[Editor's note: The last time I published a list of this sort Christian Bale was way up top and then The Fighter happened. Time for a new look at the Oscar Nomination-less. While I'm in Sundance, abstew steps in with his list. My list (and I'm sure yours) might not be exactly the same but... discuss! - Nathaniel]
This past Thursday, when the Oscar nominations were announced, only eight actors were hearing their names called for the first time (the Best Actress category was all previous nominees and 80% winners). Some were for film debuts (Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi), but for the other 6 names (Ejiofor, McConaughey, Fassbender, Leto, Hawkins, and Squibb) it was their first recognition from the Academy after years of hard work and dedication to their craft. But not every great actor ever gets to hear their name called Oscar nomination morning. Despite powerful performances and decades of service to the film industry, sometimes a nomination (let alone a win) evades the greats. For some, the oversite will never be remedied (Marilyn Monore, Edward G. Robinson, Myrna Loy, Peter Lorre, Jean Harlow, and John Barrymore are just some of Hollywood's finest that went without the prefix Academy Award Nominee), but for many great actors still working today there is still time. In honor of those overlooked artists, I present 10 actors that continue to give us astounding performances year after year that deserve to have their work recognized with an Oscar nomination.
Not Now, But Soon: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hardy, and Greta Gerwig We May Have Lost Them to Television: Steve Buscemi, Robin Wright, Kevin Bacon, Lili Taylor, and Kerry Washington Comedians That Get No Respect: Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Carol Burnett Still Great Despite Not Making the Top Ten: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugh Grant, Hope Davis, John Cusack, and, of course, Mia Farrow (who rarely works now)
10. Gong Li
Should've Been a Contender? Ju Dou (1990), Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Farewell My Concubine (1993), To Live (1994), Breaking the Silence (2000), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
With a series of well-received films in the early 90s, Gong Li became the face of Chinese cinema. The actress and her frequent director Zhang Yimou are frequently credited for bringing Chinese cinema to the awareness of American and European audiences. Their collaboration, Ju Dou, was the first film from China to ever be nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Despite groundbreaking work in such films as Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine (which won her a New York Film Critics Circle award), the Academy has yet to nominate this influential actress. In 2005, she made her Hollywood film debut appearing in Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha (her first film in which she performed in English–she learned her lines phonetically) and winning a National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress. But a nomination still eluded her. After a few more turns in Hollywood (Miami Vice and Hannibal Rising), she seems to have slowed down and hasn't appeared on screen since 2011 (which is essentially why she's not higher on the list). She is currently filming the aptly named Return, which reunites her with Zhang Yimou. Hopefully the film is also a return to Oscar's attention or, at the very least, more work. The cinema needs Gong Li's face.
9. Kirsten Dunst
Should've Been a Contender? Interview With a Vampire (1994), The Virgin Suicides (1999), The Cat's Meow (2001), Marie Antoinette (2006), All Good Things (2010), Melancholia (2011)
Despite working in film for over 20 years and a body of work that speaks for itself, it seems that Kirsten Dunst never gets the credit she deserves. After starting off as a precocious child star (even earning a Golden Globe nomination for playing the child-vampire, Claudia, in Interview With a Vampire), she was successfully able to transition into a thriving career as an adult. But there seemed to be a period in the early 2000s where people seemed to actively dislike her for whatever reason (it probably didn't help that her performance in Elizabethtown coined the infamous title of manic pixie dream girl). But Dunst continued to give great performances in films that were generally met with mixed reactions (go back and rewatch her work in Marie Antoinette and you'll see). It didn't seem people really began to take her seriously until her mesmerizing work in the little-seen All Good Things and, more importantly, her work in Lars von Trier's Melancholia (which brought a Best Actress award at Cannes). It seems we are just now beginning to see the depth of what she is able to accomplish. Hopefully her continued level of excellence (she next stars in Jeff Nichols' follow-up to Take Shelter and Mud, Midnight Special, and stars along with Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac in The Two Faces of January) will someday catch the eye of the Academy.
08. Gael García Bernal
Should've Been a Contender?: Amores Perros (2000), Y Tu Mamá También (2001), El crimen del Padre Amaro (2002), Bad Education (2004), The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), No (2012)
Gael García Bernal was lucky enough to make a strong impression in his feature film debut, Amores Perros, which had its premiere at Cannes and was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. But it wasn't until the following year when he starred in the much talked about and also Oscar nominated Y Tu Mamá También, from Alfonso Cuarón (currently nominated as Best Director for Gravity) that his career really took off (I'm sure those racy sex scenes certainly helped). With his recognition from these Spanish-language films, García Bernal was suddenly well-known and receiving MTV Movie Award nominations for complex, adult foreign films -- when does something like that ever happen?!). With his crossover appeal, I'm sure Hollywood tried to tempt him with big money-making blockbusters. But García Bernal stayed true to his indie roots and in 2004 had his best year yet as an actor earning rave reviews for performances in two different films, as a young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries and, his most transformative work, in Almodóvar's Bad Education. Altough appearing in many Oscar nominated films (including 2012's No), García Bernal has yet to receive the honor himself. He next stars in Jon Stewart's directorial debut in the true-life political film, Rosewater, about a journalist imprisoned in Iran. At the age of 35, he still has a long career ahead of him (and Oscar likes to make handsome young men wait). As he continues doing the great work he has it's hopefully not a question of if he'll receive an Oscar nomination, but when.
