10 Oscar Winning Performances That Are Actually Terrible –





The Academy Awards are supposed to be a showcase for the very best acting that Hollywood has to offer, but of course, every year a number of terrific performances are snubbed because they don’t conform to the institution’s nebulous tastes.

But sometimes, things go the other way, and the Academy goes gaga for a performance that’s…just not very good. These 10 performances, though widely feted during the year of their release, are surely among the worst to ever end up winning a gold statue.

From absurdly hammy, laughably over-the-top turns to badly-aged, low-effort career wins and lazy performances that feel totally antithetical to the idea of the Oscars, these award-winning efforts are a major strike against the Academy’s overall credibility.

It gets even worse when you consider that, in many cases, there were other, far more deserving nominees up for the award. And no matter what popular opinion says of the performances these days, there’s no taking that little gold guy away from the actors in question…

10. Sean Penn – Mystic River

Warner Bros.

Sean Penn won his first Best Actor Oscar for playing an ex-con whose daughter is murdered in Clint Eastwood’s searing 2003 drama.

It wasn’t a particularly competitive year for the award, in fairness, with only Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) putting up much of a fight, but even so, Penn’s larger-than-life performance frequently lurches into unintentionally hilarious, distractingly hammy territory.

The “Is that my daughter in there?” scene, largely credited with winning Penn the Oscar, is an embarrassing act of scenery munching on the actor’s part. By the time a fleet of cops are piling on him as he wails in anguish, it’s hard not to laugh at what should be an absolutely mortifying scene.

Murray should’ve won that year, really, all the more so as he’ll probably get another chance. Penn gave a far better performance for his second Oscar win in Milk, even if he robbed Mickey Rourke of a well-deserved gong.

9. Roberto Benigni – Life Is Beautiful

Miramax Films

Frequently cited as one of the most baffling upsets in Oscar history, Robert Benigni beat out Edward Norton (American History X) and Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan) for the Best Actor Oscar in the Holocaust drama he also directed, Life is Beautiful.

It doesn’t help that the movie as a whole, about a father’s attempts to shield his son from the abject horror of the Holocaust, is an overly slushy, saccharine film with a questionable moral through-line, but the fact that Benigni’s performance was deemed awards-worthy is just ludicrous.

Mildly charming at best and actively irritating at worst, his overly expressive, mannered performance leaves a sour taste that only made the comparisons to Charlie Chaplin feel that much more insulting.

And that’s not to forget the spectacle he made of himself at the actual awards ceremony, climbing on top of the seats in front of him when the film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Oof.

8. Halle Berry – Monster’s Ball


Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning turn in Monster’s Ball certainly gives audiences a lot of acting for their buck, but considering the win made her the first black woman to win a Best Actress gong, it’s a shame the performance feels so damn false.

The role, of a woman who falls in love with the racist prison guard (Billy Bob Thornton) who executed her husband, is inherently melodramatic, though Berry’s over-affected Georgian accent only helps pile on the absurdity.

Disappointingly, it’s Thornton whose performance feels the most lived-in and believable, casting a pall over what should’ve been a chest-thumping landmark moment for the black acting community.

Berry threw herself into the role, no question, but enthusiasm can only take an actor so far. Well, it can win you an Oscar, apparently. Tellingly, her post-Oscar career has been pretty iffy, winning a Razzie award for Catwoman three years after her Oscar and doing little meritorious since.

7. John Wayne – True Grit


Though it’s easy to think of John Wayne as more of a movie star than an actor, he did nevertheless scoop three Oscar nominations throughout his career, culminating in a win for his iconic turn as boozy U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in 1969’s True Grit.

Widely accepted to be a consolation Oscar for an undeniably stellar career, Wayne’s scooped the gold statue for a shamelessly cheeseball, rootin’ tootin’ performance that seems even worse when compared to Jeff Bridges’ effortlessly superior turn in the Coen brothers’ remake.

The most depressing thing is, Wayne had numerous Oscar-worthy performances throughout his career, least of all Red River, The Searchers, Rio Bravo and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. His Rooster is all surface and no depth, which is exactly what Oscar-winning performances should never be.

6. Sandra Bullock – The Blind Side

Warner Bros.

