Oscars: 9 Under-the-Radar Performances that Deserve Buzz


If you believe the awards season chatter, the Oscar race is practically over—even though the season is only beginning. There’s already been a lot of talk about the frontrunners this year (from “The Imitation Game’s” Benedict Cumberbatch to “Wild’s” Reese Witherspoon). But the Academy always throws some curveballs into the mix come January. Here are nine under-the-radar performances that deserve a fighting chance in this year’s Oscar race.

Channing Tatum
Best Actor, “Foxcatcher”

The trio of male performances in “Foxcatcher”—from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo—are all worthy of Oscar nominations. But the problem is, where do you put each actor? Sony Pictures Classics had decided to campaign Tatum and Carell in lead and Ruffalo in supporting, but I fear the strongest performance in the film may slip through the cracks. Carell has gotten a lot of ink for his portrayal of lunatic millionaire John du Pont. But the movie belongs to Tatum. His understated performance as Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz might not be as showy, but he’d be a lock for his first Oscar nomination if he wasn’t competing against his co-star.

Jake Gyllenhaal,
Best Actor, “Nightcrawler”

Jake Gyllenhaal has only been nominated for an Oscar once (for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain”), and since then he’s quietly turned into the gutsiest actor of his generation. His work in 2012’s “End of Watch” and 2013’s “Prisoners” should have earned him invitations to the Academy Awards. “Nightcrawler,” which opens this weekend, isn’t a traditional Oscars film—it’s far too daring for that—but Gyllenhaal’s performance is one of the acting triumphs of the year. He shed 30 pounds to play a LA paparazzo, a haunting transformation that sticks with you long after the screen goes dark.

Ellar Coltrane
Best Actor, “Boyhood

The best actor race is already packed with Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”) and Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), with Bradley Cooper waiting in the aisles with the upcoming “American Sniper.” But sometimes the Academy lets a newcomer slip in. If they do, there’s a good argument to be made for the inclusion of 20-year-old Coltrane, who spent 12 years growing up onscreen in Richard Linklater’s indie.

Ben Affleck
“Gone Girl,” Best Actor

Affleck already has Oscars for producing (“Argo”) and screenwriting (“Good Will Hunting”), but he’s never been nominated in the acting category. Critics liked him as the panicked husband in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl,” which has so far grossed $127 million. Plus, voters owe him one for snubbing him in the director’s category for “Argo.”

Keira Knightley
Best Actress, “Begin Again”

The Academy will definitely nominate Knightley in the supporting actress category for “The Imitation Game.” But her most lovable performance this year was in John Carney’s musical comedy. As Gretta, Knightley hits high notes as a struggling Manhattan singer-songwriter, who breaks up with her rock-star boyfriend (Adam Levine). She modeled her character’s wardrobe on Diane Keaton, and “Begin Again” is Knightley’s “Annie Hall” moment. I wish more people had seen the movie. It will be discovered on non-theatrical platforms.

Anne Dorval
Best Actress, “Mommy”

The Canadian star’s performance as the title character (looking after her troubled teenage son) in Xavier Dolan’s drama is my favorite performance from an actress this year. Dorvall was robbed of an acting prize from the Cannes jury, who honored Julianne Moore in “Maps to the Stars” instead. But she will hopefully enter the conversation if she starts landing some end-of-year critics’ prizes.

John Lithgow
Best Supporting Actor, “Love is Strange”

Ira Sachs’ drama about an aging gay couple is one of the best-reviewed films of 2014, and Sony Pictures Classics recently sent out screeners to the Academy and Writer’s Guild. If enough voters do their homework, they’ll see that Lithgow does his most heartfelt big-screen work since 1983’s “The World According to Garp.” The actor has never won an Oscar, which doesn’t seem right.

Jaeden Lieberher
Best Supporting actor, “St. Vincent”

Is it a compliment—or a curse—to call him the most nuanced child actor since Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense”? Lieberher, 12, not only carries some of the weightiest lines in Ted Melfi’s script, he makes this comedy work based on his chemistry with Bill Murray.

Tilda Swinton
Best Supporting Actress, “Snowpiercer”

The Academy usually doesn’t nominate actors in sci-fi films. But Swinton is a riot in Bong Joon-ho’s trippy futuristic thriller as a dystopian leader. She’s like a cross between Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Iron Lady.”

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  1. Nightcrawler was amazing and Jake Gyllenhaal definitely deserves the Oscar for his performance.

  2. carla says:

    Jake Gyllenhaal should go all the way to Oscar. Night Crawler and amazing film and he play Lou Gloom to a creepy perfection.

  3. Sheyla says:

    Marion Cotillard deserves more buzz for her wonderful and magnificent performance in Two Days, One Night.

  4. Zing Zhang says:

    You’re joking about Tilda Swinton, right? She played her role like something out of SNL: yeah it was funny and arch, but hardly any real acting required.

  5. la chick says:

    I’d like to see Gyllenhaal win for this one. He’s an excellent actor.

  6. The most underrated performance is Brendan Gleeson in Calvary.
    Amongst the likely nominated ones, I’m rooting for Cumberbatch or Keaton.
    Many people think Redmayne will win, though.

  7. mary says:

    Rob Pattz for The Rover. Didn’t even recognise him at first. Dude’s got some serious chops

  8. a davies says:

    You missed Robert Pattinson in The Rover. He was astonishing and heartwrenching as the ‘damaged’ Rey

  9. Liza says:


  10. Jane says:

    Not a lot of people saw The Rover, unfortunately, but Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson were both captivatingly good. It would be nice to see one or both of these performances get some recognition, as well as the cinematographer of the film.

