Donald Sutherland was never nominated for an Oscar. Here’s the 1 snub that was especially ‘shocking’

Donald Sutherland was never nominated for an Oscar. Here’s the 1 snub that was especially ‘shocking’

Snubs are as synonymous with the Academy Awards as acceptance speeches that run too long, and perhaps no snub over the course of a career is as surprising as Donald Sutherland’s.

The actor, who died June 20 at the age of 88, was never nominated for an Oscar — a jumbo-sized bucket of popcorn fact to wrap your head around.

Consider this: In 1980, Sutherland starred in “Ordinary People,” playing the grieving father of a son who died in a boating accident, and whose other son is trying to pick up the pieces after his own suicide attempt.

The drama was the big winner at the Academy Awards, taking home four trophies, including best picture, best director for Robert Redford (in his directorial debut), best writing (screenplay based on material from another medium) and best supporting actor for Timothy Hutton, whose victory at the age of 20 is still the record for youngest winner in that category.

Ordinary People (Everett Collection)
Ordinary People (Everett Collection)

Hutton played the guilt-stricken surviving son, while Mary Tyler Moore also garnered a nomination after being cast against type as Sutherland’s icy wife. In addition, Judd Hirsch notched a nomination for best supporting actor, portraying the psychiatrist tasked with helping Hutton.

Sutherland, though, was overlooked.

“Donald Sutherland’s performance in ‘Ordinary People,’ simply, anchored the movie,” Turner Classic Movies host and author of the book “50 Oscar Nights,” Dave Karger, tells

“Even though Timothy Hutton won the Oscar, Donald Sutherland was at the center of the family in that film and gave such a fantastic performance that it is kind of shocking that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.”

Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore (Everett Collection)
Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore (Everett Collection)

It is stunning still in retrospect. Robert De Niro won best actor for “Raging Bull,” beating out a field of accomplished actors, and Karger says Sutherland probably wouldn’t have won, but deserved to at least be nominated. The scene in which Sutherland's character reveals to his wife that he’s not sure he loves her anymore is so heartbreaking that he could’ve merited a nomination on that alone.

Karger says the fact he was not recognized is an oddity of historical proportions, especially given the fact the movie was so beloved.

“I think Donald Sutherland’s omission from best actor for ‘Ordinary People’ has to rank as one of the most surprising omissions in an acting category, particularly when you look at how much the Academy membership seemed to appreciate the film,” he says. “I am at a loss as to how that could have happened.”

Portrait of Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton (Bettmann / Everett Collection)
Portrait of Mary Tyler Moore and Timothy Hutton (Bettmann / Everett Collection)

Based on the 1976 book of the same name by Judith Guest, “Ordinary People” is morose and moving. Even at the time, there was a sense Sutherland nailed the part.

“Mr. Sutherland realizes his best film role in years,” The New York Times’ Vincent Canby wrote in his review of the film.

“The father (Donald Sutherland) is one of those men who wants to do and feel the right things, in his own awkward way,” Roger Ebert wrote in his review. “The change he goes through during the movie is one of the saddest ones: Realizing his wife cannot truly care for others, he questions his own love for her for the first time in their marriage.”

“Ordinary People” is known for so many things, including Hutton’s performance and Moore playing someone so opposite what audiences expected from her. And, today, there's even the idea that the movie helped develop the birth of the Brat Pack, a notion suggested by Andrew McCarthy in his recent Hulu documentary “Brats,” in which he says it’s one of the earliest films to treat young people “very seriously.” He also cites Hutton as “the godfather of the Brat Pack.” But don’t sleep on Sutherland’s contribution to the movie.

On the set of Klute (Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)
On the set of Klute (Sunset Boulevard / Corbis via Getty Images)

For a generation of movie fans who know him from “The Hunger Games” franchise, “Ordinary People” is a lesson about the ability Sutherland possessed. In the 1970s, he made his mark playing offbeat characters in films like “Animal House,” “Kelly’s Heroes” and “M*A*S*H,” but he tried something new with “Ordinary People.”

“I think it did allow him to show different sides of what he could do and I think really helped further his career, which was already going very well,” Karger says.

Karger explains “Don’t Look Now” and “Klute” also stand out as other roles that could’ve netted Sutherland Oscar nominations, while noting that his lack of nominations place him in rarified air.

Donald Sutherland  (Alamy )
Donald Sutherland (Alamy )

“I think he belongs on the list of most accomplished performers never to be nominated for a competitive Oscar, alongside people like Edward G. Robinson or Myrna Loy or people who are still working today, like Richard Gere or Kevin Bacon,” he says.

Sutherland would finally have his moment when he received an honorary Oscar in 2017, a sort of recognition that underscores how talented a performer he was. While honoring him when he got his Oscar, his “Hunger Games” co-star Jennifer Lawrence marveled at the fact he was never nominated when she introduced him.

“For someone so generous and talented, it’s odd to think that Donald Sutherland has never won an Oscar before tonight,” she said before reeling off a list of his movies.

“Donald Sutherland’s work is movie magic at its best,” she added later in her speech.

Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland (AFP via Getty Images)
Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland (AFP via Getty Images)

“I wish I could say thank you to all of the characters that I’ve played, thank them for using their lives to inform my life,” Sutherland said in his acceptance speech, adding the recognition was “extraordinary.”

It was a moment seemingly long overdue.

“There’s a very small list of people who are as accomplished and talented as Donald Sutherland was, who never received a competitive nomination,” Karger says.

“And I think it’s no coincidence that the Academy in 2017 gave him an honorary Oscar because I think the board of directors understood that fact, that he was deserving of at the very least a nomination, if not an actual Academy Award.”

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