Surely the worst Oscar-winning performance of the last decade by a huge margin, Sandra Bullock gives an effervescent yet soulless performance in The Blind Side as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a well-off Christian woman who adopts an impoverished black teen and helps him become a college football star.

At best, her character and performance are patronising, and at worst they’re flabbergastingly insulting. Bullock goes totally down-the-middle here, making Leigh a bland white saviour with little for audiences to empathise with or relate to.

In a year where Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) were both nominated, Bullock’s win for an utterly forgettable, dull turn remains one of the Academy’s biggest recent embarrassments.

5. Gwyneth Paltrow – Shakespeare In Love


A lot of film fans have a chip on their shoulder about how well Shakespeare in Love performed at the Oscars – namely beating out Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture – but even on its own demerits, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Best Actress win is a bit of a shambles.

A mediocre comedy performance that’s basically charming at most, it’s just tough to see what Oscar voters were smoking with this one beyond buying into Harvey Weinstein’s aggressive awards chicanery.

Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) and Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie) both gave far stronger performances, but sadly went home empty handed.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Paltrow gave a legendarily awful, sobbing acceptance speech, and after sitting through three minutes of her ugly-crying, Oscar voters might’ve wished their better instincts had won out.

4. Al Pacino – Scent Of A Woman


Another classic consolation Oscar, Al Pacino’s Best Actor nomination for Scent of a Woman was his eighth nod in 20 years, and so the Academy basically felt obliged to finally give him the damn statue.

Pacino should’ve won an Oscar years prior, sure, but in a year where he was up against Denzel Washington (Malcolm X) and Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), his screaming-for-the-rafters performance just didn’t cut it.

A shameless self-parody of Pacino’s special brand of Big Acting, his turn as a blind, embittered army vet is high on campy theatrics and low on actual emotional authenticity.

Depressingly, the Academy hasn’t nominated Pacino again in the 25 years since, though that’s perhaps symptomatic of his late-period tendency to rest on his laurels.

3. Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls


The Best Supporting Actress field was pretty soft in 2007, which allowed Jennifer Hudson to sing her way to an Oscar without really giving much of an actual acting performance at all.

Hudson’s turn has remained controversial over the years due to this perception, because while her musical renditions are undeniably a work of performance, it feels like a bit of a cheat for an actual singer to win an Oscar for singing. They have Grammys for that.

Her actual spoken dialogue is delivered with a general indifference that really doesn’t suggest her turn was anything approaching Oscar-worthy. Cate Blanchett put in far better work in Notes on a Scandal, but the more bombastic performance ultimately won out as it so often does.

2. Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour

Focus Features

This will be divisive, but as brilliant an actor as Gary Oldman is, it’s a shame he scooped a long-deserved Best Actor Oscar for a laughably cartoonish biopic performance in an utterly mediocre, forgettable historical drama.

Even though the makeup team did a spectacular job transforming Oldman into Winston Churchill, Oldman never quite disappears beneath it all, giving in to his hammer, scenery-chewing instincts from first minute to last.

It doesn’t so much feel like an authentic portrayal of a real-life figure as it does a silly caricature. Oscar voters are suckers for big acting, though, which combined with a “he deserves it” narrative, made his win an easy, cynical slam dunk.

1. Mary Pickford – Coquette

United Artists

Our final pick takes us back to the infancy of the Oscars, when Mary Pickford won the second-ever Best Actress Oscar for her work in 1929 drama Coquette.

If you’ve not watched many Oscar-winning movies from the early 20th century, they can be a tough sit, if only because talkies were a relatively new invention, and as such actors felt compelled to wildly exaggerate their vocalisations.

Despite working with a vocal coach to prepare her voice for her first talkie and be able to deliver a convincing southern accent, Pickford’s stagey, grating turn is a bit of a joke when viewed today (check out a sample for yourself). And no, she most certainly didn’t nail the accent.

Making matters worse is the fact that Pickford is widely believed to have “bought” her Oscar win. In addition to being a founding member of the Academy, she invited voters to her home for tea in the hope of currying their favour. It worked, obviously.

Though Pickford is an undeniable legend of early cinema, her Oscar win is far from her finest hour.


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