By John H. Foote
This is the first of a five part series in which I will explore 15 snubs in the following categories: Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Going back through the history of the Academy, it is remarkable how many truly great performances and directorial achievements have been ignored! In fact some of those snubbed were the best of the year.
Again I will offer, for the most part, the Academy does a good job of getting things right, but being comprised of human beings, they are prone to mistakes. As with any other category, the Best Actress category is rife with great performances that were for some reason passed over, missed, snubbed. Having the advantage of hindsight, I will go back through the history of the Academy and select the 15 greatest performances that, in my opinion, were ignored for a nomination and, in some cases, the award itself. Please bear in mind some performances are like fine wine, deepening in their beauty through the years, things not apparent on the first viewing become clear with the passing of years. Did anyone think upon first viewing that Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939) would become the subject of nightmares of millions of children, haunting the landscape of many a nightmare?
In reverse order, these are the finest achievements by an actress in a leading role, passed over by the Academy. Those I consider the best of the year are marked as such *.
15. BROOKLYNN PRINCE IN THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017) — Just six years old, tiny Prince is the hellion Moonie, a child left pretty much to her own devices through the day as she has the run of a run-down hotel not far from Disney World, though the park is not a place her mother can afford. Moonie makes her own theme park every day, scamming for ice cream, turning fire works into an event, dancing, playing and opening up a whole new world to her friends. But she is also very aware of her life around her. She seems blissfully unaware that her mother is turning tricks in the room to help feed them, and though the little girl understands they do not have a lot of money, she also is aware her mother spends it on her when she has it. Her breakdown scene at the end as she is being taken away from her mom is shattering, you cannot believe a child could bring such power and pain to the screen. Confession? I wept as her huge tears slid down her face. Through the years this will creep up the list.
14. KATHLEEN TURNER IN BODY HEAT (1981) — Turner is pure carnality in this film noir, directed and written by screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. Taking elements from the great noirs of the forties, specifically The Postman Always Rings Twice, she portrays Matty Ross, a beautiful woman married to a wealthy older man whom she despises. By accident she meets a hound dog of a lawyer portrayed by William Hurt, and the two are soon in heat with one another. When they decide to kill her husband so they can be together we begin to realize the depth of her treachery. It was no chance meeting with the lawyer, she sought him out, and she is far more intelligent than any of them in the film, and far more dangerous. The final image is haunting because we know it is not in the mind of the lawyer, now in jail for murder, it is precisely what has happened. Turner is smoldering, intensely sexual and yet vulnerable, any man’s dream.
13. GILLIAN ANDERSON IN THE HOUSE OF MIRTH (2000) — Had the Academy took note of Anderson’s perfect performance as Lily in this fine adaptation of the Edith Wharton book, her career might have gone in a very different direction. There might have been more movies, great performances, instead of her return to television. As society lady Lily, her fortunes take a turn for the worst, and she finds herself used by wealthy men who in secret laugh at her rather than help her. The only man truly good to her, is the one who cannot provide her with a decent living. Her life spirals into terrible tragedy, none of it her fault, she is very much a tragic victim of her time. Brilliant. Had she been nominated she might have been hard to deny.
12. AUDREY HEPBURN IN MY FAIR LADY (1964) — So what if she did not do the singing? She acted that she was doing it and convinced me! Every emotion, expression, movement she brought to the song she was lip synching was perfect and doing what she did was no easy task. Hepburn was Eliza in so many other ways beyond the singing in the film, and an absolute delight as the diamond in the rough, taught to sparkle by the elegant Higgins. Julie Andrews made the part her own on the stage, but was not a big enough name for the film, which Hepburn certainly was. But when the nominations came out Andrews was there, and would win for Mary Poppins (1964), whereas Hepburn was snubbed. It felt like a deliberate cruelty, and today, years after, it still feels cruel. Watching the film again, I insist, so what if she did not do the singing, she physically convinces she is singing and brings to the role the perfect voice, physicality and captures the soul of this exceptional woman. I love her face when she realizes she is speaking with elegance and class, how could the Academy, other actors, miss that?
11. DIANE KEATON IN SHOOT THE MOON (1982) — Keaton was luminous and sad in this powerful drama about the divorce of a couple who have been together for years and have a brood of children together. He has cheated on her with a younger woman, leaving his wife Faith (Keaton) gutted. She simply cannot believe he has left, and her self worth takes a terrible hit. But slowly she climbs out of her despair and finds herself and in finding herself she discovers her independence and her sexuality. Yet despite all of this, she finds herself strangely connected to her husband, neither of them prepared to break their bonds. Keaton has never allowed herself to experience such internal pain on screen before, and she is loaded down with it. Watching her shed it is a thing of beauty.
10. AMY ADAMS IN ENCHANTED (2007) — As a living cartoon, Giselle, Adams was a revelation. She begins the film animated, speaking the voice of Princess Giselle, about to marry her one true love, a pompous, goofy prince headed for the throne. But a witch sends her right into Times Square where she becomes a living, breathing person. Adams moves like a cartoon, her movements over the top and played for maximum effect, she sounds like one, sings like one and above all convinced she is a princess. It is a daring performance because it could have gone so wrong, but instead is entirely right. The lady was robbed, and it would not be the first time.
*9. SARA POLLEY IN THE SECRET OF WORDS (2005) — As Hanna, a Yugoslavian woman who survived the Balkan wars but at a terrible cost, Sara Polley delivered one of the greatest performances not seen by very many people. Taciturn, quiet, she is forced to take a vacation by her boss, and instead signs onto an oil rig as a nurse to care for a man terribly burned. They become close, she shares her secrets with him and we understand that she was tortured, viciously, wounds cut into her body and packed with salt before being sewn shut. He falls in love with her but she cannot reciprocate, terrified of falling apart. He convinces her, and they live a happy life, with children. In a strange twist, the voice of a murder narrates and we realize the woman Hanna spoke of, forced to kill her child, was herself. Polley is haunting in the film, moving like a ghost, forever a prisoner to the past, her only way out the love of this damaged man. Brilliant.
