Lost But Not Forgotten: Oscar Nominees for Best Actor

We’re now just a couple weeks away from this year’s Oscar ceremony! Last week I posted about my favorite nominees in the Best Supporting Actress and Actor categories, specifically the ones that never won an Academy Award. This weekend, I’ll be taking a look at those types of nominees in the leading categories. As you’ll see, there’s a few of them who were nominated several times, but always walked away empty-handed. But despite not being an Oscar winner, these nominees still turned out memorable work.

Note: I narrowed it down to just 20 favorites from each category, so of course there are several great nominees that didn’t make the cut. I also opted to not consider anything from films that were released from 2000 on, as I felt they’re still too recent. But there are some performers on this list that are still working, so there’s still a chance for them to win an Oscar someday…

Now, in chronological order, my favorite Oscar-nominated performances for Best Actor…

William Powell in The Thin Man (1934)

William Powell as Nick Charles in The Thin Man
Other Nominations: My Man Godfrey; Life with Father
Competition:
Clark Gable for It Happened One Night (winner)
Frank Morgan for The Affairs of Cellini

Leslie Howard in Pygmalion (1938)

Leslie Howard as Higgins in Pygmalion
Other Nominations: Berkeley Square
Competition:
Spencer Tracy for Boys Town (winner)
Charles Boyer for Algiers
James Cagney for Angels with Dirty Faces
Robert Donat for The Citadel

Cary Grant in Penny Serenade (1941)

Cary Grant as Roger Adams in Penny Serenade
Other Nominations: None But the Lonely Heart
Competition:
Gary Cooper for Sergeant York (winner)
Walter Huston for The Devil and Daniel Webster
Robert Montgomery for Here Comes Mr. Jordan
Orson Welles for Citizen Kane

Charles Boyer in Gaslight (1944)

Charles Boyer as Gregory Anton in Gaslight
Other Nominations: Conquest; Algiers; Fanny
Competition:
Bing Crosby for Going My Way (winner)
Barry Fitzgerald for Going My Way
Cary Grant for None But the Lonely Heart
Alexander Knox for Wilson

Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity (1953)

Montgomery Clift as Robert E. Lee Prewitt in From Here to Eternity
Other Nominations: The Search; A Place in the Sun; Judgment at Nuremberg (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
Competition:
William Holden for Stalag 17 (winner)
Marlon Brando for Julius Caesar
Richard Burton for The Robe
Burt Lancaster for From Here to Eternity

James Mason in A Star Is Born (1954)

James Mason as Norman Maine in A Star Is Born
Other Nominations: Georgy Girl (Best Actor in a Supporting Role); The Verdict (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
Competition:
Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront (winner)
Humphrey Bogart for The Caine Mutiny
Bing Crosby for The Country Girl
Dan O’Herlihy for Robinson Crusoe

James Dean in East of Eden (1955)

James Dean as Cal Trask in East of Eden
Other Nominations: Giant
Competition:
Ernest Borgnine for Marty (winner)
James Cagney for Love Me or Leave Me
Frank Sinatra for The Man with the Golden Arm
Spencer Tracy for Bad Day at Black Rock

Rock Hudson in Giant (1956)

Rock Hudson as Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. in Giant
Other Nominations: N/A
Competition:
Yul Brynner for The King and I (winner)
James Dean for Giant
Kirk Douglas for Lust for Life
Laurence Olivier for Richard III

Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia
Other Nominations: Becket; The Lion in Winter; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; The Ruling Class; The Stunt Man; My Favorite Year; Venus
Competition:
Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird (winner)
Burt Lancaster for Birdman of Alcatraz
Jack Lemmon for Days of Wine and Roses
Marcello Mastroianni for Divorce Italian Style

Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Richard Burton as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Other Nominations: My Cousin Rachel (Best Actor in a Supporting Role); The Robe; Becket; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Anne of the Thousand Days; Equus
Competition:
Paul Scofield for A Man for All Seasons (winner)
Alan Arkin for The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!
Michael Caine for Alfie
Steve McQueen for The Sand Pebbles

Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976)

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in Rocky
Other Nominations: Rocky (Best Original Screenplay); Creed (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
Competition:
Peter Finch for Network (winner)
Robert De Niro for Taxi Driver
Giancarlo Giannini for Seven Beauties
William Holden for Network

Marcello Mastroianni in A Special Day (1977)

Marcello Mastroianni as Gabriele in A Special Day
Other Nominations: Divorce Italian Style; Dark Eyes
Competition:
Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl (winner)
Woody Allen for Annie Hall
Richard Burton for Equus
John Travolta for Saturday Night Fever

Peter Sellers in Being There (1979)

Peter Sellers as Chance in Being There
Other Nominations: The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (Best Short Film, Live Action); Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Competition:
Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer (winner)
Jack Lemmon for The China Syndrome
Al Pacino for …and justice for all.
…and…

Roy Scheider in All That Jazz (1979)

Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon in All That Jazz
Other Nominations: The French Connection (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
Competition: see above

John Hurt in The Elephant Man (1980)

John Hurt as John Merrick in The Elephant Man
Other Nominations: Midnight Express (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
Competition:
Robert De Niro for Raging Bull (winner)
Robert Duvall for The Great Santini
Jack Lemmon for Tribute
Peter O’Toole for The Stunt Man

Tom Hulce in Amadeus (1984)

Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus
Other Nominations: N/A
Competition:
F. Murray Abraham for Amadeus (winner)
Jeff Bridges for Starman
Albert Finney for Under the Volcano
Sam Waterston for The Killing Fields

Harrison Ford in Witness (1985)

Harrison Ford as John Book in Witness
Other Nominations: N/A
Competition:
William Hurt for Kiss of the Spider Woman (winner)
James Garner for Murphy’s Romance
Jack Nicholson for Prizzi’s Honor
John Voight for Runaway Train

Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July
Other Nominations: Jerry Maguire; Magnolia (Best Actor in a Supporting Role)
Competition:
Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot (winner)
Kenneth Branagh for Henry V
Morgan Freeman for Driving Miss Daisy
Robin Williams for Dead Poets Society

Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List (1993)

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List
Other Nominations: N/A
Competition:
Tom Hanks for Philadelphia (winner)
Daniel Day-Lewis for In the Name of the Father
Laurence Fishburne for What’s Love Got to Do with It
Anthony Hopkins for The Remains of the Day

John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994)

John Travolta as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction
Other Nominations: Saturday Night Fever
Competition:
Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump (winner)
Morgan Freeman for The Shawshank Redemption
Nigel Hawthorne for The Madness of King George
Paul Newman for Nobody’s Fool

2 thoughts on “Lost But Not Forgotten: Oscar Nominees for Best Actor

  1. Clift was amazing in From Here to Eternity, but let’s be honest. Nobody was beating William Holden for Stalag 17. I’m looking forward to your piece on Holden for the upcoming “Golden Boy” blog-a-thon.

    • It was a good category that year! And though in some ways William Holden’s win was probably a make-up for Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17 is one of my favorites of his, so I’m glad he at least won an Oscar for a worthy performance.

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