Zero-Time Academy Award Nominees – 20 of the Best Contemporary Actors Who’ve Never Been Nom’d For Oscar

I decided to do this list in alphabetic order, by last name. These are some 20 contemporary actors who have yet to be nominated for an Academy Award and who, in my opinion, deserve to be.

Christian Bale’s first appearance in a major motion picture was in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 drama Empire of the Sun. He followed that up with a few more leads a child star in Swing Kids and Newsies then spent the rest of the 90s in a series of almost forgettable supporting roles in a plethora of films. In 2000 he starred in American Psycho, the film adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis book of the same name. This was Bale’s first performance that really showed his talent as an adult and ever since he’s given numerous highly acclaimed performances.

Sean Bean has been active in the film industry for over 25 years now and has given a number of great performances, although he’s probably best known as Boromir in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. My favorite performance from him, however, was in 2005’s North Country. It’s a subtle performance among several flashier – an eventually Oscar-nominated – performances from Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand.’

Since 1985 Steve Buscemi has been in over 100 films and episodes of television. He is definitely one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today. He’s given some really wonderful comical supporting performances as well as some great lead performances. He is one of the those actors that, even if the film is bad, you know he’ll be great. His turn as Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is definitely my favorite of his performances. He’s a fucking professional.

Jim Carrey is one of those hit-or-miss kind of actors. But when he’s on, he’s on. Although I do love a lot of his more comical performances my two favorites of his are both more dramatic and less slapstick – as Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and as Truman Burbank in The Truman Show. The latter performance is my favorite. He won a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Drama for his performance and the film was nominated for three Academy Awards – Screenplay, Director – Peter Weir and Supporting Actor – Ed Harris. How the Academy could ignore Carrey’s performance is just beyond me.

I have major love for Colin Farrell and I am not ashamed to admit it. When he’s working with a good script and a good director he is fabulous. And I’m really glad to see he’s moving away from blockbuster type films and picking quality films to work on again. I love him in Terrence Malick’s The New World, but his turn in 2008’s In Bruges is definitely his best – and earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy. I just hope he continues to make quality films in the future.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt first showed up on Hollywood’s radar co-starring with John Lithgow in the television 90s series 3rd Rock From The Sun. He also earned himself a spot in the 90s teen comedy hall of fame with 10 Things I Hate About You. However, he really came into his own as an actor with 2005’s neo-noir Brick. He also gave a phenomenal performance last year in the indie hit (500) Days of Summer, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Independent Spirit Award.

Elias Koteas is also always wonderful. He’s been active in Hollywood for nearly 30 years, but has for the most part remained very under the radar. Regardless, he has given a lot of wonderful performances in a lot of wonderful films. His performance in The Thin Red Line is my favorite in a film chock full of strong performances. He’s also given great performances in 2007’s Zodiac and this year’s Shutter Island.

James McAvoy’s first major Hollywood turn was as Mr. Tumnus in 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The With and the Wardrobe, but it was his performance opposite Forest Whitaker in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland that got him on critic’s radar. He followed that up with a star-making turn in 2007’s Atonement, which was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Although McAvoy’s performance failed to get an Oscar nomination, he was nominated for a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and was nominated for several other awards.

Ewan McGregor’s major debut was in 1996’s Trainspotting and the actor became a household name when he stepped into the role of Obi Wan Kenobi in the  new Star Wars prequels, but it was his turn as the star-crossed lover Christian in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical Moulin Rouge! that really made him a star. Although the film was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress for Nicole Kidman, McGregor did not receive a nomination. His performance did however earn him a Golden Globe nomination, as well as several other nomination and wins. His career post-Moulin Rouge has been very hit-or-miss, but I think this is mostly due to McGregor’s decisions to take risks with the roles he chooses.

Bill Nighy’s been active in the film industry for over 35 years, but has only been a major player for the last decade or so. However, in this last decade he has given countless great performances. My favorite, and arguably his most recognizable role, is that of aging rock star as Billy Mack in 2003’s Love, Actually. This performance will forever go down in my book as one of the great Oscar snubs.

Gary Oldman has never been nominated for an Oscar. Say that again. Slowly. Has the shock set in yet? GARY OLDMAN HAS NEVER BEEN NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR? I can’t even believe it. He has given so many wonderful performances since his marvelous turn as Sid Vicious in 1986’s Sid and Nancy. He’s also never been nominated for a Golden Globe and has only been nominated for one SAG award, for 2000’s The Contender. This is just so unbelievable. The thing that’s so wonderful about Oldman is that he is a chameleon. He has never played the same kind of role twice, well aside from reprising his role as Sirius Black in a few Harry Potter movies. My favorite Oldman role is as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg in 1997’s The 5th Element. He’s wonderful as bad guys and Zorg is just such a great bad guy.

Guy Pearce was fabulous as a drag queen in 1994’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and 1997’s L.A. Confidential. His turn in 2000’s Memento awed critics and audiences alike. Since then he’s been in a slew of films few have seen, but his performances have mostly been praised by critics. What he needs is another critical and box office success like Memento.

Alan Rickman started out in British television in 1980 and eight years later he had is big break as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Rickman’s performance is arguably one of the most memorable villains in cinema history. Rickman was also wonderful in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, which was nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Picture. Although Rickman wasn’t up for an Oscar, his performance earned him a BAFTA nomination. Rickman has also starred in every Harry Potter film as Prof. Snape.

