100 Performances Oscar Forgot – Part Three

There’s a definite, and I assure you non-deliberate, theme of foreign-language and varying comedic performances in the third part of our delve into highlighting Oscar omissions. Take a look. 

Jeanne Moreau for Jules et Jim (1962)

You can still see the rules of the game being altered before your eyes when you watch the movies of the new wave of film-makers like Rohmer, Malle, Varda today. In the dawn of the 60s perhaps Godard was right up there sharing head of the table with François Truffaut. Imagine then, way over in America, if the legendary Jeanne Moreau made the Best Actress list to compete with the likes of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Geraldine Page. Two very different worlds colliding. In Truffaut’s fresh, audacious ménage-a-trois masterpiece Jules et Jim, Moreau’s incandescent and liberating Catherine is a joy to behold. Let’s not take anything away from the leads who share the title (Oskar Werner et Henri Serre) but this might well be Catherine’s movie – the real woman, the woman they love. She bewitches the young men, once not afraid to share women and revel in the charmed life. Moreau is mesmerizing and iconic here, whether you saw it back then or you see it now, simple as that. A performance bringing all manner of glorious moments of allure and joie de vivre to an enduring tale that does not perhaps play out the way you anticipated. So captivating and magnetic, Moreau does not allow the camera to blink or breathe, and she, like Truffaut’s masterful techniques, glides and spins leisurely in front of you, until you are dizzy, head over heels in love. — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Alicia Silverstone for Clueless (1995)

Before Legally Blonde, there was Clueless, which had to have influenced the creation of Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods some six years later (even if Clueless itself is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma). Alicia Silverstone broke out in 1995 with this role, and she’s never really been able to outdo it, as it’s that iconic, a piece of perfect ‘90s nostalgia and one of the most memorable comedic performances of the decade. As a teenager, Silverstone was closer to the same age as her character than the actors she was playing against in the Amy Heckerling comedy (Paul Rudd was 25, while Stacey Dash was 27), and yet, it’s a very adult performance. Silverstone’s comedic timing is unique and natural. You never get a sense that you’re watching a stupid teen movie. You get a sense you’re watching a star in the making. — Megan McLachlan @heydudemeg

Paul Giamatti for Sideways (2004)

Alexander Payne’s brilliant Sideways cruising through the awards season picking up big accolades left, right and center, was in the end a crushing anti-climax. As Million Dollar Baby crashed the party late on, I was mortified to find Clint Eastwood had Oscar experts ripping up their fine-tuned predictions as he landed a Best Actor nomination instead of many strong contenders. The real blow was that Paul Giamatti had to miss out for Sideways, a clear sign this movie was perhaps not going all the way after all. Bagging deserved nods all season-long, including with Oscar, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen were magnificent, but Giamatti’s Miles was the heart of the picture. Seemingly always verging on a nervous breakdown, Miles is crafted as a funny, vulnerable guy, but one who knows exactly what he wants albeit his aspirations appear far out of reach. Giamatti brings a defiant emotional response out of Miles, a sympathetic, often self-loathing figure, who can erupt at any time. That on-the-brink journey is a real delight, without mocking the poor guy’s luck or temperament. We experience him through his passion for wine and writing, and root for him as he gradually claims the affection of a good, like-minded woman, as well as hitting new heights (both funny and poignant) with his intolerable best friend. Giamatti puts in a full shift in every movie, but this sits right at the peak of his stellar work – and a Best Actor nomination should never have been up for debate. — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Denis Lavant for Holy Motors (2012)

