10 Great Performances You Probably Have Never Heard Of (But Should See!)

Even though an actor may be nominated for an Oscar, or even win one, that doesn’t mean the performance will be immortalized. Instead what usually occurs is the subsequent year’s winners detract from the momentum viewers once had of particular performances. Another possibility falls in that while a performance may have been nominated, the film was too independently made, thus not attracting the attention it deserved. In such instances the nomination is the reward for those actors, even if theirs was the better performance. One final explanation falls in that despite delivering a phenomenal performance, an actor may have outdone himself with his later, or former, work. For instance, Sean Connery is universally known as the original James Bond, yet most fail to remember that he actually won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables in 1987. On paper, The Untouchables is Connery’s finest work, but that is not what he is remembered for. With these reasons being at the forefront of consideration, below are 10 performances that have been seemingly forgotten, but ought to be acknowledged.

Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot (1989)
Daniel Day-LewisIt is difficult to imagine Daniel Day-Lewis ever being an unknown actor, yet this was Day-Lewis’ breakthrough role. Playing the role of true-life writer and painter Christy Brown, Day-Lewis is astonishing portraying Brown, who suffered from severe cerebral palsy and only had mobility in his left foot. This was Day-Lewis’ first Best Actor Oscar win, yet most people seem to have forgotten the film that initially got him noticed. This may be due to Day-Lewis continually outdoing himself with each new role he embodies.

Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives (1992)
Judy DavisUp until Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine in 2013, nobody came close to channeling the neurosis of a Woody Allen script as effectively as Judy Davis. Her performance is the perfect combination of hilarity and dramatic, while embodying the neurotic New Yorker that has always been so prevalent in Allen’s films. Playing a wife who flippantly decides to divorce her husband and then resents the idea of moving on herself, Davis’ performance is the epitome of a Woody Allen character, whose hysteria almost seems to be justified through her performance.

Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Angela LansburyThe unfortunate thing about Angela Lansbury is that both her film and stage career have been overshadowed by her television career on the show Murder She Wrote. Most people associate her with the character Jessica Fletcher and fail to recognize her other achievements. Her performance in The Manchurian Candidate is the quintessential villain role in thrillers, with her acting conveying manipulation and the support for destruction. Just in the last year she made #21 in AFI’s “100 Heroes and Villains” list, yet this hadn’t been enough for film viewers’ recognition.

Bruce Davison in Longtime Companion (1990)
Bruce DavisonLongtime Companion was one of the first gay themed film that focused on the AIDS epidemic. The film features a large group of friends and chronicles a single day within each given year of the 1980s. Even though the film is an ensemble piece, Davison’s performance is a tremendous standout as the partner who endures taking care of AIDS-afflicted lover. The level of controlled sympathy and love Davison exhibits in his acting is tremendous. Despite winning the Golden Globe for his performance, he lost the Oscar win to the flashier (and more popular) performance of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, which all ensured that Davison’s performance would be forgotten.

Geoffrey Rush in Quills (2000)
MSDQUIL FE009This is perhaps the best performance in Rush’s career, but it has been overshadowed by his Pirates of the Caribbean work or with his recent role in The King’s Speech. He stars as real-life writer and sadist, The Marquis De Sade, who is accredited by most as the first to write pornography. He was clinically insane and was confined within a mental institution, yet that did not stop him from having his sexualized manuscripts smuggled out of the institution and be published for all to read throughout France. Rush’s performance is witty and hinges on the ledge of madness, but Rush also interjects subtle moments of humanity that allow for this performance to be his finest work.

Ben Kingsley for House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Ben KingsleyKingsley has always had an interesting career of providing both stellar and mortifying work to viewers. Nobody is more inconsistent with their career than Ben Kingsley, who even portrayed himself as an arrogant Hollywood insider in an episode of The Sopranos. However, when Kingsley delivers a good performance, it tends to be extraordinary. House of Sand and Fog is one such performance, but it is unlike any of the other work Kingsley has done before. His performance portrays someone whose pride has marred him and doesn’t want to relent from the fight that has been brought to him. His performance is astounding due to his ability to gain sympathy from the viewer even though his character is fundamentally flawed. It is a heartbreaking performance and one that should have won the Oscar for Best Actor, yet this film was too independent and Kingsley’s nomination was his reward. Added onto that, Sean Penn’s performance in Mystic River was unstoppable that year, winning everything in its sight.

Al Pacino in Dick Tracy (1990)
Al PacinoAfter the first two Godfather films, Dick Tracy is Al Pacino’s most profitable film. Based off the 1950s comic strip, this live-action Disney film was one of the more successful films of the 90s. Warren Beatty Produced, Directed and Starred as Dick Tracy, the detective who wants to take down the mafia. More specifically, he wants to take down the mafia’s leader, Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino). Pacino, despite being the film’s villain, is hilarious in this role. Pacino also completely threw himself into this role, even going as so far to designing the makeup for his character. It is a highly animated, very expressive, performance from Pacino that allows for him to steal every scene he’s in. Undoubtedly his Oscar nomination was his reward since Joe Pesci’s Oscar win for Goodfellas was also expressive, but was more on the side of realism.

Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There (2007)
Cate BlanchettThere’s no dispute that Cate Blanchett is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood today, and while she is acknowledged and respected, there are so many roles of hers that viewers have grossly ignored. The most glaring is her performance in I’m Not There, the Bob Dylan biopic whose narrative is crafted like a scattered jigsaw-puzzle and stars 6 separate actors as Dylan. Each of these actors represented different moments in Dylan’s career, with Blanchett’s character representing Dylan’s music genre change controversy when he went from folk music to electronic rock in 1966. Her character also represents his European tour of 1966, showcasing the famous “Judas!” concert incident. Not only does Blanchett provide a window into the mind of Bob Dylan in her performance, but she essentially became the man herself through the performance. She completely transformed herself and captured the personality of Dylan so effectively that one would think she was a walking replica of the man himself.

Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger (1973)
Jack LemmonMost of Jack Lemmon’s career has been overshadowed by his later work with Walter Matthau, especially the Grumpy Old Men films of the 1990s. Many are taken by surprise when they learn that Lemmon was an incredible dramatic actor, not merely the comedic actor most associate him as. Time has been better with Lemmon lately, with his roles in Glengarry Glenn Ross, The Apartment and Some Like it Hot being acknowledged. Yet it is Save the Tiger that most film viewers tend to forgot about, which is ironic considering Jack Lemmon won his Best Actor Oscar for the performance. Lemmon is in every scene of this film, which follows his character for a day and a half as he clings to his past, tries to eliminate his debts by organizing his business to be burned down for him to collect the insurance, and dealing with PTSD from the war. Lemmon’s performance is that of a man who is desperate and on the verge of a breakdown, yet his acting his so precise and controlled that its awe-inspiring.

Maggie Smith in California Suite (1978)
Maggie SmithWhile Maggie Smith has become a household name since Downton Abbey, many tend to be surprised that she is also a two-time Oscar winner. Yet even with these two Oscar wins, most aren’t aware of her second one in the Neil Simon comedy, California Suite. The film is four vignettes all taking place in the same hotel. Each vignette has its memorable moments, but it is the one with Maggie Smith and Michael Caine that is cinematic gold within this film. Staring as an actress who is nominated for an Oscar and is nervously awaiting the ceremony, Maggie Smith provides the most amusing mix of comedy through her character’s anxiety. Furthermore, Smith’s acting escalates into comedic brilliance after her character loses the award and she gets filthy drunk in response. As a side note, Maggie Smith’s Oscar win for this film was the first, and only instance, of an actor winning an Oscar for portraying an Oscar loser within a film.

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