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‘Sure things’ can turn into ‘what happened’?

Giamatti overlooked as 'Sideways' co-stars, helmer, scribes nab noms

He was one of the year’s sure things, a lock, certainly a contender and possibly a winner.

Then Paul Giamatti, who drew unceasing praise from critics as well as industryites for his understated comic turn in “Sideways,” found himself on the outs with Oscar. Again.

One year after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters failed to mention an acclaimed effort in “American Splendor,” Giamatti failed to make the Oscar field — even as his “Sideways” co-stars, director and writers took their places in the other prestige categories.

“It’s a brilliant performance in a movie that’s built around him,” says Los Angeles Daily News film critic Bob Strauss. “But when it comes to best actor, very rarely does the Academy get past its moronic prejudice against comedy acting.”

Theories for Giamatti’s snub include the character he plays (“He’s too annoying. It would like giving an Oscar to Larry David,” says one insider), the way he plays that character (“The Academy likes performances that are larger than life,” says another vet) and even Giamatti’s less-than-classic profile (“There may be some looks-ism involved here,” says one wag).

The fact that two of his co-stars were nommed — Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen — probably didn’t help either.

Of course, in a year with a deep actor field, Giamatti isn’t the only deserving performer on the outside looking in after the final cut.

Liam Neeson’s nuanced, subtly paced performance evolved throughout “Kinsey,” but he may have been hurt by the film’s sexual themes. Several pundits were surprised Javier Bardem didn’t make the list for “The Sea Inside,” especially given the Academy’s well-documented love for actors who play handicapped and disabled real-life characters (think “My Left Foot” and “Shine”).

Other actors who could have been included as Oscar finalists are Kevin Bacon (“The Woodsman”) and Jeff Bridges (“The Door in the Floor”). “I thought each of them just gave terrific performances,” says Dallas Morning News film critic Philip Wuntch.

With all the attention heaped on the overflow in men’s field, it’s easy to forget there may have been actresses who were shortchanged.

Actresses worthy of consideration include: Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill Vol. 2” (“Amazingly physical but incredibly complex emotions,” says Strauss); Julie Delpy, “Before Sunset” (“A greatly overlooked performance and film,” Strauss adds); Nicole Kidman in “Birth” (“A good performance in an odd film,” says A.O. Scott, the New York Times); and even Jennifer Garner in “13 Going on 30” (“She was wonderful, but it’s not the kind of performance the Academy would notice,” Scott explains).

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