Every actor and actress has a dud on their resume. No matter how awe-inspiring his or her filmography may be, there will always be that one pesky blemish of a film. This less-than-great film always seems worse when it’s on the resume of an Oscar winner. Alas, winning one of those little gold fellas doesn’t wipe away your past or secure a future of plum, perfect, non-embarrassing roles. Here are ten of our favorite great talents in their worst films.
Ben Kingsley has an Oscar for playing Mahatma Ghandi, probably the most famous Indian to people outside of the Indian sub-continent. Ghandi is known for his dignity, his strength, and his unwavering dedication to an India free from English control. In The Love Guru, Kingsley plays a cross-eyed Indian guru/stereotype by the name of Guru Tugginmypudha. If you haven’t seen The Love Guru, you can probably guess the level of comedy that’s being aspired to from his character name alone. Kingsley has appeared in some shocking material (Uwe Boll’s Bloodrayne for example), but this performance is so broad, so unfunny, and so involving him peeing in a bucket, it would be understandable if the Academy wanted their Oscar back.
In February 2015, Eddie Redmayne did two pretty amazing things: He won an Oscar for his portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking – upsetting the odds that pointed to the award being a lock for Michael Keaton – and he starred in Jupiter Ascending. Starred is perhaps not strong enough a word. Dominated might be better. Consumed is also good. I think the phrase I’m looking for is ‘acted like a community theatre extra who has just gotten his big break and assumes that shouting equals passion and whispering equals being evil’ in Jupiter Ascending. Yes, that’s the one. Redmayne plays Balem Abrasax, one of three siblings vying for control of the galaxy and the most shouty of the three. Many of Redmayne’s scenes involve him whispering menacingly to another character before dialling the volume up to eleven and letting out a good shout. The problem is that Redmayne is about as menacing as a wet tennis ball. Shouting every few words doesn’t dispel that. If the Wachowskis were intending for their main villain to come across as a spoilt, petulant child, then mission accomplished, but if they weren’t, then at some point someone needed to take Redmayne aside and maybe tell him to tone it down a bit.
Matthew McConaughey is an Oscar-winning actor whose IMDB page is awash with horrors. For a long time in Hollywood he was a bit of a joke. He was a good ole country boy who made terrible romantic comedies like Failure to Launch, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and never found an excuse to keep his shirt on. However, in recent years the viewing public got to see him turn it around, and now he’s starred in one of the greatest seasons of television ever (True Detective), won an Oscar (for the already badly aging Dallas Buyer’s Club), and became a much sought after dramatic actor. Not bad for one of the stars of the risible Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, in which he plays a character named Vilmer Slaughter, has a cybernetic leg, is killed by a low flying Illuminati plane, and has his name spelt incorrectly in the closing credits. Probably still not as bad as Failure to Launch, though.
Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland is too real. He captures the essence of Amin to the point where it’s almost like we’re watching a documentary about the evil bastard himself. This wasn’t the first time Whitaker had played a villain though. He had also played the villainous Ker alongside John Travolta in 2000’s Battlefield Earth, a movie in which giant, dreadlock-having, codpiece-wearing alien monsters want to steal gold and use humans to do it or some such nonsense. Based on the 1,200 page book by Lafayette Hubbard (L. Ron to his friends), the movie is an unmitigated disaster, erasing the goodwill that John Travolta had gained/squandered from Pulp Fiction and eventually becoming synonymous with terrible movies. Whitaker plays Travolta’s sidekick, hidden beneath Halloween costume level prosthetics and looking constantly uncomfortable, as you would be if you had to utter lines of dialogue such as, “No Psychlo could get there without his breath gas exploding.” Luckily for him, and us, the ire was focused upon Travolta, and six years later, Whitaker took home the gold.
There is so much wrong with A Winter’s Tale that there is not enough ink in the world to record it all. Its plot is meaningless, its love story weird and stilted, its hero confusing, its horse magic, and its villain awful. And that villain is played by best actor winner Russell Crowe. Akiva Goldsmith (also an Oscar winner) wrote and directed this movie and wrote A Beautiful Mind, so maybe there was a deal on set that if Goldsmith ever got to direct a movie, Crowe would star in it and this was the result. Crowe plays Pearly Soames, an Irish demon who sounds as though he has had Irish described to him but has never actually heard the accent. He chews scenery like he hasn’t eaten for a week and is forced to growl nonsense dialogue surrounded by a sleepwalking cast of other Oscar winners (Jennifer Connolly, William Hurt, and Eva Marie Saint). Crowe isn’t the most laughable part of this movie but he also doesn’t elevate the material or shine as its best part either. Maybe in a film less aggressively bad as A Winter’s Tale he could have shone as someone having fun in a bad movie a la Frank Langella in Masters of the Universe, but here Crowe, along with everyone, drowns in this treacly pit of a movie.