Double performances have a great history in movies, whether it’s Isabelle Adjani in Possession, Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringer or most recently Tom Hardy in Legend. However seldom have I seen an actor play more than this (One exception would be Peter Sellers in Doctor Strangelove playing 3 roles), so when the credits role around in Leos Carax’s masterpiece Holy Motors and you see ‘Denis Lavant x 11’, you know you’ve witnessed something very unique. There has frequently been a thematic through-line with double (or more) performance movies, where these characters physical link to one-another is indicative of a spiritual continuity. Here it’s no different, Lavant is technically playing one person, Oscar, whose job involves him dressing up as a huge variety of different characters for his several ‘appointments’ throughout the one day in which the movie takes place. These characters represent the confusing contradictory parts that make up the abstract enigma of each one of us, and Lavant is nothing if not enigmatic. Some actors play off of the fact that they are not ‘Hollywood attractive’, which Lavant definitely isn’t, he has such an interesting angular face, whereas most of that kind of actors tend to play ‘real people’ who you’d see on the street. Lavant does the total opposite, he doesn’t look like anyone else I’ve seen and it makes his expressions very hard to read, adding to the overall fugue of Oscar, or whoever he really is. There are some many great nuances in all 11 of these micro-roles, but saying any more will ruin the purity of this incredible piece of pure cinema. — Bailey Holden @BaileyHoldenM

Gugu Mbatha-Raw for Beyond the Lights (2014)

I feel as if I’ve talked about this rising young Brit actor several times last season, even when she didn’t get so much as a blip on the Academy’s radar. And it’s a real shame because they missed out on honoring a new, talented star. She plays a rising pop star who tries to off herself when the pressure from her mom manager (Mimi Driver) and the rest of the industry of becoming a unrecognizable, yet desirable, product but is stopped by a rookie cop (Nate Parker), also feeling the pressure from his father (Danny Glover) to become a politician, and they begin to fall in love. It may sound overtly familiar, but Mbatha-Raw digs deep to find the vulnerability and beating heart of an artist yearning to break free from convention and find her own voice. The scene where she’s up on stage in a karaoke bar, singing Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” conveys all of what I said, and breaks your heart, all at once. It’s a first-rate performance that should have earned her a spot alongside Julianne Moore and Felicity Jones at last year’s Oscar ceremony. — Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23

Fred MacMurray / Edward G. Robinson for Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity is a film about friendship. Sure there’s a few murders, and betrayals, and tainted love, and lots of other things going on above and below the surface of this complex story, but at its heart it is a story about duplicitous Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and claims investigator extraordinaire Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). The incomparable Barbara Stanwyck gets the film’s showiest role as the conniving Phyllis Dietrichson, the cinema’s ultimate devious dame and femme fatale. She was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for her work, meanwhile, the smooth talking MacMurray and rapid-fire Robinson were completely shut out of the race, overshadowed at the box office and the Oscars by Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald in Leo McCarey’s schmaltzy musical-comedy Going My Way. It’s understandable to see how in 1944, with the country several years into the horror that was World War II, that the general public as well as Oscar voters would lean that way. Robinson was never accepted as an Oscar-worthy actor by his peers, failing to get a single nomination over his entire career. It is such a shame that MacMurray and Robinson were snubbed for Double Indemnity, their performances are the glue that hold the film together, a film that is pitch perfect in every way. They say that all acting is reacting, and these two master craftsman volley Billy Wilder’s breakneck dialogue back and forth with ease. The bond they build over the film, Hollywood tough guys don’t usually show affection for one another unless they’re huddled together on the front lines of some godforsaken war. It’s shown in Robinson’s playful prodding of MacMurray to move out of the sales racket, in the half dozen times MacMurray is there to light up Robinson’s cigar, and especially shown in the film’s final moments. Many crime films opt to end on a note of supreme violence, all guns blazing. Double Indemnity ends with MacMurray looking up to Robinson and explaining why he was unable to figure it out. MacMurray reaches into his pocket, pulls out a cigarette and a match and struggles to light it. Without hesitation Robinson leans over, takes the match from MacMurray, and like his friend has done so many times for him, he lights his cigarette. Perfection. — Tim J. Krieg @FiveStarFlicks

Isabelle Huppert for The Piano Teacher (2001)

