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  DON'T GET TOO EXCITED THERE, OSCAR HOPEFULS.  
   
   
  In just a few weeks from now, 20 people will be cringing in their chairs, waiting happily to hear their names called as winner of an Oscar for acting. That's right, it's just 20 people -- even though about 50 million people are watching.

Of those four people who actually get to grace the stage (or, in the case of Julia Roberts, un-grace the stage), how many of them will survive? Suffice to say that while Oscar winners, as a whole, seem to live longer than the rest of Hollywood (it's true -- look it up), it doesn't necessarily mean they have a long and fruitful career ahead. Well, if you win Best Actor, you do, but that's because, statistically speaking, men still rule the world. (That's not sexism. It's true. Look it up.)

Regardless, paging through the annals of Oscar history pulls out some obvious winners (George C. Scott winning for Patton, Vivien Leigh for Gone With the Wind), and some that might strike some people as well, strange, right around now (George Kennedy -- yes, Frank Drebin's partner -- took one home for Cool Hand Luke. Really.) Oscar's been around for more than 80 years, but even the last twenty years have shown that Oscar is either a wave that you can ride for years and years, or it can just come crashing down on you completely. So what follows is our little ranking of the careers of the actors in the top two categories -- Best Actor and Best Actress -- who have won in the last 20 years. Who hit it big? Who vanished? They're all here.

So if you're Johnny Depp or Charlize Theron, take notice, so you don't end up a trivia question.

BEST ACTRESSES

It's funny how many of the Best Actresses were basically being given career-capper awards that, in effect, have resulted in the movie-making universe pretty much telling them to "go away and stop bothering us." It happened to Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, and Sally Field, among others, showing you that, yes, indeed, the women are under appreciated in many ways. It's tempting to just look at that as some sort of feminist yammering about the lack of roles in Hollywood, but really, did Jessica Lange deserve these? Think about it.

 

 
   

Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich, 2000
Like Larry Bird at the free throw line, there's Julia Roberts at the box office. Automatic. Eleven times in a row, named the People's Choice favorite movie actress (note to People's Choice awards: get rid of that horrifying "I know what I like" dance routine.) Hard to argue with that career.

 

 
   

Halle Berry, Monster's Ball, 2001
At a peak right now. Gotta like someone who does a role like this, looking nasty, frail and weathered, and then moves on to become the best James Bond girl in 15 years, if not more. She's not a great actress, and may never win again, but she's definitely got star power, and should clean up at the box office for several years.

 

 
   

Kathy Bates, Misery, 1990
Looking back, this seems like a one-note performance. She was unlucky for not getting a Dolores Claiborne nomination, in a better performance. Never really was a leading actress, always more of a supporting one, and has proved it since, getting two nominations in that category. Great performer, always a nice presence to have around, even if we're talking about Adam Sandler movies.

 

 
 

 

 

Frances McDormand, Fargo, 1996
Still going strong, although this may, also, have been a one-time step-up to the Best Actress category. Did Almost Famous and Wonder Boys, which shows she can work outside the Coen Bros. Movies, including a great part in Laurel Canyon, the most overlooked movie of 2003.

 

 
   

Meryl Streep, Sophie's Choice, 1982
This was still, relatively speaking, pretty early in what's been a pretty stellar career. She hasn't won since, but she's already got two of these things, and lately she's even addressed a flair for comedy with Adaptation. Great career; always a great actress. Not a box office draw, but never really was, so it's hard to fault her for that.

 

 
   

Jodie Foster, The Accused, 1988, & The Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Even though she ended up getting nominated for Nell, of all things, later on, and hasn't been nominated since, she's had a pretty solid career. The period after Silence, was particularly strong, including Little Man Tate, Maverick, and Sommersby. She's kind of slowed down both in terms of filmmaking and acting, but seems to be that's more her choice than anyone else's.

 

 
   

Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking, 1995
It's weird. There are a lot of these - the last time someone gets nominated, she wins, and then she's forgotten completely. Sarandon's falling into that trap, slowly. She's done some great stuff, like Igby Goes Down, and a lot of sentimental nonsense like Stepmom and The Banger Sisters. But I'll concede her one more win with a lousy movie just to make up for not even being nominated for Bull Durham. Not nominated for Annie Savoy? Are you kidding?

 

 
 

 

  Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love, 1998
Not nominated again yet, probably will be. Hanging in there with some good roles and some fun stuff like Shallow Hal. Jury is still out.
 
   

Emma Thompson, Howard's End, 1992
Amazing how some actresses who seem to win at the peak completely diminish after that. She was nominated a couple of more times, including for Sense and Sensibility, and overall she's got a nice comeback going with Angels in America and Love Actually, but it's hard to believe she disappeared for a while, which is what she did. Got a win for writing, also, which is pretty impressive. Doesn't draw in the money, but she's British. So who cares?

