The stock answer nominees and winners give is, “It’s an honour just to be nominated.” And there are certainly some who truly believe this. One of the most heartfelt awards show moments in recent history was Ving Rhames winning a Golden Globe for his performance as Don King – only to immediately hand it over to fellow nominee Jack Lemmon. In an industry built on ego and celebrity, it was truly humbling.
But no awards show is carried with more prestige or publicity than the Oscars. Just being nominated not only gives you an almost guaranteed above-title credit, but also a deluge of offers. Your agent, who previously poured himself into campaigning for a win with full page ads in the trade papers and gift baskets to Academy members, will suddenly have a desk full of scripts. Your career is in the best of hands.
Yet there are still ways to screw it up. The next part an actor takes after Oscar season is as strategic as the role that led to the ceremony. Aim too high, like Icarus before you, the fall could prove fatal. Too low, the die is typecast. Some nominees, like Bill Murray, have parlayed their most acclaimed roles into entirely new careers. Others, like the ones listed here, miscalculated just what their award meant. Here are some winners and nominees that never quite found their place post-success.
15. Mira Sorvino – Mighty Aphrodite
Forster has been a reliable character actor since his debut in the late 60s. He has appeared in Haskell Wexler’s counterculture favourite Medium Cool, had a lead role in the satirically fun cult horror hit Alligator and David Lynch‘s Mullholland Dr. (albeit briefly).
But it didn’t become clear just how much of a for-paycheck actor Forster was until his Supporting Actor nomination in Quentin Tarantino‘s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, retitled Jackie Brown. Forster plays a smitten bail bondsman who gets roped into a heist by title character Pam Grier. It’s a terrific performance, both subtle and laugh out loud funny.
After the nomination, however, Forster went right back to work, starring next as the psychiatrist at the end of Gus Van Sant‘s experimental shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. It seems as though the recognition didn’t go to his head, nor did it effect his work ethic. He continues to appear in small, largely bureaucratic roles. It’s always a pleasure to see him at work, however one wishes he would do more interesting characters than “guy who betrays the lead” – a role he’s performed in last year’s lifeless Survivor and Firewall, to name a few.
13. Virginia Madsen – Sideways
Depending on who you talk to, Alexander Payne‘s adaptation of Sideways is either the intelligent, heartfelt teen-sex-comedy-for-adults 2004 film or that damn movie that made your insufferable friend pretend to know things about wine for a few months. Whatever the case, it cleaned up during awards season, with Madsen (sister of Michael) nominated for Best Supporting Actress. In fact, all three leads were nominated, as well as the film’s director. It took home Best Adapted Screenplay.
Madsen, in her younger years, was known for a slew of teen movies in the 80s before breaking into more serious fare with Bernard Rose’s excellent 1992 horror film Candyman.
Sideways was clearly meant to be Madsen’s big, career-transforming role. The script may as well have called for a “well-known, mature actress in search of redefining herself with the help of an Oscar” in the character description. So Madsen braved on after losing the award, following boldly with…Stuart Little 3?
After that, she played the Harrison Ford‘s damsel-in-distress wife in Firewall, then appeared in the notorious Joel Schumacher flop The Number 23. She hasn’t had a memorable or even recognized performance since Sideways.
12. Roberto Benigni – Life Is Beautiful
“I used up-a all of my English.” Walking stereotype Roberto Benigni leaped over a chair and into America’s hearts after his tragicomedy Life is Beautiful won Best Foreign Film in 1999. He also picked up Best Actor, during which he uttered that semi-infamous quote. See, Benigni did indeed warm the cockles of America’s heart…for about 15 minutes. Then, like most things foreign or exotic, America grew tired of him.
His choices after Beautiful didn’t do him any favours. Benigni embarked on the ultimate in Italian vanity projects – a live-action retelling of Pinocchio. While it was better received in its native land and tongue, American critics trashed it viciously. Some blame the creepy live-action, others blame actor Breckin Meyer, who dubbed Benigni’s lines. So while he may have a future in Italy, Benigni’s days on this end of the pond look all but finished.
11. Michael O’Keefe – The Great Santini
You may not know the name Michael O’Keefe, but you’ve doubtless seen him. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1979 for his work as the emotionally troubled son of Robert Duvall‘s stern military father in The Great Santini.
A few years later, O’Keefe landed his best known role as the straight man Danny Noonan in the comedy classic Caddyshack.
But it’s rarely the straight man who receives the dividends of a comedy – particularly one headlined by Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. Since then, O’Keefe fell into relative obscurity and has suffered the fate of a “that guy” actor. He has done steady solid work, but rarely as anything more than the third guy in the room of a corporate business thriller/drama. Television appears to be his main source of income these days, appearing in such shows as Burn Notice, House and Blue Bloods.
