The Oscars suck. You know it, I know it and yet every year we go through the cycle with renewed hope that things will be better this time around. It’s almost become a badge of honour to be overlooked by the Academy, a point in your corner that proves you’re just too cool or esoteric for the leagues of the middlebrow. Many a listicle has been made documenting the Oscars’ numerous snubs, mistakes and historical messes (Crash over Brokeback Mountain?! You didn’t even nominate Do the Right Thing for Best Picture?! Eddie Redmayne?!). Yet sometimes we just know it will never happen. Awards campaigning is expensive and it can be hard to get the Academy to pay attention to something that doesn’t fit their preconceived notion of awards worthy. And so we are here to pay our respects to the performances that didn’t even get nominated for an Oscar, much less win one. I could do hundreds of entries for this but I’ve stuck to the five that personally resonate with me the most. Make sure to share your own choices in the comments below.
Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
There’s no way that Who Framed Roger Rabbit should work as well as it does. In less careful or caring hands, the film could have been a chaotic mess, unable to balance its tonal extremes or visual flair. Yet 30 years on, Robert Zemeckis’s arguable masterpiece (sorry, Back to the Future) holds up incredibly well and remains a stellar cartoon noir. Yet, even with the ground-breaking technology at play, none of it would work as well as it does if it weren’t for the legend that is Mr. Bob Hoskins. His work as Eddie Valiant, the film’s begrudging hero, is a brilliant piece of acting even before you consider how bonkers it must have been to create.
Before green-screens and the saturation of CGI became the norm, the idea of an actor working against nothing and nobody was almost unheard of. Hoskins’s job with this role is a tower of tasks that could tumble at any moment: He has to be a hard-boiled private eye from a John Huston noir while being just enough of a parody of it to make the jokes land; he has to be the straight man who indulges in wacky slapstick; he has to interact with literal cartoons and have genuine chemistry with them. The reason you, the audience, completely buy into Toon Town and its bizarre ecosystem is because Bob Hoskins makes it seem so utterly real. Josh Spiegel over at SlashFilm referred to Hoskins as having reinvented the modern blockbuster performance with his work in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and he’s not wrong.
Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky
Endless optimism can be utterly exhausting to watch on-screen, even if you’re a naturally enthusiastic person. Such characters in film are usually there to be derided by a cynical audience or wear that peppy exterior to hide a dark soul. Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky is just playing a woman who enjoys being cheerful. Realistically speaking, we should hate Poppy, the primary school teacher who sees the bright side in everything, but Hawkins makes every giggle and glass-half-full insight wholly appealing. Her warmth and genuine empathy makes Poppy someone the audience wants to spend more time with and not once does she become cloying or melodramatic. At least she got a Golden Globe for this role, if not an Oscar nomination.
Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
Action performances are consistently overlooked in awards conversations. Typical performance theory doesn’t find the minutiae of the genre as exciting or believe it to be as challenging as the more traditional dramatic parts. There’s still a sense among many that being an action hero is akin to slumming it, a break from ‘real acting’. There are plenty of performances to the contrary - Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard movie, Chris Hemsworth in Thor: Ragnarok, Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow - but the one I return to time and time again is Furiosa herself.
Charlize Theron has always been an actress of sinfully underrated physicality. So many column inches have been written on her many physical transformations - think the prosthetics for Monster or the weight gain for Tully - that end up overlooking the way she carries herself for each role. As Furiosa, she walks with a steeliness that’s harder to replicate than it’s given credit for. She practically radiates glorious rage yet retains a motherly warmth for the wives she is working to save. It’s a role of balance: She finds the grace in her brooding and immense satisfaction in her anger. There is not one frame of that amazing movie she doesn’t dominate, regardless of whether she’s on screen at the time. The next generation of action stars of all genders will emerge from Furiosa’s shadow thanks to Theron.
David Oyelowo in Selma
It’s truly a crime that David Oyelowo’s barnstorming work as Martin Luther King in Ava DuVernay’s Selma did not get the attention it deserved (a problem made all the worse by the memory that the Best Actor winner that year was Eddie Redmayne). It’s a near impossible task for any actor to take on such a mighty role but Oyelowo’s strengths lie not in his ability to deliver a spirit-stirring speech - although he is exemplary at that. Instead, it’s in his sharper edges and those mundane moments where his portrait of MLK sparks with life: His cosy home life, the talks with friends, the casual way he takes out the garbage and reminds you he truly is a man. His best scene may be the moment where he barely says a word, as his wife (played by the also excellent Carmen Ejogo) confronts him about his cheating as well as her own fears for their lives. Oyelowo sits in his chair, arms firmly planted on the arms, and barely moves a muscle. The great leader suddenly turns bashful schoolboy. If we could just tear Redmayne’s Oscar from his hands and give it to Oyelowo, that would be great.
Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive
For my money, Naomi Watts’s work in David Lynch’s twisted Hollywood fable is the best cinematic performance of the 21st century. I have the most astoundingly clear memory of watching Mulholland Drive for the first time as a teenager. I remember buying the DVD for something like £4 from my local HMV, knowing nothing about it other than that Empire Magazine had given it five stars and the synopsis sounded cool. I had no idea who David Lynch was, which only made the experience of watching it in my darkened bedroom, back pushed against my bed in enraptured awe, all the more invigorating. For the first half of the film, I was utterly convinced that Watts’s performance was abysmal. It just didn’t seem especially convincing and had the melodramatic cheesiness of a bad soap opera. Nothing about her performance or the film itself felt right, for lack of a better word, and then I was suddenly flipped around.
The realization of what she’s doing hits you with unexpected force and then you’re wholly aware of what she’s actually doing. There’s a skillful fluidity to each twist of her role, something she makes seem utterly effortless. First, she’s an overtly peppy all-American girl, and then she’s the actress of Hollywood’s dreams who blows cynical casting directors away, then she’s the grown-up Nancy Drew with dogged determination, and then she’s a whole other person. Lynch has always loved playing around with Brechtian ideas of performance and exposing the various roles we play in life. Actors like Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern and the wonderful ensemble of Twin Peaks have proven excellent partners for him in this collaboration but it’s Watts whose work remains the most perfectly in tune with Lynch’s vision. I could watch that performance every day and find new things to be amazed by.
Header Image Source: Universal Pictures