7. Scarlett Johansson
Should've Been a Contender?: Ghost World (2001), Lost in Translation (2003), Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003), Match Point (2006), Don Jon (2013), Her (2013)
Out of all ten actors on this list, Johansson probably came closest to securing a nomination (Sofia Coppola's Oscar-winning, Lost in Translation). This past year she received even more Oscar buzz around a performance created only with her voice in Her. Let's be honest with ourselves: that was never gonna happen even if it was fun to have people think creatively about what makes up a great performance. It didn't hurt that she was giving another great performance (one that included her body) in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon. So far she's received 4 Golden Globe nominations, was a double nominee at BAFTA (winning for Lost in Translation), been nominated, and won a few critics' awards, flirted with being Woody Allen's new muse (appearing in 3 films so far), won a Tony for her work in Broadway's A View From the Bridge, and just happens to be in one of the highest-grossing films of all time (third behind Avatar and Titanic). To say she's had a successful career would be an understatement. Wouldn't receiving that Oscar nomination be just the perfect addition to that list of accolades? Balancing both blockbusters (she has more appearances as The Black Widow) along with prestige films with auteurs (her work in Jonathan Glazer's follow-up to Birth, Under the Skin, has already earned her praise at film festivals), she seems to be charting a varied career path that should eventually see her recognized.
6. Charlotte Rampling
Should've Been a Contender?: The Damned (1969), The Night Porter (1974), The Verdict (1982), Under the Sand (2000), Swimming Pool (2003), The Eye of the Storm (2011)
British actors seem to carry a certain amount of innate prestige (after all, they are the homeland of Shakespeare) that the Academy finds irresistible. Added to their mystique is the very British way that royal titles are bestowed upon them (somehow Dame Sandy Bullock doesn't sound right). Charlotte Rampling received a title in 2001 (OBE: Officer of the Order of the British Empire), but despite over 50 years in film, she has yet to charm the Academy with a nomination. With a sultry sexiness still apparent well into her 60's, you'd think she'd be following in the Oscar-winning footsteps of fellow Brit, Helen Mirren. But, for whatever reason, Rampling has thus far been unsuccessful. Perhaps her earlier films were too racy for Oscar's taste (The Night Porter concerns a sadomasochistic relationship and Max, My Love has her falling in love with a chimpanzee). But she also appeared in more conventional Oscar-friendly material like Woody Allen's Stardust Memories and played Paul Newman's alcoholic girlfriend in The Verdict. Adding to her reputation, she has appeared in countless Italian and French films (earning 4 César nominations), including the film that won her the most acclaim, 2003's The Swimming Pool. (In the film she actually addresses people's obsession with awards saying, "Awards are like hemorrhoids. Sooner or later every asshole gets one.") But by all accounts, the multi-lingual beauty should be taking her place among Oscar's other beloved Brits.
5. Peter Sarsgaard
Should've Been a Contender?: Boys Don't Cry (1999), Shattered Glass (2003), Garden State (2004), Kinsey (2004), Jarhead (2005), An Education (2009)
Peter Sarsgaard is a creep–but I mean that in the best possible way! His performances are always a little sinister (even in films where the role doesn't necessarily call for it) but it's that hidden mischievousness that gives him an edge. It's no surprise that the actor he's most compared to, John Malkovich, is another man who's capable of subtly subversions. Unlike Malkovich, who has been Oscar nominated twice, Sarsgaard has yet to translate that quality into Oscar glory. Having first gained recognition for his work in Boys Don't Cry, it wasn't until his brilliant performance in 2003's Shattered Glass that he started to get awards attention (including nominations from the Golden Globes and Independent Spirit Awards). But Oscar passed that year and then two more consecutive years for supporting turns in Kinsey (which brought some recognition to his costars) and Sam Mendes' Jarhead. Never one to play a conventional leading man, the roles are just going to get more diverse as he gets older (next up is a film about chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer, and a western about...cannibals) which certainly could help his Oscar chances at least in the supporting categories.
