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For Your Consideration: 10 Overlooked Actors Who Deserve Some Awards Season Attention

by Oliver Lyttelton
November 26, 2013 4:17 PM
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In the few weeks since we put a spotlight on the Best Actor race, the competitive field has only tightened further. Robert Redford, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey and Tom Hanks have only firmed up their status as near-certain nominees, and if there was any doubt that Bruce Dern would pick up a nod, the actor's fierce campaigning makes it more and more likely that it'll come to pass. Short of a real shock, or a swell of momentum for late entrants Christian Bale ("American Hustle") or Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf Of Wall Street"), those will likely be your five nominees come January.

And that's a real shame, because as ever, there's a breadth and depth of talent that are likely, sadly, to go unrecognized. So, with voting approaching any day now, and having already looked at Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor, we've picked out ten performances from the last year that, in an ideal world, would be rewarded alongside the five frontrunners. Read our picks below, and let us know your own favorites in the comments section. And next week: Best Actress.

Mads Mikkelsen - “The Hunt”
It's pretty much a given at this point that Mads Mikkelsen will be the best thing in whatever he's in, but he's mostly familiar in the U.S. for his villainous turns, particularly in "Casino Royale" and "Hannibal." Which is one of the things that makes his casting in "The Hunt" (a performance that won Best Actor at Cannes in 2012, but sadly has little chance with the Academy) so clever. In Thomas Vinterberg's film, he's a thoroughly decent, almost saintly man, a schoolteacher so entirely baffled by the idea that he could be accused of sexual assault that he doesn't even think to defend himself. By putting the often-shifty Mikkelsen in the role, Vinterberg allows you to see how the town can turn against him, even with his absolute goodness never being in doubt. Some find the slow-burn excruciating, unable to understand why he won't stand up for himself, but Mikkelsen entirely sells both that, and his furious indignity when it finally comes. It's the best performance to date by one of our finest actors.

Oscar Isaac - "Inside Llewyn Davis"
It's almost absurd that Oscar Isaac is on this list. In any other year, the actor would surely be a shoe-in for a nomination, but with the competition so stiff, and the star still a relative unknown, he's sadly likely to be frozen out. Still, we live in hope (a Spirit Award nomination bodes well), because almost no one is more deserving than Isaac. The film is the Coens' most focused character study since "Barton Fink," and it needed an actor of immense talent to hold the screen throughout: fortunately, they found one, in the shape of Isaac. In his hands, Llewyn Davis is an infuriating, arrogant, impossible man, but also a deeply sympathetic one. The performer's careful to show his talents, even if they're limited, and for all his more asshole-ish qualities, it's always clear how deeply wounded he is by his lack of success, by the suicide of his musical partner, by the fact that he's in love with someone who mostly has only contempt for him. It's a fully realized character at every level, and Isaac makes unexpected and inspired choices at every opportunity. He might not end up with a nomination, but he'll be remembered decades from now for this one.

Simon Pegg in "The World's End."

Simon Pegg - "The World's End"
Oscar and comedy rarely go well together—just think of the greatest comic performances in cinema history, and then shake your head at how few of them were ever recognized with an award. Given that it's a relatively small, esoteric British sci-fi action comedy, "The World's End" was less likely than most to prick the consciousness of Academy voters, but they'll be missing a trick by ignoring Simon Pegg's stunning lead performance. Though he's often been a likable presence, nothing in his career so far prepared us for Pegg's turn as Gary King, the goateed smackhead out to relive his glory days, only to stumble upon a body snatchers-style alien plot. King is borderline insufferable—a deeply selfish, maddening human being who ends up ending civilization as we know it due to being such a prick. But Pegg's innately winning qualities (and his comic gifts) somehow keep you invested in him all the time, and it pays off beautifully near the end, as the true pathos of Gary's existence becomes apparent. It was a revelatory performance in the best sense of the word, and has us keeping our fingers crossed that even if the Cornetto trilogy is done, Pegg and Edgar Wright will continue to come up with creations as bold as this one together.

