Here are ten actresses that have never been nominated for an Oscar but rightfully deserve one.
Maria Bello: An indie darling from day one, Maria Bello graduated from her television roots on ER into the crosshairs of cinema with her daring performance as Kitty in the underrated and under-seen Permanent Midnight, alongside Ben Stiller before he was too good to bleed his own blood. Even managing to bring a touch of class to crap like Coyote Ugly, Bello really came into prominence three years later in The Cooler, with her perfect portrayal of Natalie the cocktail waitress, melting the heart of William H. Macy as well as our own. This performance should have received a nomination to pair with Alec Baldwin’s, but Bello was only getting started. In 2005, David Cronenberg gave us the modern classic A History of Violence, where Bello bared her soul—and other body parts actresses rarely have the nerve to bare—in a performance of raw emotional intensity that culminated in one of the most breathlessly acted love scenes in recent years. It was here that Bello demonstrated her mastery of not just acting the emotional wreck, but showing the psychological torture of withholding emotion for the perceived greater good, and how that mental pressure cooker can have unexpected casualties. Despite getting sidetracked here and there in a Grown Ups movie or two, Maria Bello has made it abundantly clear that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Birthed from Hollywood royalty but not defined by it, Jamie Lee Curtis began her career as the definitive “scream queen” of her era, playing the iconic and virginal Laurie Strode in the immortal classic, John Carpenter’s Halloween. After coasting along in horror flicks of 70s and 80s—Prom Night, Terror Train, and The Fog, just to name a few—Curtis took a sharp left turn into comedy with John Landis’ Trading Places, where her performance as the chest-baring hooker with a heart of gold made her a fan favorite across the board. Over the years, Curtis took many risks with her image, playing everything from a rookie cop in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel to the heartwarming makeup artist in the tearjerking My Girl. But despite returning to the slasher well with a rock solid performance in the Highlander-inspired Halloween: 20 Years Later, Curtis is at her most energetic and award-worthy in comedy. She’s not just an actress who can make you laugh; she can elevate material that would have been thankless in the hands of lesser talent. I don’t think anyone will forget her striptease as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife in True Lies, and her riotous turn as a disembodied Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday took what should have been a forgettable Disney remake, and made it comedy gold. We can only hope that Jamie Lee will stop promoting yogurt long enough to sink her teeth into a script worth her talents.
Rosario Dawson: Not many women can escape a Larry Clark movie with their clothes on and live to tell the tale. Rosario Dawson is an actress who lives to take chances and work for the best of the best, starting out with she was just 16 year old in Kids, taking roles in two of the last good Spike Lee films (He Got Game and the masterful 25th Hour), and even stretching her comedy muscles in The Rundown, Clerks II, and Alexander. Okay, the last one wasn’t funny on purpose, but you get what we’re talking about. Although rarely a leading woman, Dawson has become one of the most recognizable character actresses of her generation, lending real weight and energy to her roles, even in the most thankless films—cough, Pluto Nash, cough. But even wading through some of the mainstream dreck, Rosario has managed to prove that she can do it all, from bombastic comedy to gut-wrenching action. She has the looks, prowess and sex appeal that can be intimidating, yet remains grounded with a girl-next-door quality that makes you want to grab a beer with her. She can captivate as well as titillate with a smile that can melt your heart while simultaneously letting you know you’re about to die from a gunshot to the dome. Rosario Dawson may be the youngest actress on this list, but has an impressive resume that is sure to continue to astound as it builds.
Gina Gershon: In 1996, the Wachowski Brothers—er, siblings—arrived with one of the single most impressive directorial debuts ever. Bound is a film that gave two actresses known for being eye candy a chance to show that they could not only look good, but act their asses off in a modern mob classic that should have placed Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly at the forefront of actresses in the business. It’s a good way to wash the taste of Showgirls out of your mouth. Gershon has continued making brave choices, even some that her agent probably thinks were not so bright, like fillating a piece of fried chicken standing in for Matthew McConaughey’s junk. But hey, most anything is a step up from being a sixth-billing love interest for Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Gershon’s career has been mostly relegated to television series appearances and voiceover work for the last decade, but her balls-out performance in Killer Joe reminded us that McConaughey wasn’t the only one who still had the chops… or the drumsticks. With four projects upcoming and a resume of a prolific working actress, we hope it’s only a matter of time before Gina Gershon gets another role like Bound that allows her to stretch her muscles in a role that befits her considerable talent.
Ashley Judd: Popping up on two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and then showing up in a bit part as “Wife of Paint Store Owner” in the Christian Slater vehicle Kuffs, things could have gone very differently for Ashley Judd. As it stands, she got the attention of the right people and popped up in Heat not too long after. Her performance the following year as Pam Anderson (no relation) in Normal Life showed us that she was the real deal, because let’s be honest: it’s very difficult acting opposite Luke Perry when he’s trying to sport a mustache that makes Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite look like Tom Selleck. It was her performance as the kidnapping victim in Kiss the Girls opposite Morgan Freeman that brought Ashley Judd into the mainstream, where she enjoyed brief success before heading back the independent route, because when William Friedkin acts you if you want to play a mentally unbalanced woman, you say yes. Bug remains one of the most eclectic and absurdly disturbing films of the 2000s, with two performances from Judd and Michael Shannon that deserved serious awards consideration, but alas went overlooked. Very few films featuring a “descent into madness” make you feel like you’re on the sinking ship, but thanks to Judd’s empathic powerhouse portrayal of Agnes White, we are with her every step of the way. All Dolphin Tales aside, Judd is an actress whose talents remain grossly under-tapped.
