(Credit: Warner Bros)

From Jack Nicholson to Whoopi Goldberg: 10 actors who were robbed at the Oscars

“I think it’s a great honour to win an Oscar but I think if you aim to be rewarded in your life you’ll get nowhere. I think that the biggest reward is the work itself and what you get out of it and the connections you make with other people.” – Natalie Portman 

While we do not disagree with the brilliant Natalie Portman, we can all agree on the importance of the Academy Awards in the lives of people remotely connected to the process of filmmaking. Why else would we be glued to our seats for three hours waiting with bated breath to find out who won the Best Costume design or place bets on the Best Picture awards? Let’s face it, the Academy is the butt of all criticism for repeated allegations of sexism, racism and lack of representation. However, no other award show has been able to take over the popularity of the Academy Awards. You can hate it, avoid it, talk smack about it but at the end of the day, carrying home and Oscar makes the after-party even more fun. 

The Academy has various members who judge the performances. While it is totally based on personal taste, prejudices, bias and grudges often come into play. While the nominees are usually terrific in their own ways, there can only be one winner. However, do those winners always deserve to carry home the big awards? The answer is a big fat no. Many a time, extraordinary performances have been overlooked, well-deserved nominees snubbed and brilliant acting left unrecognised. While the Oscars do not care, some viewers are often left disgruntled, especially when the disregarding films such as Brokeback Mountain, a decision which sparked major claims of homophobia. Or, looking further, the apparent ignorance rearing its head when The Shining or The Dark Knight were overlooked in favour of other “serious” films.

Would you believe it if I told you that Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock, the two legendary auteurs, were disregarded by the Academy as well? So were many other brilliant performances. Today, with the 93rd Academy Awards taking place this evening, we take a look at the 10 best acting performances that were either overlooked or snubbed at the Oscars over the history of the Academy Awards. 

10 actors who were robbed at the Oscars:

10. Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act, 1992)

Deloris Wilson is a young, rebellious Catholic school student who cannot conform to the strict rules of the convent. As an adult, she is a lounge singer whose gangster boyfriend is on the run from the police which makes her be under the witness protection programme. To save her from the wrath of Vince, the police place her in a run-down parish where she initially struggles to settle down and disguise herself as a nun. However, she soon grows popular among the nuns after she successfully revitalises the choir group and begins attracting the attention of many church-goers that help flourish the parish. However, Vince gets to know of her location and is on his way to seek revenge. 

Whoopi Goldberg is uproariously funny as the spirited lounge singer who is forced to seek shelter in a much-loathed convent; she hates the restricted nature yet comes to find a way out for herself to voice her freedom. Her marvellous on-screen presence is overwhelmingly felt throughout the film and her antics as Deloris is worth remembrance. Despite such a memorable performance, Goldberg missed out on the Academy Award. 

“I’m going to the little nun’s room, nosy.”

9. Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind, 2002)

The film is based on the life story of the famous American mathematician John Nash, starting from his graduate days at Princeton University. As Nash struggles to make a proper contribution to the field of mathematics, he makes a groundbreaking discovery soon which earns him the Nobel Prize. He begins teaching while romancing his student Alicia however, he is soon roped in by the government to decode Soviet codes which embroil him in a horrific conspiracy. Descending into depths of madness and depravity aided by paranoia and schizophrenia, Nash’s world turns topsy turvy and only Alicia’s love and support can help him regain his strength to fight back.

Despite earning a well-deserved nomination for his performance, Crowe was not awarded the Best Actor award. His performance was the highlight of the film which provided a scathing insight into the descent into mental illness as well as a touching story of romance. By portraying the various upheavals, both mental and physical, that Nash had to go through, Russell Crowe successfully established a connection between him and the audience yet his prowess failed to garner the attention from the Academy.  

“There’s no point in being nuts if you can’t have some fun with it.”

8. Al Pacino (Dog Day Afternoon, 1975)

Based on a true story in the early 1970s, Sonny, Sal and Stevie attempt to rob a bank; it is later revealed that Sonny needs the money to help his wife Leon undergo a sex change operation. When their plan backfires, they are forced to take the people inside the bank hostage. Sonny, however, displays his kinder side, when he allows the hostages to be treated properly. He soon discovers that there is not much to steal from the bank. Although he carries on bargaining with the police, he demands an aeroplane to fly out of the country in return for the safety of the hostages. 

