In case you missed it, on Sunday morning Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar. Everybody took to Twitter and Instagram to express their approval, treating the multi-millionaire like an old acquaintance rather than a stranger who would probably avoid them in the street. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against DiCaprio – he’s a good actor and has been in some great films – but he isn’t a man who has been victimised by the Academy because of some fictional bias.
Every year writers pen scripts, adapted from best-selling novels based on true events, and some of them strike gold. They do this with particular actors in mind, and they allow studios to buy the script with specifications/recommendations for which people should play their leading man/woman. So, when you think about the films that DiCaprio has been in over the last few years, don’t attribute his performances to sheer ability – if DiCaprio was cast in last year’s “Fantastic Four”, I doubt that he’d have got an Oscar nomination. He works with the best directors around, taking notes from the likes of Tarantino, Scorsese, and now Iñárritu, so he’d be pretty terrible if he didn’t put in a couple of quality performances here and there.
It’s true that DiCaprio is a brilliant actor – he’s been great in a number of films, (“The Departed”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Inception”, etc.), and to be fair to him he has chosen the right scripts. However, he hadn’t won an Oscar prior to Sunday night because he’s never been the best; it’s as simple as that.
There are only two roles that I think he could’ve won an Oscar for, and neither of them are for his performance in “The Revenant”. The two roles that I’m referring to are Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained” (a supporting role for which he failed to earn a nomination, as Christoph Waltz was nominated and won for his performance in the same film), and Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street”. It’s definitely possible to make a case for DiCaprio’s performance in the latter, because he was undeniably brilliant, but I don’t think that he had any right to feel hard done to – it was just a great year. He was beaten by Matthew McConaughey who gave an exceptional performance in “Dallas Buyers Club”, and also would’ve had to take the award ahead of Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”), who was excellent in what was a Best Picture winning film.
With that in mind, and with the mystical injustice that the public has peddled in the run up to this year’s Academy Awards expelled, I present to you ten actors who have never won an Academy Award, despite a number of fantastic roles.
‘Goddamn it, Bill Fucking Murray!’
If you haven’t seen “Zombieland” then please excuse the language, but come on now, the man is a bona fide legend! He’s the leading man in the best Christmas movie ever made, as well as one of my favourite films of all time, so I think expletives are necessary! You might read his name on this list without feeling too surprised, because it was never likely that he would win an Oscar for his performances in “Groundhog Day”, “Scrooged”, or “Ghostbusters” – those films are bloody brilliant, but they aren’t what I’d call Oscar-bait – but a film that he definitely, definitely, definitely (did I say definitely) deserved to win for was “Lost In Translation”.
Directed by Sofia Coppola, “Lost In Translation” is one of the most beautifully soul-destroying whilst simultaneously uplifting movies ever made. An indie darling with depth and an understanding of the human condition, it features two of the finest understated performances you could ever wish to see, from leading man Murray, and the ever-reliable Scarlett Johansson.
Murray is fantastic in the role, and he shows that whilst he is a hilarious comedic actor with a lot of money, he’s been through life like the rest of us and understands the difficulties that people face to get through the day. It’s almost as though Murray plays a portrait of himself in the film; an actor who has been successful but is slowly fading away, trying to find purpose in a life that doesn’t appear to have one.
“Lost In Translation” came out in 2003, and was up for Best Picture in 2004 against stiff competition. Not many would argue that “Lord of the Rings : Return of the King” didn’t deserve to win that year, and neither will I, but I maintain that Murray should’ve taken Best Actor In A Leading Role ahead of Sean Penn, who won for his performance in “Mystic River”.
Other notable films on Murray’s filmography – “Caddyshack”, “Fantastic Mr Fox”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “Rushmore”, and “Space Jam”.
Brad Pitt was ‘Fury-ous’ about being snubbed for his performance in “Fury”!
Where do you start with a man like Brad Pitt? He’s been in so many great films, and given some fantastic performances, but in most cases these roles have been as part of an ensemble cast. As such, it’s been difficult for him to stand out, which has meant that he hasn’t gained significant recognition from the Academy.
He does have three nominations for his performances, one for Best Supporting Actor (“12 Monkeys”), and two for Best Actor (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” & “Moneyball”), but he’s never really been in contention to win an award. Now, I’m not about to argue that he should’ve done so for any of the aforementioned performances, because in 1995 he was beaten by Kevin Spacey (“The Usual Suspects”), he wasn’t exceptional in “Moneyball”, and I don’t even think he should’ve been nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.
Nevertheless, it’s a shame that an actor with so much ability and an impressive résumé has been unable to put in an Oscar-worthy performance, and it came as a surprise to me when I found out.
