A-List: Missing Out on the Oscar Bump

By Sean Collier

February 5, 2009

So, I'm thinking about becoming a rap star, Reese. What do you think?

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As the Academy would have you think, the little gold statues for Best Actor and Best Actress are powerful signifiers. To get one of those, you really have to be one of the finest performers we have. You can't sneak your way in, you can't buy your way in, you can't fake your way in – Supporting Actor or Supporting Actress, maybe, but not the big one. That's for the superstars.

In reality, there are certainly missteps. A weak year or an odd pool of candidates can lead to a less-than-ideal star taking home the gold. (This is where we make a joke about Cher.) Again, this is more common in the Supporting categories (This is where we make a joke about Jennifer Hudson, except we don't, because we're still very sad about all that,) but it's not uncommon that a Best Actor or Best Actress will not, by a long shot, be the best actor or best actress around.

Such second-guessing is the work of us critics and naysayers, though; the general movie-going public is more than happy to applaud any fine performance and line up at the box office again the next weekend. And, as studios have known for about half a century, the "Academy Award Winner" tag can be a pretty powerful marketing tool. Studios salivate at the prospects of linking a chain of Oscar holders together toward the end of a trailer; combine that with the added notoriety awards night gives a performer, and you'd have to figure that the career of a Best Actor or Actress winner would quickly skyrocket. Usually, that's just what happens.

Except, of course, when it doesn't. With little concern for whether the award was righteous or not, some performers can never seem to recapture whatever appeal or artistry got them to the show in the first place. For some, the big award is the absolute peak of their career, and they're content to relax through supporting roles and general celebrity thereafter. For others, attempts to capitalize on their glory backfire, and it's back to the drawing board. And some just buckle under the pressure of having to follow an Oscar-winning performance.

As the night approaches, I thought I would once again depart slightly from the traditional A-List format to investigate a few still-going careers that didn't really take off after they received the great big little gold man. All of these performers are quite gifted, and young enough that I'm not calling it a day for them; merely pointing out that they have yet to deliver on the promise of their previous roles.


With an appeal to Mickey Rourke to please fight at Wrestlemania, Oscar or no Oscar, The A-List presents Those Who Missed the Oscar Bump.

Helen Hunt (Best Actress 1997, As Good As It Gets)

Hunt, at 45, is ready for a career reboot. Her relative inactivity over the past few years might make us forget that she's one of the most awarded actresses around. She is one of only three women to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy in the same year, and the only actress to win four consecutive Emmys. She won her Oscar for a near-perfect performance in the complex romantic comedy As Good As It Gets; after Mad About You went off the air, she completed four films in the next year, including the high-grossing What Women Want, Robert Altman's Dr. T and the Women, and Cast Away. After that...not much of anything. She was part of the ensemble cast in Woody Allen's Curse of the Jade Scorpion in '01, and then took four years off from the silver screen. Despite making her directorial debut in 2007 with Then She Found Me, she hasn't had a hit since. If Hunt can shake the trappings of the romcom label, there might be some interesting work left in her.

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