Yes, the 87th Annual Academy Awards is imminent—February 22, to be exact. That evening, the best and brightest silver screen stars will don designer duds (or a swan, in the case of Björk), and congregate at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre to honor the best and brightest performances and films of the past year. Tony Award winner Neil Patrick Harris will be master of ceremonies, and Fox Searchlight’s eccentric duo of Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel are the big dogs going into the night with nine Oscar nominations apiece, including Best Picture.
These are, of course, the best of times. But things weren’t always red carpets, flowing gowns, and million-watt smiles for the esteemed nominees. Not by a long shot. Here are the worst of times, the performances this year’s nominees would prefer scrubbed from their resumes and Eternal Sunshine'd from the minds of the movie-going public.
Bradley Cooper, Globe Trekker (2000) Oscar Nominee: American Sniper
Prior to becoming a blockbuster star (in The Hangover franchise) and a formidable dramatic actor (in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and now American Sniper), Bradley Cooper popped up in a series of odd acting jobs, including the TV film I Want to Marry Ryan Banks, opposite Jason Priestley, and the ill-fated TV series Kitchen Confidential. One of his earliest roles was as a presenter on the British travel-adventure series Globe Trekker. In the Cooper-hosted episode, he visits a (mostly male) nude beach in Veli Losinj, Croatia, and his wide-eyed interactions with the naked townsfolk are priceless. At the end of the episode, Cooper drops trou and dives into the ocean as the sun slowly sets in the background. “You know what? I’m never gonna wear clothes again,” he says in voiceover. If only.
Julianne Moore, The Ladies Man (2000) Oscar Nominee: Still Alice
There was, believe it or not, a Saturday Night Live-produced comedy film starring the likes of Julianne Moore and Will Ferrell. Unfortunately, it was The Ladies Man—a colossal misfire of a movie featuring Tim Meadows’ suave, afro-rockin’ “ladies man” who dispenses lovemaking tips (in his signature lisp) on his late-night radio show. In his spare time, he seduces “skanks” with candlelit evenings and bottles of Courvoisier. One of these unlucky ladies is “Bloopie,” a horny circus clown played by… Julianne Moore. This is, I think, the only film featuring the great Julianne Moore having sex with a blabbering retro idiot while dressed like a clown.
Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County (2013)Oscar Nominee: The Imitation Game
The past few months have been pretty darn peachy for Benedict Cumberbatch. He earned his first Oscar nomination for his stirring portrayal of cryptanalyst/genius Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, was cast as Marvel superhero Doctor Strange, got married, and is expecting his first child. But back in 2013, Tumblr’s favorite Brit turned in arguably the worst performance of his career as Little Charles Aiken, a dimwitted Southerner who’s constantly harangued by his overbearing mama. Oh, and he’s also in love with his barren, desperate cousin, played by Julianne Nicholson. In a film crammed with wildly over-the-top turns, Cumberbatch’s is the most puzzling, bastardized Southern accent and all.
Michael Keaton, Multiplicity (1996)Oscar Nominee: Birdman
“Everybody knows you never go full retard.” Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), the Aussie method actor extraordinaire, delivered those words of cinematic wisdom in the hilarious satire Tropic Thunder. It came too late for Michael Keaton, who turned in a head-scratcher of a performance as one in a series of clones in the Harold Ramis comedy Multiplicity. One of these clones is a clone-of-a-clone, and therefore has a lower IQ than the rest. His given name is “Lenny,” he wears goggles and guzzles juice boxes, sticks his tongue out a lot, and blurts out random lines like, “I want pizza!” and “We’re gonna eat a dolphin!” After he accidentally has sex with his original’s wife, he confronts the hubby and says, “She touched my pepe, Steve.” Yikes.
