Film

Five Attempts At Oscar Glory That Didn’t Go According To Plan

Much like Naomi Watts' Diana, these films were supposed to be critically acclaimed Oscar winners. But something terrible happened along the way.

To say that Oliver Hirschbiegel’s biopic Diana has been met with as much bad press as the French paparazzi in 1997 is putting it mildly. Received by critics with a vicious ire reminiscent of cinema’s greatest flops, Diana has quickly become an international laughing stock. What was once considered an Oscar slam dunk, a chance for a hairspray-coiffed Naomi Watts to finally win an Academy Award, is now more likely receive golden raspberries than golden Oscars.

It’s been famously hailed by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as “car crash cinema” (ouch!), “atrocious and intrusive” by Kate Muir of Time Out UK, and as having “the slightness of a Mills & Boon novella” by The Daily Mail’s Christopher Tookey. Fellow Junkee contributor Mel Campbell regaled me with stories of how a line like “If you can’t smell the fragrance, don’t come into the garden of love” is destined to hold its own alongside Gigli‘s “It’s turkey time, gobble gobble” in the pantheon of awful sex-talk. It’s easy to see how The Telegraph’s Tim Robey filled his own review with ten unintentionally laugh-out-loud moments from the film.

Still, it’s not the first time that a film once primed for Hollywood’s highest accolades crashed into a heaping pile of LULZ. Misjudged artistic follies, delusions of grandeur and cynically miscalculated feats of ‘Oscar bait’ all of them, it takes a certainly quality to zip right past merely bad and fall right into being hilarious. Junkee recently looked at  five essential “best worst” films, so now let’s look at five essential “best worst films that were meant to be best” films, if you will.

Amelia (2009)

Casting two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank in the role of its famous protagonist suggests that producers intended Amelia to be an Oscar behemoth. Amelia Earhart’s life was certainly ripe for a biopic: first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic (!), early feminist leader with a reluctance to marriage (!!), fashion designer (!!!), bisexual and rumoured to have had a lesbian affair with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (all of the !s). Unfortunately, the drama is nil, and the laughs come thick and fast. Never more so than when Amelia’s asked why she, a woman, wants to fly planes, and replies: “Why do men ride horses?” Huh? It says a lot that many critics gave Amy Adams bigger praise for her Amelia in Night At The Museum 2: Battle Of The Smithsonian (2009), than Swank received for this thing.

The Life Of David Gale (2003)

Nothing can prepare audiences for The Life Of David Gale, a creepy drama from acclaimed director Alan Parker (Fame, Pink Floyd: The Wall). It was virtually laughed out of cinemas in 2003 thanks to one of the most offensively cheap and concocted ‘twist’ endings of all time (consider the most absurd thing you can think of and this beats it), and illusions of Oscar bait thanks to its stellar cast and Important Subject Matter™ focusing on death row injustice. Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, Kate Winslet, and Nolan from Revenge recite jargon like “I used to be the state’s most high profile death row abolitionist and now I’m on death row… Doesn’t that strike you as a little odd?”, and perform poetry battle slams at university frat parties.

Pay It Forward (2000)

One could genuinely make an entire list out of failed Kevin Spacey Oscar bait. Apart from the aforementioned The Life Of David Gale, there’s also The Shipping News, Beyond The Sea and K-Pax, too. For a while there, everything he touched turned to lulz. Harsh reviews sealed this do-gooder howler’s fate (Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly cited that “Haley Joel Osment died for our sins! Well, that and for Oscar consideration.”), and the fallout of Pay It Forward became almost as famous as the movie itself. It killed director Mimi Leder’s filmmaking career (her next and last feature, The Code, went direct-to-DVD), Helen Hunt took ten years off for penance, and the film’s message of social change didn’t help child star Osment, either.

Radio (2003)

The early ’00s brought us a lot of cynical attempts at Oscar bait of the Harvey Weinstein variety, including Michael Tollin’s Radio. Before there was Friday Night Lights, Cuba Gooding, Jr. went, ahem, “full retard” (a term I don’t like to use, but it fits the theme here) as the titular character in this supposedly heart-warming tale of a young mentally handicapped man who becomes a high school football star. A film with a heart so golden it pumps syrup instead of blood, its well-intentioned exploitation wrings laughs where there should be tears. For instance, that bit when Ed Harris notes: “We’re not the ones who been teachin’ Radio. Radio’s the one who been teachin’ us.” Barf.

The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

Of all of Barbra Streisand’s films, it’s this 1996 remake of the 1958 French drama Le Miroir a deux faces that comes off as the most ego-stroking of all. There’s an entire montage sequence of people telling her how fabulous she looks, and her name appears no less than five times in the opening credits. This romantic comedy trifle is remembered most fondly for Lauren Bacall’s confused reaction to losing the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Juliette Binoche for The English Patient, and for this hilarious scene involving a rock star literature lecture, featuring a cameo by Eli Roth (can you spot him?) that I have blogged about extensively.

For further examples, please see: Madonna’s cracked-out opulence in W.E. (2011), Oliver Stone’s bombastic Alexander (2004), Brad Pitt’s car-bouncing in Meet Joe Black (1998), Joel Schumacher’s cluttered camp in The Phantom Of The Opera (2004), and the pompous absurdity of Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter (2010).

Diana is now showing in cinemas nationally. The Mirror Has Two Faces can frequently be seen in Barbra Streisand’s memories.

Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.