Pilou Asbaek & Soren Malling - “A Hijacking"
Overshadowed somewhat by "Captain Phillips" even though it premiered nearly a year earlier, Tobias Lindholm's Somali hijacking thriller was nevertheless an equally gripping, and very different, take on the subject matter. And as excellent as Tom Hanks in the lead role in Paul Greengrass' film, the co-leads of "A Hijacking," Pilou Asbaek and Soren Malling are just as awards-worthy. The former, best known for "The Killing" and "Borgen," brings his bear-like, Michael Shannon-ish presence to the ship's cook Mikkel, who suffers more than most during captivity, ending in a devastating conclusion that's just as powerful as Hanks' final scenes in "Captain Phillips." Malling, another "Borgen" veteran, meanwhile brings a buttoned-down gravitas to his company man determined to free his men and handle the negotiations himself, and Malling nails both the character's hubris, and his very real passion. There's very little to choose between them, and in an ideal world, they'd both be in serious consideration at this time of year.

Jack Reynor - "What Richard Did"
Barely anyone saw "What Richard Did," at least outside of its native Ireland—the film sadly made less than $3,000 in its brief theatrical run in the U.S. But lead Jack Reynor at least got in front of the right people, having won the lead role in next year's "Transformers: Age Of Extinction." While we're not ones to judge prematurely (*ahem*), we'd wager that Michael Bay's latest won't even use 10% of the potential that Reynor shows in his breakout role in Lenny Abrahamson's wrenching drama. Reynor plays the titular Richard, a popular, athletic student who, when testosterone, jealousy and alcohol gets the better of him, accidentally kills a romantic rival. Everyone grew up with someone like Richard: the golden boy you'd hate if he wasn't actually kind of a good guy, and Reynor feels immediately authentic, with a natural movie star charisma that makes him immediately recognizable. As a result, despite his terrible action, you feel genuinely nauseous for him as he sinks deeper and deeper into a moral quandary. The film isn't on the radar of any Academy voters, but if there's more like this down the line, it surely won't be long before we see Reynor nominated.

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  • Celli | January 11, 2014 5:15 PMReply

    Wow, Indie Wire...I am seriously disappointed to not find any women listed as part of those worthy of attention this awards season: Shailene Woodley, _The Spectacular Now_; Lea Seydoux or Adele Exarchopoulos, _Blue is the warmest color_; June Squibb, _Nebraska_.

  • BOO | January 3, 2014 11:46 PMReply

    Joaquin Pheonix gave probably my favorite won't-be-nominated performance of the year. I like this list, there's a lot of good ones. Everything on here that I've seen I agree with.

  • TrentLawnDog | December 31, 2013 12:17 AMReply

    No love for Sam Rockwell? His performance in The Way Way Back was awesome

  • Nick | December 11, 2013 7:13 AMReply

    Mads Mikkelsen is amazing. I have found many of his movies on DVD and find it funny that he is overlooked. Hollywood no doubt wants to keep a lid on this Dane's talent because he would be competition for some of the well known leads.

  • Dtv. Loki | December 9, 2013 2:39 PMReply

    Hugh Jackman isn't the lead in Prisoners.

  • BOO | January 3, 2014 11:45 PM

    Yes he is.

  • Mike | December 8, 2013 10:57 PMReply

    Mads Mikkelsen was AMAZING in The Hunt. One of the best male performances of the year. I wasn't familiar with What Richard Did but it looks great. When is that going to get a US release?

  • David H. | December 7, 2013 9:13 PMReply

    Dennis Quaid for his career best performance in At Any Price

  • Frank Murphy | December 7, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    Joaquin Phoenix.

  • Marcy | December 5, 2013 2:01 PMReply

    I would add Miles Teller to this list. His performance in The Spectacular Now elevated the movie from very good to great.

  • jared | December 5, 2013 12:00 AMReply

    It's Keller Dover not Kelly

  • NewYorker | December 4, 2013 9:54 AMReply

    10 actors i think should get a best actor nom are
    1-Jason Bateman-Disconnect
    2-Miles Teller-Spectacular Now
    3-James Gandolfini-Enough Said
    4-Paul Walker-Hours
    5-Shia Labeouf-Charlie Countryman
    6-Michael B. Jordan-Fruitvale Station
    7-Chris Hemsworth-Rush
    8-Michael Shannon-The Iceman
    9-Steve Carell-The Way, Way Back
    10-Dwayne Johnson-Snitch(he gave a great performance in snitch)

  • Rahul | December 4, 2013 8:22 AMReply

    Saw "The Hunt" a few weeks ago and as a independent film-maker myself, it gave me goosebumps that such a small Danish production could have such a powerful storyline. Well-acted, a subject matter handled in the most sensitive manner and by god, an amazing and compelling performance by Mads Mikkelsen that made me cry for his character's predicament. I have not seen a better movie all year long.

