By John H. Foote
In honor of the great Delroy Lindo, one in a very long line of actors snubbed cruelly (this year) for his sterling performance in Da Five Bloods, I went back through the last 20 years and chose ONE to TWO snubbed actors who deserved to be there for their performance. Knowing me, choosing one was a mighty daunting task, but I did it. Purely indulgent, hopefully educational, (I hope) it proves if nothing else, Lindo is in very good company.
Let me be clear about something going in.
I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the Academy Awards should be about the very best – films and performances for the ages. I do not care about sentiment, and whether or not someone is “due”. I could care less how many Oscars someone has one and about sharing the wealth. If an actor, actress, director, writer, cinematographer deserves to win nine Oscars, so be it, then they should. If an artist deserves a wealth of nominations than give it to them. With that in mind, here are the major snubs of the last 20 years in the category of Best Actor.
Best Actress to follow.
2000 – MICHAEL DOUGLAS IN WONDER BOYS – From the opening of the film, the raves Douglas received as pot smoking obsessed professor Grady appeared to put him on the path to his second Oscar as Best Actor. Though Tom Hanks deserved to win, Douglas was an also ran, not even nominated as he watched as Russell Crowe win for Gladiator. The sad part of this is that I do not believe Douglas deserved his Oscar for Wall Street (1987) and had he been nominated for Wonder Boys, I would not have been upset at all had he won. Wait, over Hanks? Maybe a little.
2001 – GENE HACKMAN IN THE ROYAL TENANBAUMS – For his performance as the weasel Royal, a first-class bastard to his family and friends, but who he loves more than life itself, Hackman won the Golden Globe as Best Actor (Comedy/ Musical) and the finest reviews of his career. Yet incredibly, no Oscar nomination came with it! One of the greatest of screen actors, Hackman was slowing down in making films and would retire a few short years later. He deserved the attention of a nomination and frankly gave the year’s best performance by an actor. The man should have won because he is a comic delight in this fearless performance where he all but dares the audience to dislike him, only for them to find they can’t.
2002 — ROBIN WILLIAMS IN ONE HOUR PHOTO – As the strange, deeply lonely Seymoure who operates the photo counter in a local big box store not unlike Walmart, Williams tapped into his dark side, which he was known to do from time to time. In 2002 he did so three times in three very different films, this being his best performance. Fixated on a family, he stalks them, he challenges them to be better, but becomes dangerously invasive, imagining himself a part of their family unit. Hair dyed blonde, Williams is deathly pale, giving the impression we can see directly into his dark, twisted soul. He also could have been a supporting actor nominee as the killer author in Insomnia (2002) and was a mad comic delight in Death to Smoochy (2002).
2002 – TOM HANKS IN ROAD TO PERDITION – Cast against type as Michael (Hanks), a cold blooded killer for the Irish mob, ruled with an iron fist by Mr. Rooney (Paul Newman), Michael is his hit man, his enforcer, the angel of death as he is known on the streets. If Michael shows up at your door there is a good bet you will be dead in a few moments. But when Rooney’s son, insane with jealousy, kills Michael’s wife and young son, Michael hunts him down intent on killing him. He and Rooney become enemies but not by choice, it is a question of fathers and sons and the heartache our children can bring upon us. Hanks is superb as Michael, a killer by trade, not necessarily by choice, though he is very good at it. A mesmerizing turn from the actor and one Oscar missed the chance to recognize.
2003 – BILLY BOB THORNTON IN BAD SANTA – Is there a more irreverent moment than when a mother and little boy approach Santa clad Willy (Billy Bob Thornton) wolfing down a salad in the food court of a mall and he roars at them, “I’m on my fucking lunch break!” Will that little boy ever be the same? Will his poor mother? Thornton is magnificent as Willy, a thief who with his partner robs department stores of their haul of cash on Christmas Eve, and then lives off their money for the next year. An alcoholic, a perfectly rotten human being, Willy has a crisis of conscience when he meets a bullied little boy and beds a friendly bartender with a Santa fixation. Black through to its soul, Thornton should have been a nominee.
