Because he deserves it.
He deserved it when he was 13 years old, playing a young J.G. Ballard in Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, which Art Attack saw when we were 15. It made me blubber in tears then, and it still gets me when young Jamie (Bale) confesses to the British doctor, "I can't remember what my parents look like," after he ecstatically watches American P-51 Mustangs--"Cadillac of the Sky!"--bomb the airstrip of the WWII Japanese internment camp where he's been imprisoned.
The 1987 film is one of my favorites of all time (and certainly underrated for Spielberg).
Although I distinctly remember John Malkovich being nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the charming rogue Basie (all internet searches dispute this--perhaps it's just what should've been), no nomination was given to Bale for Best Actor, even though it wasn't unprecedented for a young actor to be nominated--Tatum O'Neal won the 1973 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Paper Moon. Bale wouldn't have had a chance against the other nominees, which included Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, William Hurt and Michael Douglas (the winner, for Wall Street), but it doesn't excuse the fact that he hasn't been nominated for a major award until now.
This Sunday's Golden Globe Awards marks Bale's first GG nomination (for The Fighter). He has yet to be nominated for an Oscar.
We present some examples of why Bale is glaringly the most underrated actor of his generation.
American Psycho (2000) Bale's performance in American Psycho was inspired by Tom Cruise--according to the film's director Mary Harron, specifically Cruise's "very intense friendliness, with nothing behind the eyes." Bale captured the underappreciated humor of Bret Easton Ellis' book. The actor's portrayal of Patrick Bateman was '80s excess and narcissism personified.
The Machinist (2004) The critically touted but little-seen film features Bale as a man with chronic insomnia, and the actor lost 62 lbs. to play the role, weighing in at 120 lbs. total. Bale gained the weight back in a matter of months to prepare for Batman Begins. Such physical stunts would be just that, stunts, if the performances didn't live up. And Bale's performance in The Machinist is mesmerizing. He followed it up by delivering the best Bruce Wayne in Batman franchise history. Call him "the Machine."
Rescue Dawn (2006) At moments, Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn feels a little like Empire of the Sun set during Vietnam, with Bale again as a prisoner of war. And again, he commits totally to the director's vision and gets about as dirty as one can in a Thailand jungle. Bale should have received widespread nominations for his performance, which the San Diego Film Critics Society recognized with an award for Bale's "Body of Work."
The Prestige (2006) Spoiler! As a deeply committed Victorian-era magician, Bale (along with director Christopher Nolan) keeps us guessing up until the above scene, which is both heartbreaking and kind of a mindfuck.
The Fighter (2010) From his first moment on screen as Dicky Eklund, Bale owns this movie. The bug eyes, the speech cadence, the twitchy physicality. As Pete Vonder Haar pointed out in his review, it's as much Bale's movie as it is Mark Wahlberg's (Dicky could just as easily be the "fighter" of the title), and Dicky's story packs more emotional heft than Micky Ward's. It makes sense to nominate Bale for Best Actor, but politically it could backfire when Colin Firth's on the list, and many feel he should've won last year for A Single Man. But it's kind of kismet that Bale's in the supporting category, going up against Michael Douglas and his performance as Gordon Gekko in the Wall Street sequel. Douglas won in 1988 for his original portrayal--the same year Bale was snubbed for Empire. Clearly it's Bale's turn in 2011.
See the next page for a hilarious (and NSFW) music-video parody of Bale's American Psycho performance.