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[Article] – Performances That Should Have Won The Oscar


Posted March 11, 2018 by

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Of those lucky enough to count themselves as Oscar winners, victory is not always the career highpoint it should be, the award often does not represent the greatest performance in an actors career and often feels like an acknowledgement for past glories that went unrecognised, no more so than with the Honorary award category, what winners still have not been justly rewarded?

Leonardo DiCaprio

After winning for the all out cinematic assault of The Revenant and finally putting those memes to rest DiCaprio ended a twenty- plus year wait for Oscar Glory since his first nomination with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, but his reward for The Revenant felt more like an acknowledgment of the sheer insanity involved. A film with so little artifice you feel that there was little acting required, a more challenging, and deserving performance came in the Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator. Despite being much younger than Hughes, DiCaprio belies his youthfulness to dominate the screen, perfectly capturing Hughes’s intensity and obsessiveness, and most importantly help bring a sense of understanding to what is a difficult and unrelatable character. DiCaprio shows an incredible level of dedication and focus to what is over three hours of screen time, it’s easy to see why Martin Scorsese has deemed him his new muse, and it is an approach that has gone on to define his acting career, selective in his choice of roles where he devote his entire attention, but The Aviator remains his most impressive achievement.

Denzel Washington

Washington is in no position to complain with two awards to his name for Glory and Training Day, but that doesn’t hide the fact that his best – and most important – performance was overlooked, as Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s eponymous film. Not only embodying Malcolm X physically, Washington vividly captures his evolution from materialistic street hood to revered leader, showing the struggles he has to escape from becoming a product of his environment and over the course of the film believably portraying the journey from a man who cares about little more than his hair to someone willing to become a martyr. Given how usually how rewarding real-life portrayals have been when it comes to the Oscars Malcolm X remains a surprising oversight, perhaps at the time he remained to controversial a character, though in the current climate such a performance would be ready to be celebrated.

Al Pacino

Pacino’s victory for Scent Of A Woman – interestingly the performance that shut out Malcolm X – may have been a role tailored for Oscar success, showy and saccharine, though it feels like an award given in a move suggesting ‘it’s about time’ more than anything else. Scent Of A Woman marked success at the eighth attempt for Pacino – including a remarkable succession of nominations from ’73 to ’76 – and represented the peak or perhaps culmination, of his career, having not being nominated since, but whilst his most Oscar-friendly performance, it is certainly not his best, any of his ‘70’s work could be argued more deserving, perhaps none more so than The Godfather Part II. Pacino’s return as Michael Corleone sees him distance himself ever further from his family in a performance that manages to be searingly powerful in its subtlety – a far cry from what has become Pacino’s oft parodied post-the Godfather Part III style of acting – and it is remarkable how Pacino keeps Corleone human despite becoming increasingly detached. Corleone is a man whose position cannot afford him to show any weakness, Pacino showed how expertly he could show the conflict underneath the surface, Scent Of A Woman may have been a more obviously awards-seeking but The Godfather Part II remains best.

Humphrey Bogart

Despite Bogie’s iconic status, widely recognised as Hollywood’s greatest icon, he was only ever nominated for three Oscars, winning for The African Queen, though his best performances were not even nominated, In A Lonely Place, and perhaps even greater The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. Bogart plays against type as the reprehensible Fred C. Dobbs, and perhaps that was the biggest problem, Dobbs far so far detached form what audiences wanted from Bogart it fell under the radar, but it is playing against type that makes the role all the more successful. Freed from convention and shed of the Hollywood ego, Bogart could show his range as the disturbingly paranoid and easily corruptible Dobbs, his downward spiral and lack of redemption was too dark – even for Noir era cinema – and ahead of its time for mainstream recognition. The African Queen offered a role with a more pleasing, and redemptive, character arc, but for an actor who was so often typecast The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre gave Bogart to show his prowess, a performance where he truly dominated the screen.

Daniel Day-Lewis

Three Oscars is probably enough for many people’s choice as the world greatest living actor, though it is hard to overlook his performance as Bill The Butcher in Gangs Of New York, a role that won the Bafta, but lost out on the Oscar to Adrien Brody for The Pianist, a rare year where the big three awards favoured different winners. Bill The Butcher is a performance all about performance, a larger than life character and perhaps the perfect role to attribute the phrase ‘hamming it up’ to, Day-Lewis takes the film by the scruff of the neck and devours the competition – his fellow cast members – and turns what could have been a supporting role into the lead. Though despite his showman-like effrontery and the in-your-face, accusatory expressionism, Day-Lewis imbues the quieter moments with a sense of yearning melancholy and self-doubt, turning what could be a one-dimensional villain into a complex character, a performance that is as gleefully enjoyable as it is terrifying and a worthy addition to his incredible collection of character creations.

