This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Click HERE for a list of the other posts for Week 2: The Oscar Snubs.
I’m just going to throw this out there because I want to shut down, once and for all, the notion that Academy Award nominations have much to do with “merit”:
Sylvester Stallone has TWO Oscar nominations (in acting categories).
Alan Rickman died with ZERO Oscar nominations.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge Stallone’s nominations. I can’t even begin to express how much the Rocky character meant to me when the first movie came out.
Stallone has TWO.
Rickman has ZERO.
Crazy, right? I can’t recall ever reading a bad review of any of Rickman’s performances. Maybe they exist, but he was esteemed by most critics. That and the wave of emotion that washed over social media moments after Rickman’s death was announced would seem to indicate that he was one of our most valued actors.
For some reason, the Academy never agreed with pretty much everyone else.
Why is that?
I think the answer might be the rather dopey criteria for what constitute “Oscar-worthy” roles. We even have the term “Oscar bait” to describe these roles.
Types of roles that are considered Oscar bait:
Characters who have a physical illness
Characters who have a mental illness
Characters who have an addiction
Characters who have a disability
Straight actors playing LGBT+ characters
Monstrous characters (a la Hannibal Lechter or Aileen Wuornos)
Actor/Actress transforms themselves physically—i.e. by gaining weight or making themselves look ugly/unglamorous
Real-life, larger-than-life characters
Characters in movies that are critic darlings, but audiences don’t like or get why
British actors get extra points if they play:
Shakespearean characters who are royalty
American characters with bizarre interpretations of what constitutes an American accent
(This is a BIG beef of mine. American actors are relentlessly dinged for bad British accents while British actors not only get away with ridiculous American accents, they get rewarded with nominations, even wins.)
British actresses are often nominated for playing roles in costume dramas, though actors not as much. This is probably due to the fact that actor categories tend to be far more competitive, mainly because men get more significant roles in films than women.
What the Academy usually won’t nominate (of course, there are exceptions; will get to that later):
Characters in comedies
Characters in action movies
Characters in sci-fi/fantasy movies
Characters in movies that are insanely popular with audiences and but not popular with film critics
Characters in low grossing movies critics also don’t get, but eventually end up being cult hits
Just for fun, let’s review the list of roles Daniel Day-Lewis has been nominated/won for:
My Left Foot (character who has illness/disability/addiction)
In The Name of the Father (doesn’t fit any of the categories; the only one that doesn’t)
Gangs of New York (weird American accent)
There Will Be Blood (weird American accent)
Lincoln (larger than life real-life character, REALLY weird American accent)
Colin Firth won for The King’s Speech for playing royalty with a disability, and was nominated the previous year for playing a gay man.
A review of Rickman’s best/beloved film roles shows they mostly fall into the categories that makes the Academy turn up its collective nose:
Truly, Madly, Deeply and Galaxy Quest fall under cult films. Galaxy Quest has the triple-whammy of cult, comedy AND sci/fi. (It also makes fun of Hollywood. Hollywood doesn’t like to be made fun of.) I believe Truly, Madly, Deeply was also originally shown on TV, which probably disqualified it from consideration at all.
Die Hard falls under action movie, though perhaps if villain Hans Gruber had EATEN some of his victims, they would have taken it seriously as an Oscar-worthy role.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves also falls under action movie, plus Rickman played (very memorably, in my opinion) the Sheriff of Nottingham with a comedic edge.
Sense and Sensibility: this to me is the biggest mystery, because of all his roles, this is the one that came closest to “Oscar worthy” criteria. It was a pretty competitive year for supporting actor (Kevin Spacey’s iconic performance as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects won), which probably explains his omission. Also, he was a bit of a controversial pick for the role, which also may have hurt his chances, even though his performance was superb.
The Harry Potter franchise: yeah, no chance here. Oscar really doesn’t like fantasy. Sure, Ian McKellen was nominated for The Lord of the Rings, but that is a HUGE exception to the fantasy rule. (Also, The Lord of the Rings is seen as an adult book, while Harry Potter is in the kidlit category, which also accounts for the difference in attitude.)
This list is frustrating to review, because there have been rare comedic roles that have been rewarded, not only with nominations, but with WINS (most particularly, Kevin Kline’s well-deserved win for A Fish Called Wanda) and I’d match Rickman’s performances with any of those. Considering that both The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road nabbed major nominations this year, it feels like Rickman was a victim of bad timing as far as action and sci-fi films. None of the Harry Potter actors were nominated, but Rickman’s interpretation of Snape is so on-point, and ultimately so poignant (I dare you not to cry when he says “Always” in the final film) that he absolutely should have been nominated.
The good news is this kind of snobbery doesn’t rule other types of awards. Rickman received BAFTA nominations for Truly, Madly, Deeply, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (which he actually WON), Sense and Sensibility and Michael Collins (a movie I haven’t seen—need to put that on my list to watch in future).
He also fared far better with his television roles, particularly Rasputin: Dark Servant of Evil and Something the Lord Made. He won an Emmy, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globe Award for Rasputin, and was nominated for an Emmy for Something the Lord Made. Where he portrays an American character with a very credible Southern accent, so NYAH-NYAH to you, Daniel Day-Lewis.
(I like Daniel Day-Lewis, but those accents bug the heck out of me.)
Of course, Rickman died younger than expected and probably would have had some opportunities ahead of him to receive at least a nomination. Or, if he had managed to live into his 90s, the Academy would have pushed him onstage in his wheelchair and given him an honorary Oscar, because that’s what they do when they realize they’ve screwed up royally with their competitive categories. Which they clearly did in this case, so maybe it will be time for a séance in 30 years, Academy.