The Top 10 Female Performances That Should Have Won Oscar

by Bill Gibron

8 December 2011

It's the ladies turn now as we attempt to right ten Oscar wrongs when it comes to overlooked award-worthy performances.

Gwyneth Paltrow has one. So does Natalie Portman. Marlee Matlin, Halle Berry, and Reese Witherspoon are all walking around with the accolade attached to their brand. Heck, even Helen Hunt can claim her place in the pantheon of Oscar winning actresses (Really? REALLY???). In fact, over the last two decades, it seems that publicity and warped media sentiment have skewed the awarding of Academy gold more so than actual talent. It’s as if the PR companies and the various critics groups get together, whittle down the list of potential candidates to a “who hasn’t got one yet?” collection of names, and then begins the process of setting the Year-End agenda. Perhaps that explains why Hillary Swank has two statues while Gena Rowlands has none.

As we did last week, List This will once again pinpoint ten specific instances where the voting members of the movie business got it wrong - or failed to recognize a worthy role all together. Again, we will present them in alphabetical order, along with the film we feel makes our case. In certain instances, an actress may have already been nominated for said effort, but ended up losing for reasons that routinely boggle the mind. While not at all inclusive, it is clear that, in most cases, the tide or time was simply not in their favor. In other situations, however, there is no explanation for their exclusion (or possible exclusion).

Deborah Kerr (An Affair to Remember)

Syrupy and sappy, the ultimate chick flick gave way to the definitive performance by its lovely lead actress. Though Kerr would gain international superstardom thanks to her turn in The King and I (where her singing was dubbed, by the way), her Oscar nods came for films - From Here to Eternity, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Separate Tables - where her work was overshadowed by the male members of the cast. Here, alongside Cary Grant, she dazzles as the lovelorn lounge singer (again, with someone else’s voice) whose tragic circumstances lead to one of the most tear-jerking finales ever.

Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights)

Though she’s been exceptional in almost every film she’s been in, there is something about the slight, red-headed Moore playing a saucy, struggling porn star that encapsulates what’s great about her. From the mothering instinct she shows to the members of the production company to the open abandon of the sex, we get all facets of her performance finery. Toward the end, when the character’s own world is slowly imploding, Moore delivers the kind of fragility and vulnerability that earns heartache…but, apparently, not Oscar glory.

Mary Tyler Moore (Ordinary People)

Talk about challenging your public’s preconceived notions of who you are. In the ‘60s, she was the suburban sunshine in a harried TV comedy writer’s life. In the ‘70s, she was an entire nation’s feminist sweetheart. So when Mary Tyler Moore decided to trip her typecasting, she did so with pizzazz. As the cold and distant mother unable to love the remaining members of her troubled family, stoicism gives way to something a bit more…sinister. At the end, when facing the possible loss of everything, Ms. Moore’s breakdown is enough to walk away with several statutes.

Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface)

She was only 25 when pitted against post-modern legends Brian DePalma, Oliver Stone, and Al Pacino in the immortal Miami drug kingpin tale, and not only did she hold her own, she frequently outmatched - and outmanned - them. Pfeiffer was presented as a porcelain problem, an ice queen who was a single snort away from falling apart…or perhaps, just fading away. While there is a lot of surface to the turn (the hair and wardrobe added to the allure)  it’s the hidden depth which devastates us. 

Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet)

David Lynch loves to feature wily, wounded women in his films. For every blond, blue-eyed cliche, he countermands with a darker, more mysterious Miss. Then girlfriend Rossellini was given one of his most intricate portraits, a character that was part chanteuse, part atomic fire ball, and all naked (literally) vulnerability and she handled it all with chutzpah, and heart. It remains her seminal onscreen work - and in many ways, the best thing Lynch has ever done.

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