With Oscar ballots in the hands of voters, the crunch is on. And while there are so many great performances to choose from, there are always many that don’t get the buzz they deserved. There are always popular dark horses that could pop up — think Timothy Spall in “Mr. Turner” or Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”: Both are far from a sure thing but have clinched critics’ awards and have passionate fanbases. But then there are those who, for whatever reason, haven’t received the boosts they deserve. Below are 11 actors whose names deserved to be called on nomination morning.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Belle”
The British thespian showed her range with two remarkable performances in 2014 that couldn’t be more different. In the period piece “Belle,” she played a mixed-race woman raised amongst nobility who refuses to settle for the life society deems appropriate for her. She then completely transformed to play a suicidal hip-hop star in the woefully underrated “Beyond the Lights.” The latter isn’t the kind of performance the Academy generally recognizes, but “Belle” is right up its alley. It’s a role with a strong female lead who plays second fiddle to nobody, and Mbatha-Raw is a powerhouse.
Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
Russo doesn’t appear on the bigscreen often enough for my taste, and her steely turn in “Nightcrawler” is a reminder of what we’re all missing. While Jake Gyllenhaal has been rightfully recognized for his creepy turn as an amoral cameraman, Russo goes toe-to-toe with him as his producer. Their “date” scene at a Mexican restaurant where he lays out his demands – professional and personal – to her is one of the most memorable of the year.
Carmen Ejogo and Henry G. Sanders, “Selma”
A strong case could be made for many of the supporting players in the “Selma,” and it’s a good possibility Tom Wilkinson will break into the race for his turn as Lyndon B. Johnson. And star David Oyelowo is looking more and more certain for a nom for his turn as Martin Luther King Jr. But Ejogo is a revelation as Coretta Scott King, a patient woman whose understanding with her philandering husband will go only so far. And the 72-year-old Sanders, a veteran of films like “Bull Durham” and “Rocky Balboa,” provided some of the most heartbreaking moments as a man who marches alongside King, hoping for the chance to vote before he dies.
Kevin Costner, “Black or White”
A victim of the overcrowded lead actor category, Costner gave one of the best performances of his career as a widower fighting to keep custody of his mixed-race granddaughter. Costner is not afraid to play an often unlikable alcoholic or tackle the kinds of questions most films shy away from. It’s no surprise the film comes from Mike Binder, who previously directed Costner in one of his best turns in “The Upside of Anger.”
Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary”
Actors are drawn to showy roles, villains and troubled souls. It’s not always easy to make a good man compelling on screen. But the great character actor Gleeson was electric as a priest in a small Irish town who is told at the start of the film he will be killed in one week.
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Fassbender, “Frank”
A tribute to people who live outside the box, “Frank” was one of the most original, fun and inventive movies of the year. As a musician who insists on wearing a giant paper mache head, Fassbender coudn’t mask his natural charisma, while Gyllenhaal stolescenes as his bandmate.
Jessica Chastain, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”
While Chastain is a likely nominee for supporting actress for her fantastic work in “A Most Violent Year,” she also delivered a standout turn in the lead actress category with this small indie. Her intimate portrayal of a woman consumed by grief is a stunner and should not be overlooked.
Chris Pine, “Into the Woods”
Comedic turns rarely earn awards love, but one that springs to mind is Kevin Kline’s over-the-top turn in “A Fish Called Wanda.” It’s meant as a compliment to say Pine’s turn as a charming prince is reminiscent of that go-for-broke performance.