Or rather... who is most overdue?
Contrary to popular belief, it ain't easy to win an Oscar. It certainly wasn't easy for Kate the Great. You need more than an accent, a disability, a good or popular movie, old age makeup or mimicry skills. You also need star charisma, a role that compliments or complicates that charisma and media support. Above all else you need luck combined with surgically precise good timing. History is full of performers who never won the movie's top prize despite plentiful contributions to the art of acting.
For the following list I'm ignoring outstanding performers who have never been nominated because I already made that list. But, yes: Donald Sutherland, Mia Farrow, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale would certainly have cause to hate the Academy for pretending they don't exist. This list only concerns itself with previously nominated actors who are still working.
Top Ten Nominees Who Are Really Overdue For an Oscar WinHonorable Mentions: Albert Finney, Debra Winger, Helena Bonham-Carter, Joan Cusack, Laura Linney, Jude Law and Ed Harris. Peter O'Toole has an honorary and Glenn Close gave up so I'm skipping them.
10 Sigourney Weaver 3 nominations
Sigourney strikes me as a Holly Hunter type: not easy to cast but riveting / perfect when the role fits. Historians sometimes think of the Oscars as a movie culture time capsule but as such they sometimes fail miserably at capturing the larger picture of the careers of famous actors. Weaver's case is interesting because her three nominations (Aliens, Working Girl and Gorillas in the Mist) actually paint a compellingly accurate portrait of her whole career. Think about it. Those three represent all the things she does best: sexy amazons in genre films, bitchy women in comedies and intense almost scarily obsessive women in prestige dramas. Unfortunately none of these three types are what Oscar voters go for unless they're tricked into it by some other mitigating factor or completely unable to deny the skill involved. Since she turns 60 this year I think that her only hope for a statue is a killer comedic supporting part -- preferrably in a well loved Best Picture nominee. The kind of role Maggie Smith got in Gosford Park could win Weaver the elusive gold, couldn't it?
09 Annette Bening. 3 nominations
The Bening is in the unenviable position of (arguably) finishing in second place every time she's been nominated. Second at the Oscars isn't any different than fifth... the math flatlines. 1990's The Grifters, her first nomination, established her unique star persona: calculated erotic cunning, theatricality and twinkly eyed laughter. She lost that first Oscar to a famous comedienne who was anchoring a mammoth hit (Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost) and then she lost twice to someone she's twice as talented as (the first time was justifiable. We'll let it slide ;) ). When will it be her turn? Maybe never. AMPAS passed her over for Bugsy, The American President and Running With Scissors despite, respectively, 10 other nominations, popularity and a baity role all of which suggests that they're not always keen on her. Perhaps its the envy factor? It can't suck to be her. Mr. Annette Bening, never won for acting either and he's a true screen legend.
08 Joan Allen. 3 nominations
I used to joke that this great actress needed only two seconds of screentime to start Oscar buzz. Her presence alone is so commanding that you're glued to her. You're ready for every line reading, gesture and closeup from the moment the camera first spots her. But that was then. This is now and the now is not looking like an Oscar is coming. Which is very frustrating. She was arguably the best of the nominees on her first and second nominations (Nixon and The Crucible) but the films themselves weren't loved enough to bring that winning momentum. Her third nomination (The Contender, 2000) was one of those "I'm just happy to be nominated" situations since that was Julia Robert's Oscar to lose even before the previous year's Oscars were handed out (Erin Brockovich was released a week before the 1999 Oscars were held). Most agonizing of all is that in 2005, a very weak Best Actress year, the Academy missed a golden opportunity to give Ms Allen one of those career style statues for The Upside of Anger. Her sexy, funny, dramatic and film carrying star turn topped anything that any of the nominees that year were up to. The Academy didn't even nominate her.
07 Sir Ian McKellen 2 nominations
The Academy's anti-genre bias cock blocked his second move towards that naked gold man (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). I still don't know WHAT THE HELL happened in 1998, the first time he was up for the prize (Gods and Monsters). I don't even wanna talk about that. Shut up!
