10 Great Modern Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar

premiososcar 10 Great Modern Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar

It’s time for Oscar! In the weeks leading up to the big ceremony on Sunday, March 2, we are getting a clearer picture of who we should expect to walk away with Oscar gold. Since the winners of the Screen Actors Guild prizes usually align with the Academy’s choices due to an overlap with the voting bodies, it is likely that three first-time nominees – Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Lupita Nyong’o – will be clutching trophies, with one past winner (Cate Blanchett) adding another to her mantle. Of course, these victories will have some folks complaining about why Leonardo DiCaprio remains statue-less or why Amy Adams cannot seem to ever get any Academy love despite five nominations.

However, while many of us complain about the injustice that certain actors do not have Oscar victories, we tend to forget that there are many great actors still flying under-the-radar of the Motion Picture Academy and cannot even land a nomination. Many of our finest character actors, independent stars and comedy personalities give exceptional performances, but the Academy ignores their stellar turns routinely. I’d like to explain why these 10 amazing actors are deserving of a nomination… and hearing their name called on Hollywood’s biggest nights.

Note: You will likely realize that I did not include any female actors on this list. While this may suggest that I am sexist, let me reassure you that there were several female contenders that I considered (among them, Isabella Rosselini, Mia Farrow, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Lee Curtis). However, I found the 10 actors here more deserving. Chalk this one up to a more competitive marketplace for male actors, likely because the majority of scripts focus on male characters. It seems that more worthy men are snubbed from Oscar night than worthy women. However, if there are any names that you feel are missing from this list, feel more than free to add a comment below.


Jim Carrey

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The rubbery-faced comic actor has a mantle stacked with Kid’s Choice Awards, MTV Movie Awards and People’s Choice Awards for his loopy slapstick routine. However, despite winning two Golden Globes for two of the 1990s most versatile performances – in The Truman Show and Man on the Moon – the Academy neglected to nominate him for either film. 1998’s The Truman Show proved that he was not just a funny face, but also an actor of remarkable depth and range. He followed that tour de force the following year with one of the most bravura portrayals of a real-life person ever committed to film.

As the iconoclastic Andy Kaufman, no actor could have brought the same level of delight and torment to an already avant-garde performer than Carrey did. His exclusion with the Academy, who seem to fall head over heels for many biopics – more than half of the nominated actors this year got acclaim for portraying real people – seems downright criminal. Meanwhile, although Charlie Kaufman won an Oscar for writing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Carrey’s nuanced portrayal of lonesome protagonist Joel Barrish was too quiet and slipped past the Academy’s radar. Carrey can be a brilliantly madcap comic actor, as well as a remarkable dramatic presence. Even though he is shying away from dramatic work – I Love You, Phillip Morris was his last performance to receive wide critical acclaim and that was a flop – it is time that Carrey received his due. Bring him back with a strong dramatic director, like Peter Weir and Milos Forman, and maybe the Academy will be reprimanded for their past snubbing.

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John Cusack

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What does an actor with such a rich and eclectic filmography as John Cusack have to do to receive some attention from the Academy? Does he need to stand outside of the Dolby Theatre with a boom box and crank up the Peter Gabriel until they come to their senses? That may be extreme, although hilarious. Even though Cusack is one of the most likeable and assured actors working today, it is bizarre that he is so hard to find. He has been in more than 70 films over 30 years, but he has kept a low profile. Cusack’s dense resume is filled with some terrific original screenplays (from Say Anything… to Grosse Pointe Blank). He can easily shift from horror (1408) to comedy (Hot Tub Time Machine) with that offbeat, sweet-natured underdog persona audiences have loved since his Lloyd Dobler days.

Among some of the highlights from a remarkable career include a devastating turn in the little-seen independent drama Grace is Gone and a darkly comic performance as sad sack Craig Schwartz in the absurd modern classic Being John Malkovich. One career highlight was his self-deprecating but heartfelt turn as music (and breaking up) expert Rob Gordon in High Fidelity. However, Cusack so cunningly inserts his own cocksure persona as Gordon that many did not realize the intense emotional range he displayed in Stephen Frears’ comedy-drama. Unsurprisingly, the actor has close to a dozen films on the horizon (according to his IMDb page). With an impressive track record, he is bound to get Academy recognition one day. It’s just a shame he has not been nominated yet.

