Monday, January 30, 2012

Seen--and STILL Snubbed--By Oscar (Lead Performer Addition)

With the 2012 Oscar nominations being announced last week, the Hungry Preacher continues his long-running series on Oscar-worthy performances that were seen by the Academy (we know this, since they nominated other performer[s] from the same movie) and yet were still not nominated.  Read here for ground rules and such.

Briefly, these are genuine snubs--"Saw it, didn't like it"--and not just great performances that didn't happen to get seen by enough voters.

This series started with supporting actor snubs, but continues with lead performers of all genders.  Lead performers are less likely to get snubbed, if for no other reason than most movies have, at most, 2 lead performers but often upwards of 5 or 6 supporting performers with roles that could merit Oscar consideration.  Also, lead roles are more frequently given to big-name performers who can ride their fame alone to an Oscar nomination.

Without further ado, here are the biggest supporting actor snubs of the 2000’s from movies that received an acting nomination for someone else.  (All info is from

What movie?  Moulin Rouge! (2001) [EDITOR'S NOTE: The exclamation point is part of the title!  Really!  The Hungry Preacher doesn't get that excited about ANY movie!]
Who got nominated?  Nicole Kidman
Who got snubbed?  Ewan McGregor
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Mostly in countries that speak English but sound funny doing it, like England and Australia.  He also got noticed by organizations that recognize "Musical or Comedy" performances as distinct from "Drama", and actually won the "Musical or Comedy" Satellite award.
What’s the big deal?  First, a question: What do William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Richard Dreyfuss, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, and Warren Beatty all have in common?  Answer: They all turned down the role of Paul Sheldon in the film "Misery," the movie best known for winning Kathy Bates a best actress Oscar.  Paul Sheldon was a great role, and James Caan nailed it.  But the guys on the list above understood the rule: "The 'straight man' will not get noticed" ("straight" as in "not over-the-top").  Ewan McGregor seems to have missed that memo.  Since he gained prominence playing a heroin addict in 1996's "Trainspotting," Ewan has steadily played characters that are more normal than the characters around him, sometimes bizarrely so (think "The Men Who Stare at Goats," opposite a paranoid, goat-staring George Clooney; "Big Fish," opposite a steady flow of circus types; "Star Wars," opposite Jar Jar Binks; and don't forget this year's "Beginners," where he was the straight man times-two, opposite Christopher Plummer's just-come-out dying old widower).

A comparison of his roles shows that Ewan can play subdued characters with great distinctiveness and believability, and none was more impressive than his turn as Christian, opposite Nicole Kidman's Satine in "Moulin Rouge!"  In a surreal movie overflowing with larger-than-life characters, Ewan utterly convinces as the naive protagonist who believes in love, experiences firsthand all of the reasons to cynically abandon his belief, and resolutely decides to cling to his initial belief in spite of it all.  We see Christian not so much experience an awakening, but earn painful credibility to his already-awakened point of view.  At the beginning of the film, Christian believes in love, but has neither loved nor lost.  By the end, he has done both, and still believes.  And Ewan communicates this growth without without slipping into one-note cynicism or passing judgment on his old self.  Oh, and he sings.

What movie?  Lost in Translation (2003)
Who got nominated?  Bill Murray
Who got snubbed?  Scarlett Johansson
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Yes, quite a few folks did.  Most notably, she was nominated for a Golden Globe and won acting awards from Boston Film critics and even BAFTA, which doesn't distinguish between dramatic and comedic performances.
What’s the big deal?  This role is different from most, in that the "Oscar moment" for most characters takes place near the end of a film, leaving us with a lasting impression.  Charlotte, however, "breaks" during the opening scene--on the phone, no less--and spends the rest of the movie processing and burying.  It's an unconventional character arc, and perhaps one that damaged Scarlett's Oscar chances.  Watching characters explode is more memorable than watching them defuse bomb after emotional bomb right below the surface (or than watching them clean up the debris from ones they couldn't quite defuse--also just below the surface).  Of course, the eyes give her away.  Maybe Scarlett had an unfair advantage in playing this role; if the eyes are the window to the soul, who better to cast in this role?  If we're supposed to believe that Bill Murray's Bob can see past Charlotte's outward hiding and denying, past her facade of having it all together, and into her fear and loneliness--well, of COURSE an actress with huge, deep eyes should be cast as Charlotte.  All the better for US to see HER with, right?  Lots of people have big eyes, though, and Scarlett used hers to perfection in this movie, giving us a thousand different glimpses into Charlotte's wounded soul that she paradoxically guarded, yet yearned to have embraced.

