Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Top 10 Greatest Acting Performances That Didn't Recieve An Academy Award Nomination

Whenever a top ten list comes around proclaiming the "10 Greatest This" or the "10 Best That" it is most of the time subjective. Sometimes the subjective nature of such lists can be a springboard into a thoughtful and friendly debate, although in the anonymity of the internet that subjectivity can lead to ridicule and personal attacks. With these positive and negatives in mind, I'm willing present a list of the top 10 greatest acting performances which were not nominated for an Academy Award.

These actors and actresses are presented here in alphabetical order, followed by the film title, date, the role played and what category the performer should have been nominated for. Please note all photos are reprinted under Fair Use.

1. JEAN ARTHUR - MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) - SAUNDERS - ACTRESS
The mark of a great performance is to take the written character who undergoes a significant transformation during the course of a story and make it completely believable to the audience. Jean Arthur was an established comedienne by the time she did this film and her transformation as Saunders is remarkable to behold as it encompasses not only the comedic elements but also the pathos and emotional dramatics as well. It is entirely unexpected that her portrayal of the hard boiled, cynical but wise character we see early on in the film becomes as idealistic and embracing of happiness as the Mr. Smith character by the end. Like so many before her and after, this difficult performance was wholly ignored by the awards.


2. MARY ASTOR - THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) - BRIGID O'SHAUGHNESSY - ACTRESS
Although "film noir" as a genre had not been named by the time of the release of this film, the film itself is certainly an early example of it and Mary Astor's portrayal of Brigid O'Shaughnessy was one of the screen's greatest femme fatales. But, that didn't stop her performance from being overlooked by the Academy Awards. I still get goose bumps when Brigid finally figures out that Sam Spade is indeed going to send her over for the murder of his partner. In fact, Astor's work on this film in nothing short of astonishing as she goes from one extreme to another in the hopelessness of securing not only some amount of love but also the Maltese Falcon itself.


3. RAY BOLGER - THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) - THE SCARECROW/HUNK - SUPPORTING ACTOR
Besides roles in horror films, the Academy Awards has also been notorious for ignoring roles in fantasy or comedy films as well. Ray Bolger and his characterization of The Scarecrow were no exceptions. It is not only the empathy that Bolger projects, but the sure exuberance of his performance that continues to delight audiences to this very day. As with any great performance in this vein, his moments of quiet emotions are certainly stand-outs as well.


4. SCATMAN CROTHERS - THE SHINING (1980) - DICK HALLORANN - SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nowhere in filmdom are characterizations so seemingly easy to dismiss than in horror, usually because of perceived bombastic or overblown acting styles. Scatman Crothers and his nuanced performance as Dick Hallorann give a great lie to such easy and ignorant stereotypes. At once so easy going and as suddenly grave and serious, Crothers' work in this film is a sight to behold. He projects the easy going with his tour of the hotel and it's inner workings, as it were, and the sudden seriousness when he calmly, but forcibly has his little chat with the child about the 'shine'. I also like his scene where his concerns about what might be going on at the hotel cause him to make a worried call and then travel up the mountain in the snow.


5. RUBY DEE - DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) - MOTHER SISTER - SUPPORTING ACTRESS
In a film that is filled with great non-nominated performances, Ruby Dee's is certainly a stand out. Mother Sister knows the daily workings of the neighborhood, but like so many others, she is unable to prevent the final conflagration. She goes from seemingly all-knowing to seemingly knowing nothing. Her deft performance is like watching a high wire act as it is subtle and thrilling at the same time. Like all the other performers on this list you can tell she is having a great time.


6. DWIGHT FRYE - DRACULA (1931) - RENFIELD - SUPPORTING ACTOR
Dwight Frye almost had two listings here because his performance in "Frankenstein" (1931) is also astounding. As Renfield, he enlivens a sometimes rather dull tale told of the vampire Count Dracula. Those of you who may only be familiar with his manic performances may be surprised by how he shades his characterization in the early part of the film. Renfield is there to do his job and has a carefree attitude about traveling in a rather foreboding foreign country. He finds the local superstitions marvelously quaint which makes his transformation to terror all the more shocking and believable. Hollywood vastly underutilized this actor who then died at an early age before his career could get back on track.


7. KATY JURADO - HIGH NOON (1952) - HELEN RAMIREZ - SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Katy Jurado may be the most underrated actress on this list, a woman whose name you don't recognize but whose face you do. She takes what could be a thankless second banana role to Grace Kelly's character and imbues it with a stunning variety of emotions. Her character is fascinating to watch during her interactions with Kelly and especially the character played by Gary Cooper. Jurado seems to effortlessly come across as a badass with a tenderness just simmering underneath.


8. CANADA LEE - BODY AND SOUL (1947) - BEN CHAPLIN - SUPPORTING ACTOR
Canada Lee was a performer who did not want to conform to the Hollywood standard of the time concerning stereotypical black characters. Hollywood in 1947 was also not ready for a leading black man in a movie that wasn't a musical. Hence, Lee played a second fiddle part to leading man John Garfield. Yet, he played it so well! As an ex-boxer himself, Lee was used as a technical advisor, too. His performance as Ben is a subtle reworking of the usual clich├ęs associated with such a character. Indeed, like many of his performances on film, he displays a depth of feeling rarely seen at the time.


9. EMILE MEYER - SHANE (1953) - RYKER - SUPPORTING ACTOR
Long time character actor, Emile Meyer, is a stand out as the villain Ryker in this tale of ranchers versus sodbusters. He gives his character an emotional variety not often seen in a typical western villain. At one point, you kind of find yourself on his side of the argument, that is until he lets the worst parts of his personality take over his soul. With his wild shock of white hair and beard he looks every bit the bad guy, but then those unexpected touches of pathos make Meyer's characterization thoroughly remarkable.


10. ROBERT WALKER - STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) - BRUNO ANTHONY - ACTOR
In his penultimate film appearance before his untimely death at the age of 32, Robert Walker gives his finest performance. Absolutely dripping with contempt for humanity, Walker nonetheless also conveys the requisite used car salesman techniques to ensnare Farley Ganger's character into his mad, but brilliant murder plan. Like a slow train wreck, you can't take your eyes off Walker, he is just so compelling. Juicy villain roles are not always overlooked by the Academy Awards, but for some odd reason, Walker's greatest triumph was ignored.


 

2 comments:

Joel Applegate said...

Great intriguing ! And all from great find in their own right a well. Nice choices. I remember Katy Jurado very well, and as mentioned, I recognized her face before recognizing her name.

Joel Applegate said...

Dang - My mobile auto correct has been messin' with me lately.
Should say "Great intriguing choices. And all from great films in their own right as well."