Although Dustin Hoffman wanted to play Sonny after Pacino initially backed out, scriptwriter Bregman wanted to cast Pacino as he felt that Pacino would bring with him the “vulnerability” and “sensitivity” required for the character. And boy, he was not wrong! It was the first time a film required a mainstream actor to play a gay character and might not have suited Pacino’s interest; Pacino however, attributed his drinking problems to his insolence and reportedly took up the role after he heard that his rival Hoffman was being considered for the role of Sonny. Dedicated to his role, Pacino would barely sleep or eat and take cold showers to bring out Sonny’s dishevelled, exhausted and somewhat rugged appearance. However, despite all his efforts, Pacino did not win the well-deserved Oscar. Pacino is a pro at Oscar snubs; the Academy finally handed him his long-awaited award for his brilliant role as the blind, potty-mouthed alcoholic in Scent of a Woman. 

“Put your fucking guns down! Put your fucking guns down! Put your fucking guns down! Put your fucking guns down! Attica! Attica! Attica! Attica! Attica!”

7. Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, 1997)

Quentin Tarantino has a fetish for feet as well as resuscitating careers of lost and forgotten Holywood stars. Based on Elmore Leonard’s book Rum Punch, Tarantino did not employ the quintessential white protagonist; in an attempt to be able to work with his favourite 1970s blaxploitation actress Pam Grier, he altered the race of the character. Pam plays the titular character, a flight attendant for Cabo Air. Caught between the cops and a gun runner, she helps smuggle drugs and money for Ordell Robbie, nearly outmanoeuvring everybody with the help of a bail bondsman (Robert Forster- another one of Tarantino’s career reviving project subjects). 

Much like Grier’s own journey in Hollywood, Jackie Brown is bogged down by her history and socio-economic status. In this landmark performance with her iconic dialogue “Shut your raggedy-ass up, and sit the fuck down” Pam reflects Jackie’s strength, vigour and moral conviction, and she embarks on this quest to discover her true worth and pave the path towards freedom, taking down all the obstacles on her way. Grier portrays the perfect blend of a triumphant protagonist who is a sly trickster yet a ravishing lover. Grier’s extraordinary performance was, however, overlooked by the Academy.

“If I lose my job I gotta start all over again, but I got nothing to start over with. I’ll be stuck with whatever I can get. And that shit is scarier than Ordell.”

6. Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961)

Based on Truman Capote’s eponymous novella, the film revolves around the naive, charming and somewhat fickle Holly Golightly who conceals within her hoards of secrets about her identity. She meets a struggling writer named Paul Varjak who is also her new neighbour. They are interested in each other but Holly has other obligations which include saving money for her brother after he is discharged from the military. Although there is an undeniable attraction between the pair, it is evaded by Holly’s eccentricities as well as the tendency to latch on to wealthy socialites who can help her maintain her societal stature. 

Audrey Hepburn is resplendent as the eccentric gold-digger Holly Golightly known for her iconic sunglasses, french bun and black gown. It is only Hepburn who could bring forth the heroine’s naughty naivete with grace and charm, adding an aura of romance, adoration and sympathy. She is breathtakingly beautiful in every shot and it is a shame to see the Academy not rewarding her for her brilliant performance as the gorgeous emotional mess. 

“You could always tell what kind of a person a man thinks you are by the earrings he gives you.”

5. Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, 2014)

L.A. resident Louis Bloomsustains himself amidst raging poverty by scavenging and theft. He stumbles upon a new and exciting career as a cameraman; armed with a camcorder and police scanner, Louis begins to embark on nocturnal strolls to record gruesome, unthinkable crimes from afar and sells the footage for a great price. When he catches the attention of a news director, the latter wants to raise her station ratings and persuades Louis to go to grotesque lengths to record the ‘money shot’. 

In this Taxi Driver-esque flick, the darker side of the urban underbelly is portrayed. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a stellar performance where his character’s vaulting ambition as well as desperation to stay afloat and stubbornness to record the best footage makes him transcend limits of morality and enter the world of the questionable. Gyllenhaal, whose brilliance shines through his extensive acting career, is persuasive and cunning in his role. Films like Southpaw, Nocturnal Animals, Stronger, Prisoners, Brokeback Mountain and more remain a testimony to his talent; except for Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal’s talent has never been recognised by the Academy. He deserved a nomination for his role as the sociopathic Louis caught in the shattering loophole of modernity but the Academy remained blind to his charm.  

“Making peace with what you don’t have, living with what you ain’t got.”

4. Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, 1987)

The film is psychological erotica where a successful and happily married man named Dan Gallagher has an affair with the beautiful seductress Alex Forrest when his family is out of town. Although it is considered a mere one-night stand, Alex grows increasingly obsessed with Dan, demanding his love and attention. When he rebuffs her advances, Alex goes to extreme lengths, from slitting her hands to boiling Dan’s daughter’s pet rabbit to trying to kidnap his daughter from school. Dan soon realises that there is no stopping Alex unless she is killed, and his wife helps him get good riddance of the bad rubbish. 