Other notable films on Pitt’s filmography – “Babel”, “The Big Short”, “Fight Club”, “Fury”, “Inglourious Basterds”, “Ocean’s Eleven”, “Seven”, “Snatch”, and “12 Years a Slave”.
You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry…
Yet another overlooked actor – Edward Norton is fantastic.
He could’ve and perhaps should’ve won for his breakthrough role in “Primal Fear”, which is an unsettling thriller starring Richard Gere. In that film Norton plays a young man accused of murder, when it is revealed that he has multiple personalities; this allows Norton to show off his range, creating two wildly different characters and switching between them with ease. If you haven’t seen “Primal Fear” then I really do recommend that you watch it; I won’t spoil it for you with any specific details, but it’s a tense film with two great lead performances that Norton could’ve easily taken home an Oscar for.
More recently, Norton appeared in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman”, alongside Michael Keaton and Emma Stone, and for me he stole the movie. His performance was so committed and genuine that you forgot that you were watching a film, and his delivery was spot on so that you could just about take him seriously despite how ridiculous his character was. In my opinion, he was desperately unlucky not to win the Best Supporting Actor award back in 2014, which he only lost because of how memorable J. K. Simmons was in “Whiplash”.
Other notable films on Norton’s filmography – “American History X”, “Fight Club”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Illusionist”, “The Incredible Hulk”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, “The People vs. Larry Flint”, and “Red Dragon”.
Gary Oldman is about to blow following a string of ignored performances.
In my view, Gary Oldman is the most versatile actor in the world today, yet I don’t believe that he’s ever had a role worthy of winning an Oscar. If you take a look at Oldman’s filmography then you will see that he’s had a lot of excellent supporting roles; Mason Verger in “Hannibal”, Sirius Black in the “Harry Potter” series, and Jim Gordon in “The Dark Knight” series, to name just three. However, he’s never really done it as a leading man, and the Supporting Actor category is a very difficult one to stand out in when there are so many memorable candidates to choose from each year.
Oldman’s only nomination for an Academy Award is for his performance in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, a film which critics enjoyed, but I felt was an absolute snooze-fest. This lack of nominations speaks to the fact that Oldman simply doesn’t choose the right films if he actually wants to win an Oscar, but it also goes to show that you don’t have to win an award to be considered a great at what you do.
Nobody could deny that Oldman is an excellent actor who can perform exceptionally in the right film; it’s just a shame that he hasn’t had the right role to truly show the world just how good he can be.
Other notable films on Oldman’s filmography – “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, “Child 44”, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Lawless”, and “Léon: The Professional”.
If only there was an Oscar for Best Beard In A Lead Role.
Joaquin Phoenix is probably less familiar to the majority of people than previous actors on this list, mostly because of the type of movies that he chooses, but that doesn’t make him any less talented of an actor.
Most people who have heard of Phoenix will remember him from films in which he plays a supporting role, such as “Gladiator” and “Signs”, but recently he has held his own as a leading man in films like “The Master” and “Her”.
Phoenix has been nominated for Best Actor twice (for “The Master” and “Walk The Line”), as well as Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Gladiator”, but my personal favourite performance of his was as Theodore in “Her”. “Her” is a beautiful film directed by Spike Jonze, which won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay back in 2014, about a man’s relationship with an operating system. It’s a fascinating movie that critiques modern relationships and asks questions about how far our obsession with technology will go, and it also explores what really matters in a relationship, as there is nothing physical between Theodore and the operating system, yet it does have intelligence and is able to have stimulating conversations with him.
Phoenix is great in the movie, displaying a true understanding of his character and allowing the audience to take the premise of the film seriously despite its slightly odd science-fiction elements. It’s just a shame for him that that movie came out in the same year as “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Dallas Buyers Club”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Nebraska”, and “American Hustle”, so his performance failed to earn a nomination.
Other notable films on Phoenix’s filmography – “Brother Bear”, “I’m Still Here”, “Inherent Vice”, “The Village”, and “Walk the Line”.
The lack of nominations has really taken its toll on poor old Depp.
Johnny Depp is one of the most recognisable actors in the world, and yet he refuses to take on a role unless he can completely change his appearance. Depp has become known for his quirkiness on screen and his many strange characters; he has played Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, and even Willy Wonka, yet he has failed to win an Academy Award.
Like Bill Murray, Depp was nominated for Best Actor in 2004, but was beaten by Sean Penn. The role that he was nominated for is probably the one for which he is best known; Jack Sparrow. Depp was fantastic as the drunken pirate with an ego problem, and he made worldwide audiences spill their popcorn as they tried in vain to hold back laughter.
Again, I’m not going to argue that he should’ve taken the award, because it’s very rare that a role like that wins you an Oscar, but I do think that over the course of his career he has given some truly memorable performances. He’s certainly one of my favourite actors, and although he has gone off the rails recently, his early filmography is magnificent.