What movie?  House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Who got nominated?  Ben Kingsley, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Who got snubbed?  Jennifer Connelly
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Not many.  She won the Kansas City Film Critics Award, and got a couple of other nominations, but got snubbed not just by the Academy, but by the Golden Globes and even the Independent Spirit awards, for which this film was eligible and had a much smaller field of competition.  This is a real head scratcher for me.  I was relatively unimpressed at Connelly's performance in "A Beautiful Mind" from two years earlier, which won her a slew of supporting actress awards.  It seemed that all the pieces were in place for this to be her big "lead actress" parade (at least as far as nominations go): she seemed to be an Academy darling (having just won 2 years prior); she was still young and beautiful and in the prime of her career; she proved she could lead and not just support; she took on an unglamorous and more explosive (i.e., Oscar friendly) role; and nominating her for "House of Sand and Fog" would have given the Academy a chance to validate their decision from 2 years prior.
[EDITOR'S NOTE:  Between writing this entry and publishing the post, I was flipping through a book, "The Ultimate Book of Top 10 Lists--a mind-boggling collection of fun, fascinating and bizarre facts on movies, music, sports, crime, celebrities, history, trivia and more."  I stumbled upon the list "Top 10 Films About Alcoholics."  Number 2?  "House of Sand and Fog."  The last sentence of the explanation reads, "This is one of my favorite plot-oriented films, and as Kathy, Jemnnifer Connelly delivers one of the finest performances I've ever seen."  Ahhhh, the sweet nectar of validation...]
What’s the big deal?  Remember what I said about how memorable it is watching characters explode?  Connelly's Kathy is a step away from pulling off the feat LITERALLY, as she haphazardly fills up a gas can while a cigarette hangs out of her mouth.  And the singleminded carelessness with which she was willing to abandon her humanity for the task was as memorable an image for me as Ben Kingsley running through the hospital, or even his final scene.  Every step Kathy takes down the spiral is convincing, owing to the believable desperateness established by Connelly from scene one.  We believe that Kathy has wholly "built her house on sand," and grabs hold of whatever she can to give herself the illusion of permanence and control: relationships, drugs, booze, justice, and even her life.  The anguish that Kathy feels at not being able to control the one literal, physical house in her life exposes how unstable ALL of her houses are and intensifies her desire to regain control by any means possible.  Connelly drives this progression so seamlessly that by the end of the movie I was asking myself, "How did she get from there to here in only two hours without my even noticing?"  How can the spiral of a character unraveling so extremely be portrayed so subtly?  Like I said: a real head scratcher.

What movie?  In America (2003)
Who got nominated?  Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou
Who got snubbed?  Paddy Considine
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Barely.  Remember what I said about a head scratcher?  Paddy got nominated for a Satellite award, and also for a British Independent Film award (if you narrow the focus enough, even YOU can get nominated).  Like Connelly, Paddy couldn't even make the cut for an Independent Spirit award.
What’s the big deal?  Heck, I would have nominated Considine based on how well his CHARACTER ("Johnny," an actor) acts within the movie!  Kidding aside, I truly don't remember a time when I was watching a movie and was so unable to resist being pulled in to the emotional journey of a character.  With help from the Bolger sisters, Considine pours out the soul of his character like the colors on a Jackson Pollack painting.  It was messy but mesmerizing.  Child-like, but tragically mature.  Solid and surprisingly coherent, but busy and unpredictable.  Unlike Pollack, with all the madness and sadness, Considine's work pours out a breathtaking streak of hope.  Of course, the thrill of the movie is watching Johnny discover for himself if the streak of white on the painting of his life actually leads anywhere, or was it just an accidental spill?  Until he discovers for certain, we watch him smile and laugh and lash out, like a character in his own life play.  He yearns for a script, but is forced to improvise.  His character is himself, yet even HE isn't sold on his performance--and he doesn't know why.  So he acts, and acts, and acts...  Until, suddenly, he doesn't.  He becomes the character that he has been striving to be.  And with him we weep for joy.

