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Saturday, January 24, 2015

6 Brilliant Acting Performances That Were Almost Nominated For An Academy Award

There is a really funny film by Christopher Guest called For Your Consideration about a small-budget movie that happens to get Oscar buzz early on in its production. The movie follows its producers as they attempt to change the movie to gear up towards Awards Season and how even a whiff of potentially being nominated for an Oscar affects the actors. It's very enjoyable if you like dry humor or if you're an Oscar nut like myself. In the end, nobody who expected to get an Academy Award nomination ends up getting one. It's unfortunate, but that's the way the world works sometimes. Look how upset the director of Force Majeure was when he found out he was snubbed. Jake Gyllenhaal gave an all-time great acting performance in Nightcrawler this year and his performance was nominated by the SAG, Golden Globes, and BAFTAs, yet the Oscars screwed him over. Sometimes greatness gets passed over. even performances that garnered Oscar buzz. These 6 Brilliant Acting Performances That Were Almost Nominated For An Academy Award are the perfect examples of that.

Jeff Daniels (The Squid and The Whale) BEST ACTOR
78th Annual Academy Awards (2006)

The 12th annual Screen Actors Guild nominated Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk The Line), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck), and Russell Crowe (Cinderella Man) as their five nominees for Best Male Actor. Before Awards Season began, these five men seemed like the five front runners to earn an Oscar nomination, so the SAG awards did not seem all that surprising. However, as the Season dragged on, Russell Crowe started losing steam. The BAFTA’s nominated Hoffman, Ledger, Phoenix, and Strathairn but they also nominated Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardner) instead of Crowe. It seemed like a forgone conclusion that Crowe wasn’t going to get an Oscar nomination. Maybe it was because people started realizing that Cinderella Man was generic garbage, maybe people were getting sick of Russell Crowe’s shit, or maybe James Braddock wasn’t a good enough boxer in real life. However, if Crowe wasn’t going to get a nomination, then who would?

As the Academy Award balloting started winding to an end, two likely candidates emerged to earn that “5th nomination” spot: Jeff Daniels for his work in The Squid and The Whale and Terrence Howard for his work in Hustle and Flow. At the time, I wished it had gone to Howard because I thought “all Daniels had to do was talk with a straight face and why does that deserve a nomination?" While my high school self was rewarded as Howard did end up getting the "last" Best Actor nomination, little did I realize how great and nuanced Jeff Daniels’ performance was.

I went back to watch The Squid and The Whale a few months ago, and I now comprehend what an amazing performance Jeff Daniels gave. If I had to decide between Howard and Daniels I would still probably go with Howard, but Jeff Daniels gave a much better performance than Joaquin Phoenix and David Strathairn gave. Jeff Daniels played a struggling writer / community college professor who just separated from his wife while trying to raise his two kids (including a then unknown Jesse Eisenberg) in New York City in the 80’s. Daniels’ character is a conceited, pretentious sonuvabitch who resents his new ex-wife for becoming a more successful writer than he ever was. Daniels had the difficult task of both being extremely unlikable while also forcing the viewer to care for his actions (ironically something Jesse Eisenberg has made a career of and earned an Oscar nomination for his work in The Social Network a few years later for doing the exact same thing.). Daniels’ character is such an asshole and a prick who thinks he’s right and everybody else in wrong. You just want to scream “shut the fuck up” at this character yet you’re still thoroughly engrossed with his story line. Daniels’ gave an incredibly nuanced performance that not many people in Hollywood can do and it’s a shame The Academy recognized showier performances over this one.

Charlize Theron (Young Adult) BEST ACTRESS; Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
84th Annual Academy Awards (2012)

I love Jason Reitman’s Young Adult and I will defend ranking it as my #1 film of 2011 over both Drive and Moneyball. I think people hate / never saw Young Adult as The Perfect Storm of Shit coalesced on this film. For starters, Young Adult suffered from a huge backlash thanks to Juno. Like Young Adult, Juno was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman with the former actually earning an Oscar win. Juno was a massive success earning millions upon millions of dollars at the Box Office and multiple Oscar nominations. However, success brings out the haters and Juno is considered overrated today. It's easy to hate on Juno nowadays and I think that false contempt carried over when Young Adult was released. 

Further, The Academy hated Young Adult for a variety of reasons: including the fact that it's a comedy, it's a film that is most certainly not geared towards the old and white majority, and Jason Reitman became too cocky while promoting his previous film Up In The Air. It's a damn shame that so much politicking has to be done to earn Oscar nominations and voters can't just nominate solely based upon the quality of the film and the quality of an actor's performance. It's so petty and childish that Reitman will probably never earn another Oscar nomination again because he didn't act like The Academy thought he should have acted like. 

In the end, The Academy decided to shut out Young Adult entirely, which meant no nominations for either Charlize Theron or Patton Oswalt. In the film, Theron plays Mavis Gary, a semi-successful writer and an alcoholic who returns back to her hometown because she gets an invitation to a baby shower of her high school lover and stupidly mistakes it as an invite that he wants to get back together. Mavis still believes she’s The Most Popular Girl In School and looks down upon everyone in her crappy home town. Mavis Gary is a horrible human being who no one should aspire to. She purposefully tries to become a home wrecker and her contempt for everyone around her just makes her ugly on the inside. Despite all of this, Mavis Gary is the hero of this story and she is a fascinating character. You want to follow this despicable human being around thanks to the incredible performance by Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron.

