For film actors and actresses, is there any greater career glory than hoisting an Oscar statue in triumph?
This peer-voted recognition of onscreen excellence that will take place starting with red carpet coverage at 7 p.m. today on ABC (seen locally on WTVG-TV, Channel 13), is a defining moment for Hollywood stars, just as it is for athletes winning the Super Bowl or medaling at the Olympics.
An Academy Award win should portend bigger, better, and brighter years ahead for an actor or actress.
In theory, at least.
Here are the nominees in the major categories for the 85th Academy Awards, with Blade film critic Kirk Baird’s predictions in bold.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Actor in a Supporting Role:
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Actress in a Supporting Role:
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
In practice, there’s no guarantee of post-Oscar box-office success and industry acclaim. While this phenomenon is often referred to as the Oscar Curse, there’s nothing mystical or devilish about it. A post-Academy Award career flameout can be the result of simple factors such as poor career decisions and audience indifference.
Luise Rainer, the first back-to-back Academy Award winner for The Great Ziegfeld in 1936 and The Good Earth in 1937, is arguably the first Oscar casualty.
Rainer, a Jewish-German actress who emigrated to the United States with the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and appeared in a handful of films through 1938, but grew disgruntled with the Hollywood star machine and the roles that studio head Louis B. Mayer was foisting on her. She quit the business in protest and, other than a cameo in 1943’s Milada Pressinger, didn’t appear in a film again until 1997’s The Gambler.
Rainer is that Oscar-winning rarity, a star who walked away from Hollywood on her own terms. Considerably more common is the artist who struggles long after his or her big moment on the Academy Award stage.
Louis Gossett, Jr., was primarily a TV actor when he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as tough-but-fair Sgt. Emil Foley in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman. He followed up that industry honor with 1983’s legendarily bad Jaws 3D. Gossett also starred in 1986’s box-office hit Iron Eagle, but many of his later films are of the low-budget family-friendly variety, including 2012’s Smitty, which co-stars an Oscar-winning actress with a similarly fading star, Mira Sorivino.
Her 1995 Best Supporting Actress win in The Mighty Aphrodite was a surprise — Kate Winslet was the favorite for Sense and Sensibility — and after a series of box-office disappointments her career trajectory began descending, perhaps bottoming out as the title role in last year’s made-for-Lifetime holiday drama Finding Mrs. Claus. Sorvino was just announced to play Jim Gaffigan’s wife in the comic’s CBS comedy pilot.
Five years after Cuba Gooding, Jr., won Best Supporting Actor as the brash NFL wide receiver with the loud catchphrase “Show me the money!” in Jerry Maguire, his career literally went to the dogs with 2002’s Snow Dogs. By 2007 he made Norbit and Daddy Day Care, and has since starred in a string of direct-to-DVD films including Lies & Illusions, The Devil’s Tomb, and Ticking Clock, along with the occasional panned feature film such as 2012’s Red Tails.
It could also be argued that those three Oscar winners are examples of fortuitous film roles, when the perfect script, director, and studio came together to help them deliver a once-in-a-lifetime performance.
This could be called the Kim Basinger Law, named for the model-turned actress who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as a Veronica Lake-lookalike prostitute in 1997’s L.A. Confidential. More than 15 years later, Basinger hasn’t had a hit since her supporting role as Eminem’s mother in the rapper’s 2002 film debut, 8 Mile.
Geena Davis won Best Supporting Actress for 1988’s Accidental Tourist and proved the win wasn’t a fluke with her Oscar nomination for 1991’s Thelma & Louise. But the record-setting flop of 1995’s Cutthroat Island followed by the failure of 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight took its toll.
The fate of Davis is a cautionary tale for Oscar-winners such as Adrien Brody (2002’s The Pianist) and Halle Berry (2001’s Monster’s Ball), and even a well-respected actor such as Forest Whitaker (2006’s The Last King of Scotland), each of whom has struggled more often than not at the box office and with the quality of their films since their Academy Awards.
Even an A-lister like Reese Witherspoon could be considered in danger of falling prey to the Oscar Curse. The 36-year-old actress has starred in the following films since winning Best Actress as June Carter in 2005’s Walk the Line: Penelope (2006), Rendition (2007), Four Christmases (2008), Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), How Do You Know (2010), Water for Elephants (2011), and This Means War (2012).
But the Oscar Curse isn’t always permanent.
Had this story been written in, say, 2007, Marisa Tomei, 1992’s Best Supporting Actress winner for My Cousin Vinny, would have certainly been included as an Oscar flop. Then she made 2008’s drama The Wrestler and her career was reborn. And Helen Hunt, who won a Best Actress Oscar for 1997’s As Good as It Gets, lived up to the film’s title until her role this year as a sympathetic sex surrogate in The Sessions. The performance drew raves and earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
That’s certainly something fellow nominee Anne Hathaway should consider as she takes the stage to accept her Oscar for Les Miserables, as most predict she will. If nothing else, she should take the time to absorb as much of her crowning achievement as she can, as should all of the first-time winners.
There is a chance it could be downhill from here.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.