Top 10 Actors Robbed of Oscar Nominations

Last year, during Oscars week, I wrote about 10 performances I felt were robbed of an Academy Award. This year, I put together a list of actors who didn’t even get nominated despite turning in powerful performances. There are way more than 10 (as I’m sure you’ll point out) but here are the most notable ones for me from the last 20 years, starting with the most recent.

  1. Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds (2009). I’m glad the movie is getting some Oscar love, but how can the Academy ignore Laurent’s defiant, seething performance which finally erupts in an inferno of rage? The restaurant scene where her Shosanna eats strudel with Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Landa is heart-stoppingly suspenseful. She manages to appear cool while showing the terror and revulsion just below the surface.
  2. Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon (2008). Frank Langella may have had the Goliathan role as the former president, but Sheen’s work as David was just as skillful. Half of acting is interacting and, in a movie mainly consisting of two guys in a verbal duel, Langella could not have turned in his Oscar-nominated performance without Sheen as his sparring partner. Sheen didn’t just display the guts and ambition of a man taking on an impossible task, he showed us the insecurity and vulnerability behind the Cheshire grin and slick TV-host veneer.
  3. Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada in The Kite Runner (2007). This child actor, who played young Hassan, took a dagger and plunged it straight into my heart with his performance. Then he twisted it around a couple times for good measure. He did it with the expressive brown eyes and smile he was determined to keep on his face through all the unspeakable things inflicted on him. I wanted to beat up the bullies who hurt him, scream at all those who failed him, hug him ’til my arms ache, and just give him a big beautiful kite of his own to fly.
  4. Phyllis Somerville in Little Children (2006). In last year’s post, I decried the fact the Academy didn’t give the Oscar to Jackie Earle Haley for this movie. This year, I’m gonna talk about his mama. In lesser hands, I could’ve thought, “Lady, stop protecting your creepy-ass child-molesting son!” But no. Somerville made me believe that her fierce love for him was not only plausible but a natural thing. I mean, wouldn’t all mothers go to such lengths to defend their children, no matter how hideous?
  5. Sharon Warren in Ray (2004). Here’s another overlooked mama. As in Somerville’s case, the actor playing Warren’s son—that would be Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles—got all the attention while Warren was neglected. If voters go back and watch that scene where little Ray falls down and pleads for help while his mama, wanting her son to pick himself up, just stands across the room and watches while her heart is clearly breaking, I think they’d apologize and cough up a nomination for her.
  6. Michael Peña in Crash (2004). In a movie crammed with big stars, Peña stood out as the locksmith who remains steady and true despite all the racism he endures. The most tender scenes in the movie are ones in which he tells bedtime stories to his young daughter about the invisible cloak which would protect her from harm. When it looks like she might need that protection, Peña’s character unleashes his emotions in a scene so raw it momentarily stopped my breath.
  7. Emma Thompson in Love Actually (2003). There are many talented stars and memorable moments in this movie, too, but I’ll just mention one scene and you’ll nod your head vigorously in agreement that Thompson deserved a nomination for it. Remember when she’s so sure her Christmas gift from her husband (Alan Rickman) would be an expensive necklace because she’d seen him buy one? As she opens the box and finds it’s only a Joni Mitchell CD, we the viewers feel the full impact of his betrayal but she restrains from showing her devastation until she goes into their bedroom and cries alone. Then she smoothes down their bed cover and goes back out to be Smiley Mom to their kids. She may have pulled herself together but I was still crying after that scene was over.
  8. Andy Serkis in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003). The Academy loved these movies, granting the third one all 11 trophies for which it was nominated. One of them should’ve been for Serkis as Gollum. Yes, the creature was CGI but Serkis provided the voice, facial expressions and motion capture work. He brought a fantasy character to life, made it indelibly real and more complex than some of its human co-stars.
  9. Alison Elliott in The Spitfire Grill (1996). Never heard of this movie? Rent it immediately. Elliott’s performance as Percy, a girl who moves to a small town to start over after getting out of prison, is full of emotional colors: humble and proud, broken and hopeful, tough and vulnerable, and ultimately heartrending. Elliott was nominated the following year for Wings of the Dove, but that performance, as fine as it is, doesn’t even touch her master stroke in Grill.
  10. Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way (1993). Yeah, yeah, he went on to win two Oscars but it’s still unfathomable to me that Penn wasn’t even nominated for his work as Carlito’s slimebag, coked-up lawyer in this movie. His transformation left him so unrecognizable—with the red ‘fro, receding hairline and glasses—I kept thinking, “I thought Sean Penn was in this movie” while watching it.

