Every month, our contributors submit lists of ten films fitting certain topics. Each month, we feature an alphabetical list of films along with commentary explaining our selections. There will also be an itemized list at the end of each of our individual selections.
This month, with the Academy Awards festivities in full swing, we thought we’d take a look back at Oscar in a different way than most. Instead of discussing what our favorite winners or nomines are, we’ve decided to look at our favorite non-nominees. These are actors and actresses who have never been nominated for an Oscar. Whether it’s because of age, types of roles, or some mysterious rationale that none of us can fathom, the Academy just hasn’t given them their just rewards.
Looking over the list, the only name to appear on all four of our lists is nothing of a surprise. Emily Blunt has been close to a nomination on several occasions and few thing she isn’t deserving. With three citations, Colin Farrell is probably the most surprising as his name rarely comes up in Oscar conversations. Appearing on two lists each, Allison Janney, Ryan Reynolds, and Donald Sutherland were the only other names mentioned more than once, a surprisingly small cross-over.
After the break, dig into our setups and follow that by reading about each film.
Wesley Lovell: This was an incredibly tough list to put together. I had to drop a number of actors that really deserve nominations, but I just didn’t have enough room and even the ones I left off probably deserve to be here. To be fair, I split my list evenly between men and women and tried to highlight young actors with brilliant starts to their careers and veterans who’ve been deserving for years. Sadly, some, like Alan Rickman, died before having an opportunity to even receive a career Oscar somewhere in the future. These are my choices, but any day I could swap other options in and out.
Peter J. Patrick: For this article, I tried to focus on actors and actresses who not only give consistently good performances, but who are still in their prime with seemingly years of opportunities ahead of them. That said, it’s still a delight when an older player such as Charlotte Rampling last year and Isabelle Huppert this year, get what amounts to career recognition for one of their performances. Both those performances came from European films, not Hollywood productions, which seem sadly uninterested in providing long-time American actors and actresses with similar opportunities.
Tripp Burton: This was a fun list to put together. It is amazing not only how many of our best actors and actresses manage at least one nomination through their career, but also the kinds of actors who manage to be consistently avoided by the Oscars. For this list, I tried to focus on English language actors, or foreign actors who work a lot in English, who make films that are the kind that would be on the Academy’s radar. They also have to work mostly in film, rather than TV or stage actors who make the occasional film appearance. Actors for whom it is feasible that they would have gotten a nomination by now. I also excluded two actors, Timothy Spall and Christina Ricci, who I just wrote about last year in my Favorite Actors/Actresses list.
Thomas LaTourrette: Commentary Not Provided
Ben Affleck (1972 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 44-year-old actor has already won Oscars for co-writing 1996’s Good Will Hunting and co-producing 2012’s Argo, but he’s never been nominated for one of his many fine performances. He did receive a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of George Reeves in 1995’s Hollywoodland and has since been memorable in such films as The Company Man, The Town, Argo, Gone Girl, and The Accountant, but sub-par work as Hollywood’s latest incarnation of Batman makes it difficult to fathom an acting Oscar in the near term.
Jamie Bell (1986 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 30-year-old actor has been dancing since the age of six and acting since the age of fourteen, pretty much playing himself in Billy Elliot for which he won a BAFTA award. His career since has had its ups and downs, but the highs have generally been very high and the lows not all that low. He was unforgettable as Smike in Nicholas Nickleby at 16 and The Chumscrubber at 19. Memorable since in the likes of Snowpiercer and TV’s Turn, look for him this year in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool as Peter Turner, Gloria Grahame’s young lover at the time of her death.
Emily Blunt (1983 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – From her breakthrough role in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt has been a consistently exciting presence on the big screen. Her characters are all strong-willed, confident women who not only stand firmly alongside their male counterparts, but frequently best them. She should have been Oscar-nominated for Prada, The Young Victoria, and Sicario. Her capabilities have spanned several genres successfully and she’s probably the single working actress today who is most deserving of a nomination.
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 33-year-old actress has been in the conversation for an Oscar nomination ever since her breakout performance in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for that, as well as for The Young Victoria, Salmon Fishing in Yemen, and Into the Woods. She was nominated by other awards groups for such films as Looper and Sicario and this year earned her first SAG nomination for The Girl on the Train for which she was also nominated for a BAFTA award. Oscar has some catching up to do.
