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The Most Embarrassing Roles Of The 2013 Oscar-Nominated Actors & Actresses

by Oliver Lyttelton
February 22, 2013 2:38 PM
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Yesterday, we talked (with some controversy) about the unwise choices that actors have made after winning an Oscar. Whether out of a desire to cash in, or an ego-driven chase for further acclaim, none were exactly fitting follow-ups. But questionable picks are hardly the sole territory of those who've already won Oscars; almost every actor at some point, whether out of desire to put food on the table or hope in a project that turned out to be misplaced, has appeared in a film that they probably came to regret.

And the same is absolutely true of this year's batch of Oscar nominees. They might have spent the last few months being feted by all and sundry for their current performances, and rightly so, but with a few exceptions, they all have a stinker lurking somewhere on their IMDb page. So, as we head into Oscar weekend, and having already discussed the best of their early roles, it seemed like a good time to highlight some of the embarrassments to help remind every actor that, however bad your last project might have been, the role that could change everything for you might be just around the corner. Read our picks below, and let us know in the comments section if there's anything you think we should have included.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper - “All About Steve”
Until "Silver Linings Playbook" and "The Place Beyond The Pines" convinced people that Bradley Cooper had real acting chops, he'd mostly worked in commercial fare ("The Hangover," "The A-Team," et al.). But probably the most embarrassing of his career is "All About Steve," the spectacularly misjudged romantic comedy that landed just as Cooper blew up. Released in the same year as Sandra Bullock's two mega-hits "The Blind Side" and "The Proposal," it stars the actress as a kooky crossword writer who goes on a date with Cooper's Steve Miller. He's not keen, and bails, but she becomes obsessed, getting fired from her job and stalking him around the country. Presumably originally conceived as a dark "Young Adult"-ish comedy, it's unfortunately shot and directed like any other glossy, broad romance, which has the effect of making Bullock seem all the more unhinged. Cooper's not all that much more likable, and has no chemistry with Bullock (which we suppose is part of the point), and the movie's been hastily buried on his resume as a result.

Daniel Day-Lewis - “Nine”
The man considered by many to be the greatest actor of his generation has been selective in his parts; he's only credited in eighteen films across a 30-year career and has generally avoided the temptations of the studio paycheck gig (he was pursued heavily to play Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows," but never seemed close to taking the offer seriously). But there's one exception of a sort, and that's his last role before "Lincoln," in the musical "Nine." When Javier Bardem dropped out of the Harvey Weinstein-backed, Rob Marshall-helmed picture, Harvey persuaded Daniel Day-Lewis to step in. The actor's version of selling out is hardly comparable to most of these here, but he's still ill-at-ease in the role, his method intensity not proving a great center point for a film that doesn't really work in general.

Hugh Jackman - “Deception”
Like Cooper, Hugh Jackman has a background predominately in commercial studio movies, most notably as Wolverine in the 'X-Men' franchise, which has worked out well ("X2"), and less so ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). But of all the questionable decisions he's made over the years ("Kate & Leopold," "Scoop," "Van Helsing"), the worst might have been "Deception." Somehow attracting some impressive talent (Jackman, Ewan McGregor, Michelle Williams), the desperately unsexy erotic thriller, directed in a career-ending manner by commercials veteran Marcel Langenegger, finds Jackman playing a lawyer who introduces an accountant (McGregor) to the world of secret sex clubs, in what turns out to be a scheme to embezzle money from an investment bank. We support Jackman stretching himself, obviously, and "The Prestige" proved that his natural likability can be cannily turned against itself, but he's disastrously miscast in a part that feels like a Michael Douglas reject, and he's deeply unscary as the villain of a film that wouldn't even be impressive if you saw it on Cinemax at 4 a.m. Hopefully it's an experiment not to be repeated.

Joaquin Phoenix - “Ladder 49”
A serious actor to the last, Joaquin Phoenix is another performer who doesn't just take whatever he's offered, tending to hold out for work with interesting filmmakers, or at least play a great role. On the rare occasions he's taken a studio picture, it has tended to be in order to work with a respected director like Ridley Scott or (at the time) M. Night Shyamalan. But the one film he's made that really does stink of a paycheck is "Ladder 49." Directed by Jay Russell, the auteur behind "My Dog Skip," the film's a treacly drama about firefighters, with Phoenix in the lead role as a fireman trapped in a building who, through flashbacks, fills out his life in the department. Phoenix is, to his credit, the best thing in it, but the film's terribly by-the-numbers and unchallenging. And a decade on, it more than ever feels like a callous post 9/11 cash-in on the public's affection for firemen. It's far from the worst film on this list, and it's a credit to Phoenix that this is the closest thing to a paycheck he's ever taken, but it's still somewhat of a blotch on his record.

Denzel Washington - “Virtuosity”
One of the more sturdy, reliable leading men in Hollywood, you tend to know what you're getting with Denzel Washington. His films are rarely terrible and, at least since "Malcolm X," rarely masterpieces, but generally turn out to be watchable, middle-of-the-road programmers with varying degrees of success. "Virtuosity" is certainly made in that mold, but it's also one of the worst and least successful films Washington has made. Set in the then-future of 1999, it's one of those mid-'90s films reflecting Hollywood's deep fear of the Internet and video games. "Virtuosity" features Washington as an ex-cop, put behind bars for killing the man who murdered his family, who must face off against SID 6.7 (Russell Crowe), a virtual reality amalgam of the personalities of the worst 200 serial killers in history who's escaped into the real world, thanks to reasons the screenwriter's barely bothered to figure out. It's a defiantly stupid film, summing up so much of the worst of mid-'90s mainstream cinema, and Washington's autopilot cop is in an entirely different film than the one Crowe is occupying with his wildly over-the-top scenery chewing.