Keira Knightley, A Dangerous Method (2011)Oscar Nominee: The Imitation Game
David Cronenberg’s psychoanalytical flick, inspired by the works of Freud, isn’t a bad film. Its merits include a slick Viggo Mortensen as Freud, a randy Vincent Cassel, and a kinky Michael Fassbender. But Keira Knightley, otherwise a fine actress, is very bad in it. I mean Razzie bad. She plays Sabina Spielrein, a woman suffering from a crippling case of hysteria who’s committed to a psychiatric hospital in Zurich. The mangled Russian accent (it’s not John Malkovich in Rounders awful/hilarious, but poor nonetheless) coupled with her incessant jaw-jutting and fang-bearing, is borderline impossible to sit through. This is a silly caricature of a deranged woman.
Steve Carell, Dinner for Schmucks (2010)Oscar Nominee: Foxcatcher
Steve Carell is a comedy ace. From his days as a Daily Show correspondent to The 40-Year-Old Virgin to achieving the near-impossible in revamping the smarmy boss of The Office for American audiences, he’s done it all. But Dinner for Schmucks, the atrociously tone-deaf “comedy” remake of the French film Le Dîner de Cons, was an unmitigated disaster for all involved—particularly Carell, who turns in a grating performance as Barry Speck, a whiny, oddball IRS employee with a penchant for mice taxidermy. He’s so idiotic and obnoxious that you spend the entire film wanting to punch him in the face.
Emma Stone, Movie 43 (2013)Oscar Nominee: Birdman
“Do you still like crème brûlée?” “Do you still like fingers in your butthole?” “You know I do.” This exchange is just a small portion of the bizarre back-and-forth between the otherwise wonderful Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone in Movie 43, the awful comedy mash-up/cinematic horror show that took home a gaggle of Razzies. No actor is left unscathed—including Stone, who plays the girlfriend of a night shift checkout dude at a grocery store. They share a raunchy conversation, but his intercom mic is on, broadcasting it to the entire store (novel concept!). It’s cringeworthy, not funny, and this is probably doubly embarrassing for Stone considering that Culkin is her ex-boyfriend.
Ethan Hawke, Getaway (2013)Oscar Nominee: Boyhood
Ethan Hawke is a highly underrated actor with nearly a dozen excellent films under his belt. Dead Poets Society. Reality Bites. Gattaca. His numerous collaborations with Richard Linklater. But of late, he’s employed a Robin Hood scheme of cashing in on lackluster studio films to help pave the way for doing theater and the low-paying indie projects he’s passionate about. The result is things like Getaway, which features Hawke as an ex-race car driver who teams up with a carjacker (Selena Gomez, really) to help save his kidnapped wife. Getaway mainly consists of repetitive car chases and constant, head-bangingly annoying bickering between Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez.
Reese Witherspoon, Little Nicky (2000)Oscar Nominee: Wild
Have you seen Freeway or Election? Reese Witherspoon is a fierce (and fearless) actress with a knack for physical comedy whose career has been colored (sadly) by her various stints in throwaway rom-coms like Legally Blonde. I’m not sure who convinced her to pop up as a ditzy angel who sexes Harvey Keitel’s devil in the incredibly stupid Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky, but it’s another role that encases Witherspoon in that unfortunate one-dimensional rom-com box. And another of this year’s Oscar nominees, Patricia Arquette, plays the female lead… although she’s kind of delightful in a weird way, lending the film far more gravitas than it deserves.
Rosamund Pike, Burning Palms (2010)Oscar Nominee: Gone Girl
Journeywoman actress Rosamund Pike earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her ferocious performance as a housewife scorned in David Fincher’s psychological thriller Gone Girl. But this is not her finest hour. If you thought Crash was racially problematic, wait 'til you get a whiff of its rip-off, Burning Palms, which boasts more cultural stereotypes and lame takes on taboo scenarios than a week of Fox News. Pike plays a woman who’s disturbed by the incestuous relationship between her fiancé (Dylan McDermott) and his 15-year-old daughter. It’s not pretty.