How Overdue Actors Can Win for the ‘Wrong’ Performance

Still Alice Toronto Film Festival

The frontrunners in this year’s Oscar actor races look to be made up of a lot of first-time nominees. Patricia Arquette is sitting pretty at the top of most pundits’ lists for supporting actress for “Boyhood” and J.K. Simmons is most people’s pick for supporting actor for “Whiplash.” The competitive best actor race is shaping up to be made up of almost entirely first-time nominees.

It’s only the best actress race where the veterans are thriving, from frontrunner Julianne Moore for “Still Alice” (a four-time nominee) to the likes of Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank and Marion Cotillard and frequent nominees Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain. Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones are the only newcomers circling the field.

Moore is currently considered the one to beat, and not just because her performance as a professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice” is stunning work—she also has the overdue factor on her side. There are many who believe she should have won several times before and the fact she has yet to score a statuette speaks volumes to the legitimacy of awards in general. Her stellar, fearless work as a porn star in “Boogie Nights” lost to Kim Basinger in “L.A. Confidential”—a nice turn in a great movie, but does anyone doubt who the “best” actress is between the two?

So “Still Alice” is the chance to finally reward Moore—which is not to sell the fantastic performance short, she would likely win even if she already had an Oscar. But right now her toughest competition comes in the form of Reese Witherspoon, so revealing and wonderful in “Wild.” Yet I’ve already heard many people tout the line: “But Reese has already won…”

Of course, sometimes it doesn’t matter how many awards a person has—it certainly never hurt Meryl Streep. And Tom Hanks won back-to-back statues for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.” Though he probably deserved to win a third in a row for “Saving Private Ryan” and lost to…Roberto Benigni. Had Hanks not already been a two-time winner, is there any doubt he would have snagged the trophy for his work?

Sometimes, an actor winning for the “wrong” film creates a crazy domino effect. After losing for 1999’s “The Insider,” Russell Crowe won best actor for 2000’s “Gladiator.” But then when he was nominated for 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” he lost to Denzel Washington for “Training Day.” Ironically, that win for Washington was perceived as make-good by many people for losing for “The Hurricane.”

Many people would argue Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges won for the wrong roles—Firth in “A Single Man” lost to Bridges for “Crazy Heart.” The following year, Firth won for “The King’s Speech,” besting Bridges for “True Grit.”  Had Firth won for “A Single Man,” it’s doubtful the Academy would have chosen to reward him two years in a row. It’s also doubtful they would have denied Bridges two years in a row. And on it goes.


(Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Tom Hanks lost a bid for his third-straight Oscar for “Castaway” when, in fact, the 1999 movie was “Saving Private Ryan.”)

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  1. lily says:

    Sorry but Julianne Moore has been robbed more than once Witherspoon won on a year full of crappy movies and poor choices . She really can’t act that well either . Please no award for drunk daft bimbo ( DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM) Witherspoon . Julianne Moore plays a better part .

  2. Corriea says:

    11/4/14 4:40a Variety Jenelle Riley Best Performances in the last 100+ Years
    Bette Davis ”Now, Voyager” 1942 and ” All About Eve” 1950 Olivia de Havilland ”The Heiress” 1949 Gloria Swanson ” Sunset Boulevard” 1950 Greta Garbo ”Queen Christina” 1933 Doris Day ”Love me or Leave Me” 1955 Dorothy Mackaill ”Safe in Hell” 1932

  3. Corriea says:

    11/01/14 3:36p Variety Jenelle Riley John Wayne and Oscar
    Dick Delson: John Wayne was nominated for Best Actor Oscar for ”Sands of Iwo Jima” 1949, John Wayne was Nominated and he Won the Best Actor Oscar for ”True Grit” 1969. John Wayne did not receive an Honorary Life-Time/Film Career Oscar. Check your facts, Bub!

  4. Dick Delson says:

    John Wayne began making movies before most people in the biz were born.
    He never got nominated for an Oscar.
    He was not nominated for “True Grit”
    Then he made “Rooster Cogburn”
    Was it an Oscar winning role?
    But he won one for his performance.
    Actually, it was fir his career in films.
    I worked with him on 2 films.
    He was one of the good guys.
    Dick Delson

  5. PETER JAY says:

    Liz Taylor ALSO won for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF after she won for BUTTERFIELD 8. Richard was also nominated for that and many movies, but like his booze buddy, Peter O’Toole, Richard never won an Oscar!

  6. Ken says:

    Both Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds were seriously robbed of Supporting Actress/Actor Oscars for their stellar work in BOOGIE NIGHTS. Seriously robbed!! And to have Ian McKellan (truly remarkable as James Whale) in GODS AND MONSTERS shunted aside for adrenaline-crazed Roberto Benigni is still something of a scandal imo. Toss an Oscar to Julianne, already! She’s more than earned one.

