When it comes to being nominated for an Academy Award, there are performances that shine more than others, causing critics and fans alike to “expect” these performances to be nominated. Very often these same performances gain some precursor award nominations, such as the Golden Globe or the SAG, which builds the momentum and enhances the expectation that the Oscar nomination is guaranteed to happen. Yet when the day comes, the very performances that were “guaranteed” the nomination lack that very outcome. Instead, a “surprise nominee” or a flavor-of-the-week performance is put in their place, thus forever dooming the performance the chance of winning the coveted Oscar. Below are 10 “guaranteed” Oscar nominations (in the last 12 years) that weren’t nominated:
Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler (2014)
Gyllenhaal’s performance as a sociopathic opportunist was critically acclaimed, grabbed every precursor nomination, but still was snubbed when the Oscar nominations came around. Gyllenhaal was the perfect combination of chilling and determination whose moments of vulnerability were frightening to watch.
Who was nominated instead: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips (2013)
Perhaps Hanks’ best performance in over a decade. Starring as real-life Captain Richard Phillips, whose cargo ship was hijacked in 2009 by Somalian pirates who also took him hostage, Hanks’ performance is harrowing and meticulously controlled. Despite being considered a “shoo-in” for his first Best Actor nomination in 13 years, Hanks walked into that year’s Oscars without a nomination.
Who was nominated instead: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Maybe one of the most glaring Best Actress snubs in recent years was Thompson’s performance as P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, whose stinginess challenged the Disney corporation and Walt Disney himself as they worked together to adapt Mary Poppins into a feature film. Thompson’s performance is a true example of an actor carefully constructing a character and portraying a beautiful progression within that persona, yet this wasn’t enough for the Academy.
Who was nominated instead: Meryl Streep, August: Osage County
Ben Affleck for Argo (2012)
Technically Affleck’s snub was for Best Director for Argo, which is one of the most obvious and embarrassing snubs in the history of the Academy Awards. Not only did Affleck win every precursor award, including the Director’s Guild Award, but Argo went onto winning the Oscar for Best Picture. This shook the credibility of Oscars tremendously in 2012.
Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained (2012)
Many felt DiCaprio deliberately took his first supporting role in over 10 years in an attempt to finally win an Oscar, even if it wasn’t a Leading Actor one. Added onto that, many felt that DiCaprio playing a racist villain in Quentin Tarantino’s western seemed like such a departure for him that he most assuredly would win his overdue Oscar. Yet while DiCaprio was a standout and his monologues were perfectly delivered, the unexpected happened: his co-star, Christoph Waltz, outshined him in the film, took his nomination and won the Oscar for himself. Talk about irony!
Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
This particular Oscar snub can only be justified with the rationale that the film was too independent to truly give Swinton a chance of being nominated for Lead Actress. Her performance as a mother who raises a son who grows up become a serial killer is a performance that can barely be described with words. Essentially her performance is a dual one with half her performance being the victim of socialized hatred and the other as a mother who realizes her son is evil and nobody will listen to her. Her acting is astonishing, which had enough clout to get her every precursor nomination, but her performance was still part of a film that was too small to garner her a Oscar nomination. This snub is a prime example of small films being grossly ignored by the Oscars.
Who was nominated instead: Rooney Mara, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Andrew Garfield for The Social Network (2010)
The Social Network needed a moral epicenter and that performance came solely from Garfield, whose performance was both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking at once. Garfield was able to perfectly capture the dissolution of a friendship and the following resentment from it within his performance.
Who was nominated instead: Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right
Jack Nicholson for The Departed (2006)
The one expectation everyone had before they saw The Departed was that Jack Nicholson was going to dazzle audiences with his first role as a villain in years, and he didn’t disappoint. Using real-life Boston gangster Whitey Bulger as an inspiration and with director Martin Scorsese giving him free-license to do whatever he wanted with the performance, Nicholson’s performance was the primary reason for The Departed’s popularity. However, he was snubbed when the nominations were announced with many speculating he wasn’t nominated for having been notorious for doing the roles of villains in the past.
Who was nominated instead: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Paul Giamatti for Sideways (2004)
The entirety of Alexander Payne’s Sideways rested upon the shoulders of Paul Giamatti. The film’s progression and narrative all hinged on Giamatti’s character, therefore the film placed a high dependency for him to deliver a performance that was both knowledgeable and relatable to audiences while avoiding the risk of his character coming off as overbearing or neurotic. Every character and scene in the film is reactionary to him and his role, yet Giamatti crafted a dramatic yet comedic performance that carried the film to success. Despite his achievement, Giamatti was ignored by the Academy while his co-stars were nominated instead.
Who was nominated instead: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Scarlett Johansson for Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost in Translation needed both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in order for the film to function, such as a table needing two legs in order to stand. The two actors played off of each other effectively, resulting in one of the most profound films about friendship and mortality. Johansson’s performance as a lonely wife who begins to believe in herself after she starts a friendship with a washed-up actor is a remarkable performance, and a tender one too. It further stands as a glaring Oscar omission that Johansson didn’t receive a nomination for Best Actress when Bill Murray was nominated for Best Actor.
Who got the nomination instead: Noami Watts, 21 Grams