4. Ewan McGregor
Should've Been a Contender?: Trainspotting (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Big Fish (2003), The Ghost Writer (2010), Beginners (2010), The Impossible (2012)
Who would have guessed that the actor who regularly got his penis out in 90s cinema and came to fame in the manic Trainspotting would settle into to such a respectable place in award-worthy films? But such is the diversity of Ewan McGregor career that he's equally capable of playing a glam rocker from the 70s (Velvet Goldmine) as he is a modern Midwestern husband in August: Osage County. Perhaps it's that effortlessness that has had him overlooked and taken for granted time and again. If they gave unconventional Oscars, he should also be given an award for Most Likely to Get Your Costar an Oscar Nomination as his work opposite his fellow actors has produced nominations for Nicole Kidman, Christopher Plummer, Naomi Watts, and now Julia Roberts (Meryl gets nominations all on her own). His work hasn't gone completely unnoticed as he's been nominated twice for the Golden Globe (Moulin Rouge! and...Salmon Fishing in the Yemen(!) Oh, HFPA, don't ever change), but at this point in his career shouldn't he have at least a single nomination? He has a duo of "Gun" movies coming up (the prison drama Son of a Gun and the very troubled production of Jane Got a Gun), but it doesn't seem like either is headed for award recognition. Still, if he's able to find that one role that showcases him (and not his costar), an Oscar nomination is in his future.
3. Isabelle Huppert
Should've Been a Contender?: Violette (1978), Madame Bovary (1991), Le Cérémonie (1995), The Piano Teacher (2001), 8 Women (2002), Amour (2012)
Although considered by many to be one of the all time great screen actors (just saying her name can make cinephiles swoon), she has yet to catch on with Oscar voters. Nominated for 14 César awards (more than any other actress and only 2 behind current record-holder, Gérard Depardieu), one of four woman to win the Best Actress prize at Cannes twice, and one of two women to twice receive the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival, her acting has been internationally recognized and honored. So, why is it that an Oscar nomination has evaded her? Perhaps the films which have won her the most acclaim are just too hard to connect to. (The Piano Teacher is especially difficult to digest for a lot of people.) Unlike her fellow French actresses that have found favor with Oscar (Deneuve, Adjani, Cotillard), her persona is more of intellectual with a pricklier demeanor which she used to comic affect in the film 8 Women. Whatever the reason, she will continue to make the kinds of films that win her acclaim (she appears in the he said/she said film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, and is scheduled to appear in a film about the art world with Sigourney Weaver). It's just a shame that she worked with David O. Russell before he was able to score so many Oscar nominations for his actors...
2. Richard Gere
Should've Been a Contender?: Days of Heavan (1978), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Primal Fear (1996), Chicago (2002), The Hoax (2007), Arbitrage (2012)
Oscar likes to make its men wait. But after almost 40 years in the business and numerous well-regarded performances, hasn't Richard Gere waited long enough? After 1980's American Gigolo made him a superstar and heartthrob, Gere had a hard time being taken seriously as an actor. His follow up film An Officer and a Gentleman, further cemented his star status and went on to receive 6 Oscar nominations (and 2 wins)–but none for Gere. In the 80's and 90's, he starred in many popular studio films. Then there was the film that seemed most likely to win him a nomination, Chicago. Although the film scored big with Oscar voters (its 13 nominations just one shy of the all-time leaders All About Eve and Titanic) and though he won Golden Globe for his performance, Gere was once again the odd man out. He's been nominated 4 times at the Golden Globes, the latest was for 2012's Arbitrage which won him some of the best reviews of his career, but–you guessed–not enough for Oscar's attention. As a practicing Buddhist and friend of the Dalai Lama, I'm sure awards don't weigh that heavily in the balance of his life. But, as an actor, I'm sure we wants a damn Oscar nomination.
1. Donald Sutherland
Should've Been a Contender?: M*A*S*H (1970), Don't Look Now (1973), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Ordinary People (1980), JFK (1991), Pride and Prejudice (2005)
In a career that has spanned 6 decades in such classics as The Dirty Dozen, Robert Altman's M*A*S*H, Don't Look Now, Klute, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Animal House (not exactly Oscar material, but still), and Best Picture winner Ordinary People, it is still hard to believe that Donald Sutherland has not received a single nomination. And at the age of 78, he's still working steadily (most notably as President Snow in The Hunger Games trilogy). In a career as vast and varied, how do you choose a performance that was most deserving of a nomination. By all accounts he should have at least a couple of citations. But his best chances were most likely with Robert Redford's Ordinary People, which brought nominations to Mary Tyler Moore and a win to Timothy Hutton. Sutherland was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance (he has a total of 3 nominations for film, and 5 for his work in television), but was shut-out on nomination morning. His most recent shot came with his sweet turn as Keira Knightley's father in Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, a chance many saw as honoring not just his work in the film, but for his career. Unfortunately, although the film received 4 Oscar nominations (including one for Knightley), Sutherland was not among them. In addition to the rest of The Hunger Games, Sutherland has no less than 4 upcoming films and a televison series. It hardly seems he's going to slow down anytime soon–just as long as the Academy can catch up with him at some point.
Everyone has an opinion (or snubbed favorite) when it comes to this subject, especially TFE readers, so let us know in the comments who you would add to the Top Ten!