The Oscar Quest: A Viewer’s Guide – Best Actor

Here is my subset of The Oscar Quest: A Viewer’s Guide, specifically for Best Actor.

A reminder about the color code:

Films in RED are films that are essential. These are films you need to see, whether you like them or not. Though you’ll probably like most of them. A few of these may be part of a personal bias, but this is my list. Just think of the films in red as films you need to see if you want to be film literate (in the most basic sense). At least 70% of these are films that, if you haven’t seen them, you should be ashamed of yourself. These are the prerequisites you need to get into the class. (5-star films.)

Films in ORANGE are films that are my personal favorites (that aren’t already marked red). While not “essential” per say, these are films that I love dearly. They’re essential to me. They’re films that I will tell you that you need to see. I’d say that 80% of the time, these are going to be films that most people would enjoy. A few of them might be subjective to me, but on the whole, these are all very good films. I tried to limit the orange ones to only the best of the best, my absolute favorites. But either way, I love them, and you should definitely see at least 80% of them. (My 5-star films. At worst, most people’s 3-star films. Generally 4’s for everybody.)

Films in YELLOW are films I rate as “very good” films. Not too many people can deny that these films are good films, and whether or not they like them will come down to personal preference. The yellows are the most expansive category. They are by far the biggest bunch. Some of them are 5 stars, but just aren’t ones I love enough to make them orange. Most are solid 4s and come highly recommended. Some are weak 4s and high 3s and come recommended. The strength of the recommendation can be gauged by checking the articles. I’d say at least 60% of them are ones that most people would definitely enjoy, sight unseen. You may want to check a synopsis to be sure, but the rule of thumb is, you see yellow, it’s a good film. You should definitely check out a good portion of these. (4-star films. Maybe a 5 or a 3 here or there.)

Films in GREEN are films that are good films, but ones that probably won’t be for everybody. These probably cover the most ground in terms of my ratings. These will be anywhere from films I feel are solidly 4 stars, to films I don’t even like so much but understand and appreciate that they’re good films. I think the major commonality among the films is that they’re very divisive. They’re all good, but, some people might really like them, some people might not. You almost definitely want to check the synopses on these. Because some of these I love, and some of these I really don’t like, but I mark them green because I know they are good films on some level and don’t want to discount them entirely. These will be the hardest to gauge in terms of my opinion on them based solely on the color. I recommend you get more information on these. But generally most people would rate these at least a 3. (These are generally 3-4 star movies. Many 3s, many 4s, it depends.)

Films in BLUE are — well — the other films. These are films that I enjoyed, but didn’t really love all that much. They’re ones that are one step above the next level below this. Think of these as films that I enjoyed, but not more than a “meh, that was pretty good” kind of way. You’ll get a feel for it when you see which ones are marked blue. They’re ones that, while not totally for me, have their high points, and are not “bad” enough to be put in the final category. Do your homework on these. You may find ones you like here that I don’t like (it’s entirely possible), or you may find something that you like a lot more than I did. This is all based on my personal opinion. The first thing you should know before doing this is how my opinions match yours. NOTE: ALL WINNERS ARE AT LEAST BLUE. Having won, they carry at least that much of a coding. I may not feel so strongly about them, but they do earn that much. So, if you see a WINNER in blue, chances are I don’t like the film too much. (3 star films. Almost exclusively. <5% 4 stars and 2 stars combined here.)

Films NOT in any color (or, whatever the default color of this page is) are films that I don’t like. I won’t go so far as to say I hate them, since they are Oscar nominees, and that at least merits a certain amount of respect, but we’ll put it like this: these are ones I DO NOT recommend. Or, they’re films that just really weren’t for me. By elimination, there have to be a few of these on this list. So, the ones that are blank are ones that either I don’t like or are completely indifferent towards. And complete indifference means, they may be good, but I don’t care. I just didn’t care for it, whether because I think it’s a bad film, a boring film, or because it just really wasn’t for me. Read the articles if you want specifics. (3 stars or 2 star here. Nothing nominated for an Oscar gets a 1. They’re not completely inept. Mostly 2s, some 3s.)

(Note: Winners appear first and bolded. If a performance/directorial effort is italicized, I consider it to be one of the best. If an asterisk (*) appears after a film, it means it hasn’t been nominated before and is appearing for the first time (in the order of Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director). Also, the colors are uniform throughout. I’ve rated the films, not the performances.)

(Anything flush right on the page is a film I’ve yet to see.)


