• Zach D'Amico

The 'Give Me A Damn Oscar Already' Awards

I cried. I screamed. I gained weight and then lost it. I became unrecognizable.


In the name of all that is holy in Hollywood, give me a damn Oscar already.


Every year, we watch as an accomplished actor tosses their dignity down the drain and practically begs the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for that prestigious golden statuette. And much of it is like how the Supreme Court treats obscene content: you know it when you see it. But what if there was a system? Which “give me a damn Oscar already” performances are the most “give me a damn Oscar already?”


That’s what we’re here to find out. Welcome to the “Give me a damn Oscar already” rankings. The top 20 performances designed simply to get an actor an Oscar.


The Rules

A few simple rules and guidelines to start:

  • Only one entry per actor

  • Only performances that occurred before the actor won an acting Oscar are eligible

  • An actor must have already been nominated for at least one Oscar for a performance to be eligible (sorry Sandy Bullock)

This is a holistic view: it’s not just about the performance, but about everything that happened in an actor’s career up to that point.


The Formula

It’s arbitrary, but what isn’t?

  1. Film’s Oscar Bait (FOB) Score (1-5): Is it a costume drama? Is it a biopic? Is it an adaptation of a popular work? Is it with a prominent writer or director? All of this goes toward an entry’s overall FOB score.

  2. Performance’s Oscar Bait (POB) Score (1-5): Did a character physically transform? Did they play a beloved figure, especially a Hollywood figure? Do they go over the top with an Oscar moment?

  3. Failure Score (1-5): One point for every acting Oscar nomination and loss, max out at 5.

  4. Success Score (1-3): 0 points if the performance in question did not get nominated for anything; 1 point if it got nominated for a prestigious non-Oscar award; 2 points if it got nominated for an Oscar; 3 points if it accomplished its mission, winning a damn Oscar

  5. Bonus (1-?): The wild card.


20. Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger)

Lionsgate

Failure: 1 (Brokeback Mountain)

Success: .5 (Critics’ Choice nomination)


FOB: 4

Stronger fulfills a very basic 21st century Oscar mold:

  • About a recent American tragedy

  • Focused specifically on a heroic figure from that event

  • Based on a memoir

Though director David Gordon Green never quite fulfilled the promise of his debut, George Washington, his name nonetheless affixed Stronger with a certain prestige factor. The film was ultimately tied down by the reputation of its history-altering, action-packed predecessor, Patriots Day, costing it a shot at a perfect 5.0.


POB: 4

After getting robbed of a nomination for his role in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal turned to a real-life hero who lost his legs in a terrorist attack. The role was physically and emotionally gruelling, including a number of capital A, Acting moments opposite his girlfriend, played phenomenally by Tatiana Maslany.


Bonus: 1

Because Jake should have been nominated for Nightcrawler.


Total: 10.5


19. Johnny Depp (Black Mass)

Warner Bros.

Failure: 3 (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Finding Neverland; Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)

Success: 1 (Screen Actors Guild nomination)


FOB: 3

Not just a mob movie; not just a mob movie based on a real-life, larger-than-life figure; a mob movie following perhaps the most notorious gangster in American history, Whitey Bulger. Though director Scott Cooper isn’t quite Oscar bait, he was on a respected run (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace). And the ensemble cast is unreal: Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson.


-1 for the range of atrocious Boston accents, with the exception of Plemons as Kevin Weeks.


POB: 4

The role required a strong accent and a serious visual transformation - only one of which worked. But those two factors, plus the many moments of over-the-top anger, combine to create what should have been a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. But a man with notorious anger problems playing a man with notorious anger problems was always going to be a tough sell for the Academy.


Bonus: 0


Total: 11


T-17. Annette Bening (The Report)

Amazon Studios

Failure: 4 (The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia, The Kids Are All Right)

Success: 1 (Golden Globe nomination)


FOB: 3.5

Political thrillers are a dime a dozen. But chronicling one man’s attempt to stand-up to the establishment and fight for the truth? That’s Hollywood’s siren song. Add in director Scott Z. Burns, the accomplished writer and collaborator of Steven Soderberg, and you’ve got a Film Oscar Bait score of 3.5.


POB: 3

Playing real-life Senator Dianne Feinstein led many pundits to jump the gun on predicting the long-awaiting Bening Oscar, but her role in the film is small, and Feinstein’s very nature is diametrically opposed to the concept of an “Oscar scene.” Combine that with Feinstein’s murky role in The Torture Report saga, and despite the visual likeness and impressive vocal impersonation, Bening taps out at a solid 3.


