My absolutely fabulous longtime friend, Dominic, and I have bonded over classic films ever since we met in college.
This week, he asked me to come up with a list of "5 greatest performances that didn't get an Oscar or even as Oscar nomination." Oh, my, my, my. I've previously done blog pieces on actors or films "Overlooked by Oscars." But Dom gave me a fun challenge. So, for now, here's my list of 5 Great Performances Overlooked for a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Of course, there are more but these are 5 that came to mind and I don't have time right now to make a bigger list. I'm still job hunting.
1. Andy Griffith for A Face in the Crowd (1957): If you only knew the beloved TV actor from his homespun sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show or from solving murders as Matlock on his other TV series, you need to rent this movie immediately. His work will leave burn marks on your mind. Andy Griffith gave one of the most scorching, bold, intense, memorable movie performances of the 1950s as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes.
2. Edward G. Robinson for Little Caesar (1931): Right up there with James Cagney's stunning performance as the gangster in The Public Enemy, Robinson truly gave a killer performance as Rico, the gangster called "Little Caesar." He showed us the ruthlessness and humanity in the man, letting us see that we share all the same emotions. It's us to us as to what we do with them in society. Unlike Oscar-winner Cagney, Edward G. Robinson was never nominated for an Academy Award in his long, acclaimed film career.
3. Anton Walbrook for The Red Shoes (1948): Not one wasted gesture as Lermontov, the elegantly glacial impresario of a famed ballet company. He gets what he wants. He admires talent. He's obsessed with ballet. For him, "it is a religion." Boris Lermontov was probably a dancer once himself. A children's story inspired this original screenplay.
4. James Mason for Lolita (1962): He never won, but Mason did get Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations in his career. In Lolita, he gave one of best movie performances of the 1960s that did not get an Oscar nomination. He's funny, pathetic, mean, manipulative yet clueless and -- above all -- very human as the intellectual whose lust makes him pursue something he shouldn't. A controversial Kubrick film adapted from an equally controversial novel. Mason is excellent in this challenging role. To me, Mason's Professor Humbert is his best screen performance in a lead role.
His career started in Great Britain. Mason was doing lead roles in British films by 1939. The stellar reviews he got for Carol Reed's acclaimed 1947 British political thriller, Odd Man Out, were noticed by Hollywood too. In the late '40s/1950s, he really hit big in Hollywood with films that included MGM's East Side, West Side (1949) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner and Nancy Reagan (yes, that Nancy Reagan), Julius Caesar (1953) starring Marlon Brando, A Star Is Born with Judy Garland (1954), Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959). His first Oscar nomination came for Best Actor A Star Is Born. Next was Best Supporting Actor for Georgy Girl (1966). His last Oscar nomination came for Best Supporting Actor in The Verdict (1982). Mason was amazing in that legal drama starring Paul Newman. Hollywood should have honored him with a special lifetime achievement Oscar.
5. Fred Astaire for The Band Wagon (1953): The Master at the top of his game in one of the best musicals directed by Vincente Minnelli. Comedy is hard work. Musical comedy is even harder. But rarely does an actor get an Oscar nomination for the lead role in a musical unless tragedy is involved. Yul Brynner in The King and I (1956), Ron Moody in Oliver! (1968) and Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables (2012) were all Oscar nominees for musicals that had a heartbreaking death in the last act. Gene Kelly, who generously and often mentioned the artistic debt he owed to Fred Astaire, got a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Anchors Aweigh (1945), a musical comedy with a happy ending. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were a legendary screen team that starred in iconic original movie musical comedies in the 1930s. Her one and only Oscar nomination came for the feminist drama, Kitty Foyle (1940). She won. Astaire's one and only Oscar nomination came for his supporting role surviving disaster in The Towering Inferno (1974), also a drama. He should've been in the Best Actor Oscar race for this Minnelli gem. Astaire played the Hollywood musical comedy veteran of 1930s classics, nervously attempting to reinvent him in a new Broadway musical after three years of movie unemployment. West Coast movie columnists consider entertainer Tony Hunter (Astaire) a has-been. He takes it all in stride as he sings a breezy rendition of "By Myself."
Fred Astaire was presented a special Oscar in 1950 for his contributions to the art of film musicals. I'd have given him a Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Band Wagon.
As the song he introduced in The Band Wagon says, "THAT'S entertainment."
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