Tom Hanks

Hanks became one of only two actors to win consecutive acting awards with Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, but has not seen another victory in the two-plus decades since despite many worthy performances, most notably in another Robert Zemeckis collaboration Cast Away. While Forrest Gump ticked all the awards boxes, Cast Away represented a greater acting challenge for Hanks, robbed of the opportunity to utilise his charisma and charm in a largely silent and isolated performance, a role similar in a way to DiCaprio’s in The Revenant, but for Hanks it was about not just portraying survival but emotional survival. Tasked with surviving in a modern day Robinson Crusoe story Hanks shows not only the physical strain but the mental strain also, his friendship with ‘Wilson’ showing the incredible struggle to maintain his sanity, which is often a losing battle in what becomes a heartbreaking end to their relationship. The film gave Hanks the opportunity to deliver a devastating performance without relying on big speeches or that all-American charm, and for an actor that is an American icon, whose career has been so wholly American, Cast Away saw him give a truly universal performance.

Paul Newman

Newman’s win for The Color Of Money not only deprived us of a Bob Hoskins Oscar acceptance speech (he won the Bafta for Mona Lisa) but felt like righting many past loses, Newman’s win is by no means unworthy, he gives a touching performance full of reflection and regret, though it is just one of many great roles in an incredible career. His first appearance as fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler perhaps merited his eventually victory, laying the groundwork for what would be returned to over two decades later, and of the others, well take your pick: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Hud, Cool Hand Luke or even Road To Perdition. Retrospectively Hud showcases one of his most interesting performances, playing a character that represented the allure of modern capitalism, but ultimately its emptiness, a role that helped to define the antihero in the revisionist subset of the western genre, but it may have been too ahead of its time. Newman’s charm worked almost too well with critics and audiences aligning with Hud, rather summing up the era of its mid-sixties release. The Color Of Money was a greater performance later in Newman’s career, but recognised as one of the American greats it is still questionable that that was the only performance that ever picked up the Oscar.

Robert Duvall

Having won for one of his lesser-known works Tender Mercies it was great to see Duvall win for best actor rather than supporting actor, despite the fact that his supporting roles represent some of his best work, most notably The Godfather (as well as Part II) and Apocalypse Now. His role as Consigliere in The Godfather films served as the level headed centre of the family, but also portrayed as an outsider given his adopted status, a role that Duvall lends great tenderness – a term that will undoubtedly define his career – against the operatic backdrop. Though it is performance that can be, and was overlooked, The Godfather garnered an incredible three best supporting actor nominations, none of which won, but it was easy to see how integral Duvall was to the series when he wasn’t there, with Part III sorely lacking his presence and one of the main reasons it couldn’t live up to the previous two entries. Apocalypse Now though is his most famous performance the unflinching Lieutenant Kilgore perfectly captured the inhumanity and absurdity of the Vietnam War, a man that will happily drop napalm if it means he hit the waves sooner, a performance that helped define the ultimate anti-war film and leaves an indelible impression, despite its brevity.

Peter O’Toole

You would think most actors would be over the moon at winning an Oscar, but with eight nominations to his name O’Toole could certainly have felt aggrieved, especially given that his Oscar was an honorary award, the ultimate ‘its about time’ statement, even worse was that O’Toole went to be nominated after his honorary statuette and still didn’t win. Though the biggest incredulity of his career remains his missing out for Lawrence Of Arabia in what was a very hotly contested Oscar year with Gregory Peck eventually winning for To Kill A Mockingbird, of course a worthy winner and at that point you can imagine people would have consoled O’Toole with ‘you’ve got your entire career ahead of you.’ But now it is seen as his crowning jewel, a performance that displays intense perseverance coupled with somewhat aloofness and with those piercing eyes he creates an almost ethereal presence, though not without complexity, despite the heroic nature of larger than life – yet real life – T.E. Lawrence, O’Toole shows the struggles it took to attain such legendary status. Looking back it is remarkable that O’Toole’s only Oscar is an honorary one, it remains a great disappointment that he is one of the Oscars greatest losers.


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Written by:

Sam May
Freelance Contributor

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