Patton Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf in the film, a man crippled by The Popular Kids back in high school because there was a rumor he was gay. He ends up becoming the only one who befriends Mavis when she comes back into town for the baby shower and Oswalt showed the world that he's more than just a stand up comedian. While Matt is the comic levity in this dark and twisted tale, he's also the voice of reason and the only one to truly tell Mavis how it is. Patton Oswalt brings humanity to what could be a two-dimensional plot device and brings more to this performance besides a physical deformity. Both Oswalt and Theron were spectacular in Young Adult and both deserved way more credit than they actually received. On the plus side, Oswalt's nomination snub did give us an excellent epic Twitter rant.

84th Annual Academy Awards (2012)

Unfortunately, unlike Patton Oswalt, Albert Brooks did have a realistic shot of earning an Oscar nomination. Hitfix, Indiewire, Collider, Rope of Silicon, E! and countless others were predicting the former rom-com Oscar sweetheart would get a nomination. Brooks' nomination was such a lock that Patton Oswalt's Twitter rant was actually directed at him,

Drive was so freaking good and everyone who watched it loved it. In the super, super, super weak year for movies that 2011 was, Drive seemed like a lock to earn multiple Oscar nominations. Yet in the end, it earned only one- Best Sound Mixing. That's a crying shame as Drive is going to be remembered for years and years while we've already forgotten about The Artist, The Descendants, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

In a surprising turn of events, Albert Brooks, the guy who made a career about being the likable everyman, plays the villain the in film. And he's phenomenal as the antagonist. He still has that everyman vibe going for him, but he's at the other end of the nice/evil spectrum from his other performances. Every conversation Brooks' Bernie Rose has seems like a normal one, yet he's so god damn menacing. Even though a film like Drive doesn't normally appear to be in The Academy's wheelhouse, the type of performance Albert Brooks' gave was one that The Academy has honored and honored recently. Health Ledger (The Dark Knight), Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men), and Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) had all won Best Supporting Actor Academy Awards just a few years prior for playing an excellent villain and antagonist, so it's baffling why Brooks wasn't even nominated in the same vein.

Scarlett Johansson (Lost In Translation) BEST ACTRESS
76th Annual Academy Awards (2004)

If you would have asked me before I wrote this post how many Academy Award nominations Scarlett Johansson had before this year, I would have put her in Amy Adams territory and guessed like five. Not only is Johansson an incredible actress but her name always floats around the awards circuit every year. The actual number of Oscar nominations Scar-Jo has? Zero. Nada. Zip. None. How the fuck does that happen?! Saying Scarlett Johansson doesn't have an Oscar nomination is like saying Beyonce doesn't have a Grammy nod. It just seems unfathomable.

One of Johansson's best performances was her breakthrough role as Charlotte in Sophia Coppola's modern classic Lost In Translation. Not only was The Academy fully aware of the film as it earned four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director, but Johansson earned a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA win for her work on this film. I don't understand how you can say Lost In Translation is one of the best films of the year without also claiming Scarlett Johansson wasn't one of the five best actresses of the year as well. Sure, Bill Murray was sensational and he earned an Oscar nomination for his work, but Scarlet Johansson was the other equally-good half of that puzzle. And it's not like The Academy feels actors have to "pay their dues" to earn a nomination as someone named Keisha Castle-Hughes earned a nomination for her work in a film called Whale Rider that year. Also, Diane Keaton in Something's Gotta Give earned an Oscar nomination in 2004 and Johansson didn't. Really Academy? Really?

Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained) BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
85th Annual Academy Awards (2013)

As we all know, The Academy hates Leo. After he lost the Best Actor Oscar for his work in The Wolf of Wall Street to Matthew McConaughey in 2014, I saw someone post on Imgur who joked that Leo will go his entire life without ever winning an Oscar, but the person who portrays him in a biopic of his life after he's gone will win an Academy Award for that performance.

Obviously The Academy doesn't really hate Leo as he does have 3 Best Actor nominations, a Best Supporting Actor nod as another one for producing The Wolf of Wall Street. But it certainly feels like they hate him, doesn't it? One of the reasons it feels that way (outside of the fact that he hasn't won yet) is that he failed to get a nomination for his incredible work in Django Unchained yet his co-star Christoph Waltz not only got a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but won it. First of all, I don't know how anyone can watch Django Unchained and think Waltz gave a supporting performance, and secondly, I don't know how  they can watch this film and think DiCaprio doesn't give the best performance of his career (at that time).

As with Albert Brooks in Drive and Leo here, The Academy doesn't seem to take stock in actors giving great performances going against type. I think that's a shame because going against type and doing it successfully shows the range of an actor and shows how good their ability really is. Leonardo DiCpario has made a career of first being the love interest and then being the complicated guy who you ultimately root for, but never has he ever played the bad guy- and he's most certainly never played a character as evil and loathsome as his character was in Django. However, DiCaprio's Calvin Candie was a charismatic and charming man who just so happens to be a slave owner and believes strongly in Mandingo fighting. Pretty messed up stuff, but DiCaprio pulled it off without a hitch. There was no reason The Academy couldn't have given Leo Christoph Waltz's Best Supporting Actor nomination and given Waltz either Hugh Jackman's Les Mis nod or Denzel Washington's Flight nod.



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