It’s no secret that sometimes the Academy of Motion Pictures screws the pooch. I mean, Pearl Harbor won an Oscar. Recently, a gaggle of entertainment icons such as Will Smith and Spike Lee chose to boycott this year’s ceremony in protest against what they perceive as a lack of diversity among nominees. But I say baloney! Robert Downey Jr. was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Tropic Thunder. Oh, wait.
The following people won Oscars. While there’s no debate in the fact that some of these films were utterly masterful, there is often debate among armchair film critics such as I, that these folks aren’t exactly worthy of their awards. So allow me to lay myself out on the limb, and give an unequivocal, “NO,” to the idea that these actors and actresses were deserving. Oscars in the land of Hollyweird aren’t synonymous with talent. And here’s proof.
12. Cher – Moonstruck (1988)
Cher is best-known as the singer of “Believe” and the mother of a guy named Chaz. In 1988, she won an Oscar for Moonstruck, which was about a woman who falls in love with the brother of the man she’s supposed to marry. Nicolas Cage played opposite of her, and that may have given her a curse, because she hasn’t acted with any seriousness since. Glenn Close was nominated for her brilliancy in Fatal Attraction the same year, which posed the question, was Cher deserving? Arguably, but it seems she’s just reading the dialogue of a world-class screenplay in a broken Italian-American accent—and she’s not even Italian.
11. Angelina Jolie – Girl, Interrupted (1999)
For the past 15 years, Angelina Jolie has been typecast in butch-feminine roles such as Tomb Raider, Salt, and other movies involving her beating the hell out of Eastern-European war criminals. She won an Oscar for her work in Girl, Interrupted, and one year later she starred in Gone in 60 Seconds with Nicolas Cage, which may or may not have something to do with her being on this list. I’m not saying anything, just tossing it out there. Girl, Interrupted is about 60s writer Susanna Kaysen and her 18-month stay in a mental hospital. Jolie played Lisa—a self-described sociopath who helps Winona Ryder find herself. Frankly, given her reputation during the time, the role fit like a glove.
10. Gwyneth Paltrow – Shakespeare in Love (1998)
When people think of Gwyneth Paltrow, they usually think of Coldplay or the fact that she named her daughter Apple. They may also think of Shallow Hal or her forgettable appearances in Iron Man movies. Lost on many is that she once won an Oscar for her role in Shakespeare in Love. In it she plays Shakespeare’s muse, the sole inspiration for Juliet. The Academy, in my opinion especially, is that her youthful delicacy in 1998 fit the bill perfectly for a pasty duchess in the 15th century. She played the part of Voila De Lesseps so flawlessly, it was almost effortless, and perhaps it was (she did five movies the same year).
9. Whoopi Goldberg – Ghost (1990)
I wish there was some sort of way the Academy could predict whether an actor would eventually take a role that would erase all credibility of a prior Oscar performance. Sort of like a futuristic time-travel program a la Minority Report. Because the Academy had no way of knowing that Whoopi Goldberg would star in How Stella Got Her Groove Back or The View. If they could, they probably wouldn’t have rewarded her for her role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost.
But that’s neither here nor there. In Ghost, she plays a psychic who can see Patrick Swayze. Whoopi helps Demi Moore’s character connect with Swayze’s ghost and warns her of impending doom. It could be that the Academy believed her to be a Robin Williams-esque talent who could transcend comedy and break out in drama. But then two years later she did Sister Act. And then things got weird.
8. Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas (1996)
Something happened to Nicolas Cage after the 90s. He started to do movies like Bangkok Dangerous and Kick Ass. He left behind Con Air, The Rock and Leaving Las Vegas—the film that won him an Oscar in 1996. He plays Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic writer who moves to Las Vegas to kill himself via drinking. But there he meets a prostitute who changes his life. During the filming, the writer of the film, John O’Brien, actually killed himself, which is more dramatic than anything Cage has done since. Now it seems he’s content with being a meme and flummoxing people who once thought he’d be a cinematic god.
