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20 Recent Movies That Clearly Hoped For Oscars But Failed

04 July 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Jason Turer

oscar aiming movies

You know their type. Mockingly referred to as “Oscar bait,” these are the films that, from the first trailer (and sometimes even earlier), look like they were made for one reason and one reason only: to win golden, naked man-shaped statues. Featuring inspirational orchestral music, A-list talent, and the promise of tackling important hot-button issues, these are the kinds of films that are usually saved for end of year release and seem poised to dominate the national conversation come awards season… the operative word being “seem.” For without fail, every year there are projects that, despite promising appearances and growing anticipation, fail to live up to expectations, sometimes staggeringly so. For every The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave, there are, well, these movies.

The following are not all bad films, of course (though some certainly are), but, either due to their disappointing quality, stiff competition, or a combination of both, all failed to win a single Oscar (though as we will see, some garnered at least a nomination or two). The history of the Academy Awards is spotty at best when it comes to rewarding deserving films and performances, but sometimes, arguably, the Academy’s reluctance to go for the “bait” is more than appropriate.

 

1. The Majestic (2001)

The Majestic (2001)

The Bait:
• Directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile).
• Starred Jim Carrey, but in the same uncharacteristically serious mode he displayed in the critically-acclaimed The Truman Show.
• Period piece that dealt with the weighty issues of McCarthyism and blacklisting.

The Reaction: Too long and too sappy were the most common complaints, though few found fault with Carrey’s earnest performance. Though it was a movie that celebrates movies – something Hollywood and the Academy typically love – it simply lacked the power of Darabont’s two Stephen King adaptations and was more than heavy-handed in its treatment of the big issues central to its story.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 42%
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

2. Alexander (2004)

Colin-Farrell-Alexander-The-Great

The Bait:
• Directed by Oscar-winner Oliver Stone.
• Period piece about one of the most famous historical figures of all time.
• Had a budget of $155 million (about $50 million more than Gladiator, as a point of comparison), implying a truly epic scale.

The Reaction: There are no less than FOUR VERSIONS of this film, and not even the freedom to take extra time to edit them all could salvage the product as a whole. Critics and historians were similarly merciless, taking issue with the film’s length, slow pacing, and uneven performances. Despite having all the hallmarks of the sword-and-sandal epic, Alexander ultimately fell short in virtually every way possible.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16%
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

3. All the King’s Men (2006)

All the King’s Men (2006)

The Bait:
• Adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel whose 1949 film adaptation won Best Picture.
• The impressive cast (Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Anthony Hopkins, etc.)
• Directed and co-written by multiple Oscar-nominee Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Awakenings)

The Reaction: Now this one had to hurt. In spite of all the talent involved, the film was a critical and commercial disaster. Derided as simultaneously over the top and dull, it failed to gross even $10 million… worldwide. To say that it wound up disappointing would be one of the biggest understatements of the year.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

4. Bobby (2006)

Bobby

The Bait:
• Premise focusing on a tragic and well-known recent historic event.
• Ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen, William H. Macy, and more.

The Reaction: Despite featuring an all-star cast and the structure of great Robert Altman films like Nashville and Short Cuts, director Emilio Estevez’s final product turned out to be mediocre at best, and exploitative at worst. The presence of so many big name actors came off as distracting to many, rather than warranted by the thin script. Given the limited focus on RFK himself, one also could not be faulted for finding the title just a tad bit misleading.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46%
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

5. The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

the-assassination-of-jesse-james-by-the-coward-robert-ford-2007

The Bait:
• Period piece about an infamous historical figure.
• Starred Brad Pitt and the less famous (but still highly talented) Affleck brother.

The Reaction: It barely registered at the box office and is one of Brad Pitt’s lowest-grossing films to date, but critics were impressed, with many naming it one of the ten best films of the year. Its lengthy running time and similarly unconventional title likely put off potential viewers, and though it did end up getting a few well-deserved Oscar nominations, it was undoubtedly overshadowed by two films with similar settings released the same year: There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Oscar nominations: Two (Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography)

 

6. Lions for Lambs (2007)

Lions for Lambs (2007)

The Bait:
• Academy darling and previous winner Robert Redford at the directing helm.
• Serious premise about a real-life war still being waged at the time of the film’s release (and as of the writing of this list, sadly).
• Two words: Meryl. Streep.

The Reaction: Common complaints were that the film was preachy, dull, and had content better suited for the stage than the screen. Audiences seemed to concur, with this talky political drama earning only $15 million domestically.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

7. Australia (2008)

australia

The Bait:
• Simply put, it was an epic-period-piece-romantic-war-drama.
• Directed by Baz Luhrmann – his first film since his critically-acclaimed Moulin Rouge! released seven years prior (which also starred Nicole Kidman).