2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Christian Bale, American Hustle

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

2012  Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables

Joaquin Phoenix, The Master *

Denzel Washington, Flight *

2011  Jean Dujardin, The Artist

Demián Bichir, A Better Life *

George Clooney, The Descendants

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy *

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

2010 Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Javier Bardem, Biutiful *

Jeff Bridges, True Grit

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

James Franco, 127 Hours

2009 Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart *

George Clooney, Up in the Air

Colin Firth, A Single Man *

Morgan Freeman, Invictus *

Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

2008Sean Penn, Milk

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor *

Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler *

2007 Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

George Clooney, Michael Clayton

Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street *

Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah *

Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises *

2006 Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland *

Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond *

Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson *

Peter O’Toole, Venus *

Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness *

2005 Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow *

Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain

Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line *

David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck

2004Jamie Foxx, Ray

Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda *

Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator

Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

2003 Sean Penn, Mystic River

Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl *

Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog *

Jude Law, Cold Mountain *

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

2002 Adrien Brody, The Pianist

Nicolas Cage, Adaptation. *

Michael Caine, The Quiet American *

Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York

Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt *

2001 Denzel Washington, Training Day *

Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind

Sean Penn, I Am Sam *

Will Smith, Ali *

Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom

2000Russell Crowe, Gladiator

Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls *

Tom Hanks, Cast Away *

Ed Harris, Pollock *

Geoffrey Rush, Quills *

1999Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

Russell Crowe, The Insider

Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story *

Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown *

 Denzel Washington, The Hurricane *

1998 Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan

Ian McKellen, Gods and Monsters *

Nick Nolte, Affliction *

Edward Norton, American History X *

1997Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets

Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting

Robert Duvall, The Apostle *

Peter Fonda, Ulee’s Gold *

Dustin Hoffman, Wag the Dog *

1996Geoffrey Rush, Shine

Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire

Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient

Woody Harrelson, The People vs. Larry Flynt *

Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade *

1995 Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas *

Richard Dreyfuss, Mr. Holland’s Opus *

Anthony Hopkins, Nixon *

Sean Penn, Dead Man Walking *

Massimo Troisi, Il Postino

1994Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption

Nigel Hawthorne, The Madness of King George *

Paul Newman, Nobody’s Fool *

John Travolta, Pulp Fiction

1993 Tom Hanks, Philadelphia *

Daniel Day-Lewis, In the Name of the Father

Laurence Fishburne, What’s Love Got to Do with It *

Anthony Hopkins, The Remains of the Day

Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List

1992Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

Robert Downey Jr., Chaplin *

Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven

Stephen Rea, The Crying Game

Denzel Washington, Malcolm X *

1991Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

Warren Beatty, Bugsy

Robert De Niro, Cape Fear *

Nick Nolte, The Prince of Tides

Robin Williams, The Fisher King *

1990 Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune *

Kevin Costner, Dances with Wolves

Robert De Niro, Awakenings

Gérard Depardieu, Cyrano de Bergerac *

Richard Harris, The Field *

1989Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot

Kenneth Branagh, Henry V *

Tom Cruise, Born on the Fourth of July

Morgan Freeman, Driving Miss Daisy

Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society

1988Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man

Gene Hackman, Mississippi Burning

Tom Hanks, Big *

Edward James Olmos, Stand and Deliver *

Max von Sydow, Pelle the Conqueror *

1987Michael Douglas, Wall Street *

William Hurt, Broadcast News

Marcello Mastroianni, Dark Eyes *

Jack Nicholson, Ironweed *

Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam *

1986 Paul Newman, The Color of Money *

