I finally had some time for contemplation after working off the hangover from last Sunday’s miserable Oscar telecast. The show was so bad (did Franco really walk out in drag?!) that copious amounts of Jim Beam were employed, and by the time Jeff Bridges made it on stage to present the Best Actress Award I was inspired and switched to mixing Caucasians to finish the night. The Kahlua abides.
With residual anger I gradually got around to pondering what all the panegyrics truly meant. We have been led to believe what an import The Oscar represents, and how it transforms the life of the performer who is granted this high honor. But does it really? I decided to reach back and study the after affects. I began from the 68th Academy Awards, in 1996, through to the 80th Awards in 2008 and weighed the ensuing performances of the four thespians feted with Oscars each year in order to determine if they in fact enjoyed a career elevated into the stratosphere, or if they were more likely to disappoint.
To begin, of the roughly fifty actors looked at I removed five from consideration: Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, and Denzel Washington all have had lengthy and successful careers before and after winning, and thus no appreciable impact would be found. The fifth, James Coburn, won at the end of his lengthy career and passed away not long after.
The remaining names are then judged based on the work they produced after their Oscar performance and placed into one of three career classifications; Good, Mitigated (little or moderate change), and Bad. What is most revealing here is that not only is there a smaller number than expected who continue with solid filmographies, but also the large amount of middling to Bad careers that followed a win — many times immediately after they had been awarded. The list below contains the performer, the title for which they won an Oscar, and the titles they went on to produce following their triumph.
Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) – He is a perennial nominee it seems. After winning we saw Love in the time of Cholera, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and he was nominated again for Biutiful. However, there is also Eat Pray Love. Be careful, hombre!
Cate Blanchett (The Aviator) – Her career is filled with mostly good ideas, both prior and post-Oscar win. The only smudge might be Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
Chris Cooper (Adaptation) – He continued with his career as a beyond-solid character actor, including an arch turn in The Bourne Identity for popularity points.
Russell Crowe (Gladiator) – Mostly decent roles in decent films, with two additional nominations following.
Judi Dench (Shakespeare In Love) – The always quality work from her continued as she was nominated four additional times, as well as entering the James Bond Universe.
Frances McDormand (Fargo) – Has been nominated twice since her win, and continued making quality appearances in films by her husband, Joel Cohen.
Sean Penn (Mystic River) – Mostly solid roles followed, including another Oscar win for Milk.
Geoffrey Rush (Shine) – He made a name for himself stateside with this victory and has gone on to earn three more nominations, including this year for The King’s Speech.
Tilda Swinton (Charlie Wilson’s War) – The quirky British actress manages to draw quality scripts, or at least give a decent run in movies like Julia, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Burn After Reading, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential) – Somewhat a surprising win, and she has all but disappeared since winning.
Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) – Following her triumph the French actress has mostly worked in her homeland. Another appearance, in Chocolat is her lone standout afterwards.
Jim Broadbent (Iris) – British character actor with a mass of work that had no effect on his career, good or bad.
George Clooney (Syrianna) – A perfect mixed bag. For every Michael Clayton, or Up In the Air he also gave us Leatherheads and The Men Who Stare at Goats.
Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) – Her Oscar has not exactly elevated things. She followed with The Hulk, and then mostly found supporting roles.
Marion Cotillard (Le Vie En Rose) – The French actress may yet become a larger name. So far she has only made Public Enemies, and Nine.
Benicio del Toro (Traffic) – He’s had a mostly unusual career to begin with, and he has continued to turn in both good, and odd performances. Nothing monumental.
Nicole Kidman (The Hours) – Good ideas like The Human Stain, and Cold Mountain get balanced out by dogs such as The Stepford Wives and Bewitched.
Gwenyth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love) – She has given a few good roles occasionally, a few appearances in disasters (Duets, or Up in the Air) and basically now is currying favor with audiences by appearing in Iron Man and Glee.
Tim Robbins (Mystic River) – He has had an extremely light workload after winning his Award. War of the Worlds is probably his most notable role since.
Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) – After the gripping role of a nun servicing death-row inmates she, much like her longtime lover Tim Robbins, has not offered up anything substantial since.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) – Mostly mild performances in indies, or character roles; but then he did follow his win by playing the heavy in Mission Impossible 3.
Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects) – While yes, he went on to win another trophy (for American Beauty) that was followed up with things like The Big Kahuna, Ordinary Decent Criminal, Pay it Forward, and K-Pax, and Fred Clause. So essentially it is a “push”.