The Reaction: Though its production values were certainly striking, the film was met with mixed reviews due to its excessive running time and cliché love story. It could have been worse, but considering the high anticipation (mostly associated with the director), many were disappointed.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%
Oscar nominations: One (Best Costume Design)

 

8. Seven Pounds (2008)

Seven Pounds (2008)

The Bait:
• Starred Will Smith in his first drama since his Oscar-nominated turn in The Pursuit of Happyness (also directed by Gabriele Muccino).

The Reaction: Many were taken aback by the film’s grim premise and bizarre plot turns, especially New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, who called it, “what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” Interestingly, the film’s relatively high rating on IMDb indicates that its negative reception among professional critics was hardly universal. If it will be remembered for anything, however, it might just be that this was the film that officially ended Will Smith’s astonishing streak of eight consecutive films that grossed over $100 million.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27% (but 7.7/10 on IMDb)
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

9. Amelia (2009)

Amelia (2009)

The Bait:
• Starred two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank as one of the most well-known figures of the 20th century.
• Directed by acclaimed and respected Indian filmmaker Mira Nair.

The Reaction: On paper, it seemed to have all the hallmarks of your typical Academy Award-winning biopic… until it was released. Critics called the film “dull” and “superficial,” maintaining that it never truly capturing the soul of its inspiring and ultimately tragic title figure.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 20%
Oscar nominations: Zero

 

10. Invictus (2009)

Invictus (2009)

The Bait:
• Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela… Need I say more?
• Okay, one more thing: Director Clint Eastwood.

The Reaction: Another example of a good – though not quite great – movie about an iconic historical figure. It wasn’t a biopic (that would come just four years later with the release of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), but Eastwood’s film captured the heart of Mandela’s strengths through its narrow focus on the internationally significant 1995 Rugby World Cup. Freeman was unsurprisingly excellent in the role he seemed born to play, as was Matt Damon as the captain of the rugby team, though neither performance could completely elevate this sports drama above general expectations (high as they were).

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Oscar nominations: Two (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor)

 

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  • xXGrizZ

    All very good entries. It’s disappointing that it feels like 90% of movies are either massive budget super hero films or shameless Oscar bait that are so obviously trying their ass off that it distracts from the film. If they really wanted it bad enough they would make a movie about a mentally challenged black homosexual jewish person who is dying from AIDS in war-time Germany during WWII.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      “You’re hired! Here’s $12 million to write the script!”

      – Every studio executive reading this

    • Airmanzim

      You forgot that he has to play a musical instrument or a sport shockingly well.

      • xXGrizZ

        Perfect, lets explore that further; Lets make it so that because of his mental handicap he has always been unsuccessful of fulfilling his dream to becoming a world renowned Cellist but due to a side effect of the AIDS and his determination to evade the NAZI’s, his mind and abilities start to undergo a miraculous transformation of their cello playing skills.

        Lets keep this up guys, we will have an Oscar in no time.

        • Eric Rodman

          Except it would have be Syphilis or another STD if it were set during WWII.

          • xXGrizZ

            lol this is Hollywood, facts are irrelevant. Show me 1 ‘based on a true story’ Oscar bait movie that has ever been factual? It has to be AIDS or it will loose a major component. Vapid Hollywood actors can’t pat themselves on the back if the disease is something they have never heard of before. That reminds me, we are adding ‘Based on a true story’ to this brainchild.

          • joey buttafucco

            I think we’re onto a winner here. But most of all we need to heed multiple Academy Award winning actor Kirk Lazarus’ sage advice:

            “Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded. … You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump.’ Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded. … Peter Sellers, “Being There.” Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. … You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed.”

          • xXGrizZ

            Well if we learned anything from Tropic Thunder, it’s to NEVER go full retard. Our character will be retarded but the actor portraying him will only insinuate that he is, in fact, retarded.

    • LordDarque

      Close. 95% of movies are made for the money which is all Hollywood really cares about. The Oscars exist so they can pretend that Art matters. But this is not exactly new.

      • xXGrizZ

        Well duh… Our movie, however, is that movie that occupies the 5%. This is the movie that allows Hollywood to pat each other on the back and pretend that they are important. One that allows them to operate under the delusion that if the world to end, being an actor would qualify them for being a vital and necessary component and therefore, will not be diced up for food.

    • Jeremy J Szal

      Yep, that sound about right.

  • Pingback: Bobby’s Buzz | Little Apple Post

  • SloppyFrenchKisser

    Saving Mr. Banks was a wonderful film.

  • http://batman-news.com jettle3022

    I really am the only one who saw Out Of The Furnace? What a crime.

    • Sheffield

      No, you’re not.

      • michael1968

        I have roamed the planet looking for others like me, jettle and sheffield.

  • Ted Wolf

    This is a great topic and a list that could be expanded ad infinitum.

  • Tobi

    Telling that a high number of films on here were from 2009, the first year of when the Academy changed the rules. What a forgettable year overall.

  • Sombit Mondal

    The good sheperd?

  • Bernardo Rapazote Flores

    The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? That’s exactly the same shit as saying that Days of Heaven or any other Malick’s flick hoped for oscars since the revenue is the same.