The Oscars

Look at Me, I’m Acting Here!

12 high-wire performances that pandered to the academy but didn’t even get a nomination.

The 2011 Academy Awards nominations were announced early this week, and among the nominees for best actor and best actress are Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, James Franco for 127 Hours, and Natalie Portman for Black Swan. Absent from this year’s contenders is Gwyneth Paltrow, for her Oscar-baiting performance as fictional alcoholic country singer Kelly Canter. In a March 2010 slide show reprinted below, Eric Hynes described 12 other Oscar-baiting roles that failed to garner a nomination.

When Jamie Foxx took on the role of Nathaniel Ayers in the based-on-a-true-story melodrama The Soloist, it seemed like the perfect vehicle for the actor to take home another Oscar nomination. The film, about a mentally unstable homeless man who turns out to be a classically trained musician, had all the trappings of an Oscar-friendly inspirational weepy. But rather than open in time for a 2008 awards run, the film was pushed to spring 2009, and what had seemed like destiny in December looked misguided in the harsh light of April.

Foxx had learned the hard way that even an arguably good performance can turn off Oscar voters if it seems too eager to impress, too sure of its worthiness, or too calculated in its come-on. Lord knows the academy has rewarded numerous pandering performances over the years, but it’s generally important that these performances not smell too strongly of Oscar-bait. To win Oscar gold, you need to demonstrate show-stopping emotional stunt work, sure. But you also need to show some restraint.

It’s possible, perhaps even likely, that each of the actors represented in the accompanying slide show cared about their films and invested themselves in their characters. The problem is that these were never really characters to begin with; they were amalgams of conceits that had in the past piqued the interest of academy voters. These roles don’t evoke real people so much as states of being: mental or physical disability, obesity or emaciation, drunkenness or craziness.

These are actors who followed tried-and-true paths to Oscar glory but were summarily ignored. The best any received for their ample, eager sweat was a Golden Globe—the classic red herring of the awards season. Big stars looking for love can always find a warm bed with the Hollywood Foreign Press, whether they’re previous winners angling for a repeat, veterans looking for affirmation, comedians desperate to be taken seriously, or upstarts eager to graduate to respectability. The Academy Awards are comparatively more discriminating, believe it or not, as the following 12 Oscar snubs demonstrate loudly.

Click here for a video slide show on Oscar-grubbing performances that didn’t even get a nomination.

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