Bonus: .5

For her should-have-been nomination in 20th Century Women.


Total: 12


T-17. Dustin Hoffman (Lenny)

United Artists

Failure: 2 (The Graduate, Midnight Cowboy)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 4

Story: the inspirational, tragic story of comedian Lenny Bruce

Based On: a real-life story and play adaptation

Directed By: Oscar-winning Bob Fosse, in his follow-up to Cabaret


Add in a Best Picture nomination, and you’ve got major Oscar bait.


POB: 4

After breaking the mold of the leading man in The Graduate, and earning a nomination for a non-traditional role in Midnight Cowboy, Hoffman went with stereotypical Oscar bait: a narcissistic acting genius playing a narcissistic comedic genius. Add in a whiff of self-destructive tendencies for the acting reel, and it’s a wonder he lost to Art Carney in Harry and Tonto.


Bonus: 0.


Total: 12


T-14. Warren Beatty (Bugsy)

TriStar

Failure: 3 (Bonnie & Clyde, Heaven Can Wait, Reds)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 4

Bugsy is a biopic of a controversial but high-profile American figure - the epic rise and fall of gangster Bugsy Siegel, directed by Barry Levinson, fresh off the Oscar-winning Rain Man, just one year after Goodfellas received six Oscar nominations. Only the outsized importance of Bugsy’s relationship with Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) keeps it from a perfect score here.


POB: 3

Inhabiting a notorious mobster was sure to get Beatty attention, but playing morally bankrupt characters has always been hit-or-miss with the Academy. The role also didn’t quite fit with Beatty’s star persona, but wasn’t different enough to qualify as a transformational role.


Bonus: 1

Because Beatty and Bening fell in love during filming and were married the year after it came out.


Total: 13


T-14. Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Universal

Failure: 1 (Rachel Getting Married)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 4

An adaptation of a popular music, itself an adaptation of one of the most famous pieces of literature of all-time, Les Mis was set for Oscars glory in the late 80s, when development first began. It was finally brought to the screen by Tom Hooper, just two years removed from the Academy smash The King’s Speech. Add in a star-studded cast - Hugh Jackman, Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, and Helena Bonham Carter - and you’ve got nearly every ingredient in the Oscar Bait recipe.


POB: 4

Hathaway plays Fantine - a minor makeover as a factory worker and prostitute for the actress best known at that point for The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Add a dose of singing and a role that gave her the chance to Go Big,™ it’s no wonder why she won the Oscar.


Bonus: 1

Because Hathaway took an outsized portion of the blame for her co-hosting fiasco with James Franco at the 83rd Oscars.


Total: 13


T-14. Sean Penn (I Am Sam)

New Line Cinema

Failure: 2 (Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 4

The legal fight of a man with an intellectual disability to keep his daughter is just about as cookie-cutter Oscar bait as you can get - it was just missing a prestigious director.


POB: 5

Though it may be judged more harshly today, Penn playing a man with an intellectual disability was fodder for the Oscars. His performance was over-the-top, as if he’d calculated each and every moment for the ultimate Oscar clip reel. And here’s all you need to know about the Academy circa 2001: it worked.


Bonus: 0


Total: 13


T-11. Peter O’Toole (Lion in Winter)

AVCO Embassy

Failure: 2 (Lawrence of Arabia, Becket)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 4

Historical recreation. +1

Costume drama. +1

Based on a Broadway play. +1

O’Toole + Hepburn + Anthony Hopkins. +1


POB: 5

A review in Cosmopolitan praised O’Toole and Hepburn’s performances as “Oscar bait outings,” one of the earliest uses of that phrase. That’s more than enough for our first perfect 5 in this category. Hepburn won, O’Toole lost.


Bonus: 1

O’Toole went on to receive 8 acting Oscar nominations, but he would never win. Among the characters who defeated him? Atticus Finch, Professor Henry Higgins, Rooster Cogburn, Vito Corleone, Jake LaMotta, Gandhi, and Idi Amin. Just incredibly tough luck for O’Toole.


