The Golden Globes rightfully takes a lot of guff for being so starstruck and so susceptible to fancy campaign tactics. To that I say … (1) welcome to awards season, and (2) for all the crassness that comes with the Globes, it makes some really good choices! The Golden Globes has the benefit of nominating actors in six categories to the Oscars’ four: Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor (Drama), Best Actor (Musical/Comedy), Best Actress (Drama), Best Actress (Musical/Comedy). This gives the Hollywood Foreign Press more chances to get it right. And while they don’t always nail it, they do habitually opt for adventurous genre choices, and actors and actresses who haven’t yet crossed Oscar’s radar.
By our estimation, there are at least 50 great movie performances from the last 25 years that were nominated for a Golden Globe but did not go on to an Oscar nomination. And because ’tis the season, we decided to rank them.
Note: We didn’t merely rank these performances by quality, but by how inexplicable it is that Oscar voters didn’t also go for them. Which is why an indie performance that is superior but more predictably excluded (like Greta Gerwig in the indie Frances Ha) is ranked lower than, say, Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was nominated for seemingly everything except its fantastic lead performance by a two-time Oscar nominee.
The Bottom 25
50. Daniel Bruhl, Rush
49. Richard Gere, Chicago
48. James McAvoy, Atonement
47. Courtney Love, The People vs. Larry Flynt
46. Uma Thurman, Kill Bill, Vol. 1
45. Matt Damon, The Informant!
44. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Traffic
43. Jeff Daniels, The Squid and the Whale
42. Kirsten Dunst, Interview With the Vampire
41. Hugh Grant, About a Boy
40. Renée Zellweger, Nurse Betty
39. Colin Farrell, In Bruges
38. Julie Delpy, Before Midnight
37. Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha
36. Rupert Everett, My Best Friend’s Wedding
35. Emma Stone, Easy A
34. Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass
33. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
32. Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding
31. Nicole Kidman, Birth
30. Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge
29. Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin
28. Pam Grier, Jackie Brown
27. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said
26. Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich
The Top 25
25. Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
While the Oscars gave Kate Winslet her fourth Oscar nomination for her role as Clementine Kruczynski in Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’s inventive and deeply emotional romance, her equally impressive counterpart Jim Carrey was basically shut out of awards season except for this well-deserved Globe nomination. Alas, the Oscars opted for, among others, Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, a decision we’d all pay a lot of money to forget.
24. Nathan Lane, The Birdcage
That The Birdcage performed so well during the 1996 Oscar precursor season might seem surprising if you just see it as a light comedy. But it’s a film with serious pedigree, directed by Mike Nichols with a screenplay adaptation by Elaine May and cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. The Golden Globes nominated it for Best Picture (Comedy) and Lane for his extravagant/vulnerable lead performance. But after showing up even bigger at the SAG Awards (winning the Best Ensemble prize), the Oscars tossed it a crumb of a Best Production Design nomination and left Lane bereft and grasping for the nearest Pirin tablet.
23. Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic
Titanic was famously a towering Oscar triumph. It tied Ben-Hur (and later Return of the King) for most wins with 11, and it tied All About Eve (and later La La Land) for most nominations with 14. It’d have that latter record all to itself if the Oscars had just followed the lead of the Golden Globes (and, like, the Zeitgeist) and nominated Leonardo DiCaprio for playing his role to movie-star perfection. As it was, fellow hot-new-thing Matt Damon edged Leo out for the young-buck slot in a 1997 Best Actor lineup that was otherwise packed with veterans like Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Peter Fonda, and Dustin Hoffman.
22. Johnny Depp, Ed Wood
The Golden Globes have been very generous to Johnny Depp over the years, with ten nominations in total. But before they started nominating him for things like Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and every Tim Burton movie and The Tourist, he was an oft-overlooked performer of great sensitivity. Ed Wood was an early masterpiece of a performance that the Globes rightly recognized (they’d done the same four years earlier with his Edward Scissorhands performance; I wasn’t kidding about every Tim Burton movie). It took the Oscars until the first Pirates movie to finally break the glass on Johnny Depp.
21. Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada
A tour de force Meryl Streep performance was always going to be Oscar catnip, so it’s no surprise at all that she was nominated for playing Miranda Priestley to icy perfection. It’s a shame that her (designer) coattails weren’t long enough to carry the hugely deserving Emily Blunt to a Supporting Actress nomination. The Globes knew better, nominating Blunt rather than young Abigail Breslin, who ended up snagging the Oscar nod. Now, 13 years later, we are still waiting for Emily Blunt’s first Oscar nomination.
20. Melissa McCarthy, Spy
The Oscars’ reticence about nominating comedy performances has been well documented. One of their rare exceptions was Melissa McCarthy’s 2011 supporting actress turn in Bridesmaids. You would think that would have been sufficient to put McCarthy on Oscar’s radar for her subsequent comedic tours de force. Like the Vespa-driving, gun-throwing, Rose Byrne–deceiving tradecraft she displayed in Spy. In a perfect world, McCarthy would have walked Oscar’s red carpet as a Best Actress nominee. It sounds so weird to say it, but: the Golden Globes represent that more perfect world!