Other notable films on Depp’s filmography – “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Black Mass”, “Donnie Brasco”, “Ed Wood”, “From Hell”, “Public Enemies”, “Rango”, and “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”.
Neeson has a particular set of skills, but the Academy don’t seem to notice.
Liam Neeson falls into the same kind of category as Bill Murray on this list. No, I don’t mean that he’s a hilarious actor with a great talent for comedy; the comparison that I’m making is that Neeson is a household name, but he isn’t your typical Best Actor nominee. He was never going to win an Oscar for his role in “Taken”, or his voice performances in “The Chronicles of Narnia”, because whilst they are fun movies that will entertain an audience, they aren’t exactly artistic. However, like Murray, Neeson has been in one truly exceptional movie, in which he most definitely delivered an Oscar-worthy performance.
As Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List”, Neeson showed not only his acting ability, but a level of empathy that you rarely find in film. He showed that he really can act when he’s given the right role, and he carried one of the best films of all time by being sympathetic yet strong. It’s a truly brilliant performance which deserved recognition, but unfortunately for Neeson, he gave it in a year that was littered with fantastic acting. At the 66th Academy Awards, Neeson saw Tom Hanks take the award for Best Actor for his performance in “Philadelphia”, and was up against stiff competition in the form of Daniel Day-Lewis, who had been nominated for “In The Name of the Father” – another marvellous movie. Neeson gave a career-defining performance, but he faced competition that had done the same.
Other notable films on Neeson’s filmography – “Batman Begins”, “Darkman”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “The Grey”, “The Lego Movie”, “Love Actually”, “Michael Collins”, and “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace”.
Fiennes has even resorted to magic to try and win an Academy Award.
Ralph Fiennes is another brilliant actor yet to be acknowledged by the Academy. He has received nominations in the past, one for his supporting role in “Schindler’s List”, and another for his lead role in “The English Patient”, but regrettably for him he failed to win either, losing out to Tommy Lee Jones (“The Fugitive”) and Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”) respectively.
Looking back, Fiennes was very unfortunate not to win the Oscar for his role in “Schindler’s List”, because his performance is incredibly dark and extremely memorable. He’s one of the many reasons why the film works so well, and he does a great job of seeming almost too evil to be human whilst remaining believable.
Other notable films on Fiennes’ filmography – “Coriolanus”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Harry Potter Series”, “The Hurt Locker”, “In Bruges”, “Red Dragon”, “Skyfall”, “Spectre”.
Samuel L. Jackson
One word… motherfucker!
This is getting a ridiculous now – how has Samuel L. Jackson not won an Academy Award? He may predominantly perform in a supporting capacity, but Jackson is one of the most recognisable and unique actors around today. If he’s in a film then you’ve probably heard of it, and if you see his name on a poster then you’ll probably watch it. His delivery, mannerisms, and general ability to take a role and make it his own, makes him one of the best actors in the world.
For me, he could’ve won the Oscar this year for his performance in “The Hateful Eight”, but the Academy didn’t even give him a nomination, and he definitely could’ve got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Pulp Fiction”. Sadly, Jackson probably won’t ever win an Academy Award, because his in-your-face style of acting just isn’t what the Oscars usually reward.
Still, that doesn’t make him any less of an actor.
Selected films on Jackson’s filmography – “The Avengers”, “Coach Carter”, “Django Unchained”, “Goodfellas”, “Iron Man”, “Jackie Brown”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, and “Unbreakable”.
Why does it always rain on me?
This pocket-sized action hero probably doesn’t pop into everyone’s head when they think of Oscar-worthy actors, but people forget that Cruise isn’t a one-trick pony. He might choose roles for pay-checks now, or perhaps for the adrenaline high that he is said to enjoy, but he has some outstanding performances to his name which demonstrate his credentials as a serious actor.
Cruise is part of an amazing ensemble cast in one of my favourite movies, “The Outsiders”, an outstanding film that you can’t really find in the UK anymore. If you’ve ever quoted ‘stay gold, ponyboy’, you’ve probably done so with “Step Brothers” in mind, but in reality that quote is taken from “The Outsiders”.
Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Early on in his career Cruise was also in movies like “Rain Man”, “Risky Business”, and “Top Gun”, all of which show off both his charisma and his acting ability. Cruise is brilliant in all of these films, and most importantly he carries them. He’s a great leading man, and he knows how to get the best out of himself no matter what the role is.
Other notable films on Cruise’s filmography – “Collateral”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “The Firm”, “Jerry Maguire”, “Magnolia”, “Mission: Impossible”, “Rock of Ages”, and “Tropic Thunder”.