OK, so that’s my 10. Now it’s your turn to tell me about all the performances I should’ve included on this list!



  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    March 2, 2010 at 5:13 am

    I’m always reminded of just how much I miss at the movies when I read yours and le0pard13’s posts. I saw Frost/Nixon on stage but not at the movies, and aside from that, I’ve only seen CRASH and LOVE, ACTUALLY. I agree 100% with your choice of Emma Thompson, too.

    The person I’d add to this list (and I’ve mentioned it before so sorry for sounding like a broken record) is Russell Crowe. I believe he definitely should have been nominated for CINDERELLA MAN. The Golden Globes and SAG both gave him a best actor nom, but the Academy blatantly overlooked him.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      I must say I didn’t love that movie but Crowe is excellent in everything.

      Did you see the Sheen & Langella version of Frost/Nixon on stage?

  • Reply
    March 2, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I’m right there with you, Jen on getting most of my at-the-cineplex info from PCN and lp13! 🙂 But I can comment on #’s 7-9:

    7. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m another member in the Emma Thompson Rocks club. That scene in Love, Actually is a prime example! Her acting paired with Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now playing just ripped my heart out.

    8. I was a LotR junkie, so I watched a lot of the behind-the-scenes footage. I agree that Andy Serkis’ work should have been rewarded. CGI alone would have been hard pressed to give Gollum such depth.

    9. The Spitfire Grill was full of excellent performances! I recall wondering why Alison Elliot had been nominated for Wings of the Dove and not TSG. You nailed her performance with “full of emotional colors.”

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      Oh my gosh, you’ve seen Spitfire Grill! Besides my husband, I didn’t know anyone else who’s a fan. So excited you share the love.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Starting off with Mélanie Laurent was a great one, PCN. That scene had the audience holding their breath right along with her. She was outstanding, and thoroughly robbed. So, too, was Sharon Warren in Ray (that scene you mention had me hurting so much inside). I haven’t seen The Spitfire Grill, but I’ve added it to my Netflix queue because of this. You have some absolutely great selections, here. And pissed me off all over again at The Academy ;-). Thanks, PCN.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 4:50 pm

      Yay! You’ll have to share your thoughts on Grill. I’m still lamenting why Hollywood hasn’t given Elliott more to do.

      I don’t have kids and that scene in Ray got to me. Can only imagine what it felt like for you.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

    You have just listed some of the most unforgettable performances ever put on film, but I must say that Sean Penn’s, for me anyway, was more about the make up and hair than the acting. But everyone else I’m on board with.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      I think the hair & makeup definitely helped with the physical transformation. But you didn’t think his acting, with the weaselly mannerisms and jacked-up way of speaking, was craaazy?

  • Reply
    March 2, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more, PCN, on all those choices. Michael Peña is my favorite thing from CRASH, and the scene when he cries… OMFG! And Andy Serkis is amazing in LotR, specially in Two Towers.

    As I wrote in le0pard13 post, I’d add a few people to the list:

    Maria Bello in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. She’s the soul of the story, and the protagonist’s raison d’être. She keeps the movie flowing. And in the last scene, the looks she gives -mixing anger, resignation and forgiveness- should be studied as top acting.

    James McAvoy in ATONEMENT. His love and lust trascends the screen, even though I watched the film on my TV. He was the best thing of the movie, IMHO.

    Billy Crudup in BIG FISH (‘though I grant, it might be my love for the film speaking). Each time I watch the film I cry during the “that’s how it happens scene”: the way he narrates the thing and his voice starts cracking. This is when I get my “Remy-eyes” (you know, for the tragic jap cartoon “Remy”). But when he picks up the phone, it’s just the word “Mom?” which unleashes the tears!. In my book, that’s a scene brought together masterfully.

