Saturday, July 12, 2008

Category Five: 5 Actors Who I Can't Believe Haven't Been Nominated For An Oscar

You know the old saying: "It's an honor just to be nominated." Obviously, it’s more of an honor to win, but for the most part, I think these statements are genuine. In the acting categories especially, there's often a favorite to win. If you aren't that favorite, you should still be pretty happy of the fact that you were in the running with them. In the end, you are still being hailed as great.

Still, it must not feel great to lose, especially if you are nominated lots of times and never get to take home the statuette. "Oscar nominee" just doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "Oscar winner."

But what about those that don't even get nominated? There have been numerous performances that deserved a nomination; however, I understand the selection is limited. Sometimes a great performance doesn't make the cut.

So instead of dwelling on specific performances, I'm going to talk about five performers that I'm shocked have yet to receive a nomination despite their numerous worthy performances. I'm not necessarily saying they deserved to be nominated for each of these roles, but I provide them as an example of their body of work.

#5: Dennis Quaid

Notable Performances in: In Good Company, Far From Heaven, The Rookie, Traffic, Wyatt Earp

Unfortunately I think most people know Quaid as the ex-husband of Meg Ryan. That’s a shame because he’s a very talented actor and continues to mix up commercial films with interesting fair, occasionally combining the two.

Other than his exceptional portrayal of Doc Holliday,[1] he excels at playing the “every man.” What keeps that from being generic is that he is the every man searching for what comes next in his life. That might be returning to an old love or confessing a new one, but either way, he wants something more out of life.

Of particular note is his role in Far From Heaven, where he plays a closeted homosexual husband. He brings a quiet passion to the role, and the entire time, there’s a pain behind his eyes. It’s never quite clear whether he’s upset at what he’s done to his wife or at himself for not having the courage to be who he really is.

#4: Bruce Willis

Notable Performances in: Twelve Monkeys, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Sin City, 16 Blocks

In the late 80's to early 90's, there was a boom of action stars that we haven't seen since. Many faded away. One is busy running California.

Of all of these stars, Willis stands out for one particular reason: He's actually a good actor.[2]

Even as John McClaine, he has great comic timing. You laugh at him not because he kills bad guys and follows it up with an atrocious pun[3] but because he's genuinely funny.

And he has range. Along with his other action roles, he's played goofy, crazy, and depressed.

That last one is where I'd like to focus. In a way, all five of the notable roles that I mentioned are similar characters: depressed, hallowed-out, searching for meaning in life. Willis plays this type of role so well because there's something disarming about seeing him depressed. It doesn't feel natural for him not to be smiling, so you immediately sympathize with him.

I’m especially surprised he wasn’t recognized for The Sixth Sense. Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment give great performances, but Willis is the anchor of the film. It’s his relationship with the boy that brings about the powerful scenes between mother and son.

And that world famous twist wouldn’t have worked if not for the horror Willis conveyed at realizing the truth: The only way he could help his wife was to finally let go.

#3: Guy Pearce

Notable Performances in: The Proposition, The Count of Monte Cristo, Memento, L.A. Confidential

Maybe it’s because of The Proposition (and his attachment to The Road), but when I think of Pearce, I think of “grit.” He’s not a guy I’d want to mess with.

And yet, behind that grit, there’s a perpetual longing to find answers to his questions. More often than not, the answers he seeks are about his own mind and moral compass.

Can he bring himself to kill? Is he happy with what he’s become? How important is the truth?

Grittiness may be a part of his performances now, but it was noticeable absent from his role in L.A. Confidential, where he played a straight-laced, by the book detective that waits until the end of the film to make the right (not the legal) decision.

Maybe if that role had come after all the others, people would have seen how talented he was.

#2: John Cusack

Notable Performances in: Grace is Gone, High Fidelity, Being John Malkovich, Grosse Point Blank, say anything…

Perhaps Cusack was before his time. He was quirky when quirky wasn’t cool.[4] Really, Lloyd Dobler is no different than Juno[5] (seemingly mature for their age but having striking moments of vulnerability; having a plan and sticking to it despite what outsiders think; not a part of the “in” crowd but still far from a loser).

But while Juno deals with a pregnancy, all Lloyd does during say anything… is fall in love and do whatever it takes to stay in love.[6] Yet by the time the film is over, you feel as if you know him better than some people you actually went to school with.

Even when playing a nostalgic hitman or a earnest puppeteer, Cusack brings a serious intensity to his roles that makes you momentarily forget about the absurdity going on around him. Or, in the best moments, connect with him on an emotional level despite the events being unrealistic.

#1: Jim Carrey

Notable Performances in: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Truman Show

I don’t list as many notable performances for Carrey simply because he doesn’t have that many. But he takes the number one spot on this list because he should have been nominated for each of them.

He’s the only actor to win back-to-back Best Actor awards at the Golden Globes and yet not receive an Academy Award nomination.

I honestly don’t know what more they want from him. First he played a subdued version of his persona in The Truman Show, a likeable goofball who just happens to be the center of a reality show all about him.[7] While it’s definitely a comedy, Carrey avoids the manic actions of his normal routine, keeping Truman on an even keel until he discovers the truth of his situation. His reaction to the information, and the choice he makes once he knows, stick with me each time I see it.

He followed this up with a spot-on portrayal of Andy Kaufman. There were a few juggernauts in the running for Best Actor that year, but I’ll continue to be baffled at how Carrey slipped through the cracks. Forget the fact that he becomes Kaufman, and just look at the range showed in the film itself: anger, sadness, pure joy, depression, etc.

The only possible explanation is that people thought it wasn’t that far of a stretch from his own bizarre personality. He then blew that out of the water by playing one of the meekest love interests of recent years in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a hapless (and hopeless) romantic that just wants to love, and when that doesn’t work, just wants to not hurt anymore.

If the pain and suffering he shows after love’s gone bad doesn’t get you, and the emptiness he portrays as he realizes he’s about to lose the only thing he has left of love doesn’t get you, then just wait until the end where he decides to go through all the pain all over again just for the chance to love.

Carrey shouldn’t just have been nominated by now; he should have a couple of Oscars on his mantle. Right next to a picture of him talking through his ass.

[1] This role was overshadowed by Val Kilmer’s fantastic take on the same character in the previous year’s Tombstone. If you forced me to pick between the performances, I would go with Kilmer.

[2] Yes, Stallone was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the original Rocky, a damn fine movie. But his performance in First Blood shows his limited range. Rambo is really just Rocky with a (more pronounced?) mental disorder.

[3] Sure, I’m guilty of laughing at these from time to time, but I would never call them well-acted.

[4] Which is what made him cool.

[5] Except, I would argue, MUCH more believable.

[6] Actually, now that I think about it, that is a pretty big deal. And the film treats it as such.

[7] This film has only gotten more relevant.


AJF said...

Great list. Totally agree with all 5, especially Quaid for Far From Heaven and Carrey for Man on the Moon and Eternal Sunshine.

For Bruce Willis' notable performances, I would definitely also add Pulp Fiction.

Jonathan K said...

Yeah, I considered Pulp Fiction, but I think the other actors in that film deserved recognition before he did.