The Top 10 Male Performances That Should Have Won Oscar

by Bill Gibron

30 November 2011

The Academy doesn't always get it right. Here are 10 definitive male performances that definitely deserved Oscar gold.

As November grinds to a halt, as December announces the arrival of the end of each particular year, film critics and fans of the medium start contemplating awards—bests and worsts, the deserving and the soon to be discarded. It’s a ritual as traditional as pumpkin pie, fantasy football, the tannenbaum, and of course, the complementary complaining about movies and makers still MIA. Sit in on any cinematic sewing circle and just listen to the laundry list of complaints—director’s wrongfully snubbed, films erroneously praised—and you come to a clear conclusion: even within groups where consensus seems to strive for balance, the good aren’t always given their due and the dreadful often walk away with gold.

Sometimes, however, the failures are more than egregious. They stare you squarely in the face and announce their lack of careful consideration. Roberto Benigni may have wowed the unfamiliar with his farcical take on the Holocaust, but in retrospect, Life Is Beautiful didn’t deserve any of the accolades it received. In fact, similar statements can be made about titles as diverse as West Side Story or The Return of the King. With that in mind, the next four installments of List This will try and highlight ten of the many slights experienced by actors, actresses, directors, and their movies. While there are many, many more, the one’s selected represent a real lack of vision on the part of voters and those who support such annual appraisals. Beginning with the men, we offer the following:

Johnny Depp (Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

Fans love his work as Captain Jack Sparrow (a couple of billion dollars can’t be wrong, right?) but the truth is that Depp has done such fantastic things that picking a single performance to champion is difficult at best. You could go with the melancholy Edward Scissorhands, or the clueless crap-master Ed Wood. Beyond Burton, his work in Public Enemies, Blow, and the recent Rum Diary inspire a similar kind of appreciation. But in taking on one of the most difficult roles in all of musical history - Sondheim’s Victorian serial killer barber - Depp tested every facet of his movie star mantle - and succeeded brilliantly.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)

When scholars go back and trace the career of this stunning male model-esque superstar, they will point to this particular film as the moment when the matinee idol finally went legitimate. Tapping into an anger heretofore unknown and maturing before our eyes, his work in this wrongly underrated drama deserved the highest award the Academy could bestow. Indeed, without his efforts here, subsequent hits such as Shutter Island and Inception would have been impossible. DiCaprio needed to grow up and break free of his Titanic image. This is the film - and the performance - that turned the tide.

Robert Downey Jr. (Zodiac)

As part of David Fincher’s focused nostalgia nasty, a look at one of the most notorious unsolved serial killer cases ever, Downey delivered one of those sensational showboating turns that kept the entire experience from turning too dark and depressing. Here, he’s the flamboyant investigative reporter who believes he can solve the Zodiac crimes, all while his own vices threaten to undermine his professional and personal life. Though he disappears toward the end of the second act, Downey’s defiant work makes all other parts of this piece even better. A brilliant turn in a shocking underappreciated film.

Cary Grant (North by Northwest)

Suave and sophisticated, light and frothy - those are the terms usually associated with the last legitimate link to old world Hollywood hunkiness. In fact, many have used Grant’s looks and his lady killer presence to pretend he couldn’t act. Proof of how stupid such an idea is rests right here, in one of his many memorable collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock. As Roger Thornhill, the wrong man in the wrong place, he anchors this thriller with the kind of urgency and fear the material mandates. He also gets to woo Eva Marie Saint and spar with James Mason…and he never once misses a beat.

Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange)

He was great in if… He was even better in O Lucky Man. So naturally, UK young gun McDowell was seen as the rightful heir to the always open crown of superior British thesps. In between those seminal turns, Stanley Kubrick introduced him to audiences outside the arthouse circuit, hiring him to essay the pivotal role of Alex in his adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ controversial novel. It ended up becoming an inspired, iconic choice. While he would never quite regain the fame of his ‘70s stardom, McDowell satiric sociopath deserved recognition for what it was - a brilliant reflect of the oncoming Me Decade mayhem.

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