2004 – PAUL GIAMATTI IN SIDEWAYS – How do the rest of the cast and the director get nominated but the heart and soul of the film, Giamatti as Myles, does not? I gasped when hearing the nominees for Best Actor for 2004 when realizing he was not included. Hell, I had picked him to win Best Actor! As sad sack Myles, a failed writer working as a schoolteacher, he embarks on a weekend of wine tasting and golf with his best friend Jack before his buddy marries. The trouble starts when Myles believes they are going to golf, eat well, drink some good wine and Jack wants to get laid as often as possible before he is married! Does it help Myles that on the weekend he encounters his soul mate, portrayed with soulful beauty by Virginia Madsen? Giamatti is superb, the greatest American comedic performance since Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (1982).
2005 – RUSSELL CROWE IN CINDERELLA MAN – Crowe won an Oscar for his performance in Gladiator (2000), but truth be told he should have won the year before as Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider (1999). Seems the Academy might have been making amends with Gladiator, but did that really cancel him out for a nod for Cinderella Man? As Jim Braddock in the film, he portrays a Depression era boxer who defeated the seemingly unbeatable Max Baer, who had killed a man in the ring. Thought to be finished, Braddock becomes the Cinderella Man to the people, though his wife, portrayed by Renee Zellweger, is terrified. This might be the finest performance Crowe has ever given.
2006 – VIGGO MORTENSEN IN A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE – Shooting to instant stardom as Aragorn in the magnificent The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen should have been a supporting actor nominee for the finale of those films. When he stepped into working with David Cronenberg, how could he know he would give us some of the finest performances of his time? As the quiet owner of a diner in a small town where little happens, he becomes a folk hero when he kills two armed men who come into his diner looking for trouble. A hero, his face is everywhere on the news, and from Philadelphia comes the mob, looking for him, but calling him by a different name. Is he who he says he is, or is he this gangster? One question lingers? How did he get so adept at killing? One of the most acclaimed films of the year and Mortensen should have been a nominee for Best Actor. No question.
2007 – EMILE HIRSCH IN INTO THE WILD – Sean Penn’s Into the Wild moved me to tears when I first screened the film at TIFF, it truly was a majestic work of art. Though a nominee for a Screen Actors Guild Award as Best Actor, Emile Hirsch was absolutely robbed of a nomination for Best Actor, though granted it was a loaded year for Best Actor. Still he should have been one of the final five, sacrificing perhaps Johnny Depp’s nomination as Best Actor for Sweeny Todd (2007). Hirsch was remarkable and has never again come even close. Arrogant, selfish yet needing to break from society he simply burns his ID and disappears without ever letting his parents know where he is going. Despite often being portrayed as an unlikable character, Hirsch achieves much, getting us to like and even care about doomed Chris. He makes it to his precious Alaska, and dies there, undone by his arrogance and what he did not know. Brilliant.
2008 – CLINT EASTWOOD IN GRAN TORINO – Eastwood had earned two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, most notably for his superb performance in Unforgiven in 1992 (and again as the tired old trainer in Million Dollar Baby in 2004). Both films won him the Oscar and DGA Awards for Best Director. In Gran Torino he is a racist, nasty old warrior who loses his wife, and sits on his front porch nearly daring his neighbors to step on his front lawn. He becomes friends with one of them, a young boy being targeted by a local gang, and becomes the boy’s protector. As snarling old Walt, Eastwood gives what might be his most iconic performance. Though touted from the moment the film was released, he was ignored.
