10 Hollywood Stars Overlooked by the Oscars

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The Oscars wouldn’t be the Oscars without the snub, an annual ritual in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences overlooks deserving movies and performances in its nomination process. A recent decision to expand the number of Best Picture nominees from five to as many as 10 has addressed part of the problem, but actors, actresses and directors continue to be snubbed every year, with too few nominations to go around. Some snubs are worse than others, however. The following 10 people generally earned a few nominations, but have mostly gone home empty-handed on Oscar night.

10. Gary Oldman

Gary Oldham has only one Oscar nomination in his lengthy career.

Photo credit: Andrea Raffin

It’s not at all unusual for actors to go unrecognized for their best work, at least at the time, only to finally see the awards piling up years later. Oldman looked like he was going to miss out on the honors altogether until receiving his first Academy Award nomination for 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, not his finest performance, but certainly up to this British actor’s high standards. It was a remarkable turn as punk rocker Sid Vicious in the 1986 film Sid and Nancy that got his career rolling. Later performances as Lee Harvey Oswald in 1991’s JFK and the title role in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) were just as impressive, and couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Oldman’s chameleon-like quality is the very thing, however, that has made it difficult for members of the Academy to get a bead on him.


9. Audrey Hepburn

Iconic actress Audrey Hepburn won only one Oscar during her storied career.

Audrey Hepburn, 1957.

She did have one Oscar win, two if you want to get technical, but considering Hepburn’s iconic station in Hollywood history, not to mention the enduring popularity of some of her performances, she should have received more recognition. Has there ever been an Oscar telecast montage that didn’t include that shot of Hepburn looking into the windows of Tiffany’s (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961)? Yet Hepburn won her Oscar for Roman Holiday (1953), her first starring role. Many film scholars believe Hepburn deserved an Academy Award for her turn as Eliza Doolittle in the 1964 musical My Fair Lady. She undertook extensive vocal training for the role, only to have 90 percent of her singing dubbed in the film’s final cut; consequently, Hepburn didn’t even receive an Oscar nomination. The Academy gave the actress a humanitarian award in 1993, but it was posthumous.


8. Orson Welles

Orson Welles' epic Citizen Kane was snubbed by the Academy, much like Welles' other work.

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, 1941.

It’s certainly conceivable that had Citizen Kane received the recognition from the Academy it deserved it wouldn’t be the revered picture it is today. And no, this “greatest movie ever made” may not be all that, but it was unquestionably the best film of 1940. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to How Green Was My Valley, as mediocre a movie as you’ll find, and Welles failed to garner Best Director or Best Actor awards (he did win for Best Original Screenplay). But never mind Citizen Kane. Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai (1947), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and Touch of Evil (1958) were also groundbreaking films, and went unheralded by the Academy. But Welles was an auteur, he was difficult, and his pictures always had uphill battles to climb when it came to marketing and release. The establishment has never known what to do with filmmakers like Welles.


7. Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe's status as a sex symbol may have hurt her Oscar chances.

Marilyn Monroe in 1962, not long before her death.

We know her as the definitive sex symbol, and pretty much stop there. This is nothing new; Monroe struggled to be taken seriously as an actress throughout her highly successful career. She did herself no favors by being notoriously difficult to work with, byproducts of a crippling stage fright and problems with addiction. But time and again Monroe’s co-stars and directors took the trouble to acknowledge how surprised they were by her high level of talent and commitment to getting it right, from Billy Wilder, who directed her in 1959’s Some Like it Hot, to Laurence Olivier, her director on 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl. For years she worked to move beyond the bimbo roles that made her a star, and those two films, along with Bus Stop (1956) and her last movie, The Misfits (1961), showcase Oscar-worthy Monroe performances. Alas, the Academy never took notice.


6. Sidney Poitier

Sydney Poitier won an Oscar for best actor, but some of his best work went completely ignored.

Sydney Poitier in 1963.

It’s difficult to point to racial prejudice holding Poitier back when he won a Best Actor Oscar for 1963’s Lilies in the Field, the first black man to do so. But the actor’s troubles came later. Few performers have had a year like Poitier did in 1967, with starring roles in To Sir, With Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. He deserved at least an Oscar nomination for any one of those performances, but received no recognition, even though In the Heat of the Night won five Academy Awards on seven nominations. Poitier used the profile gained from his 1963 Oscar win to become prominent in the Civil Rights Movement, controversial at the time. The actor had also taken to playing idealized black characters, men above reproach, and there was a backlash. Poitier intentionally went in this direction because he wanted to crush black stereotypes.


5. Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington has two Oscar wins, but could have won several more.

Denzel Washington at the 1990 Oscar Ceremony; Alan Light

He has two acting Oscars with his name on them, but like many movie stars who have been blessed with longevity, his best performances have gone unrewarded by the Academy. Washington’s interpretation of a slave-turned-soldier with a huge chip on his shoulder in the 1989 Civil War film Glory was justly recognized with a Best Supporting Actor win, but Washington’s second Oscar, as Best Actor in 2001’s Training Day, felt like a make-up award for several earlier oversights. A title performance in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) was too dangerous, Tom Hanks got all the glory for 1993’s Philadelphia and controversy surrounding the 1999 film Hurricane doomed Washington’s chances at Oscar recognition. Playing against type worked for the actor in Training Day, however, and it’s a gimmick he’s often returned to since, with diminishing returns.


4. Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick won a special effects Oscar for 2001, but never for best director.

Stanley Kubrick in 1975.

His films have always been more admired than loved. There’s a chilliness to them that tends to keep audiences at an arm’s length, and this goes a long way toward explaining why the Oscars have consistently overlooked Kubrick’s work. Despite several nominations, the filmmaker only received one Academy Award during his career — for Best Special Effects (a category now extinct) in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course, 2001 is now considered one of the most important motion pictures ever made. But it’s hard to love, just like Kubrick’s Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1964), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining (1980). The latter film even got a Razzie nomination for worst director, and Stephen King, creator of the source work, was not a fan. Is all this to suggest that the Oscars, at least in part, are a popularity contest? Absolutely.


3. Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep has more Oscar nominations than anyone, but only two wins.

Meryl Streep; Jack Mitchell

She’s by far the most honored performer in Academy Award history, with 17 acting nominations — three for Best Supporting Actress and a whopping 14 for Best Actress. But then how can someone with so many Oscar nods have just two wins (for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice three years later)? Streep, despite being synonymous with the Oscars, hasn’t won one in 30 years. Her turns in Silkwood (1983), the underrated Bridges of Madison County (1995) and The Hours (2002) were strong enough to merit an Oscar in any year. But Streep’s portrayal, for all intents and purposes, of Vogue magazine editrix Anna Wintour in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada began what’s become a banal trend for the actress — tour de force impersonations of larger-than-life real people (Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher) that may be deserving of an Oscar nomination, but not an award.


2. Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore is one of the finest actresses of her generation, but has never won an Oscar.

Julianne Moore, 2009;  Nicolas Genin

Sometimes — most of the time, really — coming out on the losing end at Oscar time is nothing personal. It’s just bad luck. This has certainly been the case with Julianne Moore’s acting career – no Oscar wins on four nominations, with at least four more unrecognized performances deserving of nominations. But two of Moore’s nominations (for 1997’s Boogie Nights and 1999’s The End of the Affair) took a back seat to higher-profile turns (Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential and especially Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, respectively). Moore then canceled herself out with two nods in 2003, for Far From Heaven and The Hours. The risk-taking actress should have been nominated for Short Cuts (1993), Magnolia (1999), A Single Man (2009) or The Kids are All Right (2010). But at least Moore received a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on As the World Turns in the 1980s.


1. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese has consistently been snubbed by the Academy on Oscar night.

Martin Scorsese, 2010; Georges Biard

The Academy’s neglect of this filmmaker is the stuff of legend, so much so that any Oscars he does win for Best Director will seem like an apology. That’s what Scorsese’s one Oscar, for 2006’s The Departed, felt like. A fine Boston crime drama, it was routine, commercial fare for Scorsese, yet even before it was released Hollywood insiders were talking up the film as Scorsese’s Oscar, just to get that monkey off the Academy’s back. It’s still there. You can’t overlook Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980; Scorsese lost Best Director to Robert Redford) and Goodfellas (1990; Scorsese lost to Kevin Costner) and expect to be forgiven. Redford’s Ordinary People is a compelling, lasting motion picture, but Dances With Wolves? Maybe the Oscars should institute a policy of retroactive do-overs.


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Todd Hill has been a working journalist since 1987, with a focus on meteorology, climate studies and the Hollywood and independent film industries. After 20 years in the media maelstrom of New York City, Todd is now based on a farm in the rural highlands of central Ohio.