Commentary by Tripp Burton – Emily Blunt seems to continually enter the conversation early in the Oscar season and then fade from view very quickly. From her breakout as the stuck-up assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt has proven that she can excel in most genres: as a tough action heroine in Looper and Sicario to a musical ingenue in Into the Woods to more traditional Oscar fare like The Young Victoria. This year, she picked up SAG and BAFTA nominations for The Girl on the Train only to miss out from the Academy. After watching her costars pick up nominations over her, or her films crash and burn come Oscar time, you almost have to wonder what she has to do to finally get cited by the Academy.
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – Emily Blunt took a small role in The Devil Wears Prada and turned it into such a showcase of her talents that she ended up with BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for it. She followed that up with The Young Victoria which may not have been her deepest role, but it did give her a good showcase. Work as the wistful baker’s wife in Into the Woods and then as a wary FBI agent in Sicario kept her in the public spotlight. She showed that she could even handle action thrillers turning in a strong performance opposite Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. In 2016 she wowed again with her performance in The Girl on the Train, earning SAG and BAFTA nominations. Critics may not have liked the film, but they definitely liked her in it. With two BAFTA, one SAG, and four Golden Globe nominations, it should not be too long until she gets an Oscar nom to go with those.
Steve Buscemi (1957 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – Steve Buscemi has probably missed out on an Oscar nomination more than once only because he is so good at what he does that it can seem redundant to call him out for it. From Reservoir Dogs to Fargo to The Big Lebowski to Ghost World, he has mastered the art of the loser on screen. In recent years he has found more success on television, but if he can find another film role worthy of his ability hopefully he can finally translate it to some Oscar love.
Jamie Lee Curtis (1958 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – While one of the original scream queens in Halloween, Curtis has since proven herself adept at both drama and comedy, winning hearts in films like A Fish Called Wanda, for which she should have gotten an Oscar nomination, and True Lies, a performance I haven’t seen, but have heard great things about (such that it too should have been an Oscar-nominated performance). While she’s currently doing time on the small screen, I hope that one day she’ll be able to find that juicy big screen role that will finally earn her some richly-deserved recognition.
Jeff Daniels (1955 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – If there is one flaw to Jeff Daniels’ acting it is that he is too good. He makes it all look so easy and effortless that it is easy to take him for granted. Still, I can’t help but wish that he could find Academy love for one of his great film performances. He has watched his co-stars get nominations over him many times, from Terms of Endearment to The Hours to Steve Jobs, while also giving deserving performances in films as varied as Pleasantville and The Purple Rose of Cairo to Blood Work and The Martian. Throw in his work in The Squid and the Whale, which looked for a while to finally get him to the Oscar auditorium, and you have one of the great unsung careers in recent Hollywood moviemaking.
Paul Dano (1984 -)
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – Paul Dano has held his own against an Oscar-winning Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, which is no mean feat and could easily have scored a nomination for that role. He probably came close to one for playing the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy as well. He has been an able supporting character actor in Little Miss Sunshine, 12 Years a Slave, and Prisoners. His characters often seem to be on the edge of madness, and it is something that he captures well. I would think that it will just be a matter of time until he gets his first nomination.
Kirsten Dunst (1982 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 34-year-old actress began her career as a child. Already a veteran in 1994, she gave two of the year’s best performances in Interview with the Vampire and Little Women, winning numerous awards for both. She was memorable later on in The Cat’s Meow, Spider-Man, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Marie-Antoninette, and more. More recently in supporting roles in Midnight Special and Hidden Figures, she is quickly turning into one of our better character actresses. Look for her in the remake of The Beguiled.
Elle Fanning (1998 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – Her debut performance in Phoebe in Wonderland is a master class in great acting and what’s most amazing is that she was only 10 years old at the time. From there, she has executed a career of young strength in films like The Nines, Reservation Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Somewhere, and this year’s 20th Century Women. Her Oscar nominations should have come for Phoebe and Somewhere, but at only 18 years of age, she still has plenty of time to impress. I just hope it isn’t too long before she finally gets that deserved recognition.
Colin Farrell (1976 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – Early in his career, Farrell was often dismissed as little more than a heartthrob. Over the last two decades, he has consistently shown himself to be a fine actor, whether in action films like Minority Report, comedies such as Horrible Bosses, dark comedies like In Bruges and The Lobster, or period dramas and fantasies such as Saving Mr. Banks and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In Bruges and The Lobster should have been his chances at Oscar glory.
