Happy birthday, Denzel Washington! With one of Hollywood’s most esteemed actors turning 59 today, we’re taking a trip down memory lane and mining through some of our beloved roles. And as we started to watch those performances, we noticed something a tad bit curious.
Even though Denzel has won two Oscars, we figure that he easily could’ve taken home many more. He’s gotten nominated plenty of times, but come on, there’s nothing like winning that coveted statue. Many of the actor’s roles have him challenging authority figures along the issues of race, sexual orientation, and various other social structures — and managing to look pretty hot while doing it. If that doesn’t get him recognized by the Academy, we don’t know what will!
Take a look through our list of Denzel Washington’s parts that were prime Oscar bait, and in the comments, let us know if there are other roles that you think should’ve brought him the gold.
[Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Warner Bros.]
10. Jake Shuttlesworth, He Got Game
As a temporary parolee asked to sway his son to play basketball for the governor’s college alma mater, Jake Shuttlesworth is on his own mission to repair his damaged family before he has to return to prison. Denzel totally made us feel for his character’s quest for redemption.
9. Dr. Jerome Davenport, Antwone Fisher
Even while playing a psychiatrist trying to help a troubled young man deal with emotional scars from his childhood, Denzel was actually also behind the camera as a director. Couldn’t he have gotten some love for being at the helm of the film?
8. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, The Hurricane
The lead character in a true story about a boxer wrongly accused of murder got Denzel a nomination for Best Actor for the 1999 Academy Awards, but he lost out to Kevin Spacey for his role in American Beauty.
7. Lt. Commander Ron Hunter, Crimson Tide
Wow, Denzel snagged top billing in this naval thriller — above Hollywood legend Gene Hackman!
6. Steve Biko, Cry Freedom
Denzel was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Academy for playing South African activist Steve Biko, but the role wasn’t enough to get him the win. Sean Connery took home Oscar gold that year.
5. Herman Boone, Remember The Titans
Can you imagine having to boost camaraderie among a newly-integrated high school football team in civil rights-era Virginia? Yeah, neither can we. But Herman Boone took on that heroic feat, and Denzel channeled the coach’s leadership spirit in the 2000 film based on the true story.
4. Pfc. Melvin Peterson, A Soldier’s Story
Against the backdrop of a U.S. Army base during World War II, A Soldier’s Story, told mostly through flashbacks, follows the investigation into the murder of an irascible sergeant. Denzel is easily one the tale’s standout characters, playing a private first class willing to challenge the sergeant’s racial politics.
3. Joe Miller, Philadelphia
Alongside Tom Hanks, Denzel held his own in the 1993 film about a successful corporate attorney fired from his firm after partners suspected he had AIDS. In one of the first widely-released movies tackling the stigmatized disease and stereotypes surrounding the homosexual community, Denzel played a homophobic lawyer battling his own biases to represent Hanks’ character in a discrimination suit.
2. Whip Whitaker, Flight
Denzel walked a fine line when playing a pilot whose major heroic act is tainted by his substance abuse addiction. Aren’t complex characters usually Oscar bait?
1. Malcolm X, Malcolm X
Denzel took on one of history’s most dynamic figures when stepping into Malcolm X’s lead role. He did snag an Oscar nom for the spot-on performance, but couldn’t get past Al Pacino’s performance in Scent Of A Woman. Was Denzel robbed?