20 Recent Movies That Clearly Hoped For Oscars But Failed

14. The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist (2009)

The Bait:
• Based on a true story about a gifted musician suffering from schizophrenia.
• Starred Robert Downey, Jr. in the prime of his comeback and recent Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx.
• Directed by Joe Wright – his first film since the award-winning Pride & Prejudice and Atonement.

The Reaction: Like a cross between Shine, The Fisher King, and A Beautiful Mind (all Oscar-winners, by the way), The Soloist revolved around the Oscar-friendly topics of genius, mental illness, and of course, “white savior syndrome.” Unfortunately, the film couldn’t much transcend its movie-ready real life premise beyond simply respectable reenactment. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – its two lead performances were praised – though as has been made clear time and time again, fine acting is no substitute for inadequate storytelling. Many critics acknowledged that the film seemingly had everything it needed to succeed, from its inspiring plot based on a true story to high caliber actors to a seemingly capable director, but in the end, its flawed narrative is what held the film back from true greatness.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%
Oscar nominations: Zero


15. J. Edgar (2011)

j. edgar (2011)

The Bait:
• Biopic of a well-known (and controversial) 20th century historical figure.
• Screenplay by recent Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black (Milk).
• Clint Eastwood in the director’s chair and Leonardo DiCaprio (under heavy makeup) as the title character.

The Reaction: Many surprisingly faulted the writing and directing for obscuring the focus on what should have been the fairly straightforward task of exploring the life of one of the most significant and complex figures in American history. Yet perhaps J. Edgar Hoover was too enigmatic a person about whom to make a comprehensive and truly enlightening study. Certain specific choices, like the handling of the infamous cross-dressing rumor and the god-awful makeup applied to Armie Hammer as Hoover’s longtime “companion,” Clyde Tolson (DiCaprio’s makeup at least made him look human), also came off as woefully misguided. The film was certainly educational, looked great, and was anchored by a characteristically powerful performance by DiCaprio, but its many missteps kept it from even coming close to Oscar gold.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 43%
Oscar nominations: Zero


16. The Counselor (2013)

The Counselor

The Bait:
• An excellent director (Ridley Scott) and cast (Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz)
• Screenplay by Cormac McCarthy (see The Road’s entry on this list).

The Reaction: It scored a “D” on CinemaScore, so it would be an understatement to say The Counselor didn’t click with audiences. It didn’t fare much better with critics either though, who found it nonsensical, overly-talky, and just plain unpleasant. Perhaps it should have been expected that the film would feel different than most, given that its screenplay was written by a novelist (writers who mainly stick to books have met with mixed success when trying their hands at screenplays), but again, given the talent involved, the final result was of course disappointing.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 35%
Oscar nominations: Zero


17. Diana (2013)

Diana (2013)

The Bait:
• Another film about a tragic 20th century icon.
• Two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts in the title role.

The Reaction: Nearly all were in agreement that this film, noble as its intentions may have been, was simply an all-out failure. The script received the brunt of the criticism, which is a real shame given the importance and sensitivity of the subject matter. It only ended up receiving one nomination from any organization: a Razzie Award for Worst Actress.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 8%
Oscar nominations: Zero


18. Labor Day (2013)

Labor Day (2013)

The Bait:
• Written and directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Juno).
• Starred Kate Winslet (no stranger to the Oscars) and Josh Brolin.

The Reaction: A rare miss for Jason Reitman, Labor Day was labeled a sappy melodrama by critics, who compared it unfavorably to Lifetime movies and Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Again, here we have another example of a film whose story couldn’t be salvaged by its talented leading actors. The decision to give it a limited release only four days before the end of the year only made the studio’s intentions to make it an Oscar contender all the more obvious.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 33%
Oscar nominations: Zero


19. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

The Bait:
• An all-star cast, including Oscar-winners Forest Whitaker, Robin Williams, Jane Fonda, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
• Period piece inspired by true events involving the civil rights movement and multiple American presidents. It worked for Forrest Gump…

The Reaction: This one was pretty much the definition of an Oscar bait movie. Distributed by The Weinstein Company, it told the kind of story the Academy loves to honor, and many expected it would indeed do so. Even President Obama admitted to tearing up as he watched the movie. Despite its flaws, most of which centered on the stunt casting and obligatory nature of the narrative’s tour through history, the film was highly rated overall. Its failure to get a single Oscar nomination, especially for Oprah Winfrey’s acclaimed performance, was likely due more to tough competition than anything else.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72%
Oscar nominations: Zero


20. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

The Bait:
• A movie about making a movie, featuring one of the most important cinematic visionaries in history as a main character.
• Starred Oscar-winners Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.

The Reaction: Critics praised the film, especially the (expectedly) solid performances by the two main actors; that neither managed to be nominated was indeed a surprise come Oscar time. While some felt the film was at its most basic level nothing more than a piece of publicity for a company that hardly needs it, most were delighted by its depiction of a behind-the-scenes story that was not too well-known outside the industry. Again, fierce competition led to a harsh case of double-snubbing.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Oscar nominations: One (Best Original Score)

Author Bio: Jason Turer received his B.A. from Cornell University with a double major in Film and English, and currently works in television production in Brooklyn. He has too many favorite films to list here, but some of his favorite directors include Kubrick, Cronenberg, Hitchcock, and Lynch.