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 40-year-old actor has been on the verge of major stardom since 2000’s Tigerland, but has never quite made it despite compelling performances in such additional films as Hart’s War, Minority Report, Veronica Guerin, Alexander, The New World, In Bruges, Ondine, Saving Mr. Banks, and The Lobster. Most recently in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, look for him in Clint Eastwood’s role in the remake of The Beguiled.
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – In Colin Farrell’s first films he seemed a gritty pretty boy actor without much range. Then as he aged he would occasionally try for something different and has often succeeded. In Bruges, where he played a hit man on the run, he showed that he could be both frightening and scared. The next year he took a supporting role to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart playing a country western singer. Bridges won an Oscar for the role and Farrell probably could have been nominated for his. The small part of the alcoholic father in Saving Mr. Banks showed another side of him as well. Last year’s The Lobster was not my favorite movie, but he showed a lot of range in it. If he continues to push himself and find some of these offbeat roles, he could easily snag a nomination in the next few years.
Mia Farrow (1945 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – I don’t know why Mia Farrow doesn’t have an Oscar nomination to her name. She certainly has the resume for it. If she couldn’t get one for Rosemary’s Baby, still one of the best horror performances of all time, and a film that got a lot of Oscar love elsewhere, then she should have at least gotten one for one of the many wonderful performances she gave for Woody Allen in the 1980s and 1990s. The Purple Rose of Cairo, Broadway Danny Rose, Husbands and Wives, and September are at least a few of the possibilities there. She did comedy and drama equally well. She doesn’t act as much as she should these days, but if she never finds another great role to bring her back into the conversation, hopefully she can at least get an Honorary Oscar in recognition of her illustrious career.
Romola Garai (1982 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 34-year-old actress has been earning awards recognition since 2002’s Nicholas Nickleby and 2003’s I Capture the Castle. Subsequent hits include 2006’s Scoop and Amazing Grace, 2007’s Atonement, and 2009’s Glorious 39. She’s also had great success on TV, earning Golden Globe nominations for 2010’s Emma and 2011’s The Hour. She also earned BAFTA and Satellite Award nominations for the 2011 miniseries The Crimson Petal and the White. Next up is the 2017 miniseries Born to Kill.
Gael Garcia Bernal (1978 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – Since bursting onto the scene in Y Tu Mama Tambien, an Oscar-worthy role on its own, Gael Garcia Bernal has managed to work for a slew of major directors in both America and abroad. His work with Pedro Almodovar (Bad Education), Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), Alejandro G. Inarritu (Babel), Michel Gondry (The Science of Speech), and even Jon Stewart (Rosewater) should have gotten him more attention than it did. You have to imagine that one great role in a film with some Oscar buzz again could get him off this list.
Brendan Gleeson (1955 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – Gleeson has been a consistently potent presence on the big screen. His performance in In Bruges is the one that should have gotten him Oscar recognition, but he’s been so consistently good that one day he’ll break into that exclusive club. While I haven’t seen him in everything he’s done, what I’ve heard about his performances in myriad films suggests he should be on Oscar’s radar eventually.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (1981 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 35-year-old actor has been acting on TV and in feature films since the age of 7. His most famous TV role was as one of the stars of 3rd Rock from the Sun from 1996-2001. On the big screen, he earned Golden Globe nominations for 500 Days of Summer and 50/50 in addition to which he made audiences sit and take notice of his performances in such films as A River Runs Through It, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, Lincoln, The Walk, and Snowden. Oscar has to take notice sooner rather than later.
John Goodman (1952 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – Not many actors can move from a smash sitcom to stage and screen illustriousness like John Goodman has. He just doesn’t have an Oscar nomination to show for it. He has appeared in two Best Picture winners (Argo and The Artist) while also giving wonderful turns in such Oscar-nominated films as Inside Llewyn Davis, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Trumbo and Flight. And that is just this decade. At the beginning of the year it looked like this might be the year after his terrifying and surprising turn in 10 Cloverfield Lane, but it just joined the list of worthy John Goodman performances that never amounted to a single nomination.
Hugh Grant (1960 -)
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – Hugh Grant was not on my original list as he seemed likely to score his first Oscar nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins this year. With his breakthrough and BAFTA-winning role in Four Weddings and a Funeral, he seemed set for a productive career. He somewhat took the Meg Ryan route and became the star of a series of rom-coms and a few slight and twee British films. Unfortunately he showed more range in that film then in the following ones, and quickly seemed typecast. Playing slightly against type, he got good notices for Love Actually and About a Boy. Then playing the lovable cad of a husband in Florence he scored BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations. He should be able to find another role that will finally get him noticed by Oscar.
