Here are ten great actors that have been continually overlooked by the Academy.
Dylan Baker: One of the most versatile and fearless actors of our time, Dylan Baker made his debut as the redneck Owen from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but is best remembered as the pedophile dad from Todd Solondz’s black comedy Happiness. Few actors from the theater scene could take on such a difficult role, let alone play it with the confidence and finesse with which Baker did. Soon he was appearing in bit parts thereafter in both independent dramas like Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and major Hollywood films including Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man sequels. However, many can’t help but notice just how little screen time is devoted to this brilliant actor treading the same ground as the likes of William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi. Why hasn’t Dylan Baker been nominated yet for an Academy Award? Few actors have the courage to take on some of the roles this man has, let alone playing them as realistic and believable people in the world. Busy in television as of current, Aronofsky remarked in the commentary for Requiem “he’s so good, and that’s all we get to see of him”. We couldn’t agree more that we need more of this actor in the film scene!
Jim Carrey: This one is a shock just when you consider the resume of Jim Carrey. Beginning in 1996 with Liar, Liar, continuing in 1997 with The Truman Show, followed up in 1998 with Man on the Moon, and let us not forget his emotionally draining performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind… To know that all of those performances were ignored would be enough already, but the one that really irks us is that Carrey—completely abandoning all pretense, shirking all attempts at pandering to his fan base—gave his most complete performance as gay conman Steven Russell in I Love You Phillip Morris, and he still wasn’t nominated. Not only do we see Carrey going full “Brokeback” in a film as full of heartbreak as it is uproarious laughter, but the sheer range and depth of his performance shows that he’s capable of hitting more notes than many of his award-winning colleagues. After being the only reason to see Kick Ass 2 (next to Chloe Moretz) and going back to the well with the upcoming Dumb and Dumber To, we hope Carrey re-establishes his industry clout enough to have more chances to show us just how good he is.
Philip Baker Hall: Robert Altman regular and Paul Thomas Anderson regular Philip Baker Hall is one of the great veteran character actors of our time. He started briefly in 1970 with smaller roles, until he was catapulted to a level of stardom with his performance as Richard Nixon in director Robert Altman’s minimalist biopic, Secret Honor. In it, Hall not only creates a convincing Nixon confessing to the camera, but he provides his own command of emotion to elicit sympathy from the audience in a way that causes us to feel for a man we still keep at arm’s length. Although many smaller parts followed here and there, it was Altman’s understudy Paul Thomas Anderson who saw the potential of Philip Baker Hall. Anderson’s first film Sydney (later retitled Hard Eight against his wishes) featured Hall in the title role of an assassin trying to repair the broken lives of men he vicariously destroyed so many years ago. It’s an honest, vulnerable performance of a man who seems to be in complete control until he’s found out. Hall would later star in Anderson’s subsequent pictures, with parts in Boogie Nights and as a television show host in Magnolia you’ll never forget. Not unlike Tommy Lee Jones, Hall is a crusty performer capable of great transformation and a keen understanding of how to project complex, deeply felt emotions. And yet, this powerhouse veteran of an actor continues to only appear in character roles devoid of any chance at ever being nominated for an Oscar. Unlike Tommy Lee Jones, who has been nominated several times and managed to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Philip Baker Hall hasn’t had his fair shot yet. The time has come to shine the light on this gifted actor with more talent than half of the actors who have won or been nominated for their acting abilities.
Michael Keaton: Let us ask a perfectly legitimate question. How the hell do you not give an Oscar to f**king Batman?! Keaton’s career kicked off with mostly comic performances, some remarkable like Beetlejuice, others not so remarkable like Mr. Mom… but hey, we all make mistakes. After Batman, it seemed certain that Keaton would catapult into the stratosphere of stardom, but it just never seemed to happen; his career petered along after shucking the cape and cowl, popping up here and there in small supporting roles, like the nosy FBI agent in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. Until recent turns in Robocop and Need for Speed, Keaton’s last major release as a headliner was the 2005 supernatural thriller White Noise. If you forgot about it, you weren’t the only one. That same year, Keaton was also in the little seen Game 6, hitting a home run with a performance that should have gotten more attention than it did. But it was a small film, with a screenplay by novelist Don DeLillo, whose novels and subsequent film adaptations (Cosmopolis, anyone?) have a known polarizing effect on audiences. We can only hope that Keaton’s lead role in Birdman is everything early buzz says it is, because how awesome would it be for Batman to win an Oscar for Birdman?
Malcolm McDowell: Best remembered for his work with Lindsay Anderson and Stanley Kubrick, British veteran actor Malcolm McDowell has made a brilliant career out of playing some of the most iconic villains to ever grace the silver screen. From the closing shot of Anderson’s If…. to the opening shot of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, there were few actors who knew how to use their eyes and face with respect to the camera. With time, he’s had his fair share of roles in both B movies and major Hollywood films, including a recent resurgence in the scene as Dr. Loomis from Rob Zombie’s redux of John Carpenter’s classic horror film Halloween. McDowell has also done more voice work in popular video game titles than many actors are willing to include on their resume. Most recently he was in the Best Picture winner The Artist and is now appearing in popular television commercials alongside James Earl Jones, another actor well overdue for a shot at the Golden statue. It’s fair to say McDowell is a master to learn from and respect, and yet he still has yet to place the honorary statue on his shelf of awards. Yes he’s done a lot of crap recently, he freely admits that, but after trying so hard and realizing the futility while the Academy continues to award newcomers in the interest of commerce rather than art, can you blame him for appearing in the remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night?
