We are currently in the midst of Academy Award season, my favorite time of year. Nominations are out, and everyone I know and love on Film Twitter is posting daily lists of who they think will win. One topic that is always hotly contested is the list of films and artists that are “snubbed” each year. It’s a time I like to look back and see how there are some great artists that have never won an Oscar. Cary Grant? Alfred Hitchcock? How is this possible? Even more so, the amount of talented artists who not only have never WON an Oscar, but never even been nominated. So many of our most beloved performers have never received a nomination, even though they have given performances more than worthy of a nomination. Today, I am focusing on the Best Supporting Actor race.
1. Stephen Boyd as Masala in Ben-Hur (1959). Stephen Boyd was the antagonist in Ben-Hur, and gave a riveting performance. What’s even more insulting about his complete snub by the Academy is the fact that Hugh Griffiths took home the award, for playing a character in brownface for the same film. Boyd gave a richly layered performance, as a Roman who grew up with Judah Ben-Hur, was his childhood best friend, and, according to the documentary The Celluloid Closet, was supposed to be in love with Ben-Hur. We see him happy, hurt, betrayed. He’s the most interesting character in this epic film, and it’s a crime that he was ignored by the Academy.
2. Joe E Brown as Osgood in Some Like it Hot (1959) 1959 also gave us the overlooked comedic performance by Joe E Brown in the Billy Wilder comedy Some Like it Hot. Brown plays the rich, old, lecherous Osgood, who falls madly in love with Jack Lemmon’s “Daphne.” While Lemmon received an Oscar nomination for arguably one of the greatest comedic performances of all time, Brown, his partner in his best scenes, was totally ignored. Brown convinces us that he is simply dazzled by Lemmon, always giving flirty winks, little “zowies!” and smiling every time he sees his beloved Daphne. He is playing it straight, and it totally works. Lemmon isn’t the most convincing female, hence the humor of the film, but when Brown looks at her, you’d think Daphne is as beautiful as Marilyn Monroe’s “Sugar.” I give him bonus points for delivering one of the all time greatest last lines of a film. If you haven’t seen the film, I’m not spoiling it for you. Just do yourself a favor and go watch it.
3. Fred MacMurray as Mr. Sheldrake in The Apartment (1960). When people discuss great actors, Fred MacMurray never seems to come up in conversation. People think of him as the lovable guy from My Three Sons and a bunch of Disney films. They seem to forget he has been in two of the greatest films of all time, both directed by the master himself, Mr. Billy Wilder. How was MacMurray NEVER nominated for an Oscar? The Apartment is a masterpiece of cinema, and rightly won Best Picture of 1960. MacMurray plays the deceptively simplistic Mr. Sheldrake. Sheldrake is a villain of the best kind- he SEEMS like a great guy, but below that charismatic smile, he is just a dirtbag who cheats on his wife, has inappropriate relationships with his female employees, and manipulates his male employees. The real reason why this character works is because it’s played by Fred MacMurray. He’s a tall, handsome man with a huge smile. As much as we, the audience, detest the way he treats people, we do understand why both Miss Kubelick (the adorably tragic Shirley MacClaine) and C.C. Baxter (the always perfect every-man Jack Lemmon) are charmed by him, and allow themselves to be manipulated by him.
4. John Turturro as Herb Stemple in Quiz Show (1994) In a particularly excellent year for films, Quiz Show is not revered as much as the other films nominated for Best Picture, which include modern classics like Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, and The Shawshank Redemption. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Quiz Show was the great actor, Paul Scofield, who portrayed the Waspy Mark Van Doren, a brilliant writer and college professor father to Ralph Fiennes. Scofield, as always, was wonderful. However, the actor who truly stands out and dazzles in every scene he is in, is the phenomenal character actor, John Turturro. When this film came out, I was a freshman in high school, and had not seen his work in the classic Do the Right Thing, and his brilliant work in the Coen brothers’ films was yet to come. Turturro plays, to perfection, a Jewish man who accuses the game show 21 of being rigged. Is it because he is a noble man? Not at all. He himself had been cheating, when the producers realize that the ratings have recently gone down and they pressure him to “take a dive” on a question he knows the answer to- that Marty won the Best Picture at the 1955 Academy Awards. Turturro plays a classic nerd: an ill-fitting suit, teeth he wants to get capped, thick glasses. When the handsome and intellectual Charlie Van Doren reaches fame that Stemple never achieved, Stemple brings the fraud to light.
5. Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter in Fargo (1996) Fargo is one of the greatest films of the 1990s. Funny, clever, well written, directed, and acted, it is now a classic. At the Academy Awards, it won Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Screenplay for The Coen Brothers. This film was not nominated appropriately. For some reason, McDormand was put in Lead, while William H. Macy was put in Supporting, for what would be a co-lead role. If the Academy had nominated the film appropriately, Macy would have been in Lead, leaving the greatBuscemi open for a Supporting nomination and win for his role as a “funny looking fella” who helps kidnap the wife of a man hoping to come into some money. Buscemi delivers an extremely humorous and brilliant performance in this film. Showalter is angry, not exceptionally bright, and bitter about his current situation. He’s annoyed at the start of the film when he berates Macy’s character for showing up late to a meeting, then gets increasingly irritated with his partner in crime (Peter Stormare) for his extended silences during their car ride. And, of course, his character comes to an iconic end. Buscemi is one of the best actors to portray unusual characters that never quite fit in anywhere. I believe that is one reason why he shines so brightly in this film. Buscemi definitely deserved a nomination for his wonderful performance in this film.