Isabelle Huppert’s Erika is a tormented woman, surrounded by bleakness and misery, and the actress sucker-punches you on numerous occasions. It’s a brutal, emotive display from Huppert, who portrays Erika as a somehow isolated, defeated woman, void of any ample amount of warm, aesthetic feelings – but oh my would she welcome them. Michael Haneke does this kind of melancholy well, very well, but makes it compelling and meaningful. The Piano Teacher conjures all manner of dark thoughts, what you would be willing to do to gain some rightful attention and affection. Erika’s pain is clearly physically and mental, but also manifested through sexual encounters, here with a much younger man – this itself leaving her humiliated further. It is not an easy watch, that is for sure, but a devastatingly good one. Huppert was highly regarded and strongly considered at Cannes (as she always is) and took the Best Actress prize for The Piano Teacher. Come Oscar time however, Huppert and the movie were nowhere to be seen, which is rather obscure for what turns out to be the performance of the year. — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Tahar Rahim for A Prophet (2009)

It’s difficult – if not impossible – for an upstart, non-English speaking actor to expect to be included in an awards party that is primarily Anglophone and steeped in sentimentality and “paid dues” – but if there should have been an exception, it is Tahar Rahim in A Prophet. Jacques Audiard’s film follows Malik on his journey from an illiterate street thug thrown into prison over a scuffle with police, through his education (both literate and hard knocks), into his blossoming into a crime kingpin. This was Rahim’s first major role, so the freshness he demonstrates in the early scenes appears genuine. Where he really shows his untapped skills is in his feral transformation as the film proceeds. We sense the change in his facial expression, his stance and his voice – the boyish clumsiness is replaced by confidence and a keen predator instinct that’s protective of what he has learned and the respect he has acquired. Rahim is a major, natural talent. He’ll be around for a while so Oscar will likely have another chance at him. — Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

Cameron Diaz for Being John Malkovich (1999)

I’m not going to lie, I was never a great fan of Cameron Diaz, even from that moment she emerged from the heavens in The Mask. My opinion of her screen presence and appeal has declined somewhat over the last decade it’s fair to say. Two of her strongest, richly diverse big-screen outings were in the hilarious There’s Something About Mary and more dour turn in Being John Malkovich – both in my view can be given a good case towards potential Oscar nominations. As a puppeteer’s unfulfilled wife Lotte Schwartz in the genius Being John Malkovich, Diaz is dressed down and given a total physical make-under. Don’t be fooled though, there is some fine acting here behind the bushy hair, Diaz executes Spike Jonze’s direction and Charlie Kaufman’s words with an awe-inspiring confidence we have not likely seen from her again. Lotte is a sympathetic soul, perhaps the real victim and heroine of the film, she goes where her heart takes her. Seeing the impressive performance for yourself you simply have to take Diaz seriously regardless of her more showy, comedy reputation. That said, although she is every bit as good as the Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener, that very notion may have been her downfall when it came to winning votes from the Academy. — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA

Samuel L. Jackson for Django Unchained (2012)

 

In 2012, the “Bad Mother Fucker” returned with a vengeance; first by diving into his juiciest role in years as the director of a clandestine espionage agency who’s not entirely on the level in Marvel’s The Avengers. And then in late-December as the house slave to the sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, who also should have been nominated) in Quentin Tarantino’s excellent mash-up of Sergio Leonie-style spaghetti westerns and 70’s era blaxplotiaton flicks. Stephen immediately is suspicious of Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who claim that they’re here to purchase one of the slave owners “mandingo fighters”, but soon realizes it’s all a ruse to free Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), Django’s wife, and run off together. Stephen’s ulterior motive is to eliminate what he sees as a threat to his influence on Candie himself. The last time Jackson went full-evil was in Jackie Brown, where he played a gun runner looking to score $1 million by any means necessary, and here the man is simply diabolical as he corners Django and has him by the balls – literally – and sends him off to die in a rock mine factory. Or so he thinks. I enjoyed Waltz’s performance and I wouldn’t have had a problem if he still ended up winning, but no love for a performance that reminds everyone that Sam Jackson is still one of the best, most versatile actors out there? For shame, Academy. — Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23

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