Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oscar Winners Who Went On To Do Nothing

There’s a famous vexation thrown around Hollywood known as the Supporting Actress Curse. There was a time, mostly in the ‘90s, when many Best Supporting Actress winners saw a serious decrease in their career prestige post-Oscar.  A few of them are listed below, along with other underachievers who sold out or went off the map after nabbing Hollywood’s favorite golden boy.

“Nothing” may be moderately inaccurate.  A lot of these Oscar winners did indeed continue to advance their film careers as they sought fit. However, none of them lived up the hype that voting members of the Academy once granted with an Oscar.

Note of distinction: Because the Oscars are for film, I’m concerned only with the movie careers of the people listed below.  Whether they went on to find success as musicians or painters or desperate housewives is not of issue to me.

1987 – Cher, Best Actress for Moonstruck
With the throw of a merciless slap followed by the delivery of one of cinema’s most recognizable lines, Cher graced the Oscar podium to accept the award she so thought she deserved.  Think of Moonstruck what you will, but no one can make a solid argument that Cher deserved this more than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  Oh well.  As predicted, Cher got her Oscar then basically faded away from the silver screen spotlight.

Minor redemption: If you enjoyed Burlesque, then I can do nothing for you.

1991 – Mercedes Ruehl, Best Supporting Actress for The Fisher King
Mercedes Ruehl is great as Jeff Bridges’ faithful yet frustrated love interest in The Fisher King, flexing her sultry, brazen charm all the way to the Oscar stage.  But then what?  The mom in Last Action Hero (which, for the record, is a fantastically absurd guilty pleasure)?  Two episodes as Vince Chase’s mom in Entourage?

Minor redemption: Other than the roles mentioned above?  I got nothing. 

1995 – Christopher McQuarrie, Best Original Screenplay for The Usual Suspects
This is a bit of an admitted stretch as I thoroughly enjoyed The Way of the Gun, which McQuarrie wrote and directed five years after winning an Oscar for penning The Usual SuspectsThe Way of the Gun is twisty and clever, but it ain’t no Usual Suspects, one of the most twisty, clever films… ever.  Since his first and only directional effort, McQuarrie hasn’t done much.  Oh, he did write Valkyrie.  And The Tourist, which contained one of the worst, most obvious “twist” endings of recent memory. Probably not something to brag about.

Minor redemption: As I’ve said, The Way of the Gun is a solid flick.

1996 – Cuba Gooding, Jr., Best Supporting Actor for Jerry Maguire
Before getting crazy lucky by being cast as the egotistical Rod Tidwell, Gooding had a few key roles in Boyz in the Hood, A Few Good Men, Judgment Night, and Outbreak.  Since his Oscar win?  Well, we’ve certainly seen him, but not in anything worth mentioning.  Chill FactorInstinct?  Rat RacePearl Harbor? Boat Trip? His post-Oscar resume reads like a flop list from hell.

Minor redemption: His small but volatile role as Nicky Barnes in American Gangster.  He stood toe to toe with Denzel, and nailed it.

1997 – Helen Hunt, Best Actress for As Good as It Gets
Only the second person to win a Golden Globe, Oscar and Emmy in the same year (damn you Liza Minnelli), Hunt was destined for Oscar gold after delivering in emotionally fierce and comically blissful performance opposite ol’ Jack in As Good as It Gets.  And then? What Women Want made shitload of money, but it’s a throwaway role.  Woody Allen has called The Curse of the Jade Scorpion his worst film for a reason, and Pay It Forward is nothing better than a glorified Lifetime movie (which may indeed be an insult to Lifetime movies).

Minor redemption: Her “you-said-you’d-be-right-back” love interest of Tom Hanks in Cast Away.  I’m one of the few people who actually enjoys the final 20 minutes of that film, but the whole movie could’ve been exponentially better if a different actress was cast in Hunt’s role.

1997 – Kim Basinger, Best Supporting Actress for L.A. Confidential
People forget this now, but there was a time when Curtis Hanson’s masterful film rested almost solely on the shoulders of an ‘80s sexpot.  L.A. Confidential was pre-Gladiator Russell Crowe and pre-Memento Guy Pierce.  To be fair, the film was post-The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey, but it was Basinger’s face who was plastered all over the marketing material for this film.  The effort paid off.  The movie was a hit, thanks in part to Basinger’s restrained, taunt performance. After she won the Oscar, she more or less vanished from Hollywood’s radar.  Hanson was generous enough to cast her as Eminem’s mother in 8 Mile, and The Door in the Floor had its moments, but Basinger’s never lived up to the sultry, wide eyed Lynn Bracken.

