RE-POST – Originally Published September 2015.
We all have our favorite acting performances from the movies over the years that have not managed to make it as an Oscar nominee. They may not even be our favorite, but we recognize what we may well tag as snub anyway. Take a look at the next 5.
Jack Nicholson for Batman (1989) — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
Jack Nicholson is that breed of actor, of that incredible generation of actors like Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro who show up on screen and become contenders by default. With 3 Academy Award wins to his name among a record number of nominations, Nicholson has been lavished more than most of his peers. He was though ignored for his devilishly unforgettable take on The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. Don’t snigger. Sure, the whole super-hero, comic book pedigree can be perceived as a little too gimicky perhaps for the noble AMPAS voters (though they nominated Al Pacino for his Dick Tracy vibrant villain) – not to mention Nicholson over-acts the shit out of the role. And that’s what makes it so damn good. As Jack Napier, he has all the swarve and slyness we love about Nicholson, and as The Joker he is having the time of his life, delivering lines, rolling eyes, and performing actions like a new brand of exhilarating acting and screen presence is being taught to the world. To say this is absolutely perfect casting is an understatement, it was a genius move to give Nicholson with all his mischief and that smile the role of a lifetime. Decades later Heath Ledger would deservedly grab gold for also playing The Joker, albeit in a newer climate and vision, but this to me only emphasizes how stunning it was that Nicholson missed out for Batman, especially considering the phenomenal success of the movie.
The interesting thing with Swinton is two-fold; she has become so recognized for being an almost mythical creature, let alone one of the best chameleon-like actors working in the world today, that can do everything and might possibly be able to play (and just be) everyone. And two, Swinton actually has won the Oscar – back in 2007 for her performance in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton – but for a performance that, while impressive in its own right, seems nearly slight. One performance that sticks out to mind that covers the near insurmountable scope of Swinton’s abilities comes from Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. Playing Emma Recchi, the matriarch of a rich and influential Italian business clan, the surface of Swinton’s surface qualities are impeccable right off the bat; she is a Scottish actor playing a Russian born character who married into an Italian family and speaks the language with the accent along with a base of Russian as well. Again, the woman can play everyone. But while the dialect alone is enough to throw awards at, what makes Swinton so notable here is an alchemy of a number of factors; a mother who is allowed to show how sexy she is while she engages in an affair with her doting son’s friend – Emma expresses so many different sides of the emotion of love throughout. When she experiences her lover Antonio’s cuisine for the first time, the subtle and barely contained erotic ecstasy that is captured exquisitely across her face, her motherly instinct to embrace and protect her daughter’s emerging homosexuality and also to be inspired by it. How sensual Emma’s time with Antonio is, being thrown head first into the Italian sun kissed fields but more prudent, to be reminded on what it feels like to be overtaken by love. Swinton’s performance embodies the film’s title – she becomes love. For being such a top shelf transformative actor that is she, one of her most impressive performances (in a year loaded with them) could be the one where she just seamlessly becomes a woman in love.
I did not give it too much thought, but it crossed my mind that we don’t talk about Harry Dean Stanton very often. Not enough in fact. His presence in movies is often casual, a quiet man we know little about as his characters go. I am generalizing of course, but it is these thoughts and the undeniable fact that Stanton is a remarkable actor, that makes the role of Travis Henderson in Paris, Texas all too perfect for him. And we, the audience get to marvel in it. Directed superbly by Wim Wenders, Stanton’s lost man in Paris, Texas, clutching at memories of the past and dragging them closer, walks off into the burning Texan landscape in search of his brother, and more directly his son and long-lost wife. His voyage is a long one, both in distance and time gone by, Travis is given an ambiguous, but deeply sympathetic, aura by Stanton. It is a performance that requires little strenuous action or extensive dialogue, but Wenders does not need this, the story is a simple and effecting one, and the acting is deeply emotive and heart-warming, exhaustively so. We join Travis on his journey and support his plight all the way.
Martin LaSalle for Pickpocket (1959) — Bailey Holden @BaileyHoldenM
This is a strange choice, I admit that, Bresson is a director who, although hugely well acclaimed, has quite a bit of dispute and controversy around the quality of his movies. The biggest point of contention is, yes, the performances. This one is no different, throughout the film LeSalle comes across wooden and flat and strangely disengaged. This seems like a put-down but it’s really not, firstly of note is the way Bresson directed him (and most every other actor who ever worked with him), he would make them repeat a scene over and over until they would act, in his own words, ‘without their minds taking part’. This may seem to be to the directors credit more-so than the actors to some of you, but I disagree, firstly any great performance is a collaboration between director and actor. But secondly, many actors in some of Bresson’s lesser film can’t pull this style off half as well as LeSalle (See Florence Delay in Procès De Jeanne D’Arc), he really embodies the sense of total spiritual emptiness, even his hand movements during the numerous pickpockets scenes are so coldly, he seems like a puppet being controlled by some force beyond him. This is all payed off in the deeply Catholic final moments where physical imprisonment comes with spiritual freedom.
Omar Sy for The Intouchables (2011) — Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
French film The Intouchables is a real crowd-pleaser for me. An easy to adore, warming motion picture giving both a comedic and dramatic take on the ever-relevant care-giving profession. François Cluzet is excellent as wealthy quadriplegic Philippe, who requires a companion to aid his every day life. When Driss (Omar Sy) turns up, from the wrong side of town and polar opposite in social stature, his is casual about the position, and likely not qualified in this field. His care-free, unconventional attitude to this and the potential glory of life, actually make Driss perfect for the role. The friendship between Philippe and Driss is immediate, though they do have to adapt to the differences in lifestyles, a bond somehow so comfortably likely given they are worlds apart. Sy lights up the screen with his blunt charm and go-getting outlook on life, showing Philippe a redeeming access to the brighter side of the world with his own unique bed-side manner. Driss’ compassionate influence on his new friend is even sweeter given the struggles he has in his own life. Sy is larger than life here, a terrific turn portraying a troubled man who puts that aside to show encouragement where needed. France loved him and the movie, winning the César Award for Best Actor, but unfortunately was unable to break through American audience hearts quite enough. Shame.