  7. John Galt says:

    How about John Wayne for True Grit? Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman?

  8. The best example of an actress winning the Oscar for the wrong role is when Elizabeth Taylor won for the movie Butterfield 8 INSTEAD OF winning for her tour de force performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. This was a laughable error, but, then it does show that the Academy members do have a heart and eventually will recognize an actor’s true artistry be it for the wrong role.

    • Jason says:

      Alekos — Taylor DID win for Virginia Woolf, her second best actress Oscar, for what is considered by many to be one of the two or three greatest female performances in film history.

  9. Silvana says:

    Marion Cotillard has to be nominated for her amazing act in Two Days One Night.

    • Sam says:

      Cotillard is great but she mostly plays and has mastered sad characters- lifeless. In Rust and Bone, The Immigrant and Two Days and One Night I got the same exact character, same approach, same sad face. I expected more. Julianne Moore in Still Alice and Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars is like two different actresses.

  10. Stergios says:

    I would really love to watch Julianne Moore receiving finally her long overdue Oscar trophy. She’s clearly phenomenal and worthy of an Oscar win in “Still Alice” (as always) and having seen recently “Maps to the stars”, I’m completely in awe of her raw, wild, tremendous work as Havana Segrand. But really, seriously, how can Reese Witherspoon be put next to actresses like that? I really want to know how in the world this can even be possible. Jean-Marc Vallée is a truly gifted filmmaker and it’s clear that he has brought the best out of Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”. She goes really against the type here and seems to be indeed intensely committed to her role and putting up possibly her best work to date. That being said, she’s DEFINITELY not the kind of actress that deserves a second Oscar nomination. Not in a world where an actress like Marion Cotillard, undoubtedly the greatest actress of all time, gives the one legendary performance after another and still hasn’t scored a second Oscar nomination (?) The fact that Witherspoon clearly really good in “Wild” isn’t enough to justify the hype she gets. Because let’s be honest, shall we, she is and always be an actress of indisputable talent but also indisputable obvious limitations that are strikingly evident in even her strongest screen work. Make no mistake, this is not at all some hating comment for Witherspoon. She’s talented, that’s for sure, but she belongs to that long list of well known stars like Sandra Bullock and Halle Berry who, while having some undeniable acting virtues and screen magnetism, have also undeniable limitations in terms of acting. They’re not actresses like Marion Cotillard, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet and many more that have never won an Oscar like Isabelle Huppert, Lesley Manville, Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, just to name a few, all of them actresses of otherwordly talent in acting, tremendous technical skills, obviously limitless depth and an almost terrifying level of commitment to every role they so brilliantly portrays on screen or on stage. And that constant desire to defy every expectation of their audience, approach not even a single role as an Oscar vehicle and take risks that seem almost inconceivable. Well, those ladies deserve five Oscar nominations each. Witherspoon is not even half of the actors they are. There’s a HUGE difference between a really good actress like Reese Witherspoon and a great, Oscar-worthy actress. Jessica Chastain doesn’t have to prove anymore that she belongs to the latter category and she’s still to get her first Oscar trophy. She’s struggling to get a nomination for the best work of her career, the one delivered in “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby”. It’s a gigantic performance to say the least, easily her best to date and more than worthy of an Oscar win (especially in “Her” version). She immerses herself into her role in a way I think it’s almost impossible for an actor to do so. The emotional detachment, the steelness, the coldness in her look is penetrated into every cell of her body. There’s obviously not a limit to the depth she can bring into a role. Her chemistry with the brilliant James McAvoy is incredible as well. Amy Adams is overdue for her first Oscar as well and I really hope she has a shot this time around with her role as Margaret Keane in Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes”. Judging from the trailer and early photos, she’s miraculous, as always. And Rosamund Pike’s performance in “Gone Girl” is really something that has to be seen to be truly believed. The whole hype around her mesmerizing work actually can’t do any justice to her achievement as Amy. It’s simply brilliant. There are so, so many great performances delivered by tremendous actresses this year. Hilary Swank delivers her best work in years in “The Homesman”, Scarlett Johansson is terrific in “Under the skin”, Agata Kulesza is astonishing in “Ida”, Shailene Woodley is wonderful in “The Fault in our stars”. But if there’s one performance that deserves the Best Actress Oscar win this year no matter what is without a int of doubt the one the brilliant Marion Cotillard delivers in Dardennes’ latest masterpiece “Two Days, One Night”. Worthy of an Oscar to say the least. In addition to her equally worthy of an Oscar win, phenomenal turn as Polish immigrant Ewa Cybulska in James Gray’s “The Immigrant”, Marion Cotillard gives a performance for the ages. IT’S UNDOUBTEDLY THE BEST FEMALE PERFORMANCE OF THE LAST FIVE YEARS. There’s no other female performance that could possibly come close. The second one would definitely be the one Marion Cotillard gives in “The Immigrant”. Can you imagine that this woman hasn’t won her second Oscar yet? Even worse, can you imagine that this woman has NEVER earned a second Oscar nomination since her more than deserving win back in 2008 for giving the best performance ever put on screen (by an actor or actress) in “La vie en rose”? This is almost scandalous. f she’s going to be snubbed relentlessly once again from the Academy for the marvel of a performance she so gracefully offers through Dardennes’ latest masterpiece “Two Days, One Night”, there’s no point of having a Best Leading Actress category at the 2015 Oscars. Any Best Actress list would look empty without Cotillard’s otherworldly performance as Sandra who has to fight against depression and the possibility of losing her job at the same time. What she does there, it’s almost impossible for an actor to do so. She loses herself so completely into her role that it ends up almost terrifying. It’s a crime, CRIME to leave THE BEST ACTRESS OF ALL TIME nomination-less after her win and after all of the mesmerizing and more than worthy of multiple Oscar wins each (!) performances she gave throughout these years (just think of her work in “Rust and bone” or “Nine, think of her work in “Inception” or “Public enemies”, think of her work in “Midnight in Paris” or “Little white lies” or or or… The list just goes on and on and on). Oscars have to acknowledge her monumental work this time. She’s groundbreaking. WITHOUT MARION COTILLARD AT LEAST NOMINATED FOR HER ALREADY LEGENDARY PERFORMANCE IN “TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT”, I DON’T HAVE AN INTEREST AT WATCHING OSCARS THIS YEAR AT ALL. NOMINATE COTILLARD! OR GIVE HER THE OSCAR ALREADY! AT LEAST GIVE HER A NOMINATION!!! GIVE HER A NOMINATION! GIVE HER A NOMINATION!

