Career crisis after Oscar?

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When he won the Oscar for best actor in "The Pianist," Adrien Brody planted a passionate kiss on the lips of Halle Berry that seemed to shock everyone -- including Berry. It's been over four years now and the movie world is still waiting for Brody to find a role equal to "The Pianist."

Brody, who costars alongside Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman in Wes Anderson's new movie, "The Darjeeling Limited," is not alone. The Oscar landscape is chock full of actors and actresses who reach the pinnacle of their profession when they capture the golden statuette -- and then find themselves faced with a unique dilemma: They're expected to follow that up with an equally brilliant performance.

And public opinion can be swift -- and cruel -- when that doesn't happen.

"Winning an Oscar puts a huge spotlight on your career," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box-office tracking firm Media by Numbers. "It raises expectations and suddenly what an Oscar implies is that you are the best of the best. . . . It creates the expectation that you will do Oscar-worthy work."

Berry would know. She won best actress in 2001's "Monster's Ball," only to follow that up a few films later with "Catwoman." The critics, of course, pounced and seemed to relish the opportunity to shred the movie and Berry's performance. She has been struggling to find her footing ever since, but don't count her out yet -- there is early awards season buzz building for her new movie, "Things We Lost in the Fire," out later this month.

Helen Hunt, so charming and vulnerable as the waitress who deals with the irascible Jack Nicholson in "As Good as It Gets," has yet to recapture the glow of that 1997 performance. Kevin Spacey, who delivered an absorbing and Oscar-winning performance as a suburban father in a midlife crisis in the 1999 black comedy "American Beauty," has also had trouble reaching those heights again.

Other actors who have been criticized for failing to live up to the promise of their Oscar victories for best actor or actress include Liza Minnelli, who won best actress for 1972's "Cabaret"; Cher, who captured the trophy for 1987's "Moonstruck"; and Roberto Benigni, named best actor for 1997's "Life Is Beautiful." In the best supporting actor and actress categories, there's Joe Pesci who won for 1990's "Goodfellas"; Whoopi Goldberg who won for 1990's "Ghost"; Mira Sorvino for 1995's "Mighty Aphrodite"; and Kim Basinger for 1997's "L.A. Confidential."

One of the biggest puzzles is Cuba Gooding Jr., who won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for the 1996 film "Jerry Maguire."

"This is a guy who, in 'Jerry Maguire,' set the world on fire," Dergarabedian said. "He stole the movie." But follow-up films such as "Snow Dogs," "Boat Trip" and, most recently, "Daddy Day Camp," have left his fans scratching their heads. (Perhaps his new supporting role in Ridley Scott's "American Gangster" can help restore some credibility?)

Peter Rainer, film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, said some actors have never demonstrated great range with their acting; Pesci, for instance. " 'My Cousin Vinny' and 'Goodfellas' and 'Raging Bull,' he's perfect in all of them. But there isn't a whole lot of difference [between them]. He's still sort of playing the same guy in different variations."

Rainer said that some actors simply wear out their welcome in doing roles that are all too familiar. One prime example, he said, was Olympia Dukakis (best supporting actress, "Moonstruck"), who plays "the same kind of role over and over again in lesser movies."

He said some actors are perceived as difficult to work with and that might be a factor in why they don't get enough quality roles.But more often than not, actors who find themselves in the role of a lifetime have difficulty migrating to other great film roles.

Film historian and critic David Thomson points to F. Murray Abraham, who won the best actor Oscar for his portrayal of the revenge-minded Salieri in 1984's "Amadeus," or Patty Duke, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role as a young Helen Keller in 1962's "The Miracle Worker," as two such examples. "Louise Fletcher won for 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' but she never really followed through. I think sometimes the parts win Oscars. They are the kind of parts that if you do well in it somebody is going to win the Oscar for it."

But these parts are sometimes so edgy, so extreme, so unusual, that "it doesn't give any indication how you would cast that person in the future."

That's what happened in Brody's case, he said. "I think he's one of those people who is quite edgy and difficult to cast. . . . I think it's always likely that he's going to need special parts, unusual parts."

Dergarabedian mused that perhaps being nominated for an Oscar might, in the long run, be better for an actor's career than actually winning. He also noted that Brody won his Oscar for a small film, 2002's "The Pianist," and that any expectations for him to carry a movie might be unfair.

"He never postured himself as 'I'm the best actor winner in a $100-million hit.' He won for a small film. I don't think he's ever postured himself as a leading man."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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