What movie?  Sideways (2004)
Who got nominated?  Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen
Who got snubbed?  Paul Giamatti
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Yes.  Giamatti got lots of nominations, including SAG and Golden Globe, but only a few wins, thanks largely to some guy named Jamie Foxx playing some guy named Ray Charles the same year.  Amusingly enough, "Ray" and "Sideways" both fall into the "Musical or Comedy" genre (because they're such similar movies!), which means that in almost any other year, Giamatti would have run the table on awards that distinguish between genres.  This year, though, Giamatti was the just the bridesmaid, and not even that for the Oscars.
What’s the big deal?  I've got a soft spot for every-man characters, believing that they are often more difficult to play than Oscar's preferred "disabled, dying, or diabolical."  Giamatti's "Miles" is as "every" as they come.  He's a normal guy with normal habits and insecurities, successful enough by the world's standards.  But spending a week with his friend, Jack, opens Miles' eyes to an uncomfortable incongruency: though Miles thinks more deeply about things like friendship, love, faithfulness, and dreams, Jack is just as happy and successful as Miles is (it seems).  Miles' dissatisfaction swells up during their trip through wine country, and Giamitti lets it spill out like wine from a chalice.  With his expressive eyes and revealing inflections, Giamitti shows us the ultimate "good guy": he refuses to judge his friends' shallowness, and he refuses to partake in it.  But the respect he maintains for those in his immediate circle prevents him from scapegoating any of them for the injustice of his unfulfilled dreams.  He's left casting the blame at faceless publishers.  As this catharsis proves unsatisfying, Miles realizes that his noble striving for a lofty vision of life may actually be a tactic for avoiding the risks of embracing the beauty in life all around him.  Literally and figuratively, we watch as Miles learns when to let a wine age, and when it is time to take a drink.

What movie?  Cinderella Man (2005)
Who got nominated?  Paul Giamatti
Who got snubbed?  Russell Crowe
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  Yes.  Several nominations, including Golden Globe and SAG.
What’s the big deal?  I admit there are a several reasons NOT to appreciate Crowe's performance.  The character wasn't the most nuanced.  Crowe has played a tough guy before.  For that matter, Crowe IS a tough guy, and this role could be dismissed as a typecast.  On the other hand, when I think about Crowe's character, Jim Braddock, I don't think of a tough guy.  It is after the fact that I remind myself that he was, indeed, a boxer.  Instead, I think of him as a sensitive family man unable to provide, humbly aware of his sorry state.  His boxing serves his character; it does not define his character.  Beyond this, I remember being struck by how totally enveloped by the character Crowe allowed himself to be.  It is rare that I watch a movie with a superstar lead and forget that I am watching a superstar pretend to be someone else.  Contrast Crowe's transformation into Braddock with, say, Tom Cruise playing the title character in "The Last Samurai," a movie released a couple years before this one.  In that, I was never NOT watching Tom Cruise playing someone else.  Crowe made me forget I was watching Crowe.  Ironically, easy-to-watch often translates into easy-to-overlook.

What movie?  Frost/Nixon (2008)
Who got nominated?  Frank Langella
Who got snubbed?  Michael Sheen
Did anyone else see what I saw (i.e., any awards or noms from anyone)?  At the risk of offending the Valenciennes International Festival of Action and Adventure Films who awarded their best actor prize jointly to Langella AND Sheen--no, not really.  (Did the international cut of this movie contain scenes of action OR adventure?)
What’s the big deal?  I almost chose Sheen's portrayal of Tony Blair in "The Queen," but one could argue that was a supporting role.  Fortunately, Sheen has been overlooked in all sorts of roles, including this one opposite Frank Langella.  Sheen is a true chameleon; everything I said above about Russell Crowe applies to Sheen in every role he's played.  In fact, despite having seen, liked, and appreciate Sheen's work in both "The Queen" and "Frost/Nixon," it wasn't until I examined his film credits that I realized he was in "Midnight in Paris," which I saw about a month ago.  It was one of those "Oh, yeah... that WAS him" moments, which is common with so-called character actors--not so much with leads.  The fact that I recognized his work as Oscar worthy in two prior films, then didn't even recognize HIM in another movie is a testament to his seamless portrayals.  As Frost, the presumably overmatched interviewer of former president Richard Nixon, Sheen shows us his character's gradual appreciation of the gravity of his assignment and how someone for whom things have always come easy can rise to the challenge when something becomes hard.  Which Sheen, of course, make look easy.

With that, we wrap up another addition of "Seen--and STILL Snubbed."  All performers included in this post are eligible for "A Golden Preacher" award, that I or one of my sculpting apprentices will personally construct (not out of real gold, of course) for any recipient who contacts me in person to claim their award.

To everyone else, thanks for reading.


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