On Mother’s Day, which was not one full calendar year ago, but rather just one month ago, I wrote about the movie moms snubbed by Oscar. It was cathartic to finally be able to scream from the internet rooftops about the complexity of Cameron Diaz in Your Sister’s Keeper and to go on record about Sally Field’s funeral scene in Steel Magnolias. With Father’s Day just around the corner, I compiled a list of egregious Oscar nomination misses for on-screen dads. There are a lot of people on this list who probably made the long-list (lots of potential 6th or 7th place performances here), while others were completely overlooked or never considered. So, without any further ado here is my list of performances of fathers, dads and, quite often, daddies who should have been nominated for an Oscar.
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name (2017)
It being Pride month, it only feels right to start this list with dear Mr. Perlman. Stuhlbarg portrayal Elio’s father in Call Me By Your Name, is what every LGBTQ kid dreams of: supportive, understanding, close without prying, accepting with no limits. His monologue to his son Elio, upon the departure of Elio’s first, unexpected love, is a thing of pure majesty and beauty. So powerful is Stuhlbarg here, I bravely decided I wouldn’t re-watch it, as I’ve already had my daily cathartic cry today. For a while there, Stuhlbarg was leading the pack not just for a nomination, but a win in the 2017 supporting actor race, but shockingly, he was left off the list on nomination morning. It was likely Armie Hammer’s fault for splitting votes with Stuhlbarg; (always feels good to blame Armie Hammer for something).
Robin Williams – Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
It’s easy to forget in our current franchise/reboot/remake/sequel-happy moviegoing existence, just how big a hit Mrs. Doubtfire was – and how massive a star Robin Williams. Coming off the cultural defining success of Aladdin and three Oscar nominations in the span of five years, Mrs. Doubtfire was the second-highest grossing film of 1993, and won Best Picture and Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) at the 1994 Golden Globes. This movie was a thing and this performance is probably the one on this list which came closest to a Best Actor nomination.
Amidst his divorce to Sally Field, Williams’s freelance voice actor (natch) Daniel adopts the persona of old, wise, British Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire to nanny his children. Hilarity – and FEELINGS – ensue. This is scary to admit in such a public forum, but Robin Williams was never my favorite comedic actor, and when he dipped into drama, so often it felt like very capital-A Acting. But because I am a film buff of a certain age, he is inextricably tied into my pop culture life. That said, I prefer this performance to most of Williams’ Oscar nominations (certainly, Dead Poets Society). None of this movie works, if you don’t believe that Sally Field is absolutely exhausted by her husband and that Daniel loves his kids so much, so deeply that he would do anything to spend time with them. Williams makes adopting this persona and lying to his children and ex-wife seem like a logical, obvious step for the character. This is a prime example of a giant star at the height of his powers, absolutely nailing it.
Chevy Chase – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Obviously, this never got close to a nomination because of the Academy’s long-standing history of not taking Comedies or comedic performances at all seriously. Chase’s befuddled, rage-prone dad just-trying-to-have-a-nice-Christmas-with-his-family-goddammit, could never gain any awards traction, and it’s a damn shame. The truth is, a lot of people have been nominated for much less and without the benefit of an all-timer monologue like the one Clark Griswold delivers upon his final descent into yuletide madness.
Samuel L. Jackson – A Time to Kill (1996)
During the mid-90s run of John Grisham legal adaptations, A Time to Kill, was something of a bid to be taken more serious, after the successful, but fluffy hits The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client. However, while it is a well-constructed, engaging court room drama, the main issues of race relations and death penalty are couched almost entirely in the experiences of very white country-fried lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey in his breakout role) and his almost comically liberal grad assistant Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock). That said, much like The Help nearly two decades later, what elevates this from pure white savior propaganda, is the performances. The cast here is absolutely stacked. In addition to McConaughey and Bullock, you’ve got Donald Sutherland, his son Kiefer, Oliver Platt, Brenda Fricker, Ashley Judd, Charles S. Dutton, Chris Cooper and, while not a welcome sight, a very good, very slimy Kevin Spacey. But the heart of the film is Samuel L. Jackson, as Carl Lee Hailey, who took justice into his own hands after his young daughter is raped, hanged and left for dead by a couple of Klan members in rural Mississippi.
Fresh off his nomination for Pulp Fiction and before he became the most prolific actor in Hollywood, Jackson was generating serious heat – and a Golden Globe nomination – for his searing, layered performance as a dad avenging his daughter, knowing the racist system that surrounds him will likely fail her.