    I think I’ll stop, or my bitterness will melt the keyboards.

    Thanks, PCN for this amazing post and your always great insight.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm

      Love your phrase “my bitterness will melt the keyboards.” And the Remy eyes. You are so poetic!

      Totally agree about Bello and McAvoy. He did so much with his eyes alone in Atonement. Don’t remember the details in that Big Fish scene but you make me want to re-watch it!

      • Reply
        March 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

        Oh… That thing about the “Remy eyes” is quite common here: ojitos de Remy

  • Reply
    March 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Could not agree with you more on this, especially the Michael Pena entry. That was ingenious casting and phenomenal acting.

    Seems the academy is always off their rocker a bit. Not looking forward to the outcome on Sunday.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      I won’t be happy if Avatar wins best picture, which I’m afraid it will.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Just a few from the top of my sieve-like mind:

    Gorden Pinsent in Away From Her. Julie Christie got all of the acclaim, and rightfully so, but I thought he was overlooked.

    Brendan Gleesan in In Bruges. The guy is stellar in everything he does.

    Amy Adams in Sunshine Cleaning. Not usually a big fan, but I thought this was a wonderful performance.

    Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl. The kid rocks just about every role he takes on.

    Richard Gere in Nights in Rodanthe – Ha! Gotcha!

    Anything Patricia Clarkson does. Has another actress been SO overlooked?

    • Reply
      March 2, 2010 at 3:31 pm

      Good call on Brendan Gleesan for In Bruges, LL! And I agree that Patricia Clarkson is very much overlooked, too. Thanks.

      • Reply
        March 2, 2010 at 4:15 pm

        Thanks le0, it’s a fun topic to think about and discuss. I always like finding great performances that I missed. I, too, will be checking out Spitfire Grill.

        • Reply
          Pop Culture Nerd
          March 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm

          Hooray! Another potential Grill fan!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      March 2, 2010 at 5:07 pm

      You mentioned so much awesomeness. In Bruges is one of my faves from the past 5 years. I can’t stop recommending that movie. Amy Adams has a moment in the van, talking into the CB, that’s so emotionally naked. I think Ryan Gosling can do ANYTHING; his talent resembles Russell Crowe’s. And Patricia Clarkson—where do I start? How about THAT VOICE? She was nominated for Pieces of April, though that’s not often enough.

      On a different note, I like your avatar! It’s randomly computer-generated but I think the butterfly with lobster claws ready to spring somehow fits you.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    March 2, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Your post reminds me that I’ve a long way to go before I’m even partly a nerd. But I agree with your picks for all those I’ve actually seen ~ Michael Pena, Emma Thompson and Andy Serkis. I cry every time I see that scene of Emma Thompson’s! I haven’t seen Carlito’s Way but it’s only because I know and trust you that I’ll take your word that it’s Sean Penn in that photo.

  • Reply
    March 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    My List to add to your list (where you already mentioned the BIG omissions of Sommerville & Thompson)
    10)Eugenio Derbez UNDER THE SAME MOON (2007)
    09)Brenda Blethyn INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS (2007)
    08)Barbra Streisand NUTS (1987)
    07)Jane Horrocks LITTLE VOICE (1998)
    06)Wilson Jermaine Herdia RENT (2005)
    05)Marion Ross THE EVENING STAR (1996)
    04)The ENTIRE cast of THE DEAD GIRL (2006)
    03)Cher MASK (1985)
    02)Toni Collette MURIEL’S WEDDING (1994)
    01)Kevin Bacon MURDER IN THE FIRST (1995)


    (Comedies always get sleighted, don’t they?)

  • Reply
    September 30, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Where do I begin. Ewan Mcgregor in Trainspotting and Moule rouge!!!!!Adam Beach in flags of our fathers and James McAvoy in atonement and last king of Scotland. Pure robbery. Awesome acting and no awards.

  • Reply
    February 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Kevin Bacon- Murder in the First

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