Tomorrow morning, several actors will join a pretty prestigious club. It comes with a title and will likely be mentioned in the first sentence of their obituaries many, many years from now. Barring some unforeseen development, Felicity Jones will wake up tomorrow as “Oscar nominee Felicity Jones.” Benedict Cumberbatch will henceforth by known as “Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch.” Ditto Michael Keaton—before the inevitable mention of Batman.
Win or lose on Feb. 22, a nomination is its own career-making milestone, one that can launch an artist into the Hollywood stratosphere—and/or validate a lifetime of excellence on the big screen. But of course, there can only be five in each acting category—20 altogether. Simple math insists that great performances get overlooked every year. And over time, unfortunately, some amazing actors and actresses never get the early-morning call that invites them to the big dance.
It’s these “unrecognized” actors that highlight this year’s Oscar Too-Due List. Some of them, like Keaton, are Oscar contenders this year. Others might not be in the 2014 race, but have been excellent for so long that it’s hard to imagine the Academy hasn’t taken notice. Here are 20 actors who still have greatness to share, ranked in order of who’s the most overdue to join their profession’s elite.
20. Julie Delpy
Best career performances: Before Sunrise trilogy, The Countess
Recent overlooked gem: Before Midnight
Outlook: The Globes and the Indie Spirit awards recognized her uncomfortably tense performance in the third Jesse/Celine movie last year, but the Academy has only honored her screenwriting work for that beloved trilogy. She’s attached to Todd Solondz’s next film, Wiener-Dog.
19. Jeff Daniels
Best career performances: Terms of Endearment, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Gettysburg, The Squid and the Whale
Outlook: Daniels might be an Emmy winner now for his performance on The Newsroom, but if he did already have an Oscar for one of his several overlooked performances, critics might insist he return it after Dumb and Dumber To. His next big movie is Ridley Scott’s The Martian, playing the NASA exec who has to decide what to do after Matt Damon’s astronaut is stranded on Mars.
18. Jeffrey Wright
Best career performances: Basquiat, Broken Flowers, Syriana, Cadillac Records
Recent overlooked gem: Only Lovers Left Alive
Outlook: In a cruel, ironic twist, Wright seems occasionally penalized because he’s the rare character actor who can take two throwaway scenes and give them meaning. (See: Only Lovers Left Alive.) He gets those requests too frequently, from indies and major blockbusters: Do a lot with a little. That could change with Come Sunday, the in-development Jonathan Demme project for which Wright is in talks to play a leading role.
17. John Goodman
Best career performances: Barton Fink, Argo, The Big Lebowski
Recent overlooked gem: Flight, Inside Llewyn Davis
Outlook: Goodman’s best performances have been slightly comic, especially in his Coen brothers movies. But he’s a true master, making the most of supporting turns in movies like Flight. Monuments Men wasn’t what fans had hoped, but Goodman has the promising Trumbo biopic, with Bryan Cranston, set for later this year.
16. Ewan McGregor
Best career performances: Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, Big Fish, I Love You Phillip Morris
Recent overlooked gem: The Ghost Writer, Beginners, The Impossible
Outlook: He hasn’t had that overwhelming, must-nominate performance, but there’s been a steady drip-drip-drip to his success. McGregor’s been extremely good in some recent acclaimed films, with co-stars Christopher Plummer and Naomi Watts grabbing the nominations instead. You would think it’s just a matter of time for him, if he keeps making these sorts of acting choices. In Last Days in the Desert, an indie that opens at Sundance next week, he plays Jesus; he’s also attached to Phillip Noyce’s adaptation of Phillip Roth’s American Pastoral.
15. Scarlett Johansson
Best career performances: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Lost in Translation, Match Point
Recent overlooked gem: Her, Under the Skin
Outlook: Her voice-only performance in Her generated some Oscar buzz, and Under the Skin was critically acclaimed, though it’s an unlikely nominee considering its genre subject matter. Oddly enough, though, she’s the rare non-nominated actress whose name lends Oscar-like prestige to a project—perhaps because they’ve convinced themselves she was nominated for Lost in Translation? Maybe the Coen brothers can make it official—she stars in Hail, Caesar!, due out in 2016.
14. Alan Rickman
Best career performances: Die Hard, Galaxy Quest, Sense and Sensibility
Recent overlooked gem: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Outlook: Everyone seems to have come around to the fact that his Hans Gruber was one of the greatest villains of all time; that he became a sentimental choice for Severus Snape seemed, in part, an effort to correct that earlier omission. Perhaps because Rickman invested his attention in directing March’s A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet, he’s yet to really mount a serious post-Potter career on-screen.
13. Steve Buscemi
Best career performances: Fargo, Ghost World, Reservoir Dogs
Outlook: It’s those eyes that win him comparisons to Peter Lorre, but the other thing they have in common is neither has an Oscar nomination to his credit. With Boardwalk Empire finished after five seasons, Buscemi should have more time for the big screen, but he’s also indicated some interest in directing.
12. Sam Rockwell
Best career performances: The Green Mile, Matchstick Men, Confession of a Dangerous Mind, Moon
Recent overlooked gem: The Way Way Back, Laggies
Outlook: Totally underrated by Oscar, perhaps because his performances often have a sly comic bent. But look at his best movies: With the exception of the one-man-show Moon, he is the equal or superior of his co-stars, who happen to be some of Hollywood’s most-honored leading men. Rockwell remains an indie workhorse, which begs the question: Might his Oscar chances be better if he worked less and focused more on high-profile projects?
