Best acting in Movies

The 51 all-time greatest acting performances overlooked by Oscar

There’s no official appeal process when an actor wakes up on Oscar nominations morning and doesn’t hear his or her name announced. Every year, the Academy selects its 20 favorite performances; a winner is crowned a month or so later, and the names get etched in the history books. But those who aren’t nominated aren’t necessarily discarded to cinema’s dustbin. In an era when infinite, instant access to 100 years of cinema keeps our favorite movies at our fingertips, time is the ultimate arbiter of greatness.

The more we watch, the more we recognize the Academy’s recurring myopia. Yes, there are always inexplicable Oscar oversights recognized immediately as snubs. But there are also performances that ripen with time, emerging as the classics that influence generations of subsequent audiences and filmmakers. Look no further than Anthony Perkins’ chilling and genre-defining Norman Bates: In 2015, how does it rate compared to Burt Lancaster’s Elmer Gantry, the 1961 Best Actor winner?

Perkins wasn’t even nominated for Norman—so there’s hope for Selma’s David Oyelowo and A Most Violent Year’s Jessica Chastain, too. Heck, there’s hope for Tom Hardy (Locke) and Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer). Oscar may have spoken yesterday, but there is no final verdict.

Entertainment Weekly dug into the scores of great performances that have been overlooked by Oscar over the past 87 years. Some are so iconic that we had to triple-check the history books to make sure that Oscar had been so blind. (Really? Ingrid Bergman wasn’t nominated for Casablanca?) We could’ve made a list of 250—but from that list, we culled it down to 51 and ranked them, counting down to the single greatest acting performance that failed to grab Oscar’s attention. No doubt we left out some of your favorites, and no doubt you will tell us that in the comments. Please do. —Jeff Labrecque

[Note: Many of these film clips are not censored for language.]

50/51. Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke
Celine & Jesse, Before Midnight (2013)

Over the course of 18 years and three films, Delpy and Hawke taught audiences some memorable lessons about love. In 1995, the lesson was that love is serendipitous and maybe it’s everywhere; in 2004, it was that—oh, wait—maybe love really is exceedingly rare. Then, in 2013, it was that love is really, really hard. Their complementary performances as the wisecracking American Jesse and the more-worldly Frenchwoman Celine offered a breathtaking tour through the many different people two humans can be in relation to each other—strangers, friends, acquaintances, lovers, co-conspirators, enemies, exes, allies. Though the Academy recognized the actors for co-writing two of the screenplays alongside Richard Linklater, it’s a shame that their carefully-calibrated portrayals failed to earn the same appreciation as those in Linklater’s other, more recent years-in-the-making project, Boyhood. —Ashley Fetters

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