The Oscar nominations are in, and if you haven’t glanced at the Best Actress category, you’re in for a star-studded explosion. Collectively, the five chosen actresses have been nominated 38 times for Academy Awards, so any member of this esteemed quintet could run off with the gold.
But every great actor is an entitled to a mediocre performance or two. Here are my least favorite performances by the five nominated actresses of 2014.
Amy Adams: Julie and Julia
I actually appreciate that Julia and Julia was half-about the tribulations of a blogger trying to establish herself. Scaring up pageviews in order to sustain a living is an unusual situation, and I haven’t seen that explored in many movies. But Amy Adams is a pile of quirks and unfunny dialogue in this movie, and I’ve never seen her so flatly perky. You miss Meryl when she’s not onscreen hamming it up as Julia Child, and therefore Adams’ pollyanna presence is doubly grating.
Sandra Bullock: All About Steve
The Razzies: They’re awful. They don’t need to exist, as the internet is doing a perfectly fine job of identifying trash cinema without having to assign trophies. But they certainly got it right when they identified Sandra Bullock as the “worst” actress for her zany, affected, squirrely work in All About Steve. Hard to believe it’s possible to make an unbearable movie when it stars one of the most chronically likable people in entertainment, but here we are with this hackneyed, indefatigably annoying comedy.
Cate Blanchett: The Aviator
I was just reacquainted with John Powers’ review of Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, in which he described the venerable actress’ work as “a performance so terrible that an Oscar nomination is inevitable.” I can think of a few other performances like that: Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain; Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones; Christian Bale in American Hustle. But for me, nothing was a more ridiculous nominee (and win) than Cate Blanchett in The Aviator, as she gives a performance as Katharine Hepburn that seems sort of like a sendup of Groucho Marx or Bugs Bunny rather than an homage to the star of The Philadelphia Story. Cate is just blisteringly, unflinchingly insane here, and she was rewarded for not letting up on the gag. Even if she’s starred in worse movies (Can anyone give me one reason why I’m Not There was even made?), her bizarre and completely inaccurate work here is still her lowest moment. I’m glad she’ll likely win for Blue Jasmine, an amazing performance that completely deserves Oscar attention.
Judi Dench: J. Edgar
Take a hard look at Judi Dench’s filmography. Even in her less-than-stellar movies, she’s not the problem in them. I hate Nine but loved her musical performance. I found Skyfall dull and ridiculous but can’t deny that she’s the best part of it. And she was even killer as Lady Catherine in that so-so Pride and Prejudice remake! Man. But even Judi couldn’t make the part of J. Edgar Hoover’s mother bearable in Clint Eastwood’s absinthe-colored dirge of a biopic. Her job is to make you sympathize on some human level with J. Edgar’s life and upbringing, and I can honestly say she didn’t pull off that Herculean feat.
Meryl Streep: August: Osage County
Full disclosure: I’ve never seen The Manchurian Candidate remake or Prime or Lions for Lambs. Or Evening, come to think of it. But among Meryl’s high-profile works, August: Osage County clocks in with my least favorite performance of hers. She’s convincingly loopy and vitriolic as house matriarch Violet, but she’s such a harrumphing barrel of camp when she’s sparring with her daughters or fumbling for pills. It didn’t feel like a person, even though her sheer broadness is often impressive. I would still say this is a better movie than Out of Africa, which might be her flattest Oscar-nominated performance and the worst Best Picture of the ’80s. (By the way: Mamma Mia was wretched but Meryl kicked ass in it. Glad that’s settled.)