Zero-Time Academy Award Nominees (part 2) – 20 of the Best Contemporary Actresses Who’ve Never Been Nom’d For Oscar

This list was a lot harder to come up with because most of the actresses I like/consider to be great at their craft are Oscar nominees or winners. I was thinking perhaps the reason there are less underrated actresses is because there are less great roles for actresses and thus less actresses are able to really shine. That being said I did come up with a list of 20 contemporary actresses who have never been nominated that I think have given at least one Oscar-worthy performance, if not filled their career with them.

Gillian Anderson is more of a television actress and she has won several awards for her portrayal of Dana Scully on the X-Files. But she has also given some really wonderful film performances as well. She’s great in the immensely underrated 1998 adaptation of Freak The Mighty, simply titled The Mighty. She was also great in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland, but my favorite of her film performances is in 2000’s The House of Mirth. This whole film is absolutely fabulous, but has pretty much flown completely under the radar for the last decade. Anderson is enchanting throughout the film and as her character’s life disintegrates before our eyes, her performance becomes more and more compelling.

Dame Eileen Atkins has been active in film, television and theater for over 50 years. She is considered one of the greatest actresses in British history and has even been awarded Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001. Despite all of that she’s yet to receive a single Academy Award nomination. The screencap above is from 2001’s Gosford Park, which was up for Best Picture and received two nominations for Supporting Actresses – Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Maggie Smith, both of whom had been nominated before (Smith was already a winner, Mirren won in 2006). At some point she’ll get an honorary award, perhaps, but I think she wouldn’t care either way because she’s been so thoroughly awarded for her work on the stage.

Kate Beckinsale is mostly known for her work in such popcorn hits as Pearl Harbor and the Underworld series, but she has shown a few times that she’s more than just a pretty face. She received mostly favorable reviews as Sam Rockwell’s ex-wife in 2007’s Snow Angels and received early Oscar buzz for her turn in 2008’s Nothing But The Truth. If she’d focus more on complex, challenging roles rather than bland paycheck roles, she might have a chance at Oscar again sometime soon.


Maggie Cheung is one of China’s most popular actresses and one of the most recognizable Chinese actresses to American audiences. My knowledge of her work is mostly based  on her collaborations with Wong Kar-Wai. She is positively luminous in 1990’s Days of Being Wild, 2000’s In The Mood For Love and 2004’s 2046. Very few east Asian performers have been nominated for an acting award and only Miyoshi Umeki for 1957’s Sayonara has ever won, so the odds are really against Cheung ever even getting a nomination.


At 28, Abbie Cornish is still young yet and has plenty of time to get herself an Oscar nomination. I’ve included her on this list, however, because I think she was absolutely phenomenal in 2009’s Jane Campion helmed Bright Star. That film was one of the most beautiful, heartfelt and romantic films I’ve ever seen and what really makes it work is the performances by its two leads, Cornish and Ben Whishaw. If she can be as great as she was in this film in something that more people have seen, she’ll get herself a nomination, I just know it.


Claire Danes first captivated television audiences as Angela Chase in the short-lived cult favorite My So-Called Life. She followed that up with a heartfelt turn as Beth in 1994’s Little Women and was catapulted to stardom with 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. I thought she was charming in 2007’s Stardust, but my favorite three performances of hers are in 1997’s The Rainmaker, 1999’s Brokedown Palace and 2005’s Shopgirl.

Blythe Danner began her acting career over 40 years ago. She married director Bruce Paltrow in 1969 and had actress Gwyneth Paltrow in 1972. Paltrow went on to win Best Actress for her turn as Viola De Lesseps in 1998’s Shakespeare In Love. I think Danner is just as talented as her daughter, she’s just somehow remained under the radar for most of her career. She’s a character actress and she’s created some really wonderful characters over the years. I really loved her in To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar and her turn as mother to Paltrow’s Sylvia Plath in 2003’s Sylvia was more than just a quaint ploy. They were wonderful together.

Julie Delpy was wonderful in both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. She earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the latter, but I really feel her performance deserved more attention than it got. She was also wonderful in 2005’s Broken Flowers and 2007’s 2 Days In Paris, which she not only starred in but wrote and directed as well. I think she’ll keep being wonderful and keep creating compelling characters and hopefully it’s only a matter of time before her acting gets as much attention as her writing.


Hope Davis made her film debut 20 years ago in the thriller Flatliners, but it was 2002’s About Schimdt where she first became a household name. She was wonderfully apathetic as Jack Nicholson’s estranged daughter. My favorite of her films is 2005’s Proof opposite Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins.

I still firmly believe that Dakota Fanning should have received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for performance as Lucy 2001’s I Am Sam. She showed depth way beyond her years in one of the most complex child roles I’ve ever seen. In the near decade since then she’s proven that she’s very talented, even if the film she’s in is not so good, she is. Currently, she’s only 16 years old, so she has a long time to get herself a nomination, as long as she delivers another performance as great as Lucy.