2009 – VIGGO MORTENSEN IN THE ROAD – Viggo again, this time for the best performance of his career. As the Man, the only name given to him in the film, he and his son head south seeking warmer weather after an apocalypse has caused the planet to die. Everywhere they go they find no signs of life – the seas, the trees are all grey and dying. Humans wander the highways and backroads, some struggling out a survival, as the man and his son do, others hunting other people for meat. Mortensen says little but conveys so much in the film, dominating the picture with a towering, haunted performance. Not only was he deserving of a nomination, he should have WON Best Actor.
2010 – RYAN GOSLING IN BLUE VALENTINE – How does Michelle Williams get a nomination for Best Actress when Gosling does not? Their performances perfectly compliment the other and they feed off one another for their characters arc. In a broken narrative, the film moves between the past and present to show how she has grown into marriage and motherhood and he has stayed stunted, painting houses with little or no ambition, drinking and hanging with his daughter, whom, no question, he adores. She has outgrown him, and he secretly knows it. Watching them 10 years before, we see that they once truly loved each other, but that is gone for her, as he is content to remain a teenager. Powerful and brilliant.
2011 – MEL GIBSON IN THE BEAVER – WHAT? I can hear you out there screaming, are you serious John? I am. Gibson has always been a fine actor, a better director for sure, but capable of very fine work as an actor. He was terrific in Lethal Weapon (1987) and did not embarrass himself as Hamlet (1990). Here as a man in the throes of depression, he slips on a hand puppet of a beaver, the creature speaks in a strong Cockney accent and begins to heal the broken man. But so great is the force of the puppet, he begins to realize the puppet is overtaking him, leaving him no choice but take his power saw and hack his hand off. It is a tough film to watch, but a bold, brilliant turn from Gibson. Simply put, one of the boldest, most daring performance, and films I have ever seen. Gibson is truly astonishing.
2012 – JACK BLACK IN BERNIE – I like Jack Black, always have. When he became Jack Black, in the comedy High Fidelity with John Cusack, I wondered if we would ever see a truly great performance from the actor. Here it is, as Bernie, a mortician in small town Texas who is loved within the community but a killer. Bernie has befriended the lady in town everyone hates because she lords her millions over them all. She likes him and invites him into her life, going to the movies together, trips for which she pays for, he is her constant companion. But then abuses that friendship demanding he be everything and all things to her. Tired of it and her, he shoots her dead in her garage and deposits her body into the freezer. Black is simply a delight as Bernie, handling both the comic elements of this black comedy as well as the powerful dramatic moments.
2013 – TOM HANKS IN CAPTAIN PHILLIPS – For the 10-minute sequence where the Captain is taken care of in the medical bay, Hanks deserved to be nominated for Best Actor. Those moments might be the finest he has ever given on the big screen, moments of watching a strong man brought down by PTSD, and the constant threat of death hanging over him for hours. Based on a true story of a freighter ship taken over by Somali pirates, director Paul Greengrass cast Hanks and then proceeded to guide him to one of his finest performances. Hanks is superb as the very professional, cool as a cucumber Captain Phillips, who when his freighter is boarded tries to discuss, peacefully, a solution with the men. Hanks is truly stunning, a miraculous performance from one of the greatest actors in movies.
2014 – RALPH FIENNES IN THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – As the droll, fussy, rather elitist manager of the once opulent Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes is a comic delight as Mr. Gustave, willing to do anything for his customers and the old hotel itself. We are told his story by an old man, who was once the valued lobby boy under Gustave’s protection. Fiennes, best known for his work in dramatic films, is tremendous here, setting aside Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter franchise, and his many other fine dramatic performances to create a comedic masterpiece. Delightful in every way, and though a fussy man, make no mistake, he is fearless.
2015 – JOHNNY DEPP IN BLACK MASS – After an undeserving nomination for Best Actor in Finding Neverland (2004), the Academy seemed to finally discover Depp in the 2000’s, over nominate him and then forget about him again. As Frank Costello in Black Mass he is terrifying, portraying a ruthless modern-day gangster who was unknown to his own mobsters under the protection of the FBI as an informant. Depp slips under the skin of Costello and creates a truly terrifying character, his blazing eyes the portals to hell. Jack Nicholson portrayed a variation of the character in The Departed (2006) and was brilliant, I daresay Depp matches him.