Hilary Swank (Boy’s Don’t Cry) –similar to Spacey, with the stinkers like The Core and Amelia polluting her filmography, but she did manage to go on and win another statue for Million Dollar Baby.
Charlize Theron (Monster) – Mostly moderate roles since winning, some good (North Country) and some bad (Aeon Flux).
Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago) – Largely unremarkable work since winning.
Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) – The Supporting Actor win could have capped off a lengthy career, but he has continued with choices like Firewall, and The Santa Clause 3.
Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful) – The only other notice the Italian actor received in America has been the reviled Pinocchio.
Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) – Catwoman. Nothing else has to be said, simply Catwoman. Have I mentioned Catwoman?
Adrien Brody (The Pianist) – Has done little with his recognition. This was immediately followed by The Singing Detective, The Villiage, and The Jacket. Currently he is either known as the lounge singer in Stella Artois commercials, or the guy who nailed the bald human-mutation in Splice.
Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas) – He may actually have bested (“worsted”?) Cuba Gooding. His next three films in order were, The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off, and with the exception of only a few bright spots his career has largely been one of self-parody.
Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood) – Likely to change, yet all we have seen thus far is the disappointing Nine.
Jaime Foxx (Ray) – It was a well-earned Oscar, but next he did Stealth which un-earned a massive $100 million. Then came Jarhead, and Miami Vice.
Marcia Gay Harden (Pollack) – Her win did nothing to improve her standing in films, and even without outright bombs against her name she has begun to do more work in TV in the past few years.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry MacGuire) – The fool’s-gold-standard of dismal post-Oscar careers. He began nicely with As Good As it Gets, but soon lapsed into dreadful titles, such as What Dreams May Come, Chill Factor, Snow Dogs and Pearl Harbor. His appearance in Boat Trip alone would be cause for the Academy to rescind his trophy.
Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) – Mostly a win for her singing, but her next role was thankless as Carrie Bradshaw’s assistant in Sex and the City is not a positive. Then she did the tepid The Secret Life of Bees.
Helen Hunt (As Good As it Gets) – She immediately worked with Dr. T and the Women, and then Pay it Forward. Then, after an anonymous role in Castaway, she next had What Women Want. Not much of note since.
Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted) – Immediately after her win we got Gone in 60 Seconds, and then Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She has turned in mostly light roles and action-movies; nothing Oscar-worthy since.
Hellen Mirren (The Queen) – Most feel she will turn things back to the positive, but before the winning Red she settled with National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Inkheart, and State of Play.
Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovitch) – Many expected this to lead to a renewed career for her, but instead she has seemed mostly apathetic. Her next role was in The Mexican and she has not impressed with anything hence. Since her last two titles have been Valentines Day, and Eat,Pray,Love it does not look to change.
Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) – She surprised many by winning in Woody Allen’s lightly seen production, and then could not come close to impressing. When Mimic and The Replacement Killers are your later high-points it is a bad sign.
Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) – Has not done much with her clout. My Blueberry Nights, voiced in Eragon, and then there’s Fred Clause.
Forrest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) – Going for the Cuba Gooding effect. The Ripple Effect went straight to video, and then he did Vantage Point, and Street Kings. Then he really dropped by doing Repo Men, Powder Blue, and Our Family Wedding.
Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting) – His next four titles were What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar, and Bicentennial Man. Wow. He briefly had some impressive turns (in One Hour Photo, and Insomnia) but he quickly reverted back to crap, with Death to Smoochie, RV, Man of the Year, and License to Wed.
Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) – The ghost-romance story Just Like Heaven was weak, then came the disappointing Rendition, and the holiday dirge Four Christmases.
Renee Zellwegger (Cold Mountain) – She was opposite – but unremarkable – Russel Crowe in Cinderella Man, but then mostly duds and flops were all she managed. A Bridget Jones sequel, Leatherheads, New in Town, My One and Only, and Case 39 impressed nobody.
So the tally is jarring to see. Of the 45 listed here less than ¼ can be deemed impressive, with an overwhelming amount being average to far worse. What makes this all the more surprising is we have been conditioned to accept it as high quality, especially when films get promoted with taglines announcing how Oscar royalty will be appearing on screen. Conversely, this also becomes an indicator of when a particular actor’s career has hit the skids, when the accolade is no longer mentioned. This past weekend, for example, I saw few ads for Drive Angry mentioning it stars “Oscar Winner” Nic Cage.