Sheryl Lee: Sheryl Lee’s debut in the film and television world as Laura Palmer in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks solidified the actress’ career in the mainstream consciousness; an actress who not only exceeded the demands of Hollywood glamour but possessed a keen ability in portraying deeply conflicted characters. Her fearless dive into Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Bliss, with the rawness of her onscreen nudity matched by her naked emotions, represented two extremely difficult roles for anyone to play, let alone with such gusto. Let’s not forget Vampires as the sexy sidekick to vampire hunter James Woods. Also a regular animal rights activist and wife of Neil Diamond’s son Jesse, the West German actress took a hiatus from acting around 2005 but returned 5 years later with Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Now a veteran recently starting to act again, Mrs. Lee has yet to have her due as an Oscar nominee. Although a winner of several Saturn Awards as well as honors from the Detroit Film Critics Society, the Golden Statue has yet to grace her mantelpiece. Considering her recent resurfacing in both film, television and voice work for the video game BioShock 2, the time has come for her to earn a shot at winning the Academy Award she so deserves.
Jennifer Jason Leigh: Daughter of the late Vic Morrow and Barbara Turner, Jennifer Jason Leigh is an American actress mostly known for not only taking on troubling, difficult roles including but not limited to prostitutes and drug addicts, but for the intense method preparation with which she sinks her teeth into them. Memorable for her appearance in the 80s sex comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Leigh quickly established herself as an actress who would go above and beyond in her efforts to research a character. For Single White Female, she spent time inside actual psych wards. She also established herself as a fearless and confident actress by diving into such unplayable roles as the prostitute Tralala in Last Exit to Brooklyn and the pill-popping victim of childhood sexual abuse in Dolores Claiborne. Clearly this is a mainstream talent to be taken seriously and learned from. And yet even after her marriage to director Noah Baumbach and dabbling briefly into directing with her first feature The Anniversary Party, she still has yet to earn a single Oscar nomination as an actress, writer or director. Judging by her ouvre and the distances traveled by this extraordinary actress, it’s kind of shameful she hasn’t had a fair shot at winning a much deserved Academy Award.
Isabella Rossellini: Daughter of famed actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini, Isabella Rossellini is one of cinema’s most dedicated and fearless actresses, ready to dive in deep into roles most actresses would be afraid to touch. The former wife of director Martin Scorsese had a couple small roles here and there, but would gain worldwide recognition as the used and abused nightclub singer in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. As Rossellini bore her body and soul before the camera, we saw an actress willing to submit to ugliness in the name of art. Not to mention her singing wasn’t doctored in post by a third party vocalist. Rossellini also held her own against the masterful Jeff Bridges in Peter Weir’s Fearless as the confused and frustrated wife of a man in the throes of trying to understand his near-death experience. Most recently, she was also the leading lady in Guy Maddin’s throwback to early cinema of the 1900s, The Saddest Music in the World. A commanding, almost maternal figure in the film world, you would think this powerhouse of an actress easily had a shot at being nominated for Best Actress. Unlike her mother, Ingrid, who won three Academy Awards in her lifetime in addition to many nominations, Isabelle Rossellini has yet to garner even one nomination to her namesake. The time has come for Ms. Rossellini to earn her fair shot at being recognized by the Academy as one of Hollywood’s most invaluable talents.
Theresa Russell: Beginning her debut in film with Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon before becoming director Nicolas Roeg’s wife and regular leading lady over the course of six films, Theresa Russell is one of the most talented and committed actresses to still never receive an Oscar nomination. From her neurotic nymphomaniac in Roeg’s Bad Timing to her transgender cameo in Roeg’s segment for Aria, Russell is an actress willing to go the distance and then some for her roles. How many actresses do you know who will subject themselves to the kind of tumult required for a film as difficult and twisted as Bad Timing? Word has it she was originally offered the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars and turned it down. A wise decision in that even though Russell didn’t achieve the kind of mainstream success as Carrie Fisher might have, she maintained control over her career and did exactly the kinds of characters she wanted to. Among her last major roles have included the titular prostitute in Ken Russell’s rebuke of Pretty Woman, Whore, but she’s also, alongside Dylan Baker, appeared in the third Spider Man. Already a veteran in the eyes of many cinephiles, if an Oscar worthy role doesn’t come her way soon, she may never earn the widespread recognition and respect she solely deserves.
Robin Wright: The former wife of actor Sean Penn, Robin Wright is an enormously gifted actress, director and a singer. Making her debut in television on the show Santa Barbara, Wright’s first major break into film came in 1987 with the role of Buttercup in The Princess Bride. Appearing in numerous roles through the early nineties, her second shot at superstardom came with the pivotal role of Jenny Curran in the Best Picture winner Forrest Gump, for which she received her first Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She also landed the lead role for the period drama Moll Flanders. Soon she was a regular in mainstream Hollywood films, managing to land at least one role per year before her eventual foray into television. She would soon earn the Golden Globe Award for her work on the 2013 web series House of Cards (of which she also directed an episode), making her the first actress to win a Golden Globe for an internet exclusive show. With this many accolades and awards bestowed upon Robin Wright, it seems inconceivable that for every Golden Globe nomination, she has yet to garner an Oscar nomination from the Academy Awards. With three new films on the way, it’s time for the Academy to start paying more attention to one of the finest mainstream actresses working today.
- Blake O. Kleiner
- Andrew Kotwicki
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