Dexter Gordon, Round Midnight *

Bob Hoskins, Mona Lisa *

William Hurt, Children of a Lesser God

James Woods, Salvador *

1985 William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman

Harrison Ford, Witness

James Garner, Murphy’s Romance *

Jack Nicholson, Prizzi’s Honor

Jon Voight, Runaway Train *

1984F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus

Jeff Bridges, Starman *

Albert Finney, Under the Volcano *

Tom Hulce, Amadeus

Sam Waterston, The Killing Fields

1983 Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies

Michael Caine, Educating Rita *

Tom Conti, Reuben, Reuben *

Tom Courtenay, The Dresser

Albert Finney, The Dresser

1982 Ben Kingsley, Gandhi

Dustin Hoffman, Tootsie

Jack Lemmon, Missing

Paul Newman, The Verdict

Peter O’Toole, My Favorite Year *

1981Henry Fonda, On Golden Pond

Warren Beatty, Reds

Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City

Dudley Moore, Arthur *

Paul Newman, Absence of Malice *

1980 Robert De Niro, Raging Bull           

Robert Duvall, The Great Santini *

John Hurt, The Elephant Man

Jack Lemmon, Tribute *

Peter O’Toole, The Stunt Man *

1979Dustin Hoffman, Kramer vs. Kramer

Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome *

Al Pacino, …And Justice for All *

Roy Scheider, All That Jazz

Peter Sellers, Being There *

1978 Jon Voight, Coming Home

Warren Beatty, Heaven Can Wait

Gary Busey, The Buddy Holly Story *

Robert De Niro, The Deer Hunter

Laurence Olivier, The Boys From Brazil *

1977 Richard Dreyfuss, The Goodbye Girl

Woody Allen, Annie Hall

Richard Burton, Equus *

Marcello Mastroianni, A Special Day *

John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever *

1976Peter Finch, Network

Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver

Giancarlo Giannini, Seven Beauties *

William Holden, Network

Sylvester Stallone, Rocky

1975 Jack Nicholson, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Walther Matthau, The Sunshine Boys *

Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon

Maximilian Schell, The Man in the Glass Booth *

James Whitmore, Give ‘em Hell, Harry! *

1974 Art Carney, Harry and Tonto *

Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express *

Dustin Hoffman, Lenny

Jack Nicholson, Chinatown

Al Pacino, The Godfather, Part II

1973 Jack Lemmon, Save the Tiger *

Marlon Brando, Last Tango in Paris *

Jack Nicholson, The Last Detail *

Al Pacino, Serpico *

Robert Redford, The Sting

1972Marlon Brando, The Godfather

Michael Caine, Sleuth *

Laurence Olivier, Sleuth

Peter O’Toole, The Ruling Class *

Paul Winfield, Sounder

1971 Gene Hackman, The French Connection

Peter Finch, Sunday Bloody Sunday *

Walther Matthau, Kotch *

George C. Scott, The Hospital *

Chaim Topol, Fiddler on the Roof

1970 George C. Scott, Patton

Melvyn Douglas, I Never Sang for My Father *

James Earl Jones, The Great White Hope *

Jack Nicholson, Five Easy Pieces

Ryan O’Neal, Love Story

1969John Wayne, True Grit *

Richard Burton, Anne of the Thousand Days

Dustin Hoffman, Midnight Cowboy

Peter O’Toole, Goodbye, Mr. Chips *

Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy

1968 Cliff Robertson, Charly *

Alan Arkin, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter *

Alan Bates, The Fixer *

Ron Moody, Oliver!

Peter O’Toole, The Lion in Winter

1967 Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night

Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde

Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate

Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke *

Spencer Tracy, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

1966 Paul Scofield, A Man for All Seasons

Alan Arkin, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming

Richard Burton, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Michael Caine, Alfie

Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles

1965Lee Marvin, Cat Ballou *

Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold *

Laurence Olivier, Othello *

Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker *

Oskar Werner, Ship of Fools

1964 Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady

Richard Burton, Becket

Peter O’Toole, Becket

Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek

Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1963 Sidney Poitier, Lilies of the Field

Albert Finney, Tom Jones

Richard Harris, This Sporting Life *

Rex Harrison, Cleopatra

Paul Newman, Hud *

1962 Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird

Burt Lancaster, Birdman of Alcatraz *

Jack Lemmon, Days of Wine and Roses *

Marcello Mastroianni, Divorce, Italian Style *

Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia

1961Maximilian Schell, Judgment at Nuremberg

Charles Boyer, Fanny

Paul Newman, The Hustler

Spencer Tracy, Judgment at Nuremberg

Stuart Whitman, The Mark *

1960 Burt Lancaster, Elmer Gantry

Trevor Howard, Sons and Lovers

Jack Lemmon, The Apartment

Laurence Olivier, The Entertainer *

Spencer Tracy, Inherit the Wind *

1959Charlton Heston, Ben-Hur

Laurence Harvey, Room at the Top

Jack Lemmon, Some Like it Hot *

Paul Muni, The Last Angry Man *

James Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder

1958 David Niven, Separate Tables

Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones

Paul Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Sidney Poitier, The Defiant Ones