Alongside Michael Douglas, the beautiful and enchanting Glenn Close appeared as the seductress Alex who grows obsessed with Dan. Close, who had grown very close to her character, often defended Alex against claims of being the primary villain. “I wasn’t playing a generality, I wasn’t playing a cliché. I was playing a very specific, deeply disturbed, fragile human being, whom I had grown to love.” Despite a nomination for her spine-chilling performance as the obsessive Alex, Close missed out on the award, much like many other future snubs for films like The Wife, Dangerous Liaisons, Albert Nobbs and more. It is only Close who could evoke sympathy in the hearts of the audience for a supposedly wronged psychopath who boiled bunnies and slashed wrists for fun! 

“I’m not going to be ignored, Dan!”

3. Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard, 1950)

One of Billy Wilder’s most famous works, Sunset Boulevard revolves around an ageing actress named Norma Desmond, who is in denial of her waning career. When a screenwriter Joe Gillis accidentally drives into the deserted mansion of Desmond, he is ushered in by her butler and gradually held somewhat captive in the mansion, hired as a script doctor. Normand exists in a delusional make-believe world of her own and her butler helps keep the fake show running. She grows increasingly dependant and attracted to Joe, whose young age helps her youth stay intact. However, when she starts suspecting Joe’s involvement with other women and when confronted with joe’s decision to return to his previous life, her descent into rage and madness is terrifying. 

Although Wilder had considered actresses like Mae West, Greta Garbo, Pola Negri, Clara Bow and more for the role of Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson had always been his preferred choice. Swanson, in terms of grandeur in lifestyle, talent as well as beauty, had an uncanny resemblance to the character of Desmond. Swanson was intrigued when the role was offered to her and ominously echoed her character when she expressed her disgruntlement over having to audition for Paramount when she had made 20 films for them. Wilder said, “There was a lot of Norma in her, you know.” She revelled in her role as the ageing actress who refused to believe that the sun was setting on her career. Although she lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, she but deserved the Academy Award due to her sheer brilliance as well as the incomparable ability to change emotions swiftly. 

“All right, Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

2. Jack Nicholson (The Shining, 1980)

Adapted from Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s film is considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. Jack Torrance, the film’s protagonist, is an aspiring novelist and recovering alcoholic. He receives an offer to serve as the caretaker of the isolated and infamous Overlook Hotel in Colorado as the hotel’s previous caretaker allegedly committed suicide after murdering his family. Jack’s wife Wendy and their five-year-old son Danny, who is gifted with psychic abilities, accompany him to spend the winter there. The latter gets an insight into the gruesome past of the hotel and the family starts getting haunted by vicious supernatural apparitions. A ghastly winter storm leaves them snowed in for days when things slowly start going downhill. 

Nicholson is unhinged as Jack Torrance whose disintegration of sanity and slow but steady descent into maniacal madness, endangering the lives of his wife and son, is terrifying, to say the least. He infuses humour within his unsettling performance and adds to the atmospheric eeriness. The evil that resides within him is more sinister than the hotel itself. Nicholson went to varied lengths to perfect his role, including devouring cheese sandwiches at the request of Kubrick for days to bring out the rage within himself. He deserved the Oscar more than anything else and that’s about it!   

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.”

1. Anthony Perkins (Psycho, 1960)

A secretary named Marion Crane elopes after stealing $40,000 cash to go and marry her boyfriend Sam and pay off his debts. She stops at the dilapidated Bates Motel for the night where she encounters the proprietor Norman Bates who lives with his mother Norma. Marion suddenly gets brutally stabbed to death while showering and Normansubsequently hides her corpse. However, Marion’s sister Lila as well as her boyfriend Sam are convinced that something untoward has happened to Marion and they decide to get to the bottom of the story. 

Marion’s shower scene goes down in cinematic history as one of the best shots where the scene which is three-minute-long had nearly fifty cuts. Bernard Herrmann’s screeching music heightens the atmospheric terror triggered by the Gothic atmosphere. Investigation of Marion’s death leads them all down a psychological rabbit hole where their discovery leaves them astounded. Anthony Perkins and his psychopathic creepy smile deserved two separate Oscar nominations yet got none which was a shame. He was brilliant as the disturbingly quiet Norman whose unhealthy attachment to his mother would make Freud himself have nightmares. As Norman, Perkins added a new dimension to the meaning of a peeping Tom and made sure that after watching the film, the viewers would lock their bathroom doors before hopping into the shower.

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”