Not every great actor wins an Academy Award. (Rest in peace, Peter O’Toole.*) In fact, simply getting nominated for an Oscar or two might be the truer measure of excellence. There have been plenty of actors with as many Oscar statues as Paul Newman — one! — but few can hold a candle to his nine nominations, which represent a lifetime of brilliance.
But before an actor can pile up multiple nominations like Newman or O’Toole or Al Pacino, he or she needs that first nod. Sounds simple enough. Last year, four actors heard their name called for the first time, and when this year’s nominations are read on Jan. 16, several more — like Chiwetel Ejiofor — are likely to join the club.
Once an actor gets that prefix attached to her name — “Oscar-nominee” — voters seem more inclined to bestow it again and again. But getting that first nomination sometimes seems as hard as earning that first $1 million. Inevitably, there will be some great actors and great performances that will get passed over this year — again. For some young actors, it might be a slight disappointment tempered by a bright future that hopefully will bring other opportunities. But for other, more seasoned actors, every near-miss is a thud to the mid-section that can echo like a chiming grandfather clock.
It’s these “unrecognized” actors that highlight our Oscar Too-Due List. Some of them are Oscar contenders this year; others might not be in the mix but have been regularly overlooked by the Academy. I don’t approve when Oscar unofficially hands out career-achievement awards in the form of a nomination, but here is a list of 20 actors who are overdue for some love:
20. Julie Delpy
Best career performances: Before Sunrise trilogy, The Countess
Recent overlooked gem: Before Midnight?
Outlook: The Globes and the Indie Spirit awards recognized her uncomfortably tense performance in the latest Jesse/Celine movie from Richard Linklater, but her name isn’t mentioned on many Oscar short-lists. It should be.
19. John Goodman
Best career performances: Barton Fink, Argo, The Big Lebowski
Recent overlooked gem: Flight
Outlook: Goodman’s best performances have been comic, especially in his Coen brothers movies like Inside Llewyn Davis. But he’s a true master, making the most of supporting turns in movies like Flight. With the World War II movie Monuments Men out in February, perhaps he’ll be in the mix again next year.
18. Michael Fassbender
Best career performances: Hunger, Shame, Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave
Recent overlooked gem: Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method
Outlook: Yes, he’s only 36, and yes, it seems like we’re just getting to know him. But the Academy has sniffed at some stellar work, an oversight that stands to be corrected with his terrifying role in 12 Years a Slave.
17. Matthew McConaughey
Best career performances: Frailty, Magic Mike, Mud, Dallas Buyers Club
Recent overlooked gem: Killer Joe
Outlook: A safe bet to land a nomination for Dallas Buyers Club, vindicating a strategic change in the type of acting career he’s planning for himself. In just a few years, he went from Burt Reynolds to Paul Newman.
16. Kurt Russell
Best career performances: Silkwood, Tequila Sunrise, Miracle
Recent overlooked gem: Death Proof (sorta)
Outlook: Here’s hoping he and Quentin Tarantino connect on the director’s upcoming Western. Russell wasn’t necessarily the most muscled or most popular ’80s action hero, but no one made playing a tough guy look more natural or more fun.
15. Bruce Willis
Best career performances: Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Nobody’s Fool
Recent overlooked gem: Looper, Moonrise Kingdom
Outlook: The Red, Expendables, and Die Hard franchises continue to make him money, limiting opportunities for his finer, less hammy performances.
14. Ewan McGregor
Best career performances: Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, Big Fish, I Love You Phillip Morris
Recent overlooked gem: The Ghost Writer, Beginners, The Impossible
Outlook: He hasn’t had that overwhelming must-nominate performance, but there’s been a steady drip-drip-drip to his success. He’s been extremely good in some recent acclaimed films, with co-stars Christopher Plummer and Naomi Watts grabbing the nominations instead. You would think it’s just a matter of time for him, if he keeps up with these acting choices.
13. Scarlett Johansson
Best career performances: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Lost in Translation, Match Point
Recent overlooked gem: Her?
Outlook: Her voice-only performance in Her caused many voters to consider her candidacy, but it’s unlikely to yield a nomination. Oddly enough, she’s the rare non-nominated actress whose name lends Oscar-like prestige to a project — perhaps because they’ve convinced themselves she was nominated for Lost in Translation?
