The Curse Of The Best Actress Oscar
Instead of handing out the Oscar for Best Actress statuette every year, I don’t know why they don’t just give the winners a monkey’s paw talisman. So many past recipients have seen their careers hit the skids straight after the award – it’s clearly cursed. And with Natalie Portman popping up in Thor this month it looks like the Best Actress curse has struck again.
Okay, Thor itself is a pretty good early-summer, shiny action movie, but Portman’s role isn’t much of a stretch – the kind of flicky-haired gorgeous scientist part that stirs up flashbacks of Denise Richards as the nuclear-physicist in tiny shorts, Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough. Remember, this is the same Portman who put in an exquisitely poised performance as an unhinged prima ballerina in Black Swan. But – after all that – bounces into bed with Ashton Kutcher in the fairly mucky rom-com No Strings Attached before starring in the unashamedly filthy Your Highness.
So, let’s get this right; one minute Natalie Portman is being introduced on stage by Jeff Bridges at the Academy Awards with the words, “no matter the role, your love for the craft always shines through…” and the next, Danny McBride is slapping her round the chops with a minotaur’s penis. Really. You can’t imagine that happening to Jessica Tandy. And if you can, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.
If the Oscar has scuppered Portman’s career she can at least take comfort that she isn’t the first. Here’s a selection of actresses who went from Oscar winners to Michael Winners.
It’s fair to say that Roberts’ career peaked in 2001. That was the year she won the Oscar for her lead in the real-life legal pot-boiler Erin Brockovich, a role that also saw her break records with a $20million pay day. It’s also fair to say that, since then, Roberts has pinned her CV to the wall and routinely hurled dung at it. First there was Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal; an experimental vortex of smugness with Roberts playing an actress playing a celebrity reporter in a film within the film. By 2004 she was back working with Soderbergh again for the follow-up Ocean’s 12. Roberts reprised her role as Tess Ocean who, shamefully, at one stage actually pretends to be the superstar Julia Roberts. Duplicity, Eat Pray Love, Valentine’s Day… this is a curse that knows no mercy.
Oooh… it was all going so well. 2002 and Berry had a foot in two huge franchises – as the mutant Storm in the X-Men series and the Bond girl Jinx in Die Another Day. Plus she’d just pocketed a $500,000 bonus in her back pocket for a contractual flash in Swordfish. Then the Academy gave her the Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball and the wheels came off. The planned Jinx spin-off film never happened but the career jinx certainly did. There was Gothika, a shambolic thriller about a psychiatrist who gets locked up in her own asylum. Duh! And, of course, the film and cruel punchline Catwoman which saw Berry add a Golden Raspberry alongside her Oscar on the mantelpiece. Could be worse… she did drop out of Gigli due to filming commitments for X2, to be replaced by J.Lo. Phew!
In 2003, Nicole Kidman won by a false nose and an exquisite performance as the troubled writer Virginia Woolf in The Hours. It’s taken seven years for her to find the same form and another Academy nod for Rabbit Hole. Career wise, Nicole had seven mixed years with the cheers ( Birth, Dogville… ) drowned out by some big-budget howlers. Among them were three remakes than nobody was begging for – Bewitched, The Stepford Wives and Invasion – a tepid reworking of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Then there’s Australia. Although at the time the reviews weren’t too bad, in the colder light of DVD Australia now feels like two hours of ripe old tosh matched only by Nine for fruity histrionics.
In her 2004 acceptance speech for the Oscar for her role as Aileen Wuornos in Monster, Charlize thanked “everybody in South Africa… they’re all watching tonight!” It might have been the last thing they watched her do. Theron went on to do a nice turn as Britt Ekland in the low-key biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers before things became really patchy. The hopeless and unseen WWII melodrama Head in the Cloud was followed up with the excellent real-life legal thriller North Country. Then boom!.. Aeon Flux, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie of eye-burning awfulness. The creator of the original TV series Peter Chung described how he felt after leaving a screening: “helpless, humiliated and sad”. This was one of the best reviews Aeon Flux received.
In her richly-deserved 2006 win for her performance as June Carter Cash in music biopic Walk The Line, Witherspoon has had less hits than an Amish website. Only days after the release of Walk the Line came the sappy romantic comedy Just Like Heaven where she played a ghost who falls in love with Mark Ruffalo. Two years later and she was the wife of a terror suspect in the well-meaning by barely watchable Rendition, before teaming up with Vince Vaughn in the Christmas turkey Four Christmases. She’s currently being upstaged by an elephant in the circus romance Water for Elephants. At this rate Witherspoon will soon be working at a Wetherspoons.
Since winning an Oscar in 2007 for The Queen, Helen Mirren has banged on about how hard it is for older actresses to get work. This is, in part, down to the fact that most of the roles have been taken by Helen Mirren. Eleven in five years, with the quality control setting locked on ‘snooze’. Among the lowlights you’d have to include The Love Ranch, a raunchy true story that limped out to a handful of cinemas in the US. You’d also have to nod to Red, an ageing assassins comedy with Mirren trading on the regal image to play a tea-drinking, machine gun-toting hitwoman. Plus, two traditionally male roles: Prospera in an experimental take on The Tempest and a rehash of John Gielgud’s butler role in the recent Arthur remake… thereby also denying older actors some well paid work.
And if you think the Best Actress curse is a new phenomena… the second winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Mary Pickford in 1929. The film Coquette, where she played a flirty socialite, saw her at the height of her powers. She was the biggest female star in the world whose latest haircut for Coquette (a twenties bob instead of her trademark curls) made the front page of The New York Times. The movie was her first ‘talkie’ and although her voice carried well on the big screen the arrival of sound brought in a new, younger audience, seeing off most of the veteran silent movie stars. She retired from acting only four years later.
But the curse, oh yes, the curse is still going strong… (ominous rumble of distant thunder, creak of a rusty gibbet swinging in the breeze… etc.)