Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Snubs

Entertainment Weekly just put out a list of the 100 worst Oscar snubs ever. There are some great performances that they mention, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Steve Martin in All of Me, Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, and the number one snub of all time, Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. It's an entertaining list, and I thought I would add list of my own favorite overlooked performances.

Let's start with Kim Novak in Vertigo. She was great in it, as was Jimmy Stewart. But neither of them were helped by the fact that Vertigo was a flop when it was first released. Kim has to play two very different roles, which Oscar usually loves.

Cary Grant in North By Northwest. Okay, so Cary doesn't get to show a lot of dramatic range in his role as Roger O. Thornhill, but it's perhaps the quintessential Cary Grant performance. And even though comedy does not win awards, it's difficult to pull it off, and Grant always did.

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt. (Yet another Hitchcock movie.) EW mentioned this role, but I would add, Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and The Third Man. Clearly the man deserved an Oscar nod for at least one of these parts! One of the biggest stars of the 1940's, Cotten was never nominated for an Oscar. In fact, according to, the only kind of award he was ever nominated for was the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 1949 Venice Film Festival, for his role in Portrait of Jennie. (At least he won that!) Although Orson Welles gets all the buzz for his speech on the ferris wheel in The Third Man, it's Cotten's performance that carries the film. And, according to Graham Greene, who wrote The Third Man, we have Cotten to thank for his character's name. In Greene's book The Third Man, Cotten's character is named Rollo. Cotten apparently thought it sounded gay, so they changed it to Holly. (Which doesn't sound gay at all...) But the wonderful thing about this change is it allowed Valli's character Anna to call Holly Harry, the name of Welles's character. This confusion shows that she is still attached to Harry, even though she's now with Holly. (It wouldn't have worked with Rollo. Also, it reminds me of the candy.)

Martin Sheen in Badlands, and Apocalypse Now. Okay, two all-time great performances that EW totally spaced on. (Although they did mention Sissy Spacek's performance in Badlands.) In Badlands Sheen channels the ghost of James Dean as a bored, loopy serial killer; it's a career-making performance. And should have earned him a shot at the statue. And then we have Apocalypse Now. One of the greatest movies ever made, it runs some 3 hours and 20 minutes in the uncut version re-released in 2001. Martin Sheen is on-screen for 98% of the movie. He carries it, he makes it, it's his movie! Yeah, Brando gets the crazy-guy part (and top billing!) and Robert Duvall gets the line everyone remembers, but Martin is the guy we follow into the madness. With anyone else, it would have fallen apart. The man had a heart attack on the set and endured some 200-plus days of shooting! What more do you want??? And he delivers a great performance. Possibly the most underrated performance of all time.

Alan Bates in pretty much anything he was ever in. In my own opinion one of the finest actors ever, Bates brought a sharp intelligence to every part he played. An underrated actor, he should have been nominated for at least King of Hearts and Women In Love. He was also excellent in An Unmarried Woman and The Cherry Orchard. At least he got some respect on the stage, where he won two Tonys.

Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear. Truly frightening and menacing, Mitchum put the fear in Cape Fear. Compare it to Robert DeNiro's completely over the top hamminess in the much inferior remake. Who are you more scared of? Since DeNiro was actually nominated for this role, justice dictates that Mitchum should have won an Oscar.

Peter Sellers in Lolita. Sellers is truly creepy, and oddly scary, as he menaces James Mason.

James Mason in Lolita. A great performance that Oscar was probably never going to touch, given the subject matter.

Jeremy Irons in Lolita. When this remake came out, I was so bowled over by Irons's performance, I was afraid he would win every award imaginable, and everyone would forget all about how good James Mason was in the original. Turns out, I was wrong.

Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice. Okay, so he's only in the movie for about 12 minutes, even though he's the title character. Still, it's brilliant. Odd fact: Tim Burton first envisioned Sammy Davis Jr. playing Beetlejuice! I can see Sammy as a helpful little guide guy, ala Ringo as Mr. Conductor on "Shining Time Station," but I cannot see him as the sleazy, horny pervert that Michael Keaton plays!

William Holden in Picnic. Holden got his share of Oscar love, (3 nods, 1 win) although he should have won for Sunset Boulevard instead of Stalag 17. But his role as the drifter who charms the whole town in William Inge's Picnic was one of his best. Plus, his dance with Kim Novak is one of the sexiest scenes in movie history. Factoid: Holden didn't think he could dance and didn't want to do the scene; he finally shot the scene after having a few drinks. Additional factoid: For some reason, the censors made Holden shave his chest for this movie. I have no idea why, I can only assume that they felt that the sight of male chest hair might excite the female populace to rioting.

Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate. EW rightly mentions Frank Sinatra's brilliant work in this movie as deserving a nomination, I would add his castmate Harvey. It's tough to play somebody who's being brainwashed, and the always underrated Harvey pulled it off. (He's also excellent in Summer and Smoke.) It's a pity Sinatra couldn't find more roles as good as this one.

Oh, and there are so many more I'm sure I could add! Anyway, that's just my two cents, don't get me started on actors who should have actually won an Oscar! (Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, that means you!)


Holly A Hughes said...

And you've forgotten to mention Joseph Cotten in The Magnificent Ambersons as well, though it was the Citizen Kane role where he most broke my heart. That scene where he resigns from working on Kane's paper -- sublime. Welles' performance absolutely depended on being able to play off of Cotten's.

You forgot to mention Michael Keaton (a HUGELY overlooked talent) in Multiplicity, where he plays four roles, with no make-up or costumes to differentiate them, nothing but his little subtle changes in manner and gesture -- and you always knew absolutely which of them it was at any moment on screen. Genius.

Alan Bates in Far From the Madding Crowd, too. Holly Hunter in Broadcast News. Toni Collete in absolutely every movie she's ever been in.

Mark said...

Holly, I totally agree with you that Orson's performance in Citizen Kane depended on Cotten also giving a strong performance. (Same thing with The Third Man, Cotten doesn't have the flashy part, but we need him there to take us through the story.)

Ah, Multiplicity! I haven't seen that since it came out, so I don't remember a lot about it, but I remember Keaton being very good in it, and I remember that he plays 4 roles. It seemed like there was a while when Michael Keaton was going to be the Next Big Thing, late 80's, early 90's, and then he kind of cooled off and wasn't in much. I've always really liked him, I should watch some more of his old movies.

Yes, Toni Collete is brilliant in everything I've ever seen her in.

I also forget to mention George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It's a great piece of work, and shows how the Academy overlooks any role that's comic at all. (Also, John Tuturro and Tim Blake Nelson are terrific in O Brother.)