2017 – JAMES FRANCO IN THE DISASTER ARTIST – Tommy Wiseau is the strangest filmmaker I have ever encountered. Long lustrous hair, wearing several belts as a fashion statement, a mysterious accent from Eastern Europe though he claimed for years he was born in New Orleans, even his age a mystery for years, this guy was a piece of work. James Franco did something much further than a performance when portraying Wiseau in his self-directed film The Disaster Artist, he captured the soul of Tommy, who so wanted to be an actor, a great actor, but just never had it. Instead he used his millions (another mystery) to make The Room (2003) one of the worst films of the decade, but a cult classic that became a raging success as audiences gathered to laugh at the dreadful happenings within the story. I cannot help but think Wiseau smiles broadly at what Franco accomplished, but is envious that the actor portraying him won a Golden Globe and should have won an Oscar. That must sting.
2018 – RYAN GOSLING IN FIRST MAN – In Academy Award winner Damien Chazelle’s first rate First Man, my pick as the Best Film of 2018, Ryan Gosling brilliantly portrayed the soft spoken astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was the first man to set foot on the moon. A quiet man, agonizing over the death of his infant daughter before the space launch, he seemed to turn that grief into a stone-cold ambition to get to the moon. Though he loves his wife and sons, he may not demonstrate it as he keeps himself closed off, perhaps fearful they will have to deal with him dying while on the job. His scenes on the lunar surface are deeply moving as he drops something of his little girls into a crater perhaps allowing a piece of her to be closer to God. A fine subtle piece of acting that deserved to be among the final five, in a film criminally underrated.
2019 – ADAM SANDLER IN UNCUT GEMS – No I kid you not. Adam Sandler deserved an Oscar nomination for his raging performance as a gambler in deep trouble in this film. Watching Sandler I was swept back to the seventies when De Niro was emerging, doing the kind of daring work that made him one of the greats, and Pacino establishing himself on screen before the yelling took over his acting. Sandler is extraordinary, but I was never sure why this was a complete shock. He had done noble work in Punch Drunk Love (2002), Spanglish (2004) and superbly inhabited the grief of his character in Reign Over Me (2007). When not doing terrible comedy, he is a formidable actor and I hope he chooses to show us more. This was among the most exciting performances of the decade.
2020 – TOM HANKS IN NEWS OF THE WORLD – In the 20 plus years since he was nominated as Best Actor in Cast Away (2000) for which he deserved to win his third Oscar, Hanks gave an array of fine performances, many deserving of nominations, but he received just one. As Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Hanks received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. In that time he deserved to be nominated for Best Actor in Road to Perdition (2002), Cloud Atlas (2012), Captain Phillips (2013), and this magnificent performance as Captain Kidd, a Civil War veteran travelling the west reading the news to those in small towns. When he takes a child into his care to take her back to her people after years with the Natives, he becomes at once her protector and by the end of their journey he is so much more to her and she to him. A superb performance that should have been nominated.
2020 – DELROY LINDO IN DA FIVE BLOODS – Listen to the absolute howls and wails of anguish that explode out of Lindo’s Paul after being forgiven by the ghost of his friend and squad leader years after their time in the jungle. Literally haunted by Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman) for more than 40 years, Paul comes face to face with the ghost of his fallen friend in the jungles of Vietnam, where he has returned with a group of friends to bring the bones of Norman home. There is a striking scene (SPOILERS) where he is pulled into a tight embrace, and forgiven for his actions, for accidentally shooting and killing his friend in a fire fight. He begins to weep, and then explodes into howls of rage that seem to come from the depth of his very soul. Lindo, long a very good character actor, achieves greatness here, inhabiting Paul from the first second we see him. Shame on the Academy for ignoring the best performance of the year.
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.