So far this list has been actors and actresses in bad performances pre- or post-Oscar win, when they were hungry or should have known better. This one, however, is a weird example of when the Oscar winning performance is the bad performance. Sandra Bullock is a wonderfully talented, totally likable actress who has bounced from genre to genre trying to find her place. She’s made some comedies, dramas, a couple of Speeds, a thriller or two, tried her hand at horror, and was in the worst movie to ever win best picture (Crash). She’s had hits and misses with each genre but has always done the work and come out of each miss pretty much unscathed. And one of her biggest misses, The Blind Side, yielded an actual Oscar. In the movie – a patronising, based on a true story, white saviour cheese fest – Bullock plays the matriarch of a perfect white, suburban well-to-do family. Her performance is all stilted accent, big hair, and volume. It’s like an impersonation of a WASP rather than a performance. If you haven’t seen the movie, try to watch the trailer. If you get through the first scene with Bullock berating a DMV worker without cutting off your own head, then bravo to you.
I read somewhere that when Frank Oz was directing The Stepford Wives he asked Nicole Kidman to look scared in a scene. Rather than going for a little bit frightened or light-hearted fear, as would have suited the movie, she gave him completely believable, abject terror. Because that is Kidman’s speed. She is a fantastic actress who is a consummate pro and means business every time. Alas, this has given her a reputation for being icy and too serious. In order to break out of this mould, she tried her hand at a few more likable roles in weird comedies. The aforementioned Stepford Wives was awful but plagued with production problems throughout, which can be excused, but the same cannot be said for Bewitched. Kidman’s coolness does not lend itself to a fluffy, silly rom-com co-starring Will Ferrell. She looks completely out of her depth and ends up giving an uncomfortable performance that lacks any hint of charm. It’s unfair to single Kidman out, though, as nearly every part of Bewitched is ill-advised, so it’s not as though it would have been a classic with a different lead. Luckily, Kidman dumped this fluffy bullshit and leant into her ice cold aesthetic to movies like Stoker, where she is Artic cold and all the more amazing for it.
What the shit was Winslet thinking? Movie 43 is a goddamn mess from top to bottom inexplicably filled with talented actors and comedians who must have all lost a bet, because there’s no other reason why this murderer’s row of talent would stoop to this level of utter, utter shite. This movie features three best actress winners but Kate Winslet’s overall track record is better than Halle Berry’s, and Julianne Moore’s scenes got cut, so Winslet gets the write up. Movie 43 is a series of awful, scatological, and childish sketches thinly linked together. Winslet’s sketch involves her going on a date with Hugh Jackman’s eligible bachelor, who, incidentally, has a pair of testicles grafted onto his chin. And that’s the entire joke. The scene lasts seven minutes, and it is six minutes and fifty-nine seconds too long. Actually, that’s being charitable. To give you an idea of how bad Movie 43 is, this is the sketch they filmed first so they could show investors the type of movie they were going to make. A sketch about a man with chin balls was the mission statement for this godawful mess, and no matter how many more Oscars Winslet wins, and it will be lots, nothing will change the fact that she appeared in this unmitigated disaster of a movie.
Real talk, Moonstruck is an incredible movie. It is funny, dry, sweet, cynical, romantic, and just lovely. Cher is a delight in it and they even manage to turn Nicholas Cage’s natural penchant for crazy into rugged charm, which is no small feat. If you haven’t seen the movie you could be excused for wondering how Cher – of all people – won an Oscar, but if you’re seen it, you know already. Flash-forward twenty-three years and she’s starring in Burlesque with Christina Aguilera. Cher isn’t the worst thing about this movie, and in her singing scenes, she shows she’s still got the chops, but the movie overall is garbage. While Cher is not the worst thing in the movie, she’s certainly not the best (Stanley Tucci is naturally said best, because you can always bet on the Tooch). She sleepwalks through her scenes and seems eager to get in her car and leave at any point. However, when she finally does get her solo song, she’s one hundred percent Cher the singer, just unfortunately not Cher the Oscar winning actress.
Jane Fonda has been nominated for best actress seven times and won twice. She is Hollywood royalty, starring in such classics as Klute, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, Coming Home, and On Golden Pond, and she was also the creator of the aerobic workout craze. In 1991, she announced her retirement from acting, a titan bowing out at the top of her game. And then she came back in 2005 to star in the Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy, Monster-in-Law, as the titular monster. The movie is utter dreck in which Fonda’s controlling mother character wants to keep her son from marrying J-Lo. It is a horrible throwback in which women must compete for some dude, throwing away their dignity in the process. It is terrible, everyone is terrible in it, the reviews were terrible, and obviously it made an obscene amount of money at the box office, so maybe Fonda knows a little bit more about Hollywood than I do.
Featured Image: Relativity Media
Edited for content 2/13/16