|The never-nominated Mia Farrow|
This is a particularly galling problem when people discuss winners, of course-everyone thinks that X, Y, and Z actors should win, but the reality is that unless you can name a specific performance that was the better of everyone else that year, your argument doesn't hold water. However, I think it's more interesting when you talk about who the most snubbed actor who has never been nominated is (we're sticking to actors, though any aspect of film works for this conversation and the comments are there for a reason, and if you want to go with directors or what have you know I will join you) at the Oscars. I've written multiple articles about this, scientifically showing how Jim Carrey and Mia Farrow top the list if you look at the Globes while Mia Farrow and Dirk Bogarde are tops if you look at the BAFTA Awards. However, it gets more complicated than that if you look instead at the larger picture of who should have been nominated the most but never made the cut.
The reality is when people crow about actors, particularly actors who have never been nominated for the Oscars, they don't really go at it with a specific performance in mind that was snubbed, and state who shouldn't have made it and how the "snubbed" was better than every other potential contender for the nomination. I actually googled quite a few articles about actors who should have been nominated, and a lot of them laundry listed every single film that the actor made that might be sort of good, but hardly is it representative of what was clearly one of the year's five best performances. In theory you might think that, say, Ewan McGregor deserves a nomination but you raise an eyebrow when someone lists The Impossible as one of the films he could have been nominated. John Cusack hasn't done anything in his career to win a nomination for a specific performance, but he frequently shows up on these lists because he's the rare male movie star to never win an Oscar nomination. Collectively, yes, they both might deserve mention (and McGregor probably did for Moulin Rouge!), but you saturate your point if you list every good film the person made because that's entering Entertainment Weekly territory in terms of "everything's a snub."
The reality is that most actors only turn in a handful of performances that are truly one of the year's five best if you get objective about it, and that includes actors who do get nominated (I haven't done the math completely on it, but I don't think I'd nominate any actor into the double digits for the Oscars, including Meryl Streep though she and Nicholson might be close), but there are few actors who have never been nominated who have actually deserved multiple nominations. Someone like Mia Farrow, arguably the pinnacle of the "she never got an Oscar nomination?!?" conversation is part of the list of people who clearly deserved one nomination, and maybe two, but I think we wouldn't hear a peep about Farrow's lack of inclusion if she'd been simply nominated for Rosemary's Baby and never was cited again. Farrow may have five Globe nominations, many of them for Woody Allen movies, but while you might have one favorite that you'd include, by-and-large if she was nominated for Rosemary's Baby you wouldn't hear too many complaints here. One-and-done is not completely egregious for Farrow. The same can be said for Steve Martin, Jim Carrey, and Donald Sutherland, the latter of whom it's actually questionable where he would have gotten the nomination (Ordinary People? MASH? JFK?-those are pretty strong lineups without him in the conversation). One nomination would seem fine for these guys.
It's actually a pretty short list of actors whom I can think of who have never been nominated that even clearly deserved two citations. Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation and Under the Skin), Jim Carrey (The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Peter Lorre (M and The Maltese Falcon) are about it. Honestly you'd have to go to foreign actors who don't work in English primarily to find someone whom I'd nominate three times without an issue, and even then legends like Jeanne Moreau and Gong Li are stacking up against some steep odds. All of this is to say that the snub categorization is pretty wrong in my opinion-there are hundreds of movies released a year around the world, and only five get to make it on the nomination list, so some great performances are going to get left in the dust. While I understand the idea that the Academy and other awards bodies should pay more attention and I wish they wouldn't just knee-jerk nominate certain people (sorry Meryl, but even you know it's true), the reality is that snubs, especially for long-neglected actors, aren't as common as you may think and before you groan about a Richard Gere or a Hugh Grant never being nominated, make sure you come armed with whom you're cutting from the lineup.