Saturday, April 23, 2011

More Actors Deserving of Oscars

Last year I threw together a list of some contemporary screen actors who I feel are more than deserving of an Oscar, but have yet to win. They are all still reasonably young, although the Hollywood shelf life of actresses tends to be much shorter, so Laura Linney and Julianne Moore may come up short despite the 7 nominations between them.

Today I present a second list of screen actors still currently appearing in feature films who are also deserving of an Oscar one day. The nine actors I've listed below have 15 acting nominations between them, but not a single win (well, one has a win for screenplay).

In his 26 years making feature films, Johnny Depp has provided us with countless indelible characters including the Mad Hatter (Alice in Wonderland), Edward Scissorhands, Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean (receiving his first of 3 Oscar nominations for the first film in that series), Willy Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Donnie Brasco, Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow), Raoul Duke (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, and Cry-Baby. He has worked with Tim Burton 7 times, as well as renowned directors such as Terry Gilliam, Mike Newell, Lasse Hallström, Roman Polanski, John Waters and Michael Mann. It's remarkable to me that it took until 2004 for his first nod from the Academy, but not at all surprising that he's since received two more nominations. His roles are often flashy, but still not the kind the Academy tends to reward. I'd expect to see him continue to garner nominations, but not at all surprised if they end up handing him an Honorary Oscar in about 25 years' time.


Some actors can easily fly under the radar with the small roles they take. They may not be made for leading roles, but the impact they can have on a single scene can be devastating and essential. Such is the case with Viola Davis. Her film debut came at about age 30, playing a nurse in The Substance of Fire in 1996. Some TV work followed before she made a big impression on me in 1998 under the direction of Steven Soderbergh in Out of Sight. She had one scene, but obviously caught Soderbergh's eye enough for him to cast her in two more films including a larger role in Solaris in 2002, the same year she had similar small and significant roles in Far From Heaven and Antwone Fisher. Her only Oscar nomination came for a single scene performance in which she did better than hold her own against Meryl Streep in Doubt. I wouldn't count on her ever winning the award. She seems to be doing a lot more television these days. But her small roles are often the kind of thing that wins a supporting actress Oscar once in a while.

After a long career in British television, Hollywood success came late to Tom Wilkinson. He first became well-known to American audiences through his fleshy role in The Full Monty in 1997. After that he continued to pop up in supporting roles until 2001, when he played the portrait of parental grief opposite Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom, receiving his first of two Oscar nominations. His second came for Michael Clayton in which he plays the manic and mentally unstable Arthur Edens, a defense lawyer whose conscience gets the better of him in a case against a chemical company. Like Jim Broadbent, he is an excellent and hard-working actor whose work always stands out. Broadbent already took home an Oscar. Wilkinson may do the same one day.

Patricia Clarkson has been working consistently for a long time, her first feature film role in 1987 as Kevin Costner's concerned wife in The Untouchables. She started getting serious notices from critics as early as 1998 for her role in High Art and in the last decade has made an impression in several small supporting roles like the grieving mother in The Pledge. She often breathes fresh life films as they're beginning to go stale: Whatever WorksShutter Island. Like Viola Davis, she could continue to forge a successful career playing similar supporting roles and never receive the awards accolades of the traditional leading ladies of her generation. No matter, she's still a gem in whatever film she appears in.

I remember first noticing Don Cheadle in high school when I saw Devil in a Blue Dress. His performance as Mouse, the unhinged childhood friend of Denzel Washington's Ezekiel Rawlins, demanded attention and it was a damn shame he wasn't recognized by the Academy at the time. He was already known to TV audiences as the D.A. in the series "Picket Fences." He would have to wait several more years and make a Hollywood-friendly film, Hotel Rwanda, one of those films that makes white people feel better about being at the top, to get a nomination. But before that he was turning in great performances in Out of Sight, Traffic, and Boogie Nights. His roles recently have tended toward the commercial set such as Iron Man 2, but he's without a doubt an actor to expect at future Oscar ceremonies.

Woody Allen cast Samantha Morton as the lovably mute love interest of Sean Penn in Sweet and Lowdown and, although she'd already had two film credits and some television work, suddenly she became an in-demand Hollywood actress. Steven Spielberg gave her a high profile part in Minority Report and then she got her second nomination for Jim Sheridan's In America. Since then she's taken only occasional roles, mostly in smaller productions. There was some talk of a possible nomination for her role as a war widow in The Messenger in 2009, but it didn't materialize. She's probably my least favorite on this list, but I still think she's got tremendous talent and a real chance at an Oscar one day, possibly like Helen Mirren, when she's more mature.

I consider it one of the great Oscar crimes that Matt Damon missed out on a nomination for The Talented Mr. Ripley. It is a complete, fully rounded performance. And you need only see him in The Informant! to realize how great he is. In those two films he plays a compulsive liar, but look at the differences in how he handles his body when it's Tom Ripley, a man who lies as a way of life, and when it's Mark Whitacre, who lies to wriggle out of a previous pointless lie. His nomination for Invictus strikes me as a rather uninspired choice, the result of a crowded Best Actor field that didn't have room for a nod for The Informant!. I hope voters don't consider his Best Screenplay Oscar when casting votes for him, because he's much more deserving of acting accolades than he has thus far received from the Academy.

Really my memory of Alfre Woodard as a great actress comes from two films, both about twenty years old: Passion Fish (her only Oscar nod to date) and Crooklyn. These are two fine examples of the kind of no-nonsense woman she's so adept at playing. She's been doing well recently on television, picking up a regular part on the series "Desperate Housewives," but not figuring as often in feature films. Her talent is reflected in 3 Golden Globe nominations and a slew of Primetime Emmy nods (15) and wins (4) going as far back as a guest spot on "Hill Street Blues" in 1984. But that Oscar may elude her the rest of her career as she doesn't often take the big roles that tend to win big awards. Maybe one day she'll get lucky and the stars will align in her favor.

In the early part of his career, Robert Downey, Jr. mostly played teen pretty boys. He was barely an actor to take seriously until his tour de force performance in the title role of Richard Attenborough's Chaplin. I'd have to watch the film again to see if it is truly a well-rounded performance more than just an imitation, but I'd give him the benefit of doubt given some of the great work he's done in the last decade including Kirk Lazarus, an Australian actor playing an African American marine sergeant in Tropic Thunder, for which he earned his second Oscar nomination. He's recently become a big box office action star playing the titular heroes in both Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes. These aren't the roles that typically bring in the awards, but he continues to demonstrate his incredible talent in each one of them.

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