Sam Rockwell’s first big break was in 1999 with roles in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Galaxy Quest and the multi-Oscar nominated The Green Mile (which I will admit I still have yet to see), but he first came on my radar in 2003’s Matchstick Men opposite Nicolas Cage. Since then he’s given several critically acclaimed performances. My favorite being in last year’s vastly underrated Moon. This, too, goes on my list of the great Oscar snubs of all time.

Although he made his film debut in 1992, Mark Ruffalo’s first major role was in 2000’s You Can Count On Me. His performance in the film garnered much critical attention and Oscar buzz, but he failed to receive a nomination. In the last decade Ruffalo has done a handful of romantic comedies as well as acclaimed performances in more serious dramas. My favorite of his roles is as Inspector Dave Toschi in David Fincher’s 2007 Zodiac. I think that film is Fincher’s masterpiece, yet it wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. Ruffalo was seen earlier this year opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island.

Peter Sarsgaard’s first major role was in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry. Since then he has been in a series of hits and misses, film wise. Regardless, Sarsgaard goes on my list of people who are always good despite the film’s quality. My favorite of his performances in 2005’s Jarhead. His performance was critically well received and he earned early Oscar buzz, but failed to receive a nomination.

Liev Schreiber made his first impact on Hollywood as Cotton Weary in the wildly successful Scream franchise. In 1999 in co-starred with Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen in A Walk On The Moon and Denzel Washington in The Hurricane. My favorite performance of his is as Laertes in the 2000 version of Hamlet. Schreiber goes on my list of actors who are  always wonderful whether the film they’re in is or not.

M. Emmet Walsh has been in almost 200 films since he began acting in 1969. He often play supporting roles, often cited as the best thing in many a film. Roger Ebert has even named a rule, The Walsh-Stanton Rule, after him and Harry Dean Stanton, stating that no film can be altogether bad if it features either of the two actors. I highly agree with this rule. My favorite of Walsh’s roles is in The Coen Brother’s 1984 debut film Blood Simple.

Bruce Willis is one of my favorite actors. Yes, he mostly does action pictures. But he’s also done some really great work in his 30 year career. The 90s was filled with great Willis performances, starting with his wildly comedic turn in 1992’s Death Becomes Her to his cameo in Pulp Fiction to his manic turn in 1995’s 12 Monkeys. In 1999 he starred in The Sixth Sense, which earned 6 Oscar nominations, but nothing for Willis. My favorite Willis performance, however, is in 2005’s Sin City. It’s a subtle, humble and ultimately heartbreaking performance.

Steve Zahn’s first big role was in 1994’s Reality Bites. Since then he’s mostly played comedic supporting roles. But it is for these roles that I include him in this list. I think he is one of the great comedic actors working today. Even if the movie he’s in is total crap, I bet you he is funny in it. There’s this vulnerability he brings to his comedy that I just love. I think Zahn will continue to make films for decades to come and then, hopefully, will get his Oscar nomination for playing a comedic old man or something. I for one, will keep hoping he does.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on June 19, 2010, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. nice list! definitely agree with christian bale, mark ruffalo and peter saarsgard. it’s a shame they’ve never been nominated!

  2. Super yes to most of these (Jim Carrey?!). The real reason most of these guys haven’t been nominated yet is pretty simple: they haven’t had the right role in the right film yet. It’s not enough to be a phenomenal actor or give a great performance; it has to be an Oscar-worthy role somehow, in a film that was well-received. Like, Liev Schreiber was great in “Walk on the Moon” (well, he’s great in everything), but it wasn’t a big enough movie to be nominated. Bale and Gary Oldman aren’t going to get nommed for doing Batman.

  3. As requested here are my thoughts. First of all, Jim Carey has been cheated more than once, but for the Truman Show it was just wrong wrong wrong. Sometimes people forget how hard comedy is to do.

    I love Bruce Willis and have since his first turn on Miami Vice followed almost immediately by Moonlighting. Why he didn’t get something for The 6th Sense makes no sense. He is almost as masculine and sexy as Sean Connery, but in that role playing a child psychologiest, he displayed great sensitivity. Furthermore, without his amazing and right on performance, the surprise ending would not have been a surprise. So he made the Die Hard franchise. I love the Die Hard movies.

    Steve Bechemy is always good. Period. Now having seen Reservoir Dogs I really get how good he is. I hope Mr. Pink made it out with the diamonds. I just realized how many of my favorite movies he is in: Fargo, Con Air (a guilty pleasure – I admit it), Armegeddan. I look forward to more of his excellent work.

  4. Sorry about my horrific spelling. I didn’t know I could use spell check on these posts.

  5. It blows my mind that Gary Oldman has never even been nominated for an Oscar

  6. I agree with this entire list.

  7. You should do a list of actresses as well!

  8. You can not over-state the Gary Oldman slight. Never? He might be the best working actor alive today but apparently the Oscars are for movie stars.


    • I’ve been shocked about the Gary Oldman situation near on a decade now and it just doesn’t seem like it’ll ever be remedied by the Academy :/

      also that post about JGL was an interesting read, thanks for sharing it!

  9. Good post…i really like it

  10. For those who question Jim Carrey, also check out his role in “Man on the Moon”. He became Andy Kaufman. Great actor. The Academy: stuffed shirts.

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