You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • For web story

    Toronto: Sony Pictures Classics Buys 'The Burnt Orange Heresy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sony Pictures Classics has nabbed the rights to “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” Variety has learned. The indie label plans to release the film in 2020. The Italian-American thriller was directed by Giuseppe Capotondi and stars Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, and Donald Sutherland. Scott Smith adapted Charles Willeford’s novel of the same name, transporting [...]

  • Thomasin McKenzie and Essie Davis

    Thomasin McKenzie and Essie Davis to Star in 'Justice of Bunny King'

    Essie Davis, star of “The Babadook” and autumn festival hit “Babyteeth,” and “Jojo Rabbit” co-star Thomasin McKenzie will headline upcoming drama “The Justice of Bunny King.” The film, now shooting in New Zealand, is a triumph over adversity tale about women fighting their way back from the bottom of society. It is the debut feature [...]

  • Calm With Horses

    Nick Rowland Talks About Toronto Debut Film 'Calm With Horses'

    “Calm with Horses,” which made its world premiere in Toronto’s TIFF in the Discovery section, is the feature directorial debut of Nick Rowland (Amazon series “Ripper Street”), and stars Barry Keoghan (Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals,” “Dunkirk”), Cosmo Jarvis (“Annihilation”), and Niamh Algar (BBC’s “The Virtues”). The script, which was adapted from Colin Barrett’s short story [...]

  • Colin Trevorrow Directs Jurassic World Short

    Colin Trevorrow Returns to Jurassic World in Short Film 'Battle at Big Rock'

    Dinosaurs are roaming the Earth again. In a new short from “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow, rogue beasts wreak havoc on a family camping trip. The eight-and-a-half minute film, titled “Battle at Big Rock,” takes place a year after the events of “Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom.” The 2018 blockbuster — starring Chris Pratt and Bryce [...]

  • Bert Kreischer The Machine

    Legendary Lands Rights to Bert Kreischer’s Viral Story 'The Machine' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Legendary has optioned the rights to develop comedian Bert Kreischer’s story “The Machine” into a feature film following its viral success, sources tell Variety. The video has generated more than 85 million views on Facebook and YouTube since hitting the social media channels in December 2016 and Legendary moved aggressively to land the rights. Kreischer [...]

  • Margot Robbie poses at the launch

    Margot Robbie in Talks to Executive Produce, Star in Comedy 'Fools Day'

    Margot Robbie is in negotiations to executive produce and star as a fourth-grade teacher in New Line’s comedy “Fools Day.” New Line has acquired Cody Blue Snider’s short film of the same name to adapt into the feature project. Snider, who co-wrote and directed the short, will direct the full-length feature from a script he [...]

  • M Night Shyamalan'Glass' film premiere, Arrivals,

    M. Night Shyamalan Sets Two New Films at Universal

    M. Night Shyamalan will write and direct two new movies at Universal Pictures, the studio announced Monday. The currently untitled thrillers will be released in theaters on Feb. 26, 2021 and Feb. 17, 2023, respectively. “M. Night Shyamalan continues to create exciting, highly original stories that keep global audiences on the edge of their seats,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content