19. Gene Hackman, The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson’s tale of dysfunction among a family of fallen intellectuals would have been nothing without Hackman’s blisteringly funny turn as grifter patriarch Royal. He won the Golden Globe for it, and rightly so. It speaks (poorly) to the Oscars’ often slow-moving acceptance of new filmmaking talent like Anderson’s that a two-time Oscar winner like Hackman couldn’t crack their Best Actor lineup.
18. John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig and the Angry Inch
If the Hedwig movie had happened a decade or more later, we could see a smart star-is-born campaign carrying John Cameron Mitchell to a surprise Oscar nomination. That was, quite frankly, never going to happen in 2001. Which makes the Golden Globes look all the more forward-thinking for nominating Mitchell for Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) for his stage-to-screen adaptation of the legendary Hedwig.
17. Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys
It was a genuine shock on nomination morning for the 2000 Oscars when Michael Douglas’s name wasn’t read among the Best Actor nominees. He was, up until then, considered a front-runner, having won the Los Angeles Film Critics’ prize for Best Actor, among other precursors. Plus he was Michael Douglas! Hollywood royalty! He and his new wife Catherine Zeta-Jones both starred in that year’s Best Picture nominee Traffic! (For which Catherine, see above, was also snubbed.) Kudos to the Globes for being the correct amount of enamored with Wonder Boys — they nominated it for Best Picture (Drama) — and with Douglas himself.
16. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
Annette Bening’s Oscar-less existence is one of those medium-temperature Oscar narratives that you only really know about if you’re really paying attention. She’s never won an Oscar on four tries, but she’s a two-time Globe winner on nine nominations, and one of those nominations was for what may well stand as career-best work in the delicately beautiful 20th Century Women. Oscar … went in another direction (read on).
15. Meryl Streep, The Hours
Meryl Streep getting snubbed by the Oscars for 2002’s The Hours is probably one of the least-noticed snubs of all time, since Streep was nominated for Adaptation that same year, while both of Streep’s The Hours co-stars, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, were nominated and were more than capable of holding up that film’s awards-y reputation. But there’s a strong argument that Streep delivers the best performance in The Hours, besting even Kidman’s (excellent) Oscar-winning turn as Virginia Woolf. It’s good that the Golden Globes saw fit to include Meryl’s performance among their Best Actress (Drama) nominees, if only for the historical record of it all.
14. Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
The peculiar 1999 awards-season run of The Talented Mr. Ripley can be so vexing if you linger on it too long. Director Anthony Minghella’s follow-up to The English Patient got caught directly in that film’s backlash (blame Seinfeld, seriously), and recent Oscar winners Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t help Ripley’s (unfair) reputation as glossy Oscar-bait. Only Jude Law’s breakthrough performance got a major nomination. Not so with the Globes, which nominated Ripley for Best Picture (Drama), Minghella for Director, Law for Supporting Actor, and Matt Damon for playing against type as the covetous, diabolical faker Tom Ripley. Nowadays, the film is considered by many to be something close to a masterpiece, so the point goes to the Globes.
13. Bill Murray, Rushmore
Bill Murray’s 2003 Best Actor nomination (and near-Oscar triumph) for Lost in Translation would not have been possible if the road to acclaimed serious actor hadn’t already been paved for the famously comedic Murray by his performance in Wes Anderson’s seriocomic Rushmore. After a near-sweep of the major critics’ awards (plus an Indie Spirit win), Murray received a Golden Globe nomination and was considered to be on the cusp of his first Oscar nomination. It wasn’t to be.
12. Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation
Speaking of Murray, his big awards march for Lost in Translation was accompanied by a curious lack of awards love for his onscreen counterpart, Scarlett Johansson. This, despite the fact that there are few things that Oscar voters seem to love more than a breakthrough ingenue in Best Actress. The culprit in this case was a perfect storm of vote-splitting, caused by category confusion (Johansson’s lead performance was being campaigned as supporting) and self-competition (from her also-acclaimed performance in Girl With a Pearl Earring). Ultimately, her votes were spread too thin. Lucky for her that the Globes could use their multiple categories to give her two Best Actress nominations: Lost in Translation in Comedy and Girl With a Pearl Earring in Drama.
11. Nicole Kidman, To Die For
It’s hard to imagine now, but it took Nicole Kidman a long time to prove herself as a serious actress (as opposed to merely Tom Cruise’s pretty Australian wife and sometimes co-star). Her Golden Globe triumph in Best Actress (Musical/Comedy) for 1995’s To Die For was a huge step toward legitimacy. The dark comedy let her play a fame-obsessed weather reporter who had her young lover bump off her husband, and the Globes rightly saw what a dynamic performance she gave.
10. Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love
If the sight of a “we didn’t think he had this in him!” Adam Sandler performance coming tantalizingly close to an Oscar nomination for Uncut Gems feels like déjà vu, it’s because this all happened before, with 2002’s Punch-Drunk Love. Paul Thomas Anderson was even more of an Academy fave than the Safdie brothers, yet he still couldn’t get Oscar voters to buy that Happy Gilmore could actually act. Golden Globe voters, historically far more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to populist actors (keep reading), had no problem nominating Sandler for Best Actor.
9. Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
One of the most exciting and joyful Golden Globe wins in recent memory was when Hawkins — almost entirely unknown in the States in 2008 — won Best Actress in a Comedy for the Mike Leigh film about a preternaturally positive woman. It seemed like Hawkins was on the cusp of an Oscar nod, but she was elbowed out by the likes of Angelina Jolie (Changeling) and Melissa Leo (Frozen River).
8. Jim Carrey, The Truman Show
Everybody figured the race for the 1998 Best Actor (Drama) Globe would come down to Nick Nolte, for the somber Paul Schrader film Affliction, or Ian McKellen, for playing gay horror director James Wale in Gods and Monsters. The surprise winner was Carrey, whose performance in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show was one of the great comedic-to-drama surprises in recent history. The buzz for Carrey to break through to an Oscar nomination was loud, but even though the Academy nominated Weir for Best Director, Carrey was left off the ballot in favor of a new court jester: Roberto Benigni for Life Is Beautiful.
7. Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis
The 2013 Best Actor race was a bloodbath, with far too many worthy contenders to fit in just five Oscar nominations. There were always going to be casualties. But the fact that Oscar Isaac’s breakthrough performance as frustrated, furious folk singer of the film’s title got left out in favor of Christian Bale in American Hustle will always stand out. Especially since Isaac still has yet to break through to an Oscar lineup, despite the Globes being far more supportive.
6. Reese Witherspoon, Election
One of the most laudable aspects of the Golden Globes’ additional Musical/Comedy categories is that they regularly make room for younger performers in genres like “high-school comedy.” Look no farther than Beanie Feldstein’s nomination for Booksmart this year. And while Election transcends the definition of “high-school comedy,” Witherspoon’s performance was likely judged too youth-skewing for the weightier Oscars, which that year lauded more serious turns from Julianne Moore (The End of the Affair) and Meryl Streep (Music of the Heart). Tracy Flick deserved better! Only the Golden Globes recognized that.
5. Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Sideways was the designated indie triumph of 2004, going so far as a Best Picture nomination and screenplay win for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor at the Oscars. Supporting actors Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen were also Oscar-nominated. Everyone, seemingly, but the film’s star, Paul Giamatti, who had managed to graduate from character-actor anonymity (he was almost certainly better known by his character name “Pig Vomit” in Private Parts) to acclaim in his own right for this performance. The Golden Globes knew this and rightly nominated him for Best Actor (Musical/Comedy), where, sure, he lost to Jamie Foxx for Ray (a film that is neither a musical nor a comedy), but who didn’t that year? The true injustice came when the Oscars nominated Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby) and Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland) instead of Giamatti. It’s enough to make you want to chug an entire spit bucket of Merlot.
4. Amy Adams, Arrival
In terms of very recent Oscar history, the disaster of the 2016 Best Actress race is steadily accumulating infamy. You all can argue all you want about whether Emma Stone “stole” Natalie Portman’s Oscar (I’ll say this: Natalie Portman winning for Jackie would have helped clear up the La La Land–Moonlight Best Picture gaffe a whole lot sooner, since it was the Best Actress envelope that got erroneously read), but the real shame is that both Annette Bening (for 20th Century Women, see above) and Amy Adams were shut out of the category in favor of a limply regarded Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. We all have to live with that decision! Well, not the Golden Globes, and they rightly nominated both women.
3. Michael Douglas, The American President
2. Annette Bening, The American President
Let’s tackle these two together, because it is frankly INSANE that the Academy didn’t go for these two performances in this movie in a huge way. Both performers are Hollywood royalty, giving note-perfect romantic-comedy performances as an idealized vision of the U.S. president and his First Lady Friend as they stand up to the hypocritical moral majority and do the right thing for gun control and the environment. A beautiful fairy tale! So this was the year Oscar decided to sidle up to ultraviolent God-warrior Mel Gibson and Braveheart? It’s truly bizarre, and only gets more so as the years go by and the cable reruns get more plentiful. The Golden Globes had the right idea, nominating both actors, plus Rob Reiner’s direction, Aaron Sorkin’s writing, and the film itself for Best Picture.
1. Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
The more beloved Tom Hanks gets, the more inexplicable it becomes that Oscar voters didn’t go for this performance, which is probably the best he’s been in a decade in either direction. As mentioned above, re: Oscar Isaac, the 2013 Best Actor class was a crowded one, featuring the likes of DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), and Bruce Dern (Nebraska). I’d toss them all aside in favor of Hanks, whose final-moments breakdown trumps anything else these guys brought to the table. Thank you, Golden Globes, for being there for me, for us, for Hanks.
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