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Snubbed But Beloved

We'd like to chide the academy for not even nominating these indelible performances.

January 30, 2008|Jim Brooks | Times Staff Writer

OK, so Angelina, Denzel and Keira didn't get asked to the Oscar prom. They shouldn't shed too many tears over their absence from this year's nominations.

After all, they're in very good company. From Humphrey Bogart ("The Maltese Falcon") and Marilyn Monroe ("Some Like It Hot") to Susan Sarandon ("Bull Durham") and Sean Penn ("Fast Times at Ridgemont High"), movie history is rich with overlooked performances that are now revered and celebrated more than many of their peers' nominated, even winning, entries.

Monday-morning quarterbacking is always a fun parlor game. Subjective too. But the passage of time and added perspective do buttress some finger-pointing when it comes to Oscar oversights.

A favorite rant: How could Donald Sutherland's spot-on portrayal of the dazed and grief-stricken father in 1980's "Ordinary People" be the only substantial performance in the film not to be nominated?

Mary Tyler Moore received a nod. So did Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton (who took home the supporting trophy). But Sutherland, arguably the linchpin performance in Robert Redford's beautifully realized best picture winner, got nothing.

Of course, acts of omission occur behind the camera as well; 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy" apparently drove itself to a best picture win, since director Bruce Beresford wasn't nominated. Even industry heavyweights Steven Spielberg (1985's "The Color Purple") and James L. Brooks (1987's still timely "Broadcast News") saw their films make the best picture tally, only to find their names missing from the directors' ballot.

But ultimately, it's the on-screen talent whose Oscar slights we feel most deeply. Following is a sampling of performances cold-shouldered by the Naked Gold One. Some are time-tested classics; others are more personal, perhaps idiosyncratic choices, portrayals that for whatever reasons continue to haunt and intrigue and drive me back to their films.

And really, Oscar, isn't that what it's all about?

The classics

Robert Mitchum's menacing turn as a killer preacherman dogging helpless children in 1955's "The Night of the Hunter." Just try to get him out of your head.

Marilyn Monroe in 1959's "Some Like It Hot" or 1956's "Bus Stop" or even 1955's "The Seven Year Itch." Her luminous screen presence hasn't dimmed a half-century later. Surely, she deserved at least one nod from Oscar.

James Stewart, at Alfred Hitchcock's service, in 1954's "Rear Window" and 1958's "Vertigo." Pitch-perfect as Everyman.

Laurence Harvey in 1962's "The Manchurian Candidate," playing half of what is perhaps the most harrowing mother-son relationship put to film. Mama Angela Lansbury (two years his senior off-screen) was nominated; Harvey was not. Someone asleep at the voting box?

Cary Grant in almost anything. Nominated twice, for 1941's "Penny Serenade" and 1944's "None but the Lonely Heart," he was snubbed for the more indelible "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), "His Girl Friday" (1940), "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), "Notorious" (1946), even "An Affair to Remember" (1957). The latter may be the ultimate chick flick, but 50 years later, he and Deborah Kerr resonate as the star-crossed lovers; the film was further validated this month with a special 50-year anniversary re-release on DVD. Hey, the cheese ages well.

Bette Davis in 1934's "Of Human Bondage," a seminal performance that foreshadowed the inimitable sass that would fuel her career. In a rare move, she became a write-in candidate when she was left off the ballot -- and placed third.

James Cagney in 1931's "The Public Enemy" and 1949's "White Heat." "Made it, Ma! Top of the world." Apparently Oscar didn't think so.

Ingrid Bergman took the gold for 1944's "Gaslight," but her "Notorious" turn two years later -- smart and sexy and curiously modern -- went unrecognized. Shame.

Joan Crawford matched the nominated Davis every kitschy step of the way in 1962's "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Then again, who would you have wanted to eliminate from that year's formidable female lineup to make room for her: Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker" (the winner), Katharine Hepburn in "Long Day's Journey Into Night," Geraldine Page in "Sweet Bird of Youth," Lee Remick in "Days of Wine and Roses" or Davis?

Moving forward

Angie Dickinson's raw portrayal of a sexually frustrated housewife almost lifted Brian De Palma's 1980 chiller "Dressed to Kill" to art. With limited screen time, she leaves a permanent mark.

Richard Gere in 1977's "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" and 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman"; the edgy first film showed his promise, the latter fulfilled it.

In 1970's "Diary of a Mad Housewife," Richard Benjamin channels an emotionally abusive husband with stomach-churning preciseness. A bit over-the-top for some tastes, his glib scenes of wife-mockery are worthy of Oscar admission. (And while we're on the subject, in a just universe, costar and lead actress nominee Carrie Snodgress would have been called to the stage.)

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