12. Alan Rickman
Best career performances: Die Hard, Galaxy Quest, Sense and Sensibility
Recent overlooked gem: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Outlook: Every one seems to have come around to the fact that his Hans Gruber was one of the greatest villains of all time; that he became a sentimental choice for Severus Snape seemed, in part, an effort to correct that earlier omission. Perhaps he’ll direct himself to an Oscar: he next plays King Louis XIV opposite Kate Winslet in his film, A Little Chaos.
11. Jeff Daniels
Best career performances: Terms of Endearment, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Gettysburg, The Squid and the Whale
Recent overlooked gem: The Lookout
Outlook: Daniels is an Emmy-winner now for his performance on The Newsroom. Perhaps that prestige will land him some promising dramatic roles — before the Dumb and Dumber sequel strikes.
10. Steve Buscemi
Best career performances: Fargo, Ghost World, Reservoir Dogs
Recent overlooked gem: The Messenger
Outlook: Another Emmy-nominee locked into an HBO show, Buscemi has a promising supporting turn opposite a relatively serious Adam Sandler in Tom McCarthy’s upcoming movie, The Cobbler.
9. Jennifer Jason Leigh
Best career performances: Miami Blues, Single White Female, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Georgia
Recent overlooked gem: Margot at the Wedding
Outlook: She seems like the perfect actress for a Charlie Kaufman style comedy. Good news: she stars in Kaufman’s next movie, Anomalisa.
8. Mia Farrow
Best career performances: Rosemary’s Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Purple Rose of Cairo
Recent overlooked gem: N/A
Outlook: With all the actresses who landed nominations in Woody Allen’s films, it’s difficult to believe she never got the call. Today, though, she seems more interested in her causes than her acting career.
7. Sam Rockwell
Best career performances: The Green Mile, Matchstick Men, Confession of a Dangerous Mind, Moon
Recent overlooked gem: The Way Way Back
Outlook: Totally underrated by Oscar, perhaps because his performances often have a sly comic bent. But look at his best movies: with the exception of the one-man-show Moon, he is the equal or superior of his co-stars, who happen to be some of Hollywood’s most-honored leading men.
6. Dennis Quaid
Best career performances: Breaking Away, The Right Stuff, Wyatt Earp, Far From Heaven
Recent overlooked gem: The Express
Outlook: His Bill Clinton in a 2010 HBO movie was one of the best things he’s ever done, proving he’s still got his fastball when he wants to throw it.
5. Peter Sarsgaard
Best career performances: Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass, Garden State, Kinsey
Recent overlooked gem: An Education
Outlook: Yes, I had to check twice to make sure that Sarsgaard had not been nominated. He may be a young guy, but he’s been excellent in award-winning films and consistently great in complete drivel. I thought the Oscars were made for actors like Sarsgaard.
4. Jim Carrey
Best career performances: The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Recent overlooked gem: I Love You Philip Morris
Outlook: Have you heard? Oscar doesn’t respect comedy. But Carrey’s near-misses are marks against the Academy, especially The Truman Show, a layered, dynamic performance that has only grown in esteem since it came out in 1998.
3. Steve Martin
Best career performances: All of Me, Roxanne, Grand Canyon, Bowfinger
Recent overlooked gem: Shopgirl
Outlook: See Carrey above. It will piss me off to no end when the Academy inevitably nominates Martin for some un-funny supporting role in 2016. Because what he did as a comedian was sublime and deserving of recognition in its own right.
2. Donald Sutherland
Best career performances: MASH, Klute, Don’t Look Now, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ordinary People, JFK
Recent overlooked gem: Pride & Prejudice
Outlook: Like Farrow, Sutherland is an actor that you assume was nominated decades ago, especially since their early films have become classics. Sutherland is now best known as President Snow in the Hunger Games franchise, which is unlikely to land him a nod. However, he and Kiefer are teaming up for a Western, Forsaken, in which they play a father and son, one a man of God, the other a gunslinger. You never know.
1. Richard Gere
Best career performances: Days of Heaven, An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, Chicago, The Hoax
Recent overlooked gem: Arbitrage
Outlook: Gere was in the hunt last year with Arbitrage, a movie that took advantage of his unique leading-man aura. Gere’s characters have always had a little bit of larceny in their eyes. Perhaps Gere was discounted in his prime because of his good looks, but his best performances were bona fide Hollywood-star roles, and he never failed to make them interesting.
Who did I leave off my list? Which actor or actress do you think is the most due for an Oscar nomination?
[* Peter O'Toole was presented with an honorary Oscar in 2003, a consolation prize even he seemed to bristle at. He responded with another nominated performance four years later in Venus.]