Sean Connery – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Easily the most purely joyful performance on this list, Sean Connery showing up as Indy’s dad in the third, and what should’ve been final, chapter of the Indiana Jones saga, is nothing short of pure movie star bliss. Two years after his long overdue Oscar for The Untouchables, this is really the role that should’ve been his coronation as an Oscar winner.
Tom Hanks – Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Sleepless in Seattle is so well-remembered as a romantic comedy between Tom Hanks’s widow Sam and Meg Ryan’s reporter Annie, it’s easy to forget they don’t actually meet until the end of the movie. For much of the film, Sam’s main role is to navigate the grief he feels over losing his young wife and figuring out how to be a single father to his precocious son, Jonah. It’s hard to say that this is a role that was snubbed for Oscar, since 1993 is the same year Hanks won his first of back-to-back Best Actor statues for Philadelphia, but it does help make the case that actors can be nominated twice in the same category. And, sure, there are funnier scenes in the film (the Fatal Attraction rant or Dirty Dozen rant), but the heartbreaking realness of those opening scenes of Jonah and Sam on the radio talk show (and Annie’s investment in their story) is what moves the entire film forward. Plus, Tom Hanks is, famously, America’s dad, and for that we salute him.
James Earl Jones – The Lion King (1994)
When deciding on which iconic James Earl Jones dad voice role to include on a list of Oscar snubs, the main question to ask yourself is whether to go good or evil. And while Jones’s performance as the son-maiming, sand-hating Darth Vader is probably embedded deeper into the heart of pop culture, his voice role as Mufasa is the driving force of The Lion King. It’s hard to say this with a voice performance, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone else as Mufasa other than James Earl Jones, so much so, he was recast in the role of King, Father and Brother in the misbegotten 2019 remake.
Michael Peña – Crash (2005)
I know, I know, I know. It’s hard to say anything good about Crash, but it’s not Michael Peña’s fault the movie surrounding him is meh, and more importantly, the Academy is bad for awarding this piece of nothing over Brokeback Mountain in 2005. Peña, plays Daniel, a locksmith just trying to get on with his damn day, with an innate goodness that makes you worry about him the entire film. The scene where he is confronted by a client who wrongly suspects Daniel of robbing his store is genuinely tense, and the guttural scream that Peña lets out when he thinks his daughter has been harmed is one of the very few things worth taking away from the film as a whole. It was a toss-up, by the way, between this and End of Watch – Give Michael Peña everything!
Jack Nicholson – The Shining (1980)
The most shocking thing in this film is that Nicholson’s (most?) iconic role, as possessed, writers blocked-to-the-point-of-insanity father Jack Torrance didn’t earn him an Oscar nomination. Depending on your reading of the film, Jack is either the most evil or the most tragic figure on this list, but either way, he is definitely the most axe-happy.
Winston Duke – Us (2019)
So much of the ink on this movie was, rightfully, spent on Lupita Nyong’o’s brilliant, breathtaking, genre defining dual performance in Us. When the conversation swayed to Winston’s role as protective, mostly befuddled father, Gabe, much of it was about his thighs – AND THAT IS FAIR. However, if this movie got the affection and respect it deserved from the Academy, this would’ve been a fantastic Best Supporting Actor nomination, for an up and coming actor, who is absolutely the center of a Venn Diagram of Great Dad and Total Daddy.
Gregory Peck – The Omen (1976)
It’s all for you Damien! Interesting that Peck, who arguably played the most famous, most beloved onscreen father ever, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, couldn’t gain traction for this performance. Peck is haunting as a father discovering the pesky fact that his child is the actual son of the devil. Despite the fact that ‘60s – ‘70’s prestige horror was sort of a thing with the Academy (The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby) and The Omen did rack up two Oscar nominations (Song and Score), Peck couldn’t crack the 1977 Best Actor race.
Danny Glover – Lethal Weapon (1987)
I can recognize that this is a bit of a stretch, mostly because of the Mel Gibson of it all, and the dissolution of the franchise over the years, but imagine this movie – the original – without Danny Glover. Imagine the mania of Riggs without the grounding presence of devoted father and husband Murtaugh. Imagine a world where we don’t have the phrase “I’m getting too old for this shit” deeply embedded in pop culture. Nothing about this movie works without Glover’s performance, without his innate goodness and love of his kids and wife, which he has to convey through shoot-outs and get across while Mel Gibson absolutely eats up scenery. For that alone, give the man an Oscar nomination!
Song Kang Ho – Parasite (2019)
My male J. Lo snub from last, Song Kang Ho’s omission from the Best Supporting Actor race, despite the groundswell of love for Parasite is something I won’t soon get over. His schemer father, who only wants to improve the quality of life of his family, is at times devastating, hilarious, profound and deeply sad. It should’ve been a nomination. It should’ve been a win.