10. Michael Cimino – The Deer Hunter
A Best Director Oscar gives a filmmaker some freedom and artistic license. They still must abide the studio system, but that gold statue grants them the chance to put their passion project into action.
No director has ever misread just the kind of clout an Oscar grants him than Michael Cimino. After his Vietnam drama The Deer Hunter swept awards season in 1978, a lingering megalomania – a personality previously witnessed on-set, as Cimino refused most interviews – came out in full on the production of his follow up. Heaven’s Gate is the true story of the Johnson County war in Wyoming in 1890. It’s also legendary due to its ever-expanding budget, lengthy shoot and disastrous box office performance.
In recent years, critics have reclaimed the film as a triumph, but the behind-the-scenes chaos was enough bad press to not only destroy the film’s chances theatrically, but also Cimino’s career. He demanded the construction of an entire town – much of which had to be torn down and rebuilt because they were not done so to his exact specifications. He kept extras, with salary, on set for endless takes. To give you a minor example, on it’s sixth day of principle photography, he was already five days behind schedule.
Cimino continued to direct, though his films never came close to Oscar calibre. By the end of the 80s, he was helming a maligned remake of The Desperate Hours. Sources say producers interfered with Cimino’s initial vision. We couldn’t imagine why…
9. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever
John Travolta was a walking, breathing realization of the late 70s. His greasy hair, brazen self-interest and clueless expression spoke to the drug-fuelled disco days of Studio 54. Never was this more evident than in his Oscar-nominated role as Tony Mannero in 1977’s Saturday Night Fever.
Initially, Travolta followed the role with a path seemingly guaranteed to maintain stardom – as the lead in the hit musical Grease. Soon after, however, his career floundered, and his roles were chosen with a disregard for what his fans wanted. The 80s saw a downturn in the Travolta brand so steep that even returning to the role that nearly gave him an Oscar in 1983’s Sylvester Stallone-helmed Stayin’ Alive only hurt him further. Other films no one remembers Travolta appeared in include Perfect, Two of a Kind and The Experts.
Ironically, it was during this time that Travolta gave his best, most overlooked performance in Brian De Palma‘s Blow Out. It wasn’t until noted nostalgia fiend Quentin Tarantino refurbished Tarantino’s name in 1994’s Pulp Fiction that the actor started to be taken seriously again.
8. Gary Busey – The Buddy Holly Story
Walking punchline/A.A. platitude Gary Busey was once a serious actor. We know him now for his nonsensical public appearances and chewing scenery with his Chiclet-sized teeth in trash like Piranha 3DD and The Gingerdead Man. But in the 70s, Busey gave an effective, moving and respectful performance in The Buddy Holly Story as the film’s lead. All the giddiness that is now read as insanity Busey channels into the young enthusiasm of the rock and roll pioneer that was taken too soon from us. As a result, he was nominated for Best Actor.
By the 80s, he was well-into his typecast personality, playing lunatics in Joel Schumacher‘s D.C. Cab and the underrated Stephen King adaptation Silver Bullet. By the time 1992’s Point Break rolled around, we all knew what to expect.
7. Richard Rush – The Stunt Man
When your Oscar nomination comes for a film as good as The Stunt Man, expectations are bound to be skyscraper high for your next work. Rush got his start directing TV propaganda for the U.S. Military during the Korean War, then made a minor name for himself as a small part of the American New Wave movement of the 60s and early 70s, directing filmmaker and actor Jack Nicholson in two films.
In 1980, Rush directed the difficult to define Stunt Man, in which Peter O’Toole portrays a tyrannical director who may or may not be intending to murder his escaped convict stunt man during the last scene. It received a lot of critical attention, however, due to its limited release, Rush lost Best Director to Robert Redford for Ordinary People.
Rush followed up his nomination by doing absolutely nothing. He penned the screenplay for the controversial and failed buddy comedy Air America, then finally went back behind the camera for what is considered to be one of the worst movies of the 90s – the Hitchcock wannabe Colour of Night. Since then, perhaps for the best, Rush has retreated from Hollywood.
6. Gabourey Sidibe – Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Precious, Based On the Novel Push By Sapphire is an actual title of a movie. Lee Daniels‘ pretentiously titled, difficult to watch drama about a sexually abused, illiterate African American teen was critically divisive. Some hailed it as a harrowing though triumphant tale of self-actualization. Others, like the eccentric Armond White, bashed it for its cliched portrayal of African American life – with White going so far as to compare it to Birth of a Nation.
