Frances McDormand, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”
Meryl Streep, “Hope Springs”
Margot Robbie, “Z for Zachariah”
Saoirse Ronan, “How I Live Now”
Sally Hawkins, “Maudie”
Woody Harrelson, “The Edge of Seventeen”
Sam Rockwell, “Laggies”
Christopher Plummer, “Remember”
Willem Dafoe, “Dog Eat Dog”
Richard Jenkins, “Bone Tomahawk”
Lesley Manville, “All or Nothing”
Allison Janney, “Tallulah”
Laurie Metcalf, “Getting On”
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Octavia Spencer, “Smashed”
Getting an Oscar nomination can change the future of your career, but it also should inspire viewers to take a look back at the material that already exists. This year’s 20 acting nominees are an eclectic group of old pros and breakout newcomers, and each has at least one performance not enough people got around to seeing in the past.
Click through the gallery as we celebrate this year’s acting Oscar nominees with their best overlooked performances.
The greatest actor alive can’t be too overlooked, but you rarely see Day-Lewis’ role as Johnny Burfoot in “My Beautiful Laundrette” listed among his best performances. Stephen Frears’ tender gay romance was one of the actor’s earliest gigs and earned him the 1986 National Board of Review prize for Best Supporting Actor.
Anyone who saw Chalamet in Julia Hart’s excellent 2016 directorial debut knew a performance like the one in “Call Me by Your Name” wasn’t going to be too far off for the young actor. Chalamet stuns as a young drama student battling a behavioral disorder, and one scene in which he performs a monologue from “A Streetcar Named Desire” will forever remain one of his best on screen moments.
Kaluuya’s breakout turn in “Get Out” was his major American debut, and chances are the only other place where most domestic viewers saw him prior was in his “Black Mirror” episode. But Kaluuya has been acting for awhile, with his role on the BBC psychological-horror sitcom “Psychoville” being one of his most prominent early roles.
The Academy may not have overlooked Washington’s work in Dan Gilroy’s legal drama, but audiences sure did last fall. The movie only made half its $22 million budget at the box office and is one of the lowest U.S. grossers in Washington’s career, despite the fact he gives an earnestly committed performance as a conflicted criminal defense attorney. Washington tones down his extroverted charm and builds his character from the inside out.
Following the success of “Sid and Nancy,” Oldman joined forces with Stephen Frears for an unconventional biopic about the English playwright and author Joe Orton. The movie earned Oldman his first BAFTA nomination for Best Actor but has gone largely unseen by American audiences.
McDormand’s screen presence over the last several decades has been defined by the strong integrity of her characters, and the penniless Guinevere Pettigrew is certainly no exception. McDormand’s performance brings a sturdy core to what could’ve just been a breezy historical romantic-comedy. The fact she stars opposite Amy Adams should’ve made “Pettigrew” a bigger hit.
Streep reunited with her “Devil Wears Prada” director David Frankel for this under-seen marriage drama about a fractured couple who enter therapy to try and save their relationship. The way Streep and co-star Tommy Lee Jones chart their characters’ rediscovered chemistry is a thing of beauty.
“Compliance” director Craig Zobel cast Robbie as the lead in his dystopian morality tale about a woman who finds out she’s far from the last person on earth. Robbie is a quiet marvel in the role, expertly charting her character’s fear and desire as two male strangers arrive on her character’s farm and force her to put her faith in humanity again.
Saoirse Ronan didn’t have much luck in the YA genre with “The Host,” but this 2013 adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s novel was a solid rebound of sorts. Ronan joined “The Last King of Scotland” director Kevin Macdonald for the film, in which she plays an American teenager with anorexia who falls in love during a visit to the English countryside. Ronan makes her character’s struggle feel appropriately messy and allows the love story to feel earned and not manufactured by YA tropes.
Everyone was talking about Sally Hawkins’ performance in “The Shape of Water,” but she also delivered another strong 2017 turn in “Maudie.” The actress recevied critical acclaim for playing folk artist Maud Lewis, who is struggling with arthritis and her lost child.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut is one of the best coming-of-age movies of the decade, and it features Harrelson in a small but pivotal role as the teacher of Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine. The film subverts high school movie clichés left and right, which allows Harrelson to make his supportive teacher a prickly, no-nonsense jackass that you still somehow can’t help but love.
It takes a great actor to make an absurd premise feel grounded, and that’s precisely what Sam Rockwell does in Lynn Shelton’s rom-com “Laggies.” Most fathers would not let a 28-year-old woman hang out with their teenage daughter and move into their house, but Rockwell is just charming enough to make his character’s ridiculous decisions feel lovable.
Plummer stars as an elderly Holocaust survivor with dementia who sets out to kill a Nazi war criminal in Atom Egoyan’s little-seen 2015 drama thriller. Plummer never fails at bringing a tough weariness to his late-career characters. You can feel the weight of the past in every glance.
Dafoe and co-star Nicolas Cage have each had separate careers playing intense characters, so of course Paul Schrader brought them together for “Dog Eat Dog.” The result is a new level of crazy, starring Dafoe as a deranged ex-convict who loves cocaine as much as the thrill of a good heist. Sporting bloodshot eyeballs tattooed under the side of his chin and the back of his neck, Dafoe is gonzo perfection.
We all know how delicate Richard Jenkins can be in supporting roles (his Oscar nomination for “The Shape of Water” proves it), so allow his comic tour-de-force in “Bone Tomahawk” to be a reminder that he can seriously do it all. Playing a bumbling town sheriff in the Old West, Jenkins provides the comic levity and helpless fear that turn a genre horror effort into something truly memorable.
Mike Leigh fans know just what a wonder Lesley Manville is on the big screen, and more American moviegoers could stand to brush up on their Leigh/Manville history. “Topsy-Turvy” and “Another Year” are the heavy hitters among their collaborations, but Manville’s work as an unassuming mother raising a troublemaking teen in “All or Nothing” is just as exemplary.
Janney stars opposite Ellen Page in Sian Heder’s overlooked Sundance comedy-drama about two women who bond over a stolen baby. Janney has long been an expert at channeling lovable and vulnerable middle-aged anguish (see her Emmy-winning role on “Mom“), and she puts that to good use in this unusually poignant story.
Laurie Metcalf was the star of an HBO comedy series that ran for three seasons, and the fact most people have no idea about it is a crime. “Getting On” starred Metcalf as doctor demoted to working with elderly patients in her hospital’s extended care unit. Nobody mines comedy out of long-suffering depression quite like Metcalf.
Mary J. Blige makes her acting debut in “Mudbound,” and it’s a damn shame Dee Rees’ drama could even remotely fall under the “under-seen” label. The Netflix release is one of the most acclaimed films this Oscar season and features a supporting turn from Blige that redefines the limits of her artistic talents.
James Ponsoldt’s films require performances of the upmost sensitivity, so it’s only fitting Octavia Spencer was cast in his overlooked gem “Smashed.” Spencer plays a recovering alcoholic who mentors Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s protagonist. It’s another sterling example of Spencer injecting a supporting player with the full-bodied emotion of a lead role.