“Ha, shit, wait, I’ve been nominated for more Oscars than Burt Reynolds? Haha, what?”
We talk about the Academy Awards a lot around these parts (some might say to a “dangerous to our health” degree). Now, there are a lot of reasons for that. Movies take a lot less effort to get through than books, first of all. Also, as manufactured and imperfect as it is, the term “Academy Award nominee” lends a film or actor an impressive amount of prestige. But mostly, it’s the randomness. Yes, being an Academy Award winner or nominee is an achievement that you can carry with you to your grave, but 80% of the time these nominations are extremely random and hardly make any sense. If you look at their history of work, it’s sort of strange that Charlie Chaplin and Angela Bassett have the same number of Oscar nominations as Andrew Garfield and Abigail Breslin, but that’s just how the Academy throws down, baby.
And we love it. We love it so much in fact that we went through a list of all the actors who have been nominated for acting’s highest honor to remind ourselves of a few actors whose nominations, in retrospect, seemed kind of bonkers. We’re not saying that these actors did not deserve the honor—in fact almost every one put up an award-worthy performance. We’re just saying that if aliens landed on Earth, took in the entirety of our cultural history, and were told that Gary Busey was once nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, they would probably respond, “Wait you mean that toothy guy from Point Break? Is this one of those ‘pranks’ you Earthlings seem so fond of?”
Let’s dive in.
8 Actors With Academy Award Nominations You Completely Forgot About
Before we start this list, we should clarify what we mean when we talk about Oscar nominations that you may or may not have forgotten. This is not a list of performances you can’t believe actually got nominated, like Melissa McCarthy’s (honestly, deserved) nomination for Bridesmaids. Nor is this a list of performances by actors who randomly were nominated for very specific roles in one of their first films who never made much of a career for themselves after (though Barkhad Abdi will forever go down in history as an Oscar nominee as well as a timeless meme). Hell, it would be pretty easy to just compile a list of the Yalitza Aparicios and Gabourey Sibides and Haing S. Gnors who will never go down as household names despite their Oscar successes.
But we’re not looking for that. No, in order to make this list, you have to be an actor that is generally well known, but whose Academy Award nomination catches you kind of by surprise. You probably were around when many of these movies came out, and still had a moment of, “Wait, they got a nomination for that?” Those are the sort of actors we’re talking about here, which is a list with actors such as…
Dan Aykroyd (Best Supporting Actor Nominee For Driving Miss Daisy)
To say that Driving Miss Daisy did not age well as an Oscar-winning movie is like saying that Woody Allen did not age well as an Oscar-winning director. As a “film that came out in 1989” it’s relatively charming and inoffensive, but as a “film that won four of its nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture” it’s pretty absurd. Nothing highlights that more than the fact that this film is responsible for the fact that Dan Aykroyd put on a comically bad southern accent and somehow got a nomination for it.
Listen, we love Dan Aykroyd, kooky alien conspiracy theories and all. That said, of all the Ghostbusters, he’s the one we’d be hardest pressed to consider as a “prestige actor.” When we mention in casual conversation that Bill Murray is an Oscar-nominee (we do this very often, usually followed with “and he was robbed by Sean Penn”), no one acts particularly surprised. But mention that about Aykroyd? Right now some of you reading this article are still trying to assume if this is a fake-entry put in to keep you on your toes. It is not. Neither is this next nominee.
Gary Busey (Best Actor Nominee For The Buddy Holly Story)
Considering the trajectory of Busey’s career, and the content on his Twitter feed, it’s pretty crazy to think that a 34-year-old Gary Busey managed to snag an Academy Award nomination while playing a rock-and-roll icon who died at the age of 22, but hey, the 70s were wild, baby. Just looking at the picture of all the nominees that year is like the Hollywood actor version of the “pick the item that doesn’t belong” game. Four-time nominee Jon Voight took home the trophy, but Busey also had to go against Laurence Olivier (10 nominations, one win), Warren Beatty (four acting nominations, 14 total), and Robert De Niro (two wins on seven nominations).
He obviously never had a chance, but as you know, it’s an honor just to be nominated. Here, if you have three minutes feel free to watch an Academy Award nominated master work his craft.
James Cromwell (Best Supporting Actor Nominee For Babe)
James Cromwell is one of “those guys” who you’ve seen everywhere, and has been great in many things for many years, but we had to include his entry here to point out that his one Academy Award was for the movie Babe, or, as it’s better known, the prequel to the classic Oscar-nominated George Miller film Babe: Pig in the City (we’re 100% serious about that). When people ask what it was like in the 1990’s, there’s few better ways to explain it than by saying, “In 1995 someone decided to make a live-action film about a talking piglet that wanted to become a sheep-herding dog. It received seven Academy Award nominations, including best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actor.”