8. MAUREEN O’HARA IN THE QUIET MAN (1952) — The great red head was never better than she is here as Mary Kate, the sister of the town bully who marries an American fighter, hiding in Ireland after killing a man in the ring. When he does not fight her brother for her dowry, she considers him less than a man, and launches a war between the two. What she does not count on is that he is as stubborn as she is, and as in love with her as she is with him. A donnybrook ensues over her, which her smile betrays, and as in all romantic comedies made before 1977, we get our happy ending. John Wayne and O’Hara have exceptional chemistry together, never more so than in this classic. How does Ford win Best Director without his actors being nominated?
7. AMY ADAMS IN ARRIVAL (2016) — She was the odds on favourite to be nominated along with Emma Stone and Natalie Portman, but when the nominations were announced, shockingly Adams was not there. The film received seven nominations in all, and being the heart and soul of the picture, she deserved to be there. As a linguist brought in by the government to develop a language between the aliens who have landed and mankind, she does just that, discovering their entire world through words. But there is more. They gift her with a knowledge that takes some time to realize while watching the film. Adams portrays every nuance to utter perfection, radiating intelligence and compassion, human enough to be frightened yet fascinated. Again the lady was robbed.
*6. KATE WINSLET IN REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008) — It is hard to weep for Winslet because she won the Oscar for Best Actress this year for an inferior performance in The Reader (2008), pushed by Harvey Weinstein for the Oscar. Revolutionary Road saw her star with Leonardo di Caprio as a pair of fifties suburbanites struggling in their marriage and love for each other. Winslet is miraculous as the young wife who falls out of love with her husband while pregnant, exacting a terrible revenge when he alters their plans to move to France. Directed by Sam Mendes, the film was a masterpiece nobody saw in its year of release, but which has slowly been re-discovered. Winslet gave a superb performance that was vastly superior to her work in The Reader. How could the Academy not see that?
5. JUDY GARLAND IN THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) — One of the great performances of the decade, Garland was perfect as innocent Dorothy, swept into the land of Oz, a dreamer who longs for something more. To gain insight into how good she was, try and imagine the film without her. She was the heart and soul of the work. The performances here were exquisite, all Oscar worthy, but so was young Judy. Her best scene takes place in the tower of the witch where her life will end when the hourglass empties. Terrified, missing her aunt and Kansas, she realizes she had everything she needed right there, but did not know it. A beautiful performance from an emerging talent, no one knew how substantial a talent she was.
4. DIANE KEATON IN LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977) — Keaton won the Oscar this year for Annie Hall (1977) and should have been nominated, perhaps even won for her stunning work as the doomed young school teacher, Theresa Dunn, who picks up men in bars, takes them home and has sex with them before sending them away. She is pathologically promiscuous, sleeping with anyone who shows interest in her, and the Jekyll and Hyde life she lives closes in on her. One night she picks up the wrong guy and is murdered, in a scene frightening for its realistic power. Keaton was superb, as always, in what was, to this day the boldest, most ferocious performance of her career. This performance made clear how entirely fearless this actress truly is. Unavailable in North America on Blu Ray or DVD…music rights, shameful.
*3. JESSICA LANGE IN THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981) — Lange looks at Jack Nicholson like a hungry lioness, a cat in heat as she eggs him on on top of a table. She dares him to come to her, challenges him sexually, as hot for him as he is for her. Pure sex, no love, though they do fall in love eventually. Together they have heat, and Lange is magnificent as Cora, the dangerous woman married to a man her senior, whom she despises, who convinces the mechanic at their garage to help her kill. They get away with murder, but then must deal with the guilt of their actions, knowing the other is a killer and could just as easily turn on them. Lange dominates the film with a powerfully carnal performance, moving slow, deliberate, because she knows every eye in the place was on her. She was right. Darkly dangerous.
*2. INGRID BERGMAN IN CASABLANCA (1943) — Though nominated for For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) lets get serious, her work in Casablanca might have been the finest of her career. How could she not be nominated for her stunning performance as Ilsa, the wife of a freedom fighter who is in love with Rick, the cynical bar owner. Soulful, torn between the two men though her love for Rick is clear, it is a powerful performance in a much loved movie. Was the Academy trying to spread the wealth around? Silly, Bergman deserved a nod for Casablanca and it should have come. In saying goodbye to Rick, for the greater good of the world, did a woman ever love a man so much? In her eyes are absolute adoration, love and respect. Finally the good she always believed was within him is making itself known. That it did not remains a blight on the Academy. It is one of the most iconic performances in the history of the cinema in one of Hollywood’s greatest films.
*1. TILDA SWINTON IN WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011) — As the mother of a psychotic child who becomes a murderous teenager, Swinton is astounding, struggling to discover a connection with her child that does not exist. She feels nothing for him, looks at him and sees the enemy, and sadly she is right. Her husband is oblivious, because the boy does not act out when he is around, only the mother is aware of how dangerous he is. When he goes insane and unleashes hell through a bow and arrow at school, she cannot believe it, though at the same time it feels inevitable. She feels the looks of the people in town, she takes their insults, none of them realizing she lost people too. The look on her face as she discovers her husband and daughter in the yard, arrows through them too, is haunting. Swinton dominates the film was a brave performance, one that was criminally ignored by the fickle Academy
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.