Oscar Isaac (1979 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 37-year-old actor made his film debut in 1996, but didn’t enter the public consciousness until 2006’s The Nativity Story. His breakout came in the title role of 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. He reecived further awards recognition for 2014’s A Most Violent Year and 2015’s Ex Machina and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He won a Golden Globe for the same year’s TV miniseries Show Me a Hero. The busy actor has five films in various states of production. Can Oscar be far behind?
Allison Janney (1959 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – In between her two very successful, and Emmy-winning TV star stints, Allison Janney has become one of the most reliable supporting performers in Hollywood. I first noticed her in a small but chilling performance in Best Picture winner American Beauty, and since then she has given deserving performances in everything from The Hours and The Help to Juno and The Way Way Back. She can be as funny as she is heartbreaking, and is never afraid to make herself look bad in service of the role. She has a lot of awards and nominations, but I’m sure she’d love to add at least one Oscar nomination to the laundry list of accolades.
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – While known more as a television actress, Allison Janney has also had a few small but memorable roles in movies. In both formats she has shown that she can ably move between comedy and drama. She can sing too, as she showed on Broadway’s 9 to 5. She has played some memorable mothers in Juno and Hairspray, working on the comedy side. But then she was the police detective in The Girl on the Train and showed how she could play mean, too. At some point she will get a part written for her like J.K. Simmons did for Whiplash that will show moviegoers the breadth of her talent and she should finally get an Oscar to go with her seven Emmys.
Scarlett Johansson (1984 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – She may be a sex symbol, but she’s a sex symbol who knows how to act. While much of her career has been in somewhat lifeless roles, she has shown frequently that she can deliver the goods. Lost in Translation and Match Point should have been her Oscar vehicles, but she’s also been good in voiceover in Her and in an action role in Captain America: Winter Soldier among others.
Toby Jones (1966 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – Most people will recognize the diminutive Jones from his work in The Hunger Games, but for most of us film observers, he will best be remembered for the performance that should have won him the Oscar, that of Truman Capote in Infamous. Whereas his Hunger Games co-star Phillip Seymour Hoffman won an undeserved prize for the same role, Jones so effectively embodied Capote that it was impossible to see where the character and the actor parted. He was also strong in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and My Week with Marilyn, but he was absolutely brilliant in the under-seen Giallo horror flick Berberian Sound Studio.
Logan Lerman (1992 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – For such a short career, Lerman has shown tremendous promise. While he provided a suitable anchor for his breakthrough performance in Percy Jackson & The Olympians, it was The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Fury that should have earned him Oscar recognition. In such a young actor, it’s rare to find someone so able to invest his character with such emotion and tenderness as to connect well with an audience.
Alfred Molina (1953 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – For a while, it looked like Alfred Molina was never going to get roles that were worthy of what he seemed capable of. He is fun in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Boogie Nights, but there was always the promise of more bubbling underneath them. Then came Frida, which looked like it might get him an Oscar nomination, and he proved himself to be a wonderfully complex actor all on his own. Since then, he has come close as the protective father in An Education, and got some other awards attention in Love is Strange, but he is still waiting for the big screen role that will equal what we know he is capable of giving.
Bill Nighy (1949 -)
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – With his hang-dog expression, Bill Nighy has been a well known fixture in a number of British films. He rose to prominence in Love Actually. After that he lent able support as a villain in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and as a retiree to India in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel. He always brings a note of honesty to his performances. A lot of people may not know his name, but they recognize his face and acting ability. He only has one BAFTA nomination, but with a Tony nomination last year, he may be getting better known and might get another film that could catapult him into the front ranks of working actors.
Catherine O’Hara (1954 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – While she’s never even remotely been considered for an Oscar nomination, there is no more consistent presence in her films than O’Hara. Adapt primarily in comedy, but no stranger to drama, O’Hara has played so many varied roles, it’s impossible to single one out for especial praise. Everyone will remember her iconic work in both Beetlejuice and Home Alone, the latter of which was probably her closest opportunity at Oscar recognition.
Ryan Reynolds (1976 -)
Commentary by Wesley Lovell – While a pretty face rarely gets to make the kind of movies that merit serious Oscar consideration, Reynolds has shown in a handful of films that he is both proficient in drama and comedy. The little seen The Nines provided my first opportunity to see him as a serious actor and not an action star, but he cemented his credentials, and should have been Oscar nominated, for his work in Buried. More recently, he channeled such life and vigor into the vulgar Deadpool, that he has risen once again to the top of the heap.