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Guy Pearce

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Do some Academy voters suffer from the same anterograde amnesia that befell Leonard Shelby, the haunted character Pearce portrays in Memento? It seems that Guy Pearce is always delivering magnetic performances that are quickly forgotten. He gave the finest performance from L.A. Confidential’s stunning ensemble (how Kim Basinger can walk away with a statue but Pearce not get a nomination confounds me). He was a liberating scene-stealer in the cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He has also played everyone from Harry Houdini to Errol Flynn to Andy Warhol, and his gritty turns in superb Australian dramas like The Proposition and Animal Kingdom are simply unforgettable. So why can’t the Academy remember his name the same way Leonard Shelby keeps referring back to Sammy Jankis?

One of our generation’s most riveting and eclectic performers, Pearce should be on the Academy’s radar. He is one of the only actors in movie history to star in back-to-back Best Picture winners, with his brief role at the start of 2009’s The Hurt Locker and his memorable turn as King Edward VIII in The King’s Speech. So, the acting body is definitely familiar with his work. Now, Pearce has to find a role that will connect him with voters – something more along the lines of his acclaimed work on HBO’s Mildred Pierce mini-series and without the empty scenery chewing he brought to Iron Man 3 and Lawless.

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Alan Rickman

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So, Gary Cooper can walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly, yet Alan Rickman has not yet reached the point in his career where he can walk off with Oscar gold? A former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman has brought immense power and gravitas to many big-screen roles. For action movie lovers, villains rarely come better or more lovably tyrannical than his Hans Gruber in Die Hard, while young audiences of this generation know his smooth, growling voice best coming underneath the guise of Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. Beyond these commercial heights, he has given terrific performances in Sense and Sensibility and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (his duet with Johnny Depp was a delight and highlight of Tim Burton’s musical adaptation. You can check it out below).

Alas, even with a rich career of characters both sharp and sneering, the Academy has never bestowed a nomination upon Rickman. In the meantime, the BAFTAs, the British counterparts to the Oscars, gave him a prize for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and three other nominations. The actor’s propensity to work amidst large ensembles (Harry Potter, Love Actually) and a hit-and-miss gambit with lead roles (CBGB and Nobel Son got a modest, mixed reception) is likely going against him. Still, in his late sixties, Rickman is one of the hardest-working British actors in cinema today. It took Christopher Plummer almost 80 years before he landed his first nod for The Last Station. Here’s hoping the Academy can give Rickman a shot at Oscar gold before he retires. That could be one way he triumphs over John McClaine… his Die Hard co-star Bruce Willis has never been recognized either.

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Sam Rockwell

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Before his Hollywood breakthrough, Rockwell said in a 1998 interview that he sees himself foremost as a character actor. “I’d like to be a star in the same way as Gary Oldman or John Malkovich are famous, who get to do character pieces and not act like movie stars.” Nowadays, Rockwell often gets a chance to do both.

One of the most consistently satisfying character actors of this generation, the charming Sam Rockwell burst out with a riveting turn in The Green Mile and a star-making performance as Chuck Barris in the underappreciated gem, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Even if he still plays a splashy second fiddle in more mainstream fare, from Matchstick Men to Iron Man 2, he still holds the audience in his grasp.

His sardonic humour and charisma is on display in many of his most iconic performances, such as the lovable slacker Owen in The Way, Way Back and the dryly funny Guy Fleegman in Galaxy Quest. But Rockwell has also shown tremendous range in little-seen indies like Moon (noted by many as the peak performance of his career) and Snow Angels. With such a diverse resume of characters and films, it is surprising that so few of them have ended up on the Academy’s radar. This crazed chameleon has the chops to make audiences laugh and cringe in equal manner. It’s only a matter of time until one of his striking independent movies gets a boost and some Academy love, in the same vein that character actor John Hawkes finally received recognition for a stellar career with Winter’s Bone in 2011.

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Martin Sheen

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He has won several Emmy and Golden Globe awards and was the commander-in-chief for one of television’s greatest casts. But Martin Sheen, with a storied career of roles on the big and small screen, as well as the stage, has never gotten the chance to put his seal on an Oscar. The outspoken actor probably had the best opportunity to receive a nomination from his dark, probing performance as the sociopathic Kit in Badlands, his breakthrough film. He was also penetrating in Apocalypse Now as Cpt. Willard, the heart treading through darkness on his search for a maniacal colonel. He suffered a heart attack during that drama’s treacherous (and now infamous) shoot, and likely should have received some medal of valor for the lengths he went to commit to Francis Ford Coppola’s war classic. Both of those mesmerizing dramas were even more personal with an actor like Sheen in the leading role.