  • Werner Kyne | November 29, 2013 10:46 PMReply

    Not a word about Michael Shannon.
    Weird guy, but a good actor.
    Made Man of Steel worth watching, where Crowe did not.

  • Skippy | November 29, 2013 3:45 PMReply

    Ethan Hawke has made it clear that he's really more interested in theater, so he's picking up checks from the genre films to finance that life. There have been worse reasons to make movies.

  • Philippa Chapman | November 29, 2013 3:31 PMReply

    'Outstanding contribution to movies and TV since 1980' = Adam Baldwin

  • Ella | November 27, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    Jackman was fantastic in Prisoners, he really deserves the nomination. And boy, Simon Pegg! I am glad somebody noticed. He was brilliant and I hope it will help him to get some serious roles instead of comic relief in franchises (however, his Benji in MI4 was great :-))

  • Kyra | December 6, 2013 10:21 PM

    Gyllenhaal was better.

  • JK1193 | December 3, 2013 2:18 PM

    Yes!!! Jackman and Pegg were my top two favorite performances of the year and they should definitely be included in the pack.

  • anya | November 27, 2013 6:51 AMReply

    Jonathan Rhys Meyers is superb in Dracula, he is far too underrated. A brilliant actor.

  • Neil | November 27, 2013 5:42 AMReply

    Oscar Isaac might get some traction once the film releases in the U.S. It's truly a great performance.

  • shark | November 27, 2013 2:45 AMReply

    Goddammit, you forgot Tye Sheridan in Mud.

  • Mark | November 26, 2013 11:02 PMReply

    You completely forgot to include Michael B. Jordan in "Fruitvale Station"...surely you didn't mean to do that!

  • Mark | November 26, 2013 11:04 PM

    Well, at any rate, you certainly didn't mean to leave his name off this list or in this article altogether as a potential contender for the Best Actor Oscar.

  • Andrew | November 26, 2013 9:54 PMReply

    I'd prefer Gyllenhaal over Jackman. A more layered, nuanced performance.

    Also, I thought Sinister was pretty good. Definitely understand you calling the other two cheap, but not that one.

  • Wynn | December 6, 2013 10:19 PM

    Agree on Gyllenhaal. In a cast full of big names, he was the standout. A more internalized, contained, impactful performance. But he's already getting more buzz than Jackman....

  • Jamie | November 26, 2013 6:52 PMReply

    Both the Isaac and Jackman performances definitely deserve nominations. Prisoners is still the most riveting dram I've seen this year. Still waiting for 12 Years a Slave to show up locally, but as of now nothing has replaced that feeling of wanting to talk about a film for hours after seeing it.

  • DUDE | November 26, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    His name is Keller Dover, not Kelly.

  • alex | November 26, 2013 4:51 PMReply

    Even though the movie wasn't liked by many, I think Vithaya Pansringarm's performance in Only God Forgives deserves some recognition. His spin on the silent villain was very interesting and distinctive. He would be for supporting actor though.

  • RYAN GOSS LING | November 26, 2013 10:12 PM

    i predicted he would win best actor at Cannes like waltz did for 'inglorious basterds'

    a sup performance but the best most memorable one all the same

  • gert | November 26, 2013 4:54 PM

    Agreed. I thought that guy was rather awesome.

  • AddictedAICN | November 26, 2013 4:32 PMReply

    Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station)
    Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now)

  • Rick | November 27, 2013 10:11 AM

    @Mark, the article is about overlooked performances. I think Michael B. Jordan is getting a good amount of looks.

  • Mark | November 26, 2013 11:05 PM

    I second your mention of Michael B. Jordan. That this article fails to mention him as a contender is pretty sloppy, in my estimation.

  • BEF | November 26, 2013 5:33 PM

    Second Teller; especially over Jackman, that flick is all Deakins ability to make absurd red herrings look like art.

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