06 Meryl Streep. 15 nominations / 2 wins
It's been twenty-seven years since her last win (Sophie's Choice, 1982) and she's the only previous acting winner working whose career since her last triumph completely justifies an additional statue. She's given at least three performances in those ensuing 27 years that would have won most other star actresses an Oscar and would stand as their all time best work. Raise your hand if you think she's winning on her next nomination.
05 Jeff Bridges 4 nominations
Some people actually think he's the greatest American actor of his generation. If you think about the range, depth, effortlessness and conviction displayed in performances like The Door in the Floor, The Big Lebowski, Fearless, Seabiscuit, Cutter's Way, The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Fisher King it's hard to argue with that assessment. And that's just the major performances he was NOT nominated for. Add his four nominations (The Contender, Starman, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and The Last Picture Show) into the mix and we're not talking 'overdue' so much as 'let's riot until he gets one!'
04 Ralph Fiennes 2 nominations
His performance in Schindler's List was not only the best of its category but in the running for best of its entire decade. Shame that they didn't hand him a statue right then. Now he's one of the biggest mysteries in Oscar land. He's British (extra points), he does lots of period pieces (big plus), he's regularly brilliant (that helps), he has no tabloid drawbacks (that sometimes distracts), he does prestige pics and stars in multiple Best Picture nominees (huge plus) he's great with other actors (lots of goodwill earned, presumably). Solve this mystery in the comments please. This man practically screams "Oscar winner" and yet he's only been nominated twice.
03 Julianne Moore 4 nominations
As noted before, winning an Oscar is about managing the tricky combination of star persona, role choice, luck and timing. Julianne has had trouble working all four of those elements simultaneously. It's frustrating. If a much lesser actress with a goody two shoes persona had stumbled into a performance as great as the one Julianne gave in Boogie Nights, they would have won --playing against type is a time-tested awards ploy (especially if you go from good to bad). Since Julianne was already considered a consummate, experiment-friendly and altogether brave actress, she was only considered to be doing her job if rather brilliantly. Sometimes the best actors have the hardest time winning because expectations are so high. There's no surprise factor when they knock us out. She also tends to be most magical in difficult films from true auteurs (think Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Haynes) and Oscar doesn't reward those types of pictures with statues, just scattered nominations. What could she do to win? Give her great unsolicited advice in the comments.
02 Johnny Depp 3 nominations
If you ask young up and comers who their favorite actor is you'll hear his name pop up a lot. Trust me, I've tested the theory. It may have taken the Academy a long time to notice his gifts but certain pockets of the public (especially younger generations) and many critics were with him much earlier. As early as Edward Scissorhands and Cry-Baby (his very first leads in 1990) he was proving what an imaginative and committed actor he was, adept at spinning drama from comedy and the reverse, too. After that he excelled in biographical dramas (Oscar's favorite genre) like Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, Blow and Fear and Loathing... and still they ignored him.
Perhaps he was too original. He was definitely too young (Oscar wants the men to have some years on them) and the performances themselves were sprung from weird or comedic impulses that don't resonate with stuffier aesthetics. But eventually everyone caught on to his gifts (Hello Pirates of the Carribean!). Now he can even get acclaim and nominations for performances that aren't any appreciably better than the ones he used to give (Sweeney Todd) or are way more boring than what he used to offer (Finding Neverland) which means that the Academy finally loves him. It also means he'll be winning real soon.
<--- Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeff Bridges in 2007
01 La Pfeiffer 3 nominations
The evidence: Scarface, Married to the Mob, Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Russia House, Frankie & Johnny, Batman Returns, Love Field, The Age of Innocence, What Lies Beneath and White Oleander. I rest my case.
Percentage of this list that I think WILL eventually win the coveted statue: 30% Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep a third time and Ralph Fiennes... and in roughly that order, too.
previous top ten lists
for past articles on any of these actors just chase the labels below