With strong work in recent films like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Way (that was directed by his son, Emilio Estevez), he is still a beacon of light on the big screen. His next big chance for award-season glory could come with Trash, for director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Richard Curtis. It is also surprising that the Academy also have not acknowledged Sheen’s activism and humanitarian work. Even though he spends many of his later years focusing on working toward liberal political causes and championing events that empower youth like We Day, Sheen has built in a towering career of great roles.

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Donald Sutherland

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Warm and wise, one of Canada’s national treasures (and father to Kiefer, another fine actor) is one of the most beloved in the business. The 78-year-old actor also has one of the deepest and diverse filmographies in modern cinema, with stellar turns in films as varied as Klute, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, JFK, Without Limits and The Hunger Games. Whether it is in the leading role or a part of a larger ensemble, Sutherland never skimps on giving a full-bodied performance.

He has even starred in various Oscar winners, most notably his tremendously moving turn as a grieving father in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, the 1980 Best Picture winner. However, the Academy has never recognized any of his performances, despite multiple Golden Globe nominations and wins. A prize for a lifetime’s worth of achievement in film is well overdue. Sutherland instantly adds grace, weight and a slight ounce of humour to many of the roles he takes. He was a voice of grit and authority in wartime movies like The Dirty Dozen and his zany turn in M*A*S*H* is still one of the most well-regarded of Sutherland’s career. Even so, he has not yet danced with the Academy on any circumstances, which is a shame given his storied career.

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The Coen Clan: Steve Buscemi, John Goodman and John Turturro

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They are three of the most idiosyncratic character actors of the last 30 years and many of their career highlights have come courtesy of Joel and Ethan Coen. Often compelling and unsettling at once, this trifecta of terrific actors has turned in some of their finest work for the Coens but also have such a sterling resume of outstanding leading and supporting roles filling their filmographies. The fact that none of these men have heard their name called is something the Academy should reverse… or spend the rest of their days atoning in the Hotel Earle.

Buscemi is one of the eclectic actors working today who takes roles equally smart and smarmy. A renowned actor at the Lee Strasburg Institute, he remains a dedicated talent in all sorts of films. He has even worked as a director for film and television (including beloved episodes of The Sopranos and 30 Rock). Although he reached a bravura leading-man status as Nucky Thompson on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Buscemi is best known for playing pesky, crazed criminal types. A scene-stealing supporting talent in films like Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, Big Fish and Armageddon, Buscemi’s unhinged characters are iconic and unforgettable. The closest he came to cranking out an Oscar nomination was as the sensitive, intelligent Seymour in Terry Zwigoff’s cult film Ghost World – a comedy that may have been too quirky for the Academy’s tastes.

Barton Fink 10 Great Modern Actors Who Have Never Been Nominated For An Oscar

Meanwhile, Buscemi’s animated rival in Monsters Inc. and bowling partner in The Big Lebowski (except on Shabbos) has also built a stellar career of work on film and television. John Goodman has appeared on the Academy’s radar with a variety of terrific roles. He even starred as Hollywood producers in the last two Best Picture winners, The Artist and Argo. Goodman’s first big role was on Broadway for the musical Big River, where he earned a Drama Desk nomination for his role as Huckleberry Finn’s dad. From there, he brought heft and humour to roles in Barton Fink (a career highlight, as the title character’s mysterious neighbour, Charlie Meadows), The Big Lebowski (as the stern, unhinged Walter Sobchak) and Flight (as ostentatious fixer Harling Mays). His darkly funny turn as an acerbic jazz musician in Inside Llewyn Davis could have sealed him a nomination, but the part was likely too brief to resonate in a crowded year.

Both Buscemi and Goodman received Golden Globe nods for Best Supporting Actor (for Ghost World and Barton Fink, respectively) but failed to earn an Oscar berth. Continuing that tradition among the Coens’ favourite collaborators is John Turturro, who got a nomination for Quiz Show at the Globes but not with the Academy (instead, the less deserving Paul Scofield got nominated for Redford’s terrific 1994 drama). His turn as a real-life game show contestant swindled out of winnings in a cheating scandal by Ralph Fiennes’ Charles Van Doren is just one of many electrifying parts in Turturro’s career. Among them are several outstanding turns for Spike Lee – especially in Clockers and Do the Right Thing. Meanwhile, Barton Fink is one of the finest characters in the Coen oeuvre, mostly thanks to the actor’s unnerving and multi-faceted performance. Even though he has not collaborated with the Coens or Lee in some time, Turturro is still one of the most overlooked actors by the Academy.

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