Jeremy Clarkson hit the nail, (amongst other things,) on the head, when he pointed out in The Sunday Times that Oscars only ever go to people who act in films that can be seen as socially conscientious or responsible. This means that some of the finest work ever committed to the screen goes entirely without recognition from an establishment that is too introverted and self-serving to reward the talent before them. Here we provide a list of ten of the finest performances of recent times, which didn’t even receive a glance.
1. Matthew McConaughey in the Wolf of Wall Street:
Sometimes it’s the little things that deserve the big praise. For all DiCaprio’s romp as a man who makes Gordon Gecko into a small fry, it is McConaughey who deserves the plaudits. His character is a man who seems utterly jaded beyond return into a never-ending string of greed, cocaine and masturbation. Only his short tenure in the script denied McConaughey the chance to outshine DiCaprio.
2. Javier Bardem in Skyfall:
Let’s be honest. No one is ever going to win an Oscar for appearing in a James Bond film though quite a few actors including Toby Stephens, Christopher Walken, Roberto Davi as well as Bruce Glover and Putter Smith (Wint and Kidd in Diamonds are Forever), deserved to be considered. Standing out above the rest however is Javier Bardem who, as Silva, full of psychotic rage and gay inneuendo, dominates Skyfall. Giving a performance which turns from sinister to tragic as easily as you flip a coin, Bardem’s masterpiece is his portrayal of Silva as a man who seems in control of events, yet is so completely consumed by a need for vengeance.
Want more on Bardem and Bond? Try: https://maverickfilm.co/2015/03/07/sam-mendes-spectre-will-define-bond-for-years-to-come/
3. Patrick Stewart in Star Trek First Contact:
Having spent the better part of a decade building up Jean-Luc Picard as a deeply principled, moral man, Stewart throws all that away to reveal that Picard is just as human as the rest of us. Like Silva he leads himself and his crew on a crusade to avenge the wrongs of his own past at the hands of the Borg, during the course of the journey Stewart’s performance perfectly conveys well-crafted character development and is a marked highlight. It is the difference between the angry, raging beast lashing out that Picard becomes and elsewhere the quiet, contemplative man who quotes Moby Dick that marks Stewart out as one of the finest actors to never win an Oscar.
4. Lena Heady in Dredd:
MaMa is a woman who needs violence the way the rest of us need air. The biggest, baddest wolf in a very bad pack, MaMa rules through fear and intimidation, her scarred face as much a declaration of intent as evidence of her past. Heady’s MaMa is queen of her world for the simple reason that she’s more violent and sadistic than any of the male characters. The resulting performance is one in which every aspect of femininity is stripped away, every ounce of vulnerability discarded to the point where it is only at the end, long after Dredd has thrown her from the ledge, that we see MaMa as a woman. Such is the effect that Heady’s tour de force rivals even Karl Urban’s take on Dredd’s character as regards impact with the audience.
5. Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Kill for:
Defining Femme Fatales for a whole generation, Green brings out the visceral colour in her character’s selfish manipulation of those around her which effortlessly fits into the graphic novel world of Sin City. Going from victim to puppet master as the film winds on, Green’s art lies in how her character emotes, from her cleverly tailored self-disgust for Josh Brolin’s Dwight to the angry turns with Christopher Meloni’s Mort. The aspect of her performance that does the most to announce her as worthy of recognition though is how she gives depth to Ava Lord’s essentially shallow character.
6. Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek, Into Darkness:
Despite half of Star Trek fans guessing the twist with his character, Cumberbatch’s Khan is still one of the best characters to emerge from 2013’s pantheon. Given a vulnerability the original never had, the new iteration of Khan becomes a man who seems to have none of the charisma or passion of his predecessor, only a cold desire to once more make himself master of the situation. In the end though as he loses that control, Khan’s cold exterior slips away and he becomes the ‘psychopath hell-bent on killing anyone and everyone’ that we know and love. Cumberbatch’s ability to switch from one extreme to the other as rapidly as his character does should have won him the Oscar for best supporting actor. That he gave such a performance in a Star Trek film was no fit reason to deny him even a nomination.
7. Pierce Brosnan in Seraphim Falls:
Brosnan’s fugitive suffers from the get go, both psychologically and physically, his portrayal of a man hunted through the Nevada snows almost leaves the viewer feeling cold themselves and the piece-meal unveiling of his past and the films context adds depth to a film that, at first, seems astoundingly simple. Haunted by the events that made him a hunted man; at the end of the American Civil War, Brosnan’s Gideon ordered Confederate Colonel Carver’s house burnt down, before Carver’s wife and son rushed inside to save another child. At first Gideon is not a character to sympathise with, brutally killing several men he runs across with a knife. As the film goes on though we learn he too is grieving. Both his sons were killed at Antietam and now he is being pursued relentlessly by the man he wronged. Brosnan carries the weight of this role throughout the film without faltering once, slowly allowing his character’s past to unravel and giving us the chance to know the true man not the one we first meet. As with an onion being peeled away, so Brosnan uses Gideon’s plight to include us in the great secret to this film; that Gideon is a kind, decent man who has been dammed to pay for his one true mistake. It is the quality in Brosnan’s portrayal of Gideon that allows us to wonder and debate over the blurred line of ‘hero versus villain?’ and this is essentially because he does an astounding job of making the character seem remarkably human. It is to Brosnan’s credit that he shines as he never got to in the Bond films.
8. Olga Kuryalenko in Quantum of Solace:
Ever heard the one about the Bond girl who James doesn’t’ get to sleep with? Well that’s Camile, played by Olga Kuryalenko. Like Bond, her character wants revenge; unlike him she can see past that need to retain her humanity. What makes the performance Oscar worthy, (and remember as a Bond film her performance was effectively irrelevant where the Academy was concerned,) is that she makes her character almost bigger than Bond’s where the storyline is concerned.
9. Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina:
Knightley shines in this film in a way she so rarely manages. Made the centre of the action in the never-ending theatre show that is the closed world of the Russian aristocracy, Knightley makes her performance stand out amongst a wealth of talent which includes Jude Law and Matthew Macfayden. More to the point she is able to make you feel immense pity and sympathy for her character despite the fact she is clearly in the wrong. Finally as we drawn to her end we know it is just another scene change as was proven when, despite four Oscar nominations, Knightley’s acting was not one of them.
10. Jackie Earle Haley in Watchmen:
Despite spending most of this film without a face, Jackie Earle Haley is the heart and soul of Watchmen, the grim narration of his journal entries counting down the days till Armageddon. Much as it would seem Rorschach could only exist in the darkly alternate 1985 of the film, Haley makes it seem more like the world can only exist with Rorschach in it. His humanity seems brutally repressed yet Haley makes Rorschach’s last act so poignant it proves that he still has humanity; his commitment to justice leading him to choose death rather than living a lie.
By Gareth Wood