When I found out that Mia Farrow had never been nominated for an Oscar my jaw dropped. She’s given SO MANY memorable performances over the years.  Her most famous early roles are probably 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1974’s The Great Gatsby. Her work with Woody Allen, though, is my favorite. Barely a year went by in the 80s wherein she didn’t give an amazing performance in a role written for her by Allen in one of his films. My favorite of these is 1985’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. Her performance is honest and sweet and at times even heartbreaking. Unfortunately, she hasn’t done much acting since their highly publicized and scandalous split in 1992.


Beth Grant is one of those “that lady” actresses, wherein a lot of people recognize but often can’t remember her name. She’s been active in the business since the mid-80s and is probably best known for her role in 2001’s Donnie Darko. She’s a character actress who is always wonderful, regardless of the size of her role or the quality of the film.

Two confessions about Scarlett Johansson: 1. I do not like her. 2. I’ve yet to see Lost In Translation. Regardless of my personal feelings towards her, she has been continually lauded by critics since her delightfully apathetic turn in 2001’s Ghost World. (Confession #3 – I like her in that film.) But it was her turn in the 2003 Sophia Coppola flick that she earned her place, in the eyes of many a critic, as one of her generation’s greatest actresses.

Jennifer Jason Leigh has been active in Hollywood since the late  70s and featured in several 80s teen flicks, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Single White Female that she began to get clout with critics. In the last 15 years or so she’s mostly made independent features, my favorite of which is 2007’s Margot At The Wedding.


Kelly MacDonald made her first major debut in 1996’s Trainspotting and was the heart of 2001’s Gosford Park. My favorite performance of her’s is actually a made for television film, 2005’s The Girl In The Cafe. I thought perhaps she’d get a nomination for her turn as Josh Brolin’s wife in 2007’s No Country For Old Men. The film garnered 8 nominations, but despite praise from critics and lots of Oscar buzz MacDonald failed to receive a nomination for her subtle, heartbreaking performance.


Rising out of the ashes of the Brat Pack in the 80s, Demi Moore was one of the biggest stars in the 90s. Moore started the decade with a heartfelt performance opposite Patrick Swayze in 1990’s Ghost, and although the film was up for Best Picture, neither of the main stars received acting nominations. She followed that up with stellar turns in 1992’s A Few Good Men and 1993’s Indecent Proposal. Her performance in 1996’s Striptease was well received, although the film itself was not. My favorite performance from her was as Jordan O’Neill in Ridley Scott’s 1997 film G.I. Jane. She is a force of nature in that film taking down Anne Bancroft and earning the respect of Viggo Mortensen along the way.


Robin Wright Penn’s first major role was as Buttercup in 1987’s The Princess Bride. She captivated audiences as Jenny in 1994’s Forrest Gump. The film was a major success and co-star Tom Hanks won his second (consecutive) Oscar for Best Actor and the film itself won Best Picture, yet Penn failed to receive a nomination. She’s sort of been hit-or-miss since then, but she has given at least two great performances post-Gump; as Starr in 2002’s White Oleander and Clare in 2004’s A Home At The End of the World.

Daughter of 3-time Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman, Isabella Rossellini has yet to receive a single nomination. I think part of this is due to her choice of roles. She tends to choose edgy roles in little scene films, and no matter how brilliant a performance is, if no one’s seen it, you won’t get a nomination. My favorite, and widely considered her best, performance is in David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece Blue Velvet. Her performance is alluring and bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The film is definitely not an easy one to watch and is kind of polarizing. Roger Ebert famously hates it. You’d think in Hollywood, being a legacy would help your chances, but for Rossellini it hasn’t seemed to help at all.

Audrey Tautou was postively mesmerizing as Amélie Poulain in 2001’s fantastical Amélie. Amélie Poulain is one of the most memorable characters in film history and Tautou played the character so perfectly it’s hard to imagine her as anything but Amélie, which is perhaps why she’s been unable to recapture the success she had with this film.


Liv Tyler’s first major role was in 1995’s Empire Records which she followed up with a charming, bittersweet performance in 1996’s That Thing You Do! I love her in the little seen 1997 film Inventing The Abbots. She’s also done the blockbuster thing with 1998’s Armageddon, a film that I will defend to death if need be (and the Criterion Collection agrees with me!) She’s probably best known for her role as Arwen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. What I love about her is that she’s just so damn likable. She feels like a real person and she looks like real person. I once read an article where she said early in her career she was told if she lost 20 pounds she’d become a big star, to which she said she’d rather be at a healthy weight than be a big star. The next thing you know she’s staring in one of the biggest, most critically acclaimed franchises in movie history. She’s still young yet, so I hope she just keeps making great films and maybe someday her time will come.

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About cinemafanatic

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on June 20, 2010, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I love that you included Julie Delpy in this. I absolutely love her!

  2. Thank you for such an informative and educational article!

  3. I agree with so many choices in this post. Thank you for writing this!

  4. All in all, a great and well-thought list. Gillian Anderson is wonderful, the role of Lily should have opened all doors but it didn’t happen… So unfair.

    (Since you mention “White Oleander”, what about Michelle Pfeiffer in that movie? She was marvellous.)

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