks on screen. :-)
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday...
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
In Tombstone, yes. You beat me to it...
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just a highly personal note here: Sam Elliott for Best Supporting in "We Were Soldiers". His portrayla of Sergeant Major Basil Plumley was uncanny. the fact that there was not even a nomination or honorable mention indicated a lot of Hollywood bias to my way of thinking.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree. Elliott is one of those actors who can inhabit a part like the Sergeant Major and make it live.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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