 

 
 

 

 

Holly Hunter, The Piano, 1993
Pretty quickly turned into a character actress after this movie. Did some bizarre stuff, like Crash and Timecode, but she's pretty great in Thirteen. Good actress, never became a star, probably because she's mousy looking.

 

 
 

 

 

Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy, 1989
Career-capper award. Got another nomination for Fried Green Tomatoes, which I don't think anybody remembers. Did Nobody's Fool, and she still looked pretty great then too, and then passed away. Seemed like a nice person.


 
 

 

 

Shirley Maclaine, Terms of Endearment, 1983
Another career-capper. She's done a few good comedies since, and some challenging stuff like Madame Souatzka, but she hasn't been nominated since.


 
   

Sally Field, Places in the Heart, 1984
Hasn't been nominated since. Got a couple of Golden Globe nominations, and was a pretty decent box-office draw for a few years. Then she got into these "mom as victim" roles like Not Without My Daughter and Kiefer Raped My Girl and those types of things, and then became the shrewish, demented mom on latter-day E.R., and well, we know where that goes.

 

 
   

Jessica Lange, Blue Sky, 1994
This award seems more like a cabal of people got together and figured they'd find a year when there were no good roles, and throw this thing out there, just so Lange could get a Best Actress win. She'd already disappeared prior to this movie, and she hasn't exactly come roaring back since, which is strange.

 

 
 

 

  Geraldine Page, The Trip to Bountiful, 1985
This was the award for the old lady. She'd been nominated six times before, and they finally threw her a bone before she died. I call this a push.
 
 

 

  Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry, 1999
She's a good actress, but I think in about 20 years, she's going to be a trivia question.
 
 

 

  Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets, 1997
After Cast Away she disappeared, and that's not really a bad thing.
 
 

 

 

Marlee Matlin, Children of a Lesser God, 1986
Best Actress has a lot of these fluke wins. She won for this, hasn't been nominated since, and the most significant thing she did was play the lip-reader on Seinfeld. Her handicap limits her roles, for sure, which is unfortunate.

 

 
   

Cher, Moonstruck, 1987
Pretty well-deserved win in a comedy, which doesn't happen all that much...had a previous nomination, was unlucky to miss out on Mask, and since then has remained the same weirdo she was for years. Box-office draw she ain't anymore, judging by the fact that she's playing herself in the movies now. A peak career award, clearly.

 

 
 
BEST ACTOR

Ah, yes. The stallions of the group. Most of the winners of this award have enjoyed long and distinguished careers after doing this, which makes the oddballs stand out even more (past oddballs not covered here include Cliff Robertson and Paul Scofield). Generally, if you win one of these, you're an alpha dog, and nothing can stop you, at least not for many years after you end up winning said award, making ranking these people a little more difficult.

 

 
   

Russell Crowe, Gladiator, 2000
The new Pacino, or DeNiro or Nicholson circa 1975. Nominations in 1999, 2000, 2001 and was likely to get one for Master and Commander, and even if that didn't happen, others will come down the pike soon enough. Won for a shitty movie, and a lame performance. Even though he lost for The Insider, it seemed a little early to order up a "whoops" award for the guy, as he's young and would have recovered. Can't argue with that career, though.

 

 
   

Tom Hanks, Philadelphia, 1993, & Forrest Gump, 1994
Well, he's Tom Hanks. His movies make tons of money. He's really, now, about the surest bet at the box office there is on the male side. He's been nominated since as well, and finally looks like he might start taking on different roles (he's real good in Road to Perdition, for instance.)

 

 
 

 

  Denzel Washington, Training Day, 2001
An overdue Oscar and pretty well-deserved. Hasn't been nominated again yet, but it's too early to say. Has had a great career so far, and likely will continue to do so. He's got the Manchurian Candidate coming up, and he remains a stud in the first degree.
 
   

Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies, 1983
Since, he's been nominated a couple of more times, and arguably should have won for The Apostle a few years ago, instead of stupid Jack Nicholson. Doesn't matter, he's still Robert Duvall, right? Past the point where one can quarrel with his choices or fault him for bad movies -- he makes stuff like The Sixth Day watchable.

 

 
   

Jack Nicholson, As Good as It Gets, 1997
Well, he's still Jack. And he's made a few movies that definitely go into the pantheon from the last several years, including The Pledge, The Crossing Guard, and About Schmidt. And when he's just sort of mugging, and playing Jack, it's still kind of enjoyable. It's not like he's doing badly or anything.

 

 
 

 

  Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs, 1991
Got nominated a couple times hence, but has also descended into mad-weirdo guy who gets too much attention. Over-exposed.
 
   

Ben Kingsley, Gandhi, 1982
It wasn't looking too good for Sir Ben for awhile, just because he seemed to be limited, in some sense, by his persona. But he's come back in a big way. Been in scores of movies that have made money like Dave and Sneakers, and pretty much reestablished himself as one of the powerhouses in terms of acting, especially after that madman of a performance in Sexy Beast. So, he rules.