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  • Jack Thursby | February 25, 2013 4:43 AMReply

    Actually Helen Hunt showed up in both Trancers 2 and Trancers 3. Try having a look at imdb once in a while!

  • linz | February 24, 2013 9:02 PMReply

    I don't thing any role of Anne's could be more embarrasing than 'Havoc'.

  • Rebecca | February 24, 2013 1:58 PMReply

    Latter 49 is a good movie.

  • PETE | February 23, 2013 12:26 PMReply

    I think it is ridiculous to consider "The Reader" worse than "Bride Wars". WTF?

  • GLENN | February 23, 2013 5:09 PM

    i know WTF !!!!

  • Ash | February 23, 2013 4:42 AMReply

    I dont think M3 and Mama are terrible, the most terrible film Jessica's ever done is Texas Killing Field.

  • jen b | February 22, 2013 10:56 PMReply

    Everything Anne Hathaway has done besides Rachel Getting Married and TDKR is a stinker. Just look at last year- One Day. Horrible! Year before- Love and Other Drugs- embarrassing! Good god, she has terrible taste.

  • tracy | February 23, 2013 4:38 AM


  • jimmiescoffee | February 22, 2013 9:30 PMReply

    i disagree with most of this piece. not every role is perfect. and "paying the bills" is noble enough. so fuck this entire concept. but that being said, 'nine' was a disaster.

  • Brandt | February 22, 2013 8:43 PMReply

    Such lackluster choices are very unbecoming of such a tremendous year for cinema. Where are the nominations for movies like The Grey, Jesus Henry Christ and Killing them Softly? Read about the Top 10 Movies of 2012 with reviews and other honorable mentions at

  • Andrew | February 22, 2013 7:47 PMReply

    You include Stardust in DeNiro's list of terrible recent films....really? It's actually pretty fun and was well-received for the most part.

    And calling The Green Hornet undeniably terrible? I know critics were pretty harsh with it, but I am a pretty staunch defender of it as a pretty fun movie that clearly shows in Gondry's direction. Nothing great, but undeniably terrible? If you didn't like it you didn't like it, but please.

  • Sven | February 23, 2013 3:01 AM

    The Green Hornet was undeniably terrible, really.

  • droopy | February 22, 2013 7:19 PMReply

    i dont know man, i mean patch adams is terrible, but twister and red dragon aren't... are they? twister i love, saw it when i was 8, thought it was fucking awesome and that feeling stays with me to this day. and red dragon only has a bad rep because of brett ratner, but its by far his best movie and its actually pretty good. great cast, i thought the cinematography was pretty damn good, nothing really special, but i think he got the look right. its been a while since i saw it though. im gonna watch it right now

  • Ray H | February 22, 2013 5:31 PMReply

    I looked up "My Boyfriend's Back" a little while back. A silly teen zombie movie I hadn't thought about or seen in 20 years. Turns out one of the high school bullies is played by none other than Philip Seymour Hoffman! He plays Matthew Fox's main buddy/henchman and ends up accidentally killing himself with an axe.

  • Alan B | February 22, 2013 7:00 PM This looks like the greatest thing ever.

  • QNorris9001 | February 22, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    The Playlist reeks of pretension.

  • Knative | February 22, 2013 4:19 PMReply

    How can you bring up Helen Hunt and not mention the tv movie where she jumped out the window because she tried drugs?

  • Zack | February 22, 2013 3:22 PMReply

    So the most embarrassing things on Jessica Chastain's resume are movies you spend most of the blurb complimenting? She's done pretty well for herself, I guess.

  • coke | February 22, 2013 4:07 PM


    I don't think you can possibly say anything bad about Chastain...

  • 64564 | February 22, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    I just saw Virtuosity a few days ago on HBO. Washington has been in much more generic, programmatic crap. It's deeply reflective of the 90s moment of virtual reality wonkiness, sure, but it's fucking fun, and pretty stylish -- in a corny way -- to boot. It's the most superficially embarrassing, and thus the easiest/most obvious pick for this list -- because of its datedness -- but, frankly, I think its more interesting as cinema (and cultural artifact) than the implausible, TV-drama-esque Flight. You'd rather watch The Preacher's Wife or John Q, I take it? Maybe Fallen

  • Sven | February 23, 2013 3:02 AM

    John Q.... Exactly!!

  • Zack | February 22, 2013 3:40 PM

    "Fallen" is redeemed for me by that scene with the demon body-jumping through the crowd and singing "Time is On My Side" line by line.

  • BEF | February 22, 2013 3:00 PMReply

    What? "Trancers" was a decent enough b movie and wasn't it her first role ever (which is an exclusion on others on this list). I actually think the story idea, time travel through blood ancestry would make for a decent update with a budget. "Pay it Forward" is way more embarrassing, because there's a budget and "prestige" that is entirely misspent and maybe has the silliest love story of anything that isn't "The Sapphires".

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