Honestly, we would kill to do an oral history of how Babe managed to be an award show juggernaut, but we don’t have the time, the resources, or the sobriety. We’ll just say that sometimes being a character actor can bring you acclaim, and allow you to work on films such as L.A. Confidential, The Green Mile, and *checks notes* Big Hero 6, and sometimes if you want to actually get some award recognition you’ve got to say, “That’ll do pig” in a real nice way.
Jonah Hill (Best Supporting Actor Nominee For Wolf of Wall Street and Moneyball)
Jonah Hill making this list isn’t a huge shock—he’s actually positioned himself as an actor and director to be taken seriously for some time now. We just can’t wrap our head around the fact that Jonah Hill has been nominated two separate times. The guy from Superbad and 21 Jump Street has more Oscar nominations than Gene Wilder, Lily Tomlin and Uma Thurman. It’s mostly surprising because, even though Hill was very good in both of his roles, you could be entirely forgiven if you forgot about his nominations. He didn’t win any of the major pre-Oscar awards, he just played supporting turns in well-received movies helmed by a huge star. If anything, his being overshadowed by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio helped his Oscar nominations both seem appropriate and earned, while also ensuring that as soon as the ceremony was over his nominations were all but wiped from our collective consciousnesses. We’re not saying it’s fair, we’re just saying we’re still shocked that Jonah Hill is the actor on this list with multiple Oscar nominations.
Taraji P. Henson (Best Supporting Actress Nominee For The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Honestly, it’s not that strange that Taraji P. Henson has been nominated for an Academy Award at some point in her career—she’s been inmany Oscar-nominated films (Hustle and Flow, Hidden Figures). It’s just strange that her only nomination came from the role of Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If you don’t remember her part in that film, don’t worry—everyone who watched this movie in 2008 immediately forget everything but the “aging backwards” thing, and that’s only because “hey look it’s Benjamin Button over here” is an easy forced compliment to give your uncle on his birthday. We’re pretty sure that Taraji P. Henson doesn’t remember the role of Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and she was nominated for an Oscar to play that part. Now, this nomination came ten years ago, before she made herself a household name by kicking ass in Empire and remaking Mel Gibson movies (huh?), so it’s really easy to forget about her nomination, as it came when she was not particularly well known, but really it’s mostly that no one really cares that much about Benjamin Button. Sorry, Taraji.
Randy Quaid (Best Supporting Actor Nominee For The Last Detail)
Randy Quaid has had an…interesting career outside of his existence of “Dennis Quaid’s less-famous brother.” He’s been Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies, was featured in one of the worst seasons of Saturday Night Live, he saved the world in Independence Day, and now he’s just full-on bat-shit crazy, squatting in hotels and filming himself *checks notes* having sex with his wife from behind while she *no that can’t be right* wears a Rupert Murdoch mask. Wait what? Christ! Well, okay, um, before all that, a 23-year-old Quaid was nominated for an Oscar in the Jack Nicholson vehicle The Last Detail, a Navy comedy-drama that’s largely been forgotten to the sands of time. Through it all, even though his Dennis Quaid has proven to be a more bankable star, and also a more sane individual, Randy’s brother doesn’t have a single Oscar nomination to his name. So take that, we guess?
Diana Ross (Best Actress Nominee For Lady Sings the Blues)
Honestly, it makes sense that Diana Ross, at the height of her fame, starring as Billie Holiday would garner a Best Actress nomination. That’s some peak Oscars stuff. That said, it’s also easy to forget, because Diana Ross did not really participate in the acting side of things too often. Lady Sings the Blues was her first film, and apart from a few made-for-TV movies she did in the 90s, she only had three actual films, all released in the 70s (apart from The Wiz, which you likely know, she also was in a romantic drama called Mahogany). So it is still a little strange to see that Diana Ross, among her many achievements, is an Academy Award-nominated actress, though honestly in 40 years people will probably be saying that about Lady Ga Ga and A Star is Born.
Which, sadly, brings us to our final actor on the list.
Rip Torn (Best Supporting Actor Nominee For Cross Creek)
Rip Torn literally passed away the day we began writing this article, so we should stress that we don’t think that it’s weird that Rip Torn has been nominated for an Oscar at some point throughout his illustrious career. It’s more that we’re ecstatic that he was. Listen, we can’t stress this enough. Agent Zed from Men in Black has been nominated for an Oscar. “If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball” has an Oscar nomination. Fuckin’ Artie from The Larry Sanders Show has graced the red carpet as a nominee. Have we ever heard of Cross Creek? No. Does it kind of seem like a boring sad movie from the 80s? Oh definitely. But we love it if only because it gave Don Geiss an Oscar nomination. And for that, we’re eternally grateful.
But again, even though we’re grateful for his Oscar nomination…we’re incredibly surprised. Aren’t you? Anyway, rest in peace, you Oscar nominated-actor you. As for the rest of y’all on this list? Um…well we think your nominations are neat? Mostly?