  11. John Jenkins says:

    Nevermind! My friend informs me Tom Hanks was not nominated for Apollo 13. I could have sworn he was. Fail!

    • Robert O'Dell says:

      Awards shouldn’t be given for the type of actress anyone may or may not be. Moore,Cotillard, Streep, etc. may indeed all be greater actors than a Swank or Witherspoon BUT and it is a big BUT the award is meant to go to the particular performance. Maybe Witherspoon has given the most outstanding performance of this award season, I don’t know, haven’t had thee opportunity to see it yet.

  12. John Jenkins says:

    Correction to the correction. Hanks was nominated for Apollo 13, which would have been his 3rd win in a row.

  13. PETER JAY says:

    Wrong, Michael Anthony; it’s Glen Close and FATAL ATTRACTION that’s remembered and revisited. I love MOONSTUCK, but does anybody even remember it?

  14. truthentertainment says:

    Correction on this article, Tom Hanks did not lose to Roberto Benigni for Cast Away. Hanks lost to Benigni for Saving Private Ryan (both released in 1998). Two years later he received the nomination for Cast Away, which was released in 2000. Personally I feel he should have won over Crowe, but that’s just me.

    • Xavier says:

      It also would not have been a third win in a row in 1998 for Saving Private Ryan. He won for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump released in 1993 and 1994 respectively. He missed a chance at a third win in a row for Apollo 13, released in 1995. Correction to correction.

  15. Art Spear says:

    Bridges deserves recognition for a lot of role but not for “I’m Batman” True Grit.

  16. PETER JAY says:

    And sympathy votes? Elizabeth Taylor won for BUTTERFIELD 8, cause she had a throat operation. And Glen Close lost to Cher? What’s the psychology of the Oscar voters?

    • Michael Anthony says:

      The Glenn Close and Cher comparison doesn’t work. Which if the 2 roles has become iconic and well remembered and loved? Its Cher and Moonstruck. Close has deserved an Oscar for a long time, but not that year. The right actress won.

      • Shane McNally says:

        Absolutely correct Michael. People don’t like Cher but she can act and she deserved that Oscar. MTM was robbed because TV stars can’t win Oscars. Paul Newman should have won for The Verdict. He didn’t do an imitation, he created one of the great characters of all time. He won a year or so later for a much lesser role. John Wayne? Seriously, he should have won a lifetime achievement award, not a gong for any one performance. The Oscars are full of these dubious decisions.

        Can I just add that the Variety piece to which we are responding is awfully written and inaccurate. Does anyone subedit this work?

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