Amy Adams — Arrival
Amy Adams has been nominated for an Academy Award five times since 2006 and remains without a win. Yet, for some reason there is no DiCaprio-esque internet campaign begging for her to win. Her performance in Arrival is a touching nuanced look at motherhood that grounds the film when it gets more and more ridiculous.
Reese Witherspoon — Legally Blonde
Comedy performances are often dismissed by the Academy (see Tiffany Haddish) and Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde is one of them. As Elle Woods, the LA blonde who is dumped by her boyfriend because she is too blonde, Witherspoon gives a performance of pain and determination that aggressively challenges stereotypes. And, she does this while performing a bend and snap.
Julie Delpy — Before Sunset
The Before Trilogy is full of subtle ticks and Delpy gives a different kind of performance than most romantic leads in the sequel. Her job is arguably the hardest as she has to convince us that Jesse would leave his wife and child for her. Delpy refuses to go big, settling for a performance filled with subtle observations. It works. We fall hopelessly in love with Céline and celebrate the super romantic ending.
Ellen Page — Hard Candy
As Page has segued more into interesting indies than studio or awards fare, it is worth noting how volatile and commanding she is as Hayley in David Slade’s unpretentious and deliciously nasty movie about a would-be victim turning the tables on her groomer (Patrick Wilson). Paige gives a performance most adult actors would struggle with as Hayley remains unsympathetic and keeps us guessing in this moral minefield.
Rosalind Russell — His Girl Friday
Howard Hawks’ women were famous for deconstructing their overly masculine counterparts. There is arguably no better example of this trope than Hildy Johnson, the fast-talking reporter in His Girl Friday. Russell deserves praise for being able to spit out her lines at the speed Hawks requires, and her sharp tongue is as sharp as her suits. It is a performance you come away from wanting to bow at an actresses’ feet.
Best Supporting Actress
Carrie-Anne Moss — Memento
Before she became Jessica Jones’ frenemy, Moss was terrorising Guy Pearce in Nolan’s Memento. The backwards structure instantly demands repeat viewings and with every watch Moss lets you discover a new facet to Natalie. Natalie is incredibly hard to read and we’re never really sure what her game plan is as she manipulates Leonard into committing crimes.
Imelda Staunton — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
If there is one character Potterheads hate more than Voldemort, it’s Professor Umbridge. At least Voldemort had an ideology, Umbridge, a quasi-dictator high on her love of authority, is evil for evil’s sake. Staunton slowly reveals the cruelty in her character’s kindness and she has fun showcasing every layer Umbridge has. It is one of the more-nuanced performances in the series, and one we feel was overlooked, much like Alan Rickman’s Snape, because of the franchise’s child-fantasy label.
Samantha Morton — Minority Report
Morton has shied away from Hollywood, and it took Steven Spielberg and his fascination with British character actors to bring her into the fold as Agatha, the tragic precog in the middle of Minority Report. Both relatable and otherworldly, Agatha is haunted by her powers and Morton treats Agatha as a metaphor for addiction. She also isn’t afraid to go big when the time calls for it. RUN!
Allison Janney — American Beauty
It took a while, but Janney finally received her due this year for I, Tonya after providing stellar supporting turns in a variety of different movies. As the constrained housewife of Chris Cooper, Janney does a lot with a little and she gives a memorable quiet performance amongst the loudness of Kevin Spacey and Annette Benning.
Gina Rodriguez — Deepwater Horizon
An unpretentious action pick is never going to win over the Academy and as a result, Rodriguez’s performance of quiet determination was overlooked. She finds Andrea’s inner-strength as the oil-drill explodes and perfectly judges her breakdown when it all becomes too much.
Best Supporting Actor
John Cazale — The Godfather Part II
A the snivelling Fredo Corleone in The Godfather Part II, Cazale gives his best performance. In one of the many confrontations he has with Michael (Al Pacino), it is the scene where Fredo complains about being looked after by his “kid brother” that is the most powerful. Trapped in a chair, Cazale underlines Fredo’s jealousy and shows the consequences of constantly being dismissed.
Sean Astin — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
When Peter Jackson’s final instalment of his acclaimed trilogy won 11 Oscars, none were for acting. No one complained, it was a franchise more focused on the technical craftsmanship of filmmaking. However, there is one performance that deserved a nomination and that is Astin as Samwise Gamgee. In the final instalment, Astin delivers the franchise’s heart and soul as his hobbit will do anything to help Frodo. He is the emotional lynchpin and all our hopes and fears rest on his shoulders.
Bill Nunn — Do The Right Thing
There are always actors who steal the show and when you think about Do The Right Thing, it is Bill Nunn as Radio Raheem you remember. Tragic and funny, he perfectly encapsulates Spike Lee’s incendiary drama about racial tensions simmering in a New York street on the hottest day of the year. Nunn makes you care about the injustice inflicted on Raheem through subtle characterisation. He’s just the innocent soul who wants to get down, and meets a tragic end through circumstances he can’t control.
Ice Cube — Boyz n the Hood
Sure, Lawrence Fishburne waxing lyrical as a barber is great, but it is Ice Cube who captures the film’s essence. As Fat Boy is fixed on being a gangster and settling in the hood, his choices haunt him as the climax approaches, and we feel that maybe his choices have been made for him by circumstance and neglect. It’s an often overlooked dramatic performance by the rapper that is as fierce as any of his raps.
Vincent D’Onofrio — Full Metal Jacket
It’s hard to believe Full Metal Jacket didn’t receive any Oscar nominations especially considering D’Onofrio’s performance as the bullied Private Pyle. As Pyle, the actor suggests the mental trauma that occurs when you resist being turned into a killing machine. Pyle being pushed into madness by a system designed to protect him is a dark reminder of the impact of war on the average soldier.