Mel Gibson "The Beaver"
To be fair, Mel Gibson could have given a performance that Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando would both come back from the dead to praise, and still no one would have wanted to give him any credit for it. The film was delayed while the latest backlash against him died down a bit. In a weird way, knowing what we know about Gibson; that he is a very flawed, very complicated and talented man, makes this film more powerful. It also caused many people to not even give it a chance.
One of Gibson's closest friends, is his co-star and director, Jodie Foster. That she only thought of Gibson in this role, speaks volumes.
What Gibson gave her was a performance worthy of an Oscar Nomination. If this was back when everyone loved Mel, he would have gotten that nomination. Current Mel barely gets work that is not of his own making right now. And I think only current Mel could have pulled this role off as well as he does.
Gene Hackman "Hoosiers"
When "Hoosiers" came out, Dennis Hopper got most of the acting accolades for his flashier role. But I was also shocked to see Hackman did not get an Oscar Nomination for his role. More than any actor playing a coach, Hackman as Norman Dale, feels the most natural, the most believable. If he makes it look easy, that's also kind of the point.
In fact, Hackman was so good for so long, he was sometimes under-appreciated. His performance in "The Conversation," has become at least semi-iconic. No nomination for that one either.
Natalie Portman "The Professional"
Natalie Portman's first performance at age 12, was a pretty incredible debut. In fact, all three main performances are pretty awesome. The chemistry between Portman and Jean Reno helps elevate this film to one of the finest of its type. This performance would not only fit right in as a nominee for that year's Oscars; (Was Susan Sarandon in the nearly forgotten "The Client," really better than Portman that year?) it was good enough to deserve the award.
Gary Oldman "Immortal Beloved"
Gary Oldman is one of the finest actors working in film, and has been for his entire career. Just as Hackman IS a high school basketball coach, Oldman IS Beethoven to me. For such an expressive actor, Oldman in this scene, makes simply putting his (best) ear to the piano, to feel the vibrations as he plays, both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Jim Caviezel "The Thin Red Line"
The balance of underplaying with enough expressions to fill up a silent movie. Caviezel is so strong as Private Witt, and develops such good chemistry with Sean Penn as 1st Sgt. Walsh, that Witt became the closest thing to a main character there is in the film. Adrian Brody was supposed to be the main character, but for Malick, Caviezel was just too good. This is even more impressive with the fact that Brody himself is no slouch; winning an Oscar a few years later.
This scene is one in which Caviezel essentially wrote himself. Malick asked him what he thought of Sean Penn. Caviezel replied, "One day he is your best friend and the next day you get nothing. He is like a rock."
And when Penn would chide Caviezel on set for his faith, asking if he was still chasing the light, well Malick put that response in the script too.
Anthony Perkins "Psycho"
Seriously? One of the most iconic performances in the history of cinema. One that made Perkins struggle with being typecast the rest of his career.
Perkins wasn't alone entirely. That year's Oscars is more embarrassing than most, when you look back on it. "Psycho" was not nominated for best picture, not best score, not best screenplay.
Christian Bale "American Psycho"
This film seemed just a few years too soon to be appreciated properly. A precursor to later films like "Fight Club." Bale is one of our finest actors. Don't forget the man almost never gets to use his own speaking voice. He helps create a character in a film that at some times feels like a murderous Jim Carrey, and in another moment tries to contain his inner rage and embarrassment in his business cards not being as nice as his colleagues.
Anthony Hopkins "Shadowlands"
In 1993, Hopkins was so good, something had to give. For his role as C.S. Lewis in "Shadowlands," Hopkins won the coveted BAFTA award for Best Lead Actor. He also won the National Board of Review Award, the Los Angeles Film Association Award and the Southeastern Film Critics Association Award. But his Oscar Nomination that year was for his role in "Remains of the Day," leaving the better performance to not be voted on by the Academy. Tom Hanks would win for "Philadelphia." As good as Hanks was, Hopkins was better, twice.
Nicolas Cage "Raising Arizona"
Nicolas Cage is such a curiosity. To the extent the television show "Community," recently had a class at Greendale, that asked the question, "Nicolas Cage, Good or Bad?" Some people think he overacts all the time, but I would argue he is one of our very finest over-actors. In much of "Raising Arizona," as screwball a screwball comedy as the Coen Brothers will probably ever make, he is actually holding back much of the time. This is to great effect as he plays off everyone around him, while still being able to vamp when necessary. Every decision, every expression is spot on. It is a great comedic performance. And alongside the more Oscar ready, alcoholic role in "Leaving Las Vegas," his finest work.
Gene Wilder "Young Frankenstein"
We have probably seen all we will ever see of Gene Wilder on screen. When he was in his prime, there was no better comedic actor. Nominated for "The Producers," he was also not acknowledged for any of his other great performances. "Young Frankenstein" is as much a success because of Wilder, as it is Mel Brooks.
Wilder co-wrote the script (the concept was also his idea) and gives not only a hilariously funny performance, but one with some inner rage too. Maybe Wilder will get an Honorary Academy Award, like Steve Martin just did. This seems to be the way great comedic performances get (eventually) recognized.
And if you think, wait, Al Pacino was in "The Godfather Part II" that year. Jack Nicholson was in "Chinatown." Dustin Hoffman was in "Lenny." Yes. And Art Carney won the award for "Harry and Tonto." Surely Gene Wilder would have looked just fine in that list of nominees.