Either way, Gabourey Sidibe‘s performance as the titular lead was excellent, particularly for a newcomer. She followed up her Oscar nomination with a role in the ensemble of the mostly-forgotten Brett Ratner film Tower Heist. Since Precious, Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire, Sidibe only appeared in eight other films. She’s had some minor work on television, most notably American Horror Story. Perhaps the advice Joan Cusack gave to her about Hollywood being too “image-conscious” wasn’t as cruel as it initially sounded. She was simply being realistic.
5. Anne Archer – Fatal Attraction
The 80s were a confusing time for sexual politics. The bulk of Hollywood output resembled the kind of excess that Michael Bay continues to produce. It’s unlikely any film from the era would hold up under the Bechdel Test.
Also, given the conservative tide of the decade, films regarding infidelity usually resulted in remorse, regret, bloodshed and rabbit-boiling. Fatal Attraction garnered the most attention in the subgenre of infidelity thrillers. Feminists held it up as an example of how poorly women are treated in Hollywood – with Michael Douglas‘ adulterous husband viewed as a protagonist rather than a philanderer and Glenn Close‘s other woman simply written off as a nutcase. There’s a reason Men’s Rights Activists didn’t start making headlines until this decade. Keeping women in the place those douchebags wanted to see them cinematically wasn’t much of an issue. Balancing the two was Douglas’ put upon wife, played by Anne Archer. Archer received an Oscar nomination for her work in the film. She continued with less critical success to engender the put-upon wife in both Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Since then, Archer appears to have been trying to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for Actress Who Appeared In The Most Made for Cable Films Since An Oscar Nomination.
4. Mercedes Ruehl – The Fisher King
Ruehl was the winner of the Strongest Brooklyn Accent nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Terry Gilliam‘s most mainstream effort, The Fisher King. She is forced to deal with lover Jeff Bridges severe alcoholism and self-loathing as he embarks on a modern day fairy tale with homeless man Robin Williams. It’s a strong performance, given by a woman who exudes strength.
Her career since then, however, didn’t have such fortitude. She appeared shortly after in a multi-arc storyline on Frasier, in which she played his career-oriented boss and transitioned from put-upon lover to put-upon working mom in the 1993 flop Last Action Hero.
3. Greg Kinnear – As Good As It Gets
Greg Kinnear was known for years as the catty host of E!’s Talk Soup, a role later taken and transformed by actor Joel McHale. But Kinnear was there for the show’s heyday, when it drew from the well of pathetic daytime talk shows like Sally Jesse Raphael and Jerry Springer.
From there, Kinnear played the homosexual neighbour of Jack Nicholson‘s cruelly neurotic writer in As Good As It Gets. The film’s title serves as a eulogy for Kinnear’s career, as he has never been more effective nor celebrated as he was that year, earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Since then, Kinnear has floundered, appearing in direct-to-DVD trash, unheard of independent films and failed TV pilots. He recently saw success in the Christian film Heaven Is For Real, but it’s hard to see it as success when one of your biggest films will likely live on to only be screened in church basements.
2. Cuba Gooding Jr. – Jerry Maguire
Gooding Jr.‘s outrageous, bombastic performance as NFL star Rod Tidwell is remembered the way the rest of Jerry Maguire is: with catchphrases, music cues and insufferable cries to be shown the money. In fact, so ingrained in our pop culture lexicon are certain iconic moments of Maguire, that one wonders if anyone can give a coherent plot synopsis.
Gooding Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for his work, and quickly took Hollywood by storm. Because who doesn’t like an outdated gay panic comedy in which the lead’s arc revolves around realizing that “gays are people, too?” It seems no matter how far we progress in gay rights advocacy, Hollywood will always have room to point and giggle at the idea of two dudes doing it.
Boat Trip was the capper on Gooding Jr.’s long slide into direct-to-DVD obscurity, a journey that began with the Skeet Ulrich buddy picture Chill Factor and continued well into the millennium with the Eddie Murphy vehicle Norbit.
1. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
The engraving was still fresh on Arquette’s statue when she began her descent. It hadn’t even been handed to her for her performance in Richard Linklater’s shot-over-12-year drama Boyhood when ads for CSI: Cyber ran in between the broadcast of the ceremony. Arquette gave a lovely acceptance speech that doubled as an appeal for women’s equality, but it was marred by expectations for her to end it with, “Stay tuned for…”
After two seasons, Cyber was cancelled due to poor ratings. Currently, Arquette is slated for a voice role in Toy Story 4 and is filming a project known as Permanent, about which little information has revealed. There’s still hope that she gets on the right post-Oscar track, but she couldn’t have started it worse.