2017 is filled with Oscar-nominated actors and actresses from a group of high-quality films. But that’s not always the case.
While most of the names on this list were at least nominated at some other time during their careers, their nominations in these specific movies seem peculiar. It’s not because they don’t deserve it, but that such performances came within films that were otherwise forgetful. In some cases, they were awful.
This group of films feature best actor and actress categories only, with no inclusions of supporting acts. Knowing that such movies could be spearheaded by this type of talent and still fall flat makes it even more surprising to know not even one of them was all that well-received.
1. Elizabeth Taylor – BUtterfield 8 (1961)
In her time as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Elizabeth Taylor won a pair of Academy Awards. Her first was in BUtterfield 8, a movie accused of being poorly written and lacking much depth in story. It’s a film that’s become even more loathed over time.
Once thought to be scandalously bold film about a high-class call girl in New York, the film hasn’t dated well at all. Even at the time, her chances of winning the award seemed crippled by the simple fact of the other movies her fellow actresses were representing.
Shirley MacLaine was representing a classic in The Apartment, and Deborah Kerr’s performance in The Sundowners has become more appreciated over the years. But that’s all in hindsight.
It’s safe to say without reflection that BUtterfield 8’s storyline was played out like a soap opera and relied too much on its lead. And even Taylor herself didn’t think she was that good in the movie, and only took the role so she could skip the final three years of a contract with MGM to make Cleopatra with 20th Century Fox.
For as racy as its heroine and storyline likely was back in the early 1960’s, BUtterfield 8 would’ve been one of the most forgettable movies of Taylor’s extraordinary career had she not won the Oscar.
2. Rex Harrison – Cleopatra (1964)
This will undoubtedly go down as one of the longest, most controversial (on-set), and biggest-budgeted films of its time. But while it scores with incredible sets and effects, this is otherwise an overlong and poorly acted movie, with Harrison perhaps being the lone bright spot of the cast.
In stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s defense, the script to this movie didn’t give them a whole lot to work with. The visuals are the only reason to watch this film at all besides the work of Harrison.
He didn’t win the award for Best Actor, that went to Sidney Poitier in Lilies of the Field. His Julius Caesar did, however, supply a little life to a film that had to cover up its constant trudging with beautiful scenery and an even more stunning Taylor.
It was nominated for best picture in a year that gave us 8 ½ and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, both of which weren’t nominated. The novelty of such an epic done with such constantly splendid views doesn’t make up for the fact this model of film had a bloated production (over $330M calculated to today’s inflation) that didn’t really work out in the long-run financially.
Its talent and story drastically underperformed, so while it may be the best film on this list, it was also the most disappointing of the group.
3. Richard Burton – Anne of a Thousand Days (1970)
Long before Anne of a Thousand Days, Richard Burton had been passed over five times for a best actor win at the Oscars. But unlike in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Becket, Anne of a Thousand Days was nothing to brag about.
Nominated for nearly every award under the sun for some reason, Thousand Days won for the only thing it deserved: costume design. Not to say it was a disaster of a nomination in some categories, as Burton and Genevieve Bujold are both convincing as King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, respectively.
But it doesn’t get to be even close to nomination-worthy until its final half-hour, and seems like the same piece of Oscar-bait we often complain about today with all its stuffiness.
The stars and the look of the film are the only aspects that hold it up, as Burton gave great depth and a believable extra side to a ruler considered to be a prude bully by most.
As far as execution goes, Anne of a Thousand Days delivers the style of an academy attention-getter. But without Burton and Bujold bringing it in an otherwise dull film, it likely wouldn’t have been nominated. With The Wild Bunch and Army of Shadows just a couple of film left off the list for best picture, Thousand Days probably should’ve never been there to begin with.
4. Marsha Mason – Chapter Two (1980)
It’s hard to even find Chapter Two these days, much less enjoy the film.
Though Marsha Mason built a career featuring four Oscar nominations and a pair of wins at the Golden Globes, her and fellow star James Caan will never be given much admiration for one of the most forgettable movies ever nominated for any acting category.
Even legendary playwright Neil Simon’s content couldn’t save this film. The story behind this movie is an amazing one. Simon and Mason married after 22 days of knowing each other. The movie is based from the original play that loosely follows those events. Simon even went as far to cast Mason in the lead role.
Unfortunately, that’s the most intriguing part of this movie, by far. The dialogue Simon created here is some of his worst, full of a lot of ping-ponged arguments that go nowhere. And it wasn’t the best time to have Caan flunk a performance, especially when his casting seems a bit out of place to begin with.
And with Marsha Mason essentially playing herself in the movie, it seems less impressive that she received a nomination. Her performance is the only reason for watching this film, but it looks as if hardly anyone has.
With how close it seems to the story of Simon and Mason, it’s hard to believe the characters seem so underdeveloped.
5. Bette Midler – For the Boys (1992)
There’s little argument over whether Bette Midler earned an Oscar nomination in For the Boys. After all, she had a lot working against her in this story of two entertainers who perform for soldiers during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Even in a year where Jodie Foster and Thelma and Louise stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were the clear favorites (Foster won), Midler almost made this war musical worth the nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime.
But even she isn’t allowed to unleash her full potential, with a character that’s snappy but never strays far from walking the straight-and-narrow path. The scenes don’t transition very well at all, and both the emotional toll of the two main characters and that of the wars never really reach any great heights.
Though it is an interesting premise, For the Boys only shows the true spark in the film’s rivalry from time-to-time. Midler probably has a handful of better performances, and James Caan once again isn’t convincing.
Midler squeezes about all she can out of a screenplay that doesn’t establish itself well. It then goes along assuming its strange mixture in tone and the equally unestablished relationships will connect, just because.