Total: 14


T-11. Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

Focus Features

Failure: 2 (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 5

My Week with Marilyn isn’t just a movie about Marilyn Monroe - which in itself is enough for a 3 here. The film depicts the making of the 1957 movie The Prince and the Showgirl, starring both Monroe and Hollywood legend Laurence Olivier. Inside the life of a tragic figure + a movie about movie-making = our first perfect 5 in this category. Add in the beloved Kenneth Branagh as Olivier, and come on.


POB: 4

She’s playing Marilyn Monroe! That’s all I need to say! The weight and expectations - and therefore the potential backlash - of taking on such a role keep it from another perfect 5.


Bonus: 1

Because, I mean, it’s Michelle Williams. And she brings best friend Busy Philipps to every awards show as her date.


Total: 14


T-11. Gary Oldman (The Darkest Hour)

Focus Features

Failure: 1 (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 5

A biopic of the one of the grandest and most idiosyncratic historic figures from the screenwriter of not one, but two other Oscar-nominated biopics? The Darkest Hour was made in a lab to win Oscars. Winston Churchill would be proud.


POB: 5

A full physical transformation. Inhabiting the grandiose Churchill. Exploding in a powerful, commanding speech late in the film. Best Actor 101.


Bonus: 0


Total: 14


10. Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovitch)

Universal

Failure: 2 (Steel Magnolias, Pretty Woman)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 4

It was a decade after Julia Roberts had been nominated for her second Oscar at the young age of 23, and she had yet to receive her third, cast instead in a series of romantic comedies.


What could she do except fight the power? Erin Brockovich is an underdog story from a hot director (Soderbergh was double-nominated for Best Director that year), chronicling the title character’s fight to hold a massive energy company responsible for groundwater contamination. Behind costume dramas, the underdog story may be the most attractive bait for the Academy.


POB: 5

She swears; she screams; she schools.


Julia Roberts fights for the little guy - the little gold man, that is. And she earned it.


Bonus: 1

The Soderbergh-Roberts connection would pay dividends the following year in Ocean’s Eleven. Extra point.


Total: 15


9. Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Sony Pictures Classics

Failure: 4 (Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, Far from Heaven, The Hours)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 3

A harrowing journey in the life of a linguistics professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Still Alice doesn’t fit perfectly into the mold of Oscar bait, and is perhaps more nuanced than the more traditional fare that attracts the Academy. Broad-stroked depictions of illnesses tend to succeed more in end-of-the-year awards ceremonies, and to Still Alice’s credit, the only Oscar nomination for the film went to Moore.


POB: 5

Moore researched the role, and Alzheimer’s disease, for four months, watching documentaries and meeting with members of the advocacy community. She spoke with several women with early-onset Alzheimer’s - and the preparation shows in her performance.


Bonus: .5

This is for Boogie Nights, and because Julianne Moore is all of our mothers.


Total: 15.5


T-6. Richard Burton (Anne of a Thousand Days)

Universal

Failure: 5 (My Cousin Rachel, The Robe, Becket, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 4

Anne of a Thousand Days was a vestige of Old Hollywood as the new one was just beginning to emerge: a big, expensive period piece with lavish sets, intricate costumes, and big names. One of the final films produced by golden era producer Hal Wallis (The Maltese Falcon, True Grit, Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood), the film checked every Academy box, and though it got middling reviews, was nominated for a whopping 10 Oscars.


POB: 4

My man Richard plays Henry VIII, agonizing over ordering the execution of his wife, Anne Boleyn. It’s a messy, overwhelming performance, and it’s why Oscars were invented.


Bonus: 1

Seven Oscar nominations, zero wins. Here’s a point for you, Mr. Burton.


Total: 16


T-6. Paul Newman (The Color of Money)

Buena Vista

Failure: 5 (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice, The Verdict)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 3.5

One of the few of its kind on this list, The Color of Money is a unique sequel: 25 years after the beloved, acclaimed The Hustler, Martin Scorsese returned to Fast Eddie Felson’s story. Though not a traditional Oscar tale, The Color of Money nonetheless came with one of the hottest directors (Scorsese), one of the brightest young stars (Tom Cruise), and old faithful (Newman). That’s a solid 3.5.


POB: 4

Over a quarter of a century after inhabiting Eddie Felson, Newman had lost four more Best Actor trophies, reaching six failed attempts at the statuette in total. So what did he do? He threw up his hands and reprised the role that earned him his second nomination. An overconfident pool shark may not be natural Oscar fare, but returning to a beloved role is the ultimate “Give me an Oscar already” act. 4 points.