  11. Silvana says:

    Marion Cotillard for Two Days One Night deserves buzz and the Oscar nomination for her wonderful performance.

  12. RatedRex says:

    What about Chadwick Boseman, playing James Brown in “Get on Up”? That is easily the most complex and energetic performance of the year. What did Ben Affleck do other than be himself?

  13. FronkoFile says:

    Jeff Goldblum in LE WEEKEND. Jillian Bell in 22 JUMP STREET.

  14. spence says:

    (*-always denotes official *AMPAS winner)

    To this longtime veteran of oddsmaking Oscar, the certain locks-(for a nod.) seem to be shaping up to be-(NOTE: Although still premature & not my final annual predix!)

    M. Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bradley Cooper & ?

    & Reese, J. Moore, Felicity Jones W/Rosamund Pike & two-time victor>*Swank possibly also having their names called on January15th?

    & also> J.K. Simmons, Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton-(of course not to be confused W/*Art Carney’s legendary “Ed Norton” from TV’s “The Honeymooners!”)
    Ethan Hawke & ???

    & also>Patricia Arquette, Knightley, Emma Stone, *”Marvelous Meryl”-(in what will denote an “astonishing’ 19th nomination!!!) & ???

    (P.S. I’m sure “Variety” will also cover Best Director maybe’s, but for now (& to me anyway)
    the likes of>Richard Linklater, Innaritu, Fincher, Bennett Miller & ? may be the frontrunners?)


  15. spence says:

    Also to the fellow cinephile that wrote about the beautiful & talented>K. Knightley, personally I also rate/rank her among “The All-Time Top Ten Most Beautiful Actresses!”

  16. spence says:

    (NOTE: & is “Variety” gonna’ have the annual> “Oscar-0racle” contest it used to conduct w/us oddsmakers?

    I won the title for 2002-(75th Annual Academy Awards) &the editor at the time promised me I could also enter again the following year for 2003 (NOTE: I could not $pay$ again!)

    However, once I did enter my annual predictions, she completely ignored me/left me out & after she said I could enter again & for the 2nd consecutive yr to defend that neat/cool title???

    & possibly the worst pt of it all, was I also should have won for 03, even doing a wee bit better fore The 76th Annual AMPAS Awards-(at least by 1 category anyway!)

    This year-(although it looks pretty flat/lame, quality wise) marks my personal (33rd year at handicapping/predicting,etc)
    Though did pretty lousy for my very first year-(l982) I was only 18 at the time & didn’t quite have a handle on the politics that also go into *OSCAR. But, what a great cinematic yr ’82 was!

    “E.T.” “Tootsie” “The Verdict’ “Das Boot” “Diner” “Sophie’s Choice”‘ “Blade Runner” “Road Warrior” “World According to Garp” were all new releases I would/did rank 4 stars!


    • timgray2013 says:

      Are you sure this was a Variety contest? I’ve asked fellow veterans here, and no one seems to recall any Oscar Oracle contest. And if we did have one, we certainly wouldn’t ask people to pay to enter. Thanks, Tim Gray, awards editor

  17. Jessica says:

    Keira Knightley was fantastic in Begin Again. That was a really overlooked performance! It’s long past time for Lithgow to win an Oscar. Gyllenhaal, like Knightley, is also often overlooked for nominations.

  18. Sarah Ricard says:

    I hope Shia gets a nom for Fury! He was wonderful.

  19. marcin midura says:

    Amen to Tilda. Finally !

  20. Leonardo Sbaraglia & Erica Rivas in Wild Tales (both for Supporting).

  21. Suzy says:

    Fassbender in Frank.

  22. JD says:

    Would agree that Knightley from Begin Again, Ellar Coltrane from Boyhood and definately Jake Gyllenhaal from Nightcrawler and Rene Russo from that film should get nominated.
    Speaking of Nightcrawler, its a fantastic film and I would demand that everyone sees it. That is an order.

  23. steve barr says:

    Marion Coitalard for the Immigrant .The most overlooked movie of the year .

  24. Kay says:

    Robin Wright for The Congress. The Academy own her for having her snubbed so many times. It’s a weird film to make a win, but a nom is a first step. The scan sequence is masterful played and just that is worth of the whole film.

  25. cindyvalerie says:

    How about Sally Kirkland in “Archealogy of a Woman” she is once again brilliant!

  26. lianarachel says:

    Tom Hardy in Locke. That is all.

  27. spence says:

    “Variety” left out-(for now) “Gone Girl’s,” leading lady? & P. Arquette in “Boyhood?”

  28. JJ says:

    bill hader should definitely be in. the kid from boyhood was playing himself. let’s not and say we did.

  29. Timothy says:

    Either the author or editor does not know what the term ‘under the radar’ means.

    • homosezwut says:

      Here. Here. Ben Affleck in “Gone Girl”? – A good performance sure, but “Under the Radar?” – What planet was the writer living on when the hype machine for this movie steam rolled through town? – “Under the Radar” are hard to find gems like Tom Hardy in “Locke” or Fassbender in “Frank”. #IMO

      • Matrices says:

        The movie was hyped, yes, but Affleck hasn’t really been touted as a contender for Best Actor. Thus, under the radar.

      • spence says:

        TO ALL THAT MAY READ THIS POST, My early forecasting is not particularly stuff I would personally choose/vote for of course, but trying to outguess the some odd>(6,000) voting members!?

        Personally, I’d easily also include>Rosamund Pike for leading actress

  30. Mike says:

    Bill Hader and Kristen Wig should also be in the conversation for either lead or supporting in The Skeleton Twins, depending on how the Academy would classify.

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