 

 
   

Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot, 1989
Looking back, this is one of the more well-deserved, smart wins given out by the Oscar people. He's since been nominated two more times for best actor, and he'll continue to get nominations as long as he keeps working. Took five years off and came back and kicked everyone's ass all over the screen in Gangs of New York, even if it was a flawed picture.

 

 
 

 

  Paul Newman, The Color of Money, 1986
A career-capper "We're sorry about that whole Hustler/Hud/Cool Hand Luke/Absence of Malice/Verdict thing" award. He's still great. Got old, of course. Got two more nominations, including a great one for Nobody's Fool.
 
   

Geoffrey Rush, Shine, 1996
When he won, it looked like another F. Murray Abraham moment, but he's since been nominated two more times (Quills, Shakespeare in Love), and has turned into a consistent and versatile performer (especially his Luca Brasi-like glower in Elizabeth, but also Pirates of the Caribbean). In fact, Shine has become my least favorite of his, if only because the tics get annoying, and because Billy Bob Thornton was more deserving that year anyway.

 

 
   

Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, 1988
His profile remains high, because of who he is, but his work has slipped a level. Had already won in 1979, and since then has only one more nomination, for Wag the Dog, a real well-deserved one. Continued to make good films for a while, even if they weren't making any more money, and his blockbusters, predictably, suck, like Outbreak. Slipping into character-actor land now, although he's arguably always been a character actor. Considering this was his 6th nomination, and he later got a 7th, it's hard to find fault with what's happened since.

 

 
   

Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman, 1992
HOO-HAH! Looking back, this one's one of the more annoying wins, if not the most annoying, in the last several years. Hasn't been nominated since (missed out for Donnie Brasco, which, had he not won for this stinker, he probably would have gotten it for, and that would have been just fine), and may never get nominated again. In 2003, had one of his worst years in a while with The Recruit and that horrific cameo in Gigli.

 

 
   

Michael Douglas, Wall Street, 1987
This one's a peak. He's been alternately very good and terrible (good: Wonder Boys; bad: The-In Laws), but Gordon Gekko remains one of the real strong villains in cinema. Continues to get work; may get nominated again, although he hasn't since, making him one of the few, actually, who hasn't managed another nomination since his win.

 

 
   

Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas, 1995
Used his Oscar as a stepping-stone to Bruckheimerism, strangely enough, with the likes of The Rock (silly but fun), and Con-Air (silly but stupid). So when he returned to dramatic roles, he appeared to be straining, or just picking bad projects like Captain Corelli's Big Fat Greek Wedding, or what-have-you. Finally, he changed gears, went with deft comedy, and promptly got another nomination for Adaptation.

 

 
   

Kevin Spacey, American Beauty, 1999
It appears, so far, that he peaked with this movie. Hasn't made a good film since. Seriously -- look at the IMDB. This list includes K-Pax, The Life of David Gale, and Pay it Forward. When he won for this and The Usual Suspects, it looked like they were finally getting to an actor at the exact right time, and since then every performance has basically been the same. Does anybody like this guy anymore?

 

 
 

 

  Adrien Brody, The Pianist, 2002
Kind of have to go with "Incomplete" here. Too early to say.
 
   

William Hurt, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1985
Here's a guy who went on a streak, because he was nominated for Best Actor two more times in '86 and '87; arguably could have been nominated for The Accidental Tourist and The Doctor. Since then descended into character-actor land; some good (Dark City, Changing Lanes), and some bad -- like the TV version of Dune and Lost in Space.

 

 
   

Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune, 1990
This one was, in some ways, an apology for no Dead Ringers nomination, which strikes me as even more pathetic for apologizing for someone not winning. But on the other hand, Irons ought to give this back to apologize for what he's been doing since. Moved from odd-ball, interesting stuff nobody was seeing like Stealing Beauty to big-budget claptrap nobody saw, like Dungeons & Dragons and The Time Machine.

 

 
   

Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful, 1998
Clearly a case of choosing the guy who, for the moment, was kind of making people laugh. It would probably be the equivalent of choosing Jim Carrey for Bruce Almighty this year. Career is going south now, not the least of which reason was something to do with Pinocchio, and of course had nothing to do with how damned annoying this guy really is.

 

 
    F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus, 1984
It's funny. If we're going on merit, this one not only deserves it, but in an elimination tournament against other Best Actor winners, knocks out almost everyone in this list, and probably doesn't get booted himself until he runs into George C. Scott's Patton. Amazingly, he hasn't been close ever since. Has since showed up in a Tom Selleck prison movie, Thirteen Ghosts, Mimic, Bonfire of the Vanities, and the amazingly bad Surviving the Game, starring Ice-T, with Rutger Hauer as Hulk Hogan. If the award is for merit, he deserves it. If it's for career choices, it should be revoked.