Alfred Molina: An English-American actor of Spanish and Italian descent, Alfred Molina burst onto the film scene in a bit part alongside Harrison Ford in the opening sequence to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since that day, he has earned his share of memorable roles ranging from domineering Iranian father in Not Without My Daughter to the cocaine addicted Rahad Jackson in Boogie Nights. But it wasn’t until his portrayal of famous artist Diego Rivera in Frida that Alfred Molina received major attention for his acting abilities. It didn’t take long for Molina to land the role of the villain Doctor Octopus in Sam Raimi’s critically lauded superhero film Spider-Man 2. Always versatile and chameleonic, playing characters of numerous ethnicities and personal backgrounds, Mr. Molina surely should have had a shot at the Academy Award for Best Actor, right? Despite his massive and continuing body of work in major films, the Academy continues to ignore him even as he has appeared in several nominated pictures. As he continues to appear in film, television and even providing voice work for animated films and video games, it’s time for the Academy to start taking him more seriously and shine a spotlight on one of cinema’s most prolific and underrated character actors.
Kurt Russell: We are just as surprised as you to see this name on the list. Was there another actor in the 80s who created as many genre icons as Kurt Russell? Snake Plissken, R.J. MacReady, Jack Burton… okay, Kurt Russell really owes John Carpenter a beer. When you hear about actors who embody that “everyman quality,” make every performance look natural, and still manage to exude a palpable charisma—Kurt Russell has all of those attributes in spades. And beyond genre fare, Russell’s dramatic turns in films like Tombstone and Dark Blue only got so far as “talk” of awards contention. Things died down with his career for a while after the poorly received Soldier, but then in 2007, he gave us Stuntman Mike in Quentin Tarantino’s “big limp dick movie” Death Proof. Even if the only part you liked was the car chase, no one could deny that Russell still has the stuff. Next year we can look forward to him reuniting with Tarantino in The Hateful Eight, and maybe—just maybe—the director who gave John Travolta a second chance at life—and an Oscar nomination to boot—could do the same for Russell?
Alan Rickman: Who said the Academy were terrorists? We did. Because they have never once paid proper tribute to one of the greatest bad baddies of all time. It’s not often that a summer blockbuster also has an award-worthy performance in it; as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Alan Rickman not only put his own stamp on what has since become a cultural landmark, but did so with the kind of style and substance that transcends the material he was given. After all, without great acting from Rickman and Bruce Willis, Die Hard would have just been another action film from the writer that scripted Commando and The Running Man. Since then, Alan Rickman has been one of the best go-to British actors around, whether he’s making us laugh our asses off as the Metatron in Dogma, trying to give true weight to Kevin Costner vehicles like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, showing true emotional complexity as a tempted husband in Love Actually, or getting under our skin as the slithery Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. Having Alan Rickman in your film ensures it has a touch of class, even when it is the remake/sequel/whatever the heck that new Alice in Wonderland thing was. Oh, and did I mention that he can sing? Yep. Right up until he gets his throat cut.
Donald Sutherland: Is there any good reason why one of the most reliable and likable character actors of all time has never been nominated for an Oscar? Donald Sutherland’s career reads like a veritable catalogue of essential film history. Be it in genre classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, villainous turns in the recent Hunger Games series, dramatic heart-wringers like Ordinary People, or stretching his comic sidekick muscles in throwaway pleasures like Space Cowboys, Sutherland has done it all, and continues to show actors how it’s done right. But we can all agree that his best performance was as the grieving father in Nicholas Roeg’s masterpiece of psychological terror, Don’t Look Now. It’s very easy for an actor to play it crazed and get recognized for it as “acting,” but true acting is when we can see the emotions withheld by someone who needs to be strong for the other person in the room, and that’s something Sutherland has always been a master of: Subtlety. Perhaps he was a little too good at it. I hope that after he’s done with The Hunger Games, Sutherland finally gets a role that he can sink his dentures into. The man has one of the most recognizable and distinguished voices in the business—let him put it to good use, and give him his long overdue reward for it.
Ray Winstone: British character actor Ray Winstone is one of mainstream Hollywood’s most prolific and familiar faces. Often cast in the archetypical role of hardened tough guys or gangsters, the stocky veteran character actor has also had his fair share of difficult characters. Beginning as a youngster opposite Phil Daniels in Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia and Alan Clarke’s Scum as a juvenile delinquent, Winstone would cite the influence the late Clarke had on the direction his career would take as a resident bad boy. Appearing in numerous roles in television and film throughout the early 80s, his first major break came in Nil by Mouth as a wife beating alcoholic, for which he was nominated for the BAFTA Award. His ability to play both detestable characters in films like Tim Roth’s The War Zone paralleled his equal talent for softer, gentler roles. It wasn’t until his leading role in the gangster drama Sexy Beast the actor began receiving both international attention and was soon frequently cast in major Hollywood films such as The Departed, Beowulf, and most recently, Tubal Cain in Noah. Now a veteran appearing regularly in the mainstream, one wonders just why this versatile and intensely physical actor hasn’t been recognized by the Academy as one of the most important and dependable talents in modern cinema. With so many lesser talents walking away with the coveted golden statue, it’s time for Ray Winstone to receive his fair shot at proving to the Academy and industry as a whole his place in film history.
- Andrew Kotwicki
- Blake O. Kleiner