Nominated lead: Peter Sellers (lost to Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady)
Famously, Stanley Kubrick convinced George C. Scott to do outlandish and over the top takes for all of his scenes in Dr. Strangelove, as a way to warm up to his “real” takes. Kubrick promised Scott that his crazy takes wouldn’t end up in the final movie, and, obviously, that was not the case. Scott was furious and promised to never work with Kubrick again. Manipulated or not, Scott’s zany performance is sheer brilliance.
John Cazale – The Godfather Part II (1974)
Nominated lead: Al Pacino (lost to Art Carney, Harry and Tonto)
Although The Godfather Part II dominated the Supporting Actor category (with nominations to Robert De Niro, Michael V. Gazzo, and Lee Strasberg), Cazale deserved to occupy a fourth spot. And hell, dare I say, he deserved to win.
John Cazale – Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Nominated lead: Al Pacino (lost to Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Pacino’s performance in Dog Day Afternoon works so damn well for many reasons, the main one being because it was Al Pacino in his prime. But supporting turns from Chris Sarandon (who was justly nominated) and Cazale certainly deserve equal credit. The desperation of Cazale’s Sal is utterly mortifying.
Robert Duvall – Network (1976)
Nominated leads: Peter Finch and William Holden (Finch won)
While Ned Beatty’s nominated performance may be the flashier of the supporting roles in Network, I just love the hell out of Duvall’s spitefulness. He slings Paddy Chayefsky’s words like the best of ‘em.
Denzel Washington – Philadelphia (1993)
Nominated lead: Tom Hanks (won)
Washington’s exclusion from the supporting actor category in 1993 remains one of the Academy’s biggest oversights. To this day, Tom Hanks is adamant in his praise for Washington’s work in this film. The strength of Hanks’ work in Philadelphia relies much in part to Washington’s command. Period.
Dwight Yoakam – Sling Blade (1996)
Nominated lead: Billy Bob Thornton (lost to Geoffrey Rush, Shine)
Yoakam’s Sling Blade character, Doyle, is one of the nastiest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen on screen. A redneck loser made of pure vile. A horrifying character, a fantastic performance.
Chris Cooper – American Beauty (1999)
Nominated lead: Kevin Spacey (won)
Many thought Cooper was a shoo-in for a Supporting Actor nod for American Beauty. But given his very strong competition, he was ultimately left out. A shame, indeed, as his Col. Frank Fitts is a perfect incarnation of a confused man-child. But at least the Academy saved face three years later.
Christopher Plummer – The Insider (1999)
Nominated lead: Russell Crowe (lost to Kevin Spacey, American Beauty)
Again, the Supporting Actor category is rarely as strong as it was in 1999, but I am still baffled that Plummer didn’t get a nomination here. A veteran actor playing a real life character, and playing it with such vigor… should’ve been Plummer’s to lose.
Paul Dano – There Will Be Blood (2007)
Nominated lead: Daniel Day-Lewis (won)
Andrew Garfield – The Social Network (2010)
Nominated lead: Jesse Eisenberg (lost to Colin Firth, The King’s Speech)