11. Oscar Isaac
Best career performances: Drive, Inside Llewyn Davis, A Most Violent Year
Outlook: The Juilliard-trained actor won raves for his reserved performance in A Most Violent Year, but if, as predicted, he doesn’t make the cut, that will mark the second straight Oscar season where he narrowly came up short. Joining two ginormous franchises—Star Wars and X-Men—likely won’t win Isaac a statuette, but it will help introduce his name and face to billions of fans, including some who have Oscar votes.
10. Tom Hardy
Best career performances: Bronson, Inception, Locke, The Drop
Recent overlooked gem: Warrior
Outlook: Hardy has entered Fassbender territory as THE accented indie hunk studios are falling over themselves to hand the keys to their most lucrative franchises. With Locke and The Drop, he had two well-regarded art-house films out just as the first thrilling trailers for his Road Warrior remake exploded. He’ll continue straddling both moviemaking worlds, with starring roles in Brian Helgeland’s Legend, in which he’ll play twin gangsters; Alexandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio; and the star-studded supervillain blockbuster-to-be, Suicide Squad.
9. Jennifer Jason Leigh
Best career performances: Miami Blues, Single White Female, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Georgia, Margot at the Wedding
Recent overlooked gem: Kill Your Darlings
Outlook: Tarantino knows how to write dynamic female characters, and he cast Leigh as the primary female character, the mysterious prisoner handcuffed to a bounty hunter, in The Hateful Eight. “When you get to hell, tell them Daisy sent you!” she screams at him—or at least she did during a live-read of the screenplay.
8. Mia Farrow
Best career performances: Rosemary’s Baby, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Purple Rose of Cairo
Outlook: With all the actresses who landed nominations in Woody Allen’s films, it’s difficult to believe she never got the call. Today, though, Farrow seems more interested in her many causes than her acting career, and her name is more associated with her ugly split from Allen and the ongoing recriminations.
7. Michael Keaton
Best career performances: Beetlejuice, Clean and Sober, My Life, The Paper, Birdman
Outlook: Keaton’s stay on this list will last only hours, as his Birdman performance is a sure nominee. But his brilliant turn as a former Hollywood superhero trying to resurrect his career with a Broadway play has forced fans and Oscar voters to reconsider the breadth and depth of his entire career. Keaton’s popular comic roles of the 1980s still hold up, and his Batman, though by definition not awards bait, is now considered one of the genre’s best. His next big role, as one of the Boston Globe reporters who broke the Catholic Church’s molestation coverup in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, also sounds like the kind of role that Oscar notices.
6. Dennis Quaid
Best career performances: Breaking Away, The Right Stuff, Wyatt Earp, Far From Heaven
Recent overlooked gem: The Express
Outlook: His Bill Clinton in the 2010 HBO movie The Special Relationship was one of the best things he’s ever done, proving he’s still got his fastball when he wants to throw it. He stars as a former Marine who worked with CBS in the upcoming Rathergate movie, Truth, opposite Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett.
5. Peter Sarsgaard
Best career performances: Boys Don’t Cry, Shattered Glass, Garden State, Kinsey, An Education
Recent overlooked gem: Blue Jasmine, Night Moves
Outlook: Yes, I had to check twice to make sure that Sarsgaard had not been nominated. He may be a young guy, but he’s been excellent in award-winning films and consistently great in complete drivel. I thought the Oscars were made for actors like Sarsgaard. He plays one of Whitey Bulger’s associates in Scott Cooper’s upcoming fact-based Irish-mob movie, Black Mass.
4. Jim Carrey
Best career performances: The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Love You Philip Morris
Outlook: Have you heard? Oscar doesn’t respect comedy. But Carrey’s near-misses are marks against the Academy, especially The Truman Show, a layered, dynamic performance that has only grown in esteem since it came out in 1998. Unfortunately, after so many nomination-morn disappointments, Carrey seems to have given up chasing the prize.
3. Steve Martin
Best career performances: All of Me, Roxanne, Grand Canyon, Bowfinger
Recent overlooked gem: Shopgirl
Outlook: See Carrey above. It will piss me off to no end when the Academy inevitably nominates Martin for some serious supporting role in 2020. Because what he did as a comedian was sublime, and deserving of recognition in its own right. He could do wonders with the right role in a Paul Thomas Anderson film—see: Martin Short in Inherent Vice—but his only semi-in-development project is a Trading Places-esque comedy with Alec Baldwin for director Adam Shankman.
2. Donald Sutherland
Best career performances: MASH, Klute, Don’t Look Now, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ordinary People, JFK, Pride & Prejudice
Outlook: Like Farrow, Sutherland is an actor you assume was nominated decades ago, especially since their early films have become classics. Sutherland is now best known as President Snow in the Hunger Games franchise, which is unlikely to land him a nod. However, he and Kiefer are teaming up for a Western, John Henry Clayton, in which they play a father and son—one a man of God, the other a gunslinger. You never know.
1. Richard Gere
Best career performances: Days of Heaven, An Officer and a Gentleman, Pretty Woman, Primal Fear, Chicago, The Hoax
Recent overlooked gem: Arbitrage
Outlook: Perhaps Gere was discounted in his prime because of his good looks—but his best performances were bona fide Hollywood-star roles, and he never failed to make them interesting. He’ll pop up in India for the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel sequel, which doesn’t have Oscar written all over it, despite its chorus of Academy darlings.
Who else belongs on this list? Which actor or actress are you stunned to learn doesn’t yet have a nomination to their credit?