Bonus: .5

Respect the hustle of going for this the year after the Academy had finally caved and given him the Honorary Award.


Total: 16


T-6. Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)

Fox Searchlight

Failure: 4 (The Last Picture Show, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, The Contender)

Success: 3 (Oscar won)


FOB: 4

A down-and-out singer tries to turn his life around, played by an industry veteran in a small career drought? Scott Cooper was new to the scene, but the rest of the playbook was as old as the Academy itself.


POB: 4

See above FOB section. Bridges sings and struggles with alcohol addiction - that was more than enough for Oscar voters.


Bonus: 1

He sings!


Total: 16


5. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

20th Century Fox

Failure: 4 (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, The Wolf of Wall Street)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 3.5

The epic action-adventure isn’t the most awards-friendly genre, but The Revenant had the rest of the ingredients: director Alejandro Iñárritu coming off the Oscar-winning Birdman; a period piece; and an adaptation of a novel that depicts a real-life tale. Yes, it was all there for the taking.


POB: 5

And Leo DiCaprio took it. Stories abound of the physical toll of the role. He inhabited a man from 200 years ago, wrestled with a bear, and fought, scratched and clawed his way to his first Oscar.


Bonus: 1

This point is for DiCaprio winning an Oscar and then casually turning in a career-best performance just a few years later in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood


Total: 16.5


4. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)

Roadside Attractions

Failure: 5 (The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 3

Though it lacked the prestige of its competitors, Albert Nobbs settled into its role as a stirring period piece quite nicely. Ultimately, though, it was a vehicle for Close.


POB: 5

Close plays a woman who has been masquerading as a man in order to maintain a career as butler, and eventually to earn enough money to secure her independence and professional autonomy. She previously won an Obie Award for the same role in an Off-Broadway version nearly 30 years before the film’s release. When all else has failed, she took the Paul Newman route: reprise, reprise, reprise. Unfortunately, it failed.


Bonus: 2

For her dog.


Total: 17


T-2. Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman)

Universal

Failure: 5 (The Godfather, Serpico, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, ...And Justice for All, Dick Tracy)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 4

The story of a prep school student who works as caretaker for an angry, blind alcoholic, Scent of a Woman is perhaps best known as the Oscar bait that finally secured Pacino his first acting Oscar. But it was more than that: a remake of an Italian film that was nominated for two Oscars and won a chunk of Donatello Awards, Scent was itself acclaimed, nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay.


POB: 5

Blind, irritable, and vicious. But what made this an Oscar role was the impassioned speech that Pacino’s character, Frank, gives at the end of the film on behalf of his aide and friend. It’s a very traditional, Oscar-friendly emotional arc, and after years of veering away from those roles, who can begrudge Al his victory?


Bonus: 2

One point for his second nomination in the same year (Glengarry Glen Ross), and another for the run he went on immediately after winning his Oscar: Carlito’s Way, Heat, Donnie Brasco, and The Insider.


Total: 19


T-2. Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird)

Universal

Failure: 4 (Keys of the Kingdom, The Yearling, Gentleman’s Agreement, Twelve O’Clock High)

Success: 3 (Oscar win)


FOB: 5

It’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most celebrated novels in American history.


POB: 5

I hate to be repetitive, but it’s Atticus Finch, one of the most celebrated literary characters in American history.


Bonus: 2

One for his literal Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the other for not completely ruining Atticus Finch for generations of high school students to come.


Total: 19


1. Amy Adams (Vice)

Annapurna

Failure: 5 (Junebug, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, American Hustle)

Success: 2 (Oscar nomination)


FOB: 5

In the wake of his Best Picture-nominated The Big Short, Adam McKay followed the exact same formula, aiming his invective at the one figure even more maligned than the bankers who created the financial crisis: Dick Cheney. Though not traditional Oscar bait, Vice followed a more recently successful formula, and did it to the tune of eight nominations.


POB: 4

Adams undergoes a minor visual transformation, but it’s her willingness to bring pathos to an essentially thankless gig as Lynne Cheney that makes this an Oscar role. She doesn’t get a moment, which prevents her from the perfect 5.


Bonus: 3.5

1. It’s Amy Adams month at Rough Cut

2. She wasn’t nominated for Arrival

3. She didn’t win for The Fighter


And .5 for celebrating her 46th birthday last week, and because you deserve to finally win something, Amy. Congratulations.


Total: 19.5


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