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 40-year-old actor has been acting on screen and TV since the age of 15. He had his first starring role in the 2002 comedy Van Wilder, but his career failed to catch fire. He subsequently tried everything from romantic comedy in 2009’s The Proposal to crime drama in 2012’s Safe House, but critics seemed unimpressed until his back-to-back performances in 2015’s Woman in Gold and Self/Less. His tongue-in-cheek characterization of the comedic superhero in Deadpool earned him a Golden Globe nomination and put him in serious contention for an Oscar nod for the first time.
Meg Ryan (1961 -)
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – Perhaps Meg Ryan’s chances of getting a nomination have passed, but she was the queen of the rom-com for a number of years. She brought a lot of charm to When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Kate & Leopold, and French Kiss. She created fun and winsome characters and never got the recognition that she deserved for those type of roles. Comedy is more difficult than people realize and rarely gets a nomination. Then she did show her dramatic acting chops in Courage under Fire, where she proved that she was capable of serious roles. If she had campaigned for a Supporting Actress Oscar she might have gotten a nomination for it, but she was the top billed actor in the film and was pushed for Lead Actress. That probably was her best shot as she has not been as active in movies lately.
Michael Sheen (1969 -)
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – Michael Sheen has played a pantheon of major roles, Tony Blair in The Queen, David Frost in Frost/Nixon, and coach Brian Clough in The Damned United. In the first two films, his costar was nominated for an Oscar, but he was overlooked. In 2016, he had a small but pivotal role in Nocturnal Animals. Even in a lesser film like Passengers, he created a memorable character in the android bartender Arthur. He will probably be rewarded someday for a sardonic supporting performance, but he has shown that he is capable of many things.
Donald Sutherland (1935 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – Donald Sutherland’s best chance at an Oscar nomination was Ordinary People, and it is still baffling that he couldn’t get a nomination when almost all his co-stars got them. He was excellent for years before that, though, and has continued to be consistently fascinating in everything he does. The list is too long to list everything he does great, but I would make sure to cite his work in MASH, Pride & Prejudice, Six Degrees of Separation, JFK, and countless other wonderful films. At this point, he is deserving of an Honorary Oscar.
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – Donald Sutherland has the longest acting career of my top ten, and probably came close to a nomination over several decades. As the sardonic Dr. Hawkeye Pierce in MASH and the detective in Klute, he showed a lot of range in the early 1970s. In 1980 he was the only one of the four top billed cast members of Ordinary People not to be nominated for an Oscar, and he probably should have been. Modern audiences know him best as the seemingly evil President Snow from the Hunger Games series where he showed an ability to steal scenes from a wealth of younger actors. At this point I do not know if he will have a chance to be nominated for an Oscar, but his lengthy career may qualify him for an honorary one at some point.
John Turturro (1957 -)
Commentary by Tripp Burton – John Turturro probably came closest to an Oscar nomination for Quiz Show, where he got SAG and Golden Globe nominations but saw his spot given to his costar Paul Scofield at the Oscars. That is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to Turturro, though. He is capable of showing as much range as any other actor, from the deranged bowler in The Big Lebowski to the doomed mobster in Miller’s Crossing to a slew of Spike Lee joints and a lot of Adam Sandler comedies. He is always enthralling to watch on screen, and I can only hope that he gets a film role as good as the roles he has found on some TV series as of late.
Emma Watson (1990 -)
Commentary by Thomas La Tourrette – As the most talented of the young Harry Potter actors, Emma Watson showed the most range in those movies. Hermione Granger was not the type of character to earn a nomination, but she brought her to full life over the course of eight films. She has not had as much impact in her later films, though she created a strong character in Ila in the odd misfire that was Noah. She looks glorious in the trailers for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast. Once again, it may not be the type of role that would get her a nomination, but hopefully it will open her up to more roles that will challenge her and show her range. That should lead to an Oscar nomination before too long.
Patrick Wilson (1973 -)
Commentary by Peter J. Patrick – The 43-year-old actor earned Tony nominations for his Broadway work in 2001’s The Full Monty and the 2002 revival of Oklahoma!. He earned Golden Globe nominations for his TV work 2003’s Angels in America and 2014’s Fargo. He started out strong on screen in 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera, 2005’s Hard Candy, and 2006’s Little Children, but has lately been seen mainly in mid-level horror films. His seems to be the kind of career that will earn him an Oscar nod in a comeback performance late in life.