By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 21, 2013 at 3:09PM
While "In The Heat Of The Night" might have been a safe Best Picture winner in the year of "The Graduate" and "Bonnie & Clyde," few would begrudge Rod Steiger his Best Actor Oscar. He'd already lost out for both "On The Waterfront" and "The Pawnbroker," and was overdue. This bought Steiger more credit than he ever had before, but sadly, he used it on the 1969 adaptation of Ray Bradbury's seminal science fiction anthology "The Illustrated Man." Directed by Steiger's old friend Jack Smight, and starring his then-wife Claire Bloom, the film (which sees three unrelated sci-fi tales, each starring Steiger, Bloom and Robert Drivas, and narrated by Steiger's heavily tattooed figure of the title) has all the hallmarks of a vanity project. And unfortunately, it never rises above it; the "Cloud Atlas" of its day, it's to be praised for its ambition, but is decidedly lacking in its execution, particularly thanks to a swinging '60s vibe that must have dated the film as soon as the credits started rolling, and a wildly over-the-top performance from Steiger.
Like Spacey, Hilary Swank made some fairly respectable choices, at least after winning her first Best Actress Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry" in 2000. She managed to squeeze in "The Gift," "Insomnia" and "The Affair of the Necklace," all reasonably respectable picks, before going for the blockbuster inanity of "The Core." Second time around, after her 2005 win for "Million Dollar Baby," Swank wasn't so wise, with her next part coming in Brian De Palma's wildly terrible 2006 adaptation of James Ellroy's crime classic "The Black Dahlia." There are so many things wrong with the film that it's hard to know where to start, but Swank's performance doesn't help. She's incredibly miscast as bisexual femme fatale Madeleine Linscott, one of Ellroy's most fascinating creations on the page. It's not just that she looks nothing like victim Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner), who the rest of the cast seem to believe she's identical to -- Swank just isn't capable, at least not here, of the kind of morally ambiguous, demonically sexual character she's been asked to pull off. With basically every other actor in the film equally adrift, and De Palma way off his A-game, it might somehow be the worst film anywhere on this list, not least because of the missed opportunity (David Fincher, among others, circled the script at one stage, and one can only imagine what a superior film he'd have turned in). Swank continued with the questionable choices, not least with the decidedly "Gothika"-like supernatural thriller "The Reaping," and doesn't look likely to pick up a third Oscar any time soon.
Charlize Theron might finally have managed to prove her blockbuster bona-fides with "Prometheus" and "Snow White & The Huntsman," but her first attempt at pulling it off, soon after her Best Actress Oscar win for "Monster" in 2004, was a true disaster. Paramount wooed Theron to star in "Aeon Flux," a long-in-the-works adaptation of the MTV animated series that was briefly popular in the mid 1990s. Directed by "Girlfight" helmer Karyn Kusama, who nearly crashed her career as soon as it had begun, and from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi that strips all of the subversion and humor from the source material, it stars Theron as the title character, a badass rebel in an underground rebellion hoping to overthrow the rulers of a dystopian future-state. For a film with such out-there costume and production design, it's remarkably boring, with a mostly charisma-free cast (Marton Csokas! Jonny Lee Miller!), a plot that's both rote and incomprehensible, barely-competent action sequences, and a performance from Theron that, given how great she can be elsewhere, is almost inexplicable. If anything, it's notable only for being something of a perfect storm of actresses fallen prey to The Halle Berry Effect; along with Theron, there's also Frances McDormand (accompanied by a sort of ginger Robert Smith hairdo), and "Hotel Rwanda" nominee Sophie Okonedo.
When she won her Oscar for 'The Constant Gardener" in 2006, Rachel Weisz was already filming her follow-up, Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain." And while it's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film (we love it), few could begrudge her that one. But excluding that, and a voice-only role in terrible fantasy movie "Eragon," the next time Weisz was seen in theaters was in the worst role of her entire career; the love interest in the toxic Christmas movie "Fred Claus." The ill-advised reunion between "Wedding Crashers" director and star David Dobkin and Vince Vaughn sees the latter play the title role, the estranged older brother to Santa (Paul Giamatti), who has to take over to save Christmas etc etc etc. And among the film's many, many, many baffling decisions is Weisz, entirely wasted in an extended cameo as Wanda, Fred's parking enforcement girlfriend (!). Weirdly mean-spirited, torn between being an improv-happy Vaughn vehicle and a kids' flick, and more expensive than any comedy should ever be, the film's entirely misjudged at every level, including Wanda, who exists only to nag Fred, disappear for most of the film, and then reconcile with him at the end. Why the filmmakers felt it was a good enough part to offer to an Oscar-winner like Weisz is one thing, why she'd feel obliged to take it is another.
A veteran character actor, Forest Whitaker certainly made the most of a rare lead role as Idi Amin in Kevin MacDonald's "The Last King of Scotland," which won him the Best Actor Oscar in 2007. But things have been mostly downhill ever since, with Tyler Perry movies, direct-to-video actioners and a swiftly canceled TV procedural among the ignominies. And one can put it down to his post-Oscar career choices to a certain degree. Whitaker's first post-Oscars project, Denzel Washington's "The Great Debaters" was reasonably respectable, even if it borrowed something from Kevin Spacey's playbook. But the next two were more disastrous; big commercial sell-outs, in the ludicrous thriller "Vantage Point," in which Whitaker mostly looks lost and confused in a nothing role, and "Street Kings," in which the actor xeroxes Washington's performance in "Training Day" to a much, much lesser effect. Here's hoping the upcoming "Out of the Furnace" picks things up.
Also on the list of shame: Mercedes Reuhl ("Last Action Hero"), Dianne Weist ("The Associate"), Jennifer Hudson ("Sex And The City"), Louis Gosset Jr ("Jaws 3D"), Tommy Lee Jones ("Blown Away" & "Batman Forever"), Robin Williams ("Bicentennial Man"), Alan Arkin ("Get Smart"), Christoph Waltz ("The Green Hornet"), Sally Field ("Back Roads," "Surrender'), Holly Hunter ("Copycat"), Helen Hunt ("Dr. T & The Women"), Reese Witherspoon ("Rendition"), Sandra Bullock ("Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"), Art Carney ("Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood"), Richard Dreyfuss ("The Competition"), Denzel Washington ("Out Of Time") and Colin Firth ("Gambit").