7. Mo’Nique – Precious (2010)
After winning Best Supporting Actress in the critically-acclaimed film Precious, director Lee Daniels told Mo’Nique that she had been “blackballed” by Hollywood. Not directly after, as she had to turn down roles for that to happen. Daniels offered her Oprah Winfrey’s role in The Butler, and friends of friends offered her roles which seemingly were meant to put her in a typecast. Mo’Nique was given a “favor” in the form of an Oscar, and she was expected to “play the game.” But she didn’t. And now she is cursed with an Oscar she didn’t ask for.
6. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Mud. Interstellar. Dallas Buyers Club. As of late it seems like Matthew McConaughey has taken his craft seriously. But Ghosts of Girlfriends Past will always linger like a turd that won’t flush. In 2013 he won Best Actor for playing an AIDS-afflicted man who takes it upon himself to help those with the incurable disease. Sure, it was hauntingly inspirational, but so was his character in Dazed and Confused. I have faith in McConaughey; if his newer work is any indication, he will become—if he hasn’t already—an earnest auteur who will most certainly make an impact.
5. Cuba Gooding, Jr. – Jerry Maguire (1996)
Rod Tidwell got Cuba Gooding, Jr. an Oscar. Jerry Maguire tells the tale of a sports agent down on his luck, desperate to land a game-changing deal as to not fall into publicist abyss. He eventually convinces Tidwell to stay on his team, saving both in the process. It’s a great film. But it’s seemingly been overshadowed by such silly role choices as Ted Brooks in Snow Dogs, Deion Hughes in Norbit, and Dr. Ben Carson in the Dr. Ben Carson biopic Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see Daniel Day-Lewis leaping into Daddy Day Camp anytime soon. Alas, “Show me the money!” would prove iconic. And Cuba got his Oscar.
4. Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls (2006)
It was her first movie. Here is a brief list of people who haven’t even come close to winning an Oscar: Cary Grant, Burt Reynolds, Edward Norton, Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis. But, such is life—an inherently unfair situation. Dreamgirls, however, did what it was meant to do: Bring to life the history of Motown and more specifically The Supremes. But when a 24-year-old does her musical numbers (real talent) and sneak in a few lines of sassy dialogue, one must remember that acting is the reason for an Oscar. Not mere beginner’s luck. Hudson has had only a handful of parts in minor movies since.
3. Catherine Zeta-Jones – Chicago (2003)
Catherine Zeta-Jones leaped into audiences’ favor in 1998’s The Mask of Zorro. Over the next few years she amassed only a couple key roles, including that of Velma Kelly in Chicago. Like Jennifer Hudson, she had never been nominated before. The film stole the show in the 75th Annual Academy Awards, grabbing six Oscars including Best Picture. Perhaps it was the all-around success of the film that did it. Or maybe there weren’t very many female actresses that year in competition (other big movies in 2002 were The Pianist, Road to Perdition and 8 Mile).
2. Julia Roberts – Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich is a biopic about the real-life Erin Brockovich who saves a small California town from the corrupt corporate interests of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1993. Without a formal law education, Brockovich finds her way into the case and was instrumental in rewarding the affected plaintiffs $15 million. True, I’m treading dangerous waters to suggest that with such previous works as Pretty Woman, Steel Magnolias and Notting Hill, Julie Roberts doesn’t deserve a nod. But she did do Eat Pray Love, and that alone places her on this list. One might also be valid in asserting Roberts might be a one-dimensional actress.
1. Kevin Costner – Dances With Wolves (1991)
Speaking of one-dimensional, Kevin Costner may be. But only with regards to his acting. In 1990, he starred in, directed, and produced universally praised masterpiece Dances with Wolves. It was deemed culturally and historically significant, and some say it revived Western films in Hollywood. In short, as the trailer says, “In 1964 a man went looking for America and found himself.”
Costner, however, seems to have played the same person in Waterworld, Tin Cup, and Field of Dreams—except he speaks Lakota. Let’s just call a spade a spade and save the Oscars for Johnny Depp … if he ever wins one.