Minor redemption: I love 8 Mile, but most people forget she’s even in it.

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Best Actor for Life is Beautiful
What a waste.  He deserved Best Foreign Film, but Best Actor?  Over Tom Hanks’ compassion (Saving Private Ryan), Nick Nolte’s desperation (Affliction) and Edward Norton’s fury (American History X)? I’ve never understood the appeal.  And what since?  Nothing.  Unless you count his “rethinking” of Pinocchio, which I doubt, considering no one saw it.

Minor redeemer: None.

2006 – Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls
She was Hollywood’s Homecoming queen, using American Idol as a “stepping stone” to land the meaty role of Effie in the heavily anticipated film adaptation of the wildly popular Broadway show.  She sang, she screamed, she cried, she won.  And…? Look, I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty blown away by Hudson’s performance the first time I saw Dreamgirls.  But look at her competition: Rinko Kikichi gave the best performance of 2006 in Babel, with her co-star Adriana Barraza right behind her.  Then there’s Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal, who would’ve been a shoo-in had she not won two years earlier for The Aviator.  Hudson’s win is just another example of Oscar voters being temporarily buzzed by the sugar high of a flashy performance.

Minor redeemer: Uhh.  The Sex and the City movie?  Anyone?

Future Predictions
I doubt that Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo vanish anytime soon.  But how about Sandra Bullock?  Or, hell, Mo’Nique for that matter?  I haven’t seen much of Forest Whitaker lately, either.  Time will tell. 


  1. Excellent Post....this happens so often and you never really read about it. Thanks for writing this. I could add a couple more to the list.

  2. I like the new list - interesting perspective

  3. Sandra Bullock? Are you kidding? Most men in America (and maybe some women too-remember her sucking face with Scarlett Johanson on the MTV Awards) have celebrity crushes on her. She is taking some time off to raise her son, but her movies are on Cable all the time and her DVDF's are selling like hot cakes. America is waiting for her next fim. She will be a super star for years to come! No curse here!

  4. Hey, right on Don, love the enthusiasm. But I gotta ask... did you actually see The Blind Side?

  5. With two movies crossing the USD 300 MM in a year, I doubt Sandra Bullock is going anywhere... The woman is just taking a break of all the drama she went through

  6. Keep in mind, fellas, I was just casually throwing Sandra Bullock out there as a possibility. It’s no secret that I thought The Blind Side was a silly, throwaway feel good movie that in no way deserved the acclaim of an Academy Award. Precious, on the other hand, is a modern work of art, and Mo’Nique’s performance in it is flawless. But, good performance or not, the question is… where will their careers be five years from now? Bullock is apparently in the new flicks from Stephen Daldry and Alfonso Cuaron. I’m rooting for her, I honestly am.

  7. List like this tend to be out dated. (One of the problem I have with your more hateful lists is that you never choose a bad still to represent your feelings. But the Benigni still is awesome. My uncle always says that Pinocchio is fantastic and that I should watch it. I never believe him.)

    It seems like we disagree a lot on Christopher McQuarrie and Helen Hunt.
    The Usual Suspects is a piece of shit and I don't understand why is so overrated. I never saw The Way of the Gun, but I'm intrested. The Tourist (he co-wrote it, so maybe the twist wasn't his idea) and Valkyrie, while not great, are better then Usual Suspects. Since your post he co-wrote The Wolverine and Jack the Giant Slayer that while not that good I found them entertaining. He co-wrote Edge of Tomorrow which had it's flaws but was smart fun. He also adapted and directed Jack Reacher which was good. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation seems like will be good. I hope, we'll see.
    The Sessions is her redemption, for me. She was great in it and you can't deny. Still that was ONE great role since...Cast Away (I love the final minutes too).
    Oh, and you were wrong with your Future Predictions. I didn't see one good performance from Natalie Portman since Black Swan (Knight of Cups doesn't count 'cause it wasn't release yet). Colin Firth had at least Kingsman. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo were in a lot of great things. Sandra Bullock had Gravity and The Heat, both were good. So Mo’Nique was a right prediction.
    What about Catherine Zeta-Jones. Maybe Side Effect, that's all.

    1. I didn't mean for this to be a hateful list. Just an exploration of the famed "Oscar curse." Many of them fell victim to the curse for quite some time (many still do), but McQuarrie and Hunt do seem to be back on track.

      I think Portman has been taking some time off to raise her child, which I certainly can't doubt her for. Really excited to see what her role is like in Knight of Cups.