The Oscars, in case it’s escaped your attention, are this Sunday, and for the 10 men and 10 women nominated for the acting prizes, it likely marks something of a peak in their careers (for Meryl Streep, it simply marks that thing she has to go to on the last Sunday in February every year). Deemed by their peers to be one of the best performances of the year, whether they win or lose the trophy, their work will be celebrated in front of an audience of hundreds of millions of people.
Now, we don’t want to bring anyone down — every nominee this year is talented and did great work. But it’s also probably healthy to remember that acting is a tough game, and that for every soaring high, there’s a crashing low, a movie that you took because you needed the work or because you took a gamble that didn’t pay off. So below, you’ll find 20 of those lows, marking the more embarrassing moments from the career of each of the nominees. Take a look, and let us know in the comments your least favorite, and favorite, performance from each actor who’ll be up for a prize. And if you missed it yesterday, check out our ranking of every 21st century Best Picture nominee.
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis – “Suicide Squad”
As someone who was undervalued for much of her career, it’s a thrill to see Viola Davis become so successful — an Emmy winner for her hit TV show, an Oscar likely to join it this weekend, and big blockbuster paychecks coming her way. But god, we wish that those blockbuster paychecks weren’t coming from “Suicide Squad.” As Amanda Waller, the duplicitous government agent who assembles the Squad, Davis is probably the best thing in the film, an amoral manipulator who the actress is clearly relishing playing. But it’s also a hot, toxic mess of a movie that doesn’t serve any performer in it well, including her (though she at least scared Jared Leto enough that he didn’t try to send her sperm in an envelope or whatever he was doing). Waller’s something of a staple in the DC Comics universe — hopefully she’ll have better material next time she pops up.
Naomie Harris – “Collateral Beauty”
She’s been nearly a movie star for over a decade now (hopefully her astonishing “Moonlight” performance will be the thing that tips her over) ever since breaking out in “28 Days Later,” and that does mean that Naomie Harris has had a few questionable movies over the years — buried under make-up as voodoo priestess Tia Dalma in the “Pirates Of The Caribbean” sequels, playing cops in “After The Sunset” and “Ninja Assassin.” But the worst thing she’s ever been in was actually a movie that was in theaters simultaneously with “Moonlight”: last Christmas’s Will Smith-starring disaster “Collateral Beauty.” Thankfully spared, unlike Helen Mirren or Keira Knightley, from just playing the embodiment of Death or Love, Harris is a woman who meets Smith’s lead who he meets at a support group for grieving parents. But, sadly, she doesn’t get to escape one of the film’s four million insultingly stupid twists: it turns out that she’s actually Smith’s estranged wife, the two having pretended not to know each other due to their grief over their loss. Somehow, that isn’t even the dumbest thing in the film.
Nicole Kidman – “Grace Of Monaco”
For an indisputably great actress with pretty good taste in directors (John Cameron Mitchell, Sofia Coppola and Yorgos Lanthimos coming up just this year), Nicole Kidman sure does makes a lot of crappy movies. We could have gone with, to name just the tip of the iceberg, “The Invasion,” “Trespass,” “Just Go With It,” “Bewitched” or “The Stepford Wives.” But those films are, at least, studio programmers, while “Grace Of Monaco” opened Cannes, and as such, better was expected of it. As it turns out, it wasn’t just not good enough for Cannes, it was more or less not good enough for Lifetime, where the film eventually ended up premiering in the U.S. Headed by a remarkably insipid turn from Kidman as movie-star-turned-princess Grace Kelly, it shows how she valiantly battled in order to keep Monaco’s status as a tax shelter, complete with remarkably incoherent direction from Olivier Dahan, a thunderingly stupid script and a host of extremely bad supporting performances. Its badness became legendary almost as soon as it unspooled, and it’s likely to remain that way.
Octavia Spencer – The “Divergent” Series
Octavia Spencer is great, and her success post-“The Help” is well-deserved, particularly as she’s done a pretty good job (the recent “Bad Santa 2” aside) of mixing interesting gigs like “Smashed” and “Fruitvale Station” with more paycheck-y fare. That said, while we are glad that she probably paid for a summer house with her fee for turning up in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” and “The Divergent Series: Allegiant,” we sort of wish she sold out to a franchise with, well, any value to it whatsoever. Spencer joins a curiously high-value cast (Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Jeff Daniels) in the series as Joanna Reyes, a rebel leader. As with the rest of the series, the vibe is that of a Gap-ad “Hunger Games” knock-off with all the interesting bits stripped out, and the only benefit of having Spencer on board is that it reminds you of how much better the similarly dystopian “Snowpiercer” was.
Michelle Williams – “Oz The Great And Powerful”
Perhaps because she got her start in a teen series with “Dawson’s Creek,” Michelle Williams has done pretty well at not selling out on the whole, favoring auteur-y movies with directors like Kelly Reichardt, Martin Scorsese and Kenneth Lonergan over easy money. She might have been driven to sign on to “Oz The Great And Powerful” by the caliber of the talent otherwise assembled (James Franco, Rachel Weisz), or by the presence of Sam Raimi in the director’s chair, but whether it was for those reasons or to get paid for a movie that her kid could see, it didn’t work out all that well. Playing Glinda, the Good Witch (who Franco’s Oz initially believes is the Wicked Witch, a brief flirtation with an interesting idea that the film fails to engage with), she’s reduced to being a pretty dull love interest, one without much chemistry with her co-star, and someone who’s clearly not enjoying the green-screen process all that much.