Spencer Tracy, The Old Man and the Sea *

1957 Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai

Marlon Brando, Sayonara

Anthony Franciosa, A Hatful of Rain *

Charles Laughton, Witness for Prosecution

Anthony Quinn, Wild is the Wind *

1956 Yul Brynner, The King and I

James Dean, Giant

Kirk Douglas, Lust for Life *

Rock Hudson, Giant

Laurence Olivier, Richard III *

1955Ernest Borgnine, Marty

James Cagney, Love Me or Leave Me *

James Dean, East of Eden *

Frank Sinatra, The Man with the Golden Arm *

Spencer Tracy, Bad Day at Black Rock *

1954 Marlon Brando, On the Waterfront

Humphrey Bogart, The Caine Mutiny

Bing Crosby, The Country Girl

James Mason, A Star is Born *

Dan O’Herlihy, Robison Crusoe *

1953William Holden, Stalag 17 *

Marlon Brando, Julius Caesar

Richard Burton, The Robe

Montgomery Clift, From Here to Eternity

Burt Lancaster, From Here to Eternity

1952Gary Cooper, High Noon

Marlon Brando, Viva Zapata! *

Kirk Douglas, The Bad and the Beautiful *

José Ferrer, Moulin Rouge

Alec Guinness, The Lavender Hill Mob *

1951 Humphrey Bogart, The African Queen *

Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire

Montgomery Clift, A Place in the Sun

Arthur Kennedy, Bright Victory *

Fredric March, Death of a Salesman *

1950 José Ferrer, Cyrano de Bergerac *

Louis Calhern, The Magnificent Yankee *

William Holden, Sunset Boulevard

James Stewart, Harvey *

Spencer Tracy, Father of the Bride

1949Broderick Crawford, All the King’s Men

Kirk Douglas, Champion *

Gregory Peck, Twelve O’Clock High

Richard Todd, The Hasty Heart *

John Wayne, Sands of Iwo Jima *

1948 – Laurence Olivier, Hamlet

Lew Ayres, Johnny Belinda

Montgomery Clift, The Search *

Dan Dailey, When My Baby Smiles at Me *

Clifton Webb, Sitting Pretty *

1947Ronald Colman, A Double Life *

John Garfield, Body and Soul *

Gregory Peck, Gentleman’s Agreement

William Powell, Life with Father *

Michael Redgrave, Mourning Becomes Electra *

1946Fredric March, The Best Years of Our Lives

Laurence Olivier, Henry V

Larry Parks, The Jolson Story *

Gregory Peck, The Yearling

James Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life

1945Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend

Bing Crosby, The Bells of St. Mary’s

Gene Kelley, Anchors Aweigh

Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom *

Cornel Wilde, A Song to Remember *

1944 Bing Crosby, Going My Way

Charles Boyer, Gaslight

Barry Fitzgerald, Going My Way

Cary Grant, None But the Lonely Heart *

Alexander Knox, Wilson

1943 Paul Lukas, Watch on the Rhine

Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

Gary Cooper, For Whom the Bell Tolls

Walter Pidgeon, Madame Curie

Mickey Rooney, The Human Comedy

1942 James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

Ronald Colman, Random Harvest

Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees

Walter Pidgeon, Mrs. Miniver

Monty Woolley, The Pied Piper

1941Gary Cooper, Sergeant York

Cary Grant, Penny Serenade *

Walter Huston, The Devil and Daniel Webster *

Robert Montgomery, Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Orson Welles, Citizen Kane

1940 James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story

Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator

Henry Fonda, The Grapes of Wrath

Raymond Massey, Abe Lincoln in Illinois *

Laurence Olivier, Rebecca

1939Robert Donat, Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind

Laurence Olivier, Wuthering Heights

Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms *

James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

1938Spencer Tracy, Boys Town

Charles Boyer, Algiers *

James Cagney, Angels with Dirty Faces *

Robert Donat, The Citadel

Leslie Howard, Pygmalion

1937Spencer Tracy, Captains Courageous

Charles Boyer, Conquest *

Fredric March, A Star is Born

Robert Montgomery, Night Must Fall *

Paul Muni, The Life of Emile Zola

1936Paul Muni, The Story of Louis Pasteur

Gary Cooper, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Walter Huston, Dodsworth

William Powell, My Man Godfrey *

Spencer Tracy, San Francisco

1935Victor McLaglen, The Informer

Clark Gable, Mutiny on the Bounty

Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty

Paul Muni, Black Fury *

Franchot Tone, Mutiny on the Bounty

1934 Clark Gable, It Happened One Night

Frank Morgan, The Affairs of Cellini *

William Powell, The Thin Man

1932-1933Charles Laughton, The Private Life of Henry VIII

Leslie Howard, Berkeley Square *

Paul Muni, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

1931-1932 Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde *

Wallace Beery, The Champ

Alfred Lunt, The Guardsman *

1930-1931 Lionel Barrymore, A Free Soul *

Adolphe Menjou, The Front Page

Jackie Cooper, Skippy

Richard Dix, Cimarron

Fredric March, The Royal Family of Broadway *

1929-1930 George Arliss, Disraeli

George Arliss, The Green Goddess *

Wallace Beery, The Big House

Maurice Chevalier, The Big Pond * & The Love Parade

Ronald Colman, Bulldog Drummond * & Condemned *

Lawrence Tibbett, The Rogue Song *

1928-1929 Warner Baxter, In Old Arizona

George Bancroft, Thunderbolt *

Chester Morris, Alibi

Paul Muni, The Valiant *

Lewis Stone, The Patriot (LOST)

1927-1928Emil Jannings, The Last Command * & The Way of All Flesh (LOST)

Richard Barthelmess, The Noose & The Patent Leather Kid *

2 responses

  1. tellymurray

    You should add the winners of 2014 and 2015 movies.

    September 25, 2016 at 4:26 pm

  2. tellymurray

    All categories, not just this one.

    September 25, 2016 at 4:27 pm

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