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The Oscar Curse

Ever notice the peculiar effect winning an Academy Award has on some stars? Tremendous hype shouts their names on the headlines before they even manage to get a nomination. Then they win, grab hold of the statue, leave the stage–and promptly disappear from big-name films for what seems like forever.

You’re left asking yourself, “What ever happened to Mira Sorvino?” And realizing that although you may recognize Cuba Gooding Jr.’s award-winning name on the marquee when deciding what to see on a Friday night, you’re not sure his movie looks worth the eight bucks.

Such is the plight of several recent actors who have won Oscars but have suffered a super-slump in their acting careers after all the hoopla is said and done.

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Whether it’s a jinx or a coincidence, we have to wonder: What’s the deal? Are some stars just unable to live up to post-Oscar pressures? Were their choices in roles less than wise? Was the fame and fortune too much to handle?

At any rate, here’s a look at several Best Supporting Actor/Actress winners whose careers took a nosedive post-Oscar.

Actor: Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Won for: Jerry Maguire (1996)

When Gooding played the free-spirited and a little misguided Rod Tidwell alongside Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, everyone thought he had the potential to be another Eddie Murphy–a big-screen funny guy.

The Academy sure loved him that way, anyway.

Certainly Maguire was the film that moved Gooding to celebrity status. He stole the show and became a household name, and his Academy Award seemed to offer him a shoo-in to the backbiting world of Hollywood.

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And backbiting it was.

Before Maguire Gooding’s résumé included Boyz N the Hood (1991), A Few Good Men (1992) and Losing Isaiah (1995), and while it was obvious Oscar loved him for his humor, he certainly didn’t take well to being typecast as a funnyman.

Instead, Gooding took his Oscar and ran–back toward more dramatic roles in movies such as What Dreams May Come (1998), Chill Factor (1999) and A Murder of Crows (1999). Unfortunately they turned into box office flops.

Of course, he added a few military men to his character sheet, as well, with Men of Honor (2000) and Pearl Harbor (2001), but neither of the two really defined him as a four-star actor.

In fact, it turns out his greatest post-Oscar role so far has been a funny one–the small yet comical part he took in 1997’s As Good As It Gets, the movie he did after Maguire.

It would take him about six years to land a leading role that would make waves in the box office.

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And once again, it is in a comedy.


Maybe he realized people really like his funny side, or maybe his choices of dramatic roles haven’t been so hot, but the recent release of Snow Dogs (2002) no doubt has him laughing all the way to the bank. Although it’s certainly not one of his more talent-taxing roles, the movie was, believe it or not, a minor box office hit.

Why has it taken him this long to make a comeback? While we can only guess, consider the question: Oscar jinx or coincidence?

Actress: Mira Sorvino
Won for: Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

When Mira stepped onto the big screen, she didn’t do it as a starving actress the way many college-dropout, aspiring actors do.

In fact, she had ties to several prominent “fraternities”: Harvard and Hollywood.

Her father, actor Paul Sorvino (Bullworth), wanted her to wait until she grew up to try acting, so she hit the books instead. Successful in the academic world before venturing to the silver screen, Sorvino graduated with honors from Harvard. She then turned to her Hollywood connection–Dad–and marched into showbiz as boldly as she marched away from Harvard.

With one of the first movies she did, Woody Allen’s film Mighty Aphrodite (1995), she proved herself a success, obtaining a golden statue for her role as a really stupid porn star.

That ominous Oscar loomed…

Figuring the smart-girl-playing-a-dimwit shtick worked, Sorvino stuck to the same airhead-y role in her next big feature, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997), but even Siskel and Ebert’s two thumbs up didn’t help make that a classic.

Turning to drama, then, she found roles in The Replacement Killers (1998) and Summer of Sam (1999), but neither garnered attention from the box office nor the Academy.

So where is she now?

Well, Sorvino has a few flicks up her sleeve, although she probably won’t re-create Oscar excitement with any of them.

Among them is the indie film Wisegirls, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is scheduled to be released sometime late this year. But viewers beware: Sorvino shares the spotlight with the likes of Glitterbug Mariah Carey (who doesn’t seem to be having the best luck in the theaters or the music industry lately).

Curse or chance? Jinx or just coincidence?

Actor: Marisa Tomei
Won for: My Cousin Vinnie (1992)

Ms. Tomei comes to the forefront only when Oscar comes calling, apparently.

Like Sorvino, she took home the controversial Oscar early in her career, for My Cousin Vinnie. As Tomei was not favored to win (it was been questioned whether presenter Jack Palance read the wrong name from the envelope that night in 1993), many continued to speculate if she really has the talent Oscar credited her for.

Of course, maybe Oscar knew he’d make her go away….


Since winning, Tomei has sprinkled her résumé with TV movies and independent films (the only big-studio blockbuster she’s been in, in fact, was 2000’s What Women Want), and has stayed virtually out of the limelight until very recently.

By choice? By chance? Who can say? But unlike Gooding and Sorvino, Oscar’s smiling upon Tomei once again.

The low-budget flick In the Bedroom (2001), shown at multiple film festivals and winner of numerous awards, is now grabbing Oscar attention, and her role as sexy, working-class mother Natalie Strout has given Tomei her second Oscar nod.

Which leads to another question.

After nearly 10 years since her Academy win, has Tomei eluded the Golden Scare? If she wins, are we guaranteed that she’ll disappear for another 10 years?

Cuba, Mira…hang on. There may be hope, after all.

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