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Top 10 Underwhelming Best Actress Oscar Wins

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by George Cimurt. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long honored the excellent performances of some very fine actresses; so, we don't really know what they were thinking with these choices. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 underwhelming Oscar-winning actress performances. For this list, we’re taking a look at some of the least impressive performances from 1928 onwards that received the Academy Award for Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress. Special thanks to our users William Brick and SumblinaAmin for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Transcript
Script written by George Cimurt.

Top 10 Underwhelming Oscar Winning Actress Performances


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has long honored the excellent performances of some very fine actresses; so, we don’t really know what they were thinking with these choices. Welcome to Watchmojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 underwhelming Oscar-winning actress performances.

For this list, we’re taking a look at some of the least impressive performances from 1928 onwards that received the Academy Award for Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress.

#10: Judi Dench
“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)

Although one of the finest actresses to come out of England, this film was not necessarily one of Judi Dench’s finest moments. Barely a supporting role, her contribution of around 8 minutes of screen time as Queen Elizabeth I is enjoyable, but certainly not layered, deep, or profound. Nominated for 7 Oscars overall, Dame Judi was much more deserving for films like “Iris” and “Mrs. Brown,” and because she won for the 1998 romantic-comedy-drama, she stole the Best Supporting Actress Oscar from an incredible Lynn Redgrave for “Gods and Monsters” and Brenda Blethyn for “Little Voice.”

#9: Julia Roberts
“Erin Brockovich” (2000)

Playing memorable characters in films like “Sleeping with the Enemy” and “Pretty Woman,” Julia Roberts has amply demonstrated her ability as both an actor and a charmer. But in this biographical drama, we see Roberts play the titular real-life whistleblower who bravely takes on a corporate giant, in a performance that’s really isn’t deserving of being called her finest work. It’s the same kind of character and the same style we’ve seen her play time and again, and considering that she stole the Best Actress Oscar from the raw and gripping Ellen Burstyn in “Requiem for a Dream” makes it even worse.

#8: Whoopi Goldberg
“Ghost” (1990)

Though many of us might think of Whoopi Goldberg as a comedian, television host, and political activist, few remember that she actually won an Oscar back in the day; not for her more deserved nomination in “The Color Purple,” but for her one-dimensional, wacky psychic in this 1990 romantic fantasy. Although she’s certainly not bad, she doesn’t break any new ground here, and she robbed the superior Annette Bening and Lorraine Bracco for their layered roles in “The Grifters” and “GoodFellas” in the Best Supporting Actress category.

#7: Elizabeth Taylor
“BUtterfield 8” (1960)

Even Elizabeth Taylor famously said that she felt she didn't deserve the award for this much-reviled drama. To be fair, the difficult leading man, dreadful script, and misogynistic role didn’t make it any easier, as she was required to play little more than a promiscuous model and call-girl. As Taylor had been hospitalized and almost died a few months before voting, the Academy had no doubt awarded her the Best Actress award more out of sentimentality than her depth and talent, which is hard to find in her sensual portrayal of Gloria Wandrous, as opposed to other roles she’s played.

#6: Renée Zellweger
“Cold Mountain" (2003)

In an epic war drama that chronicles the tale of a wounded soldier trying to reunite with the woman he loves, Renée Zellwegger injects spirit and humor as Ruby Thewes, a tough and fiery woman who knows her way around the farm. While her spirited delivery brings life to this otherwise serious flick, her one-dimensional character and over-the-top portrayal can hardly be called a model of acting. When compared to the brilliant and fellow Supporting Actress nominees Patricia Clarkson in “Pieces of April” and Shohreh Aghdashloo in “House of Sand and Fog” that same year or her other Oscar-nominated roles, you can’t help but cringe when you think of it.

#5: Reese Witherspoon
“Walk the Line” (2005)

Reese Witherspoon has given her unique sparkle to countless romance comedies, including “Legally Blonde”, and “Sweet Home Alabama”, but did she ever sparkle enough to win the golden statuette? The Academy seemed to think so, awarding her a Best Actress win for her performance as June Carter in the 2005 biopic, although her acting is not that spectacular and her accent has been frequently criticized. To boot, the fact that she beat out the extraordinary Felicity Huffman in the most challenging performance of her career in “Transamerica” still baffles us.

#4: Cher
“Moonstruck” (1987)

Looking back, the idea of Cher being an Oscar winner almost seems like some kind of a joke. But in 1987, in the midst of much hullabaloo over this critically and commercially successful romantic comedy, the Academy evidently became starstruck over “Moonstruck” and awarded Cher the Oscar for Best Actress for her Sicilian-American accountant. On second glance, however, the popular singer and actress gave a capable but not anywhere near remarkable performance in the role, and the fact that she beat out the incredible Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” and Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News” seems almost ridiculous.

#3: Marisa Tomei
“My Cousin Vinny” (1992)

This Oscar win was so unexpected that rumors circulated after that Oscar presenter Jack Palance had read the wrong name by mistake. Marisa Tomei was pretty much a newcomer to the film scene, her turn as Joe Pesci’s fiancée mainly consisted of her character making wisecracks, talking fast and chewing gum, and she was up against acting titans like Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson in infinitely weightier and more demanding roles. It had to be a mistake… right? Well, it wasn’t.

#2: Helen Hunt
“As Good as It Gets” (1997)

In a performance that’s been called annoying, smug, unsympathetic, boring, and barely competent, Helen Hunt plays a single mother with a sick son opposite Jack Nicholson’s barely tolerable novelist. Most will agree that the Oscar that year belonged to Judi Dench for “Mrs. Brown,” although even Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Winslet gave superior performances in “Titanic” and “The Wings of the Dove.” Did she win Best Actress because she was the only American nominated? Because her role made audiences laugh? Whatever the reason, it’s clear that if anything deserved a win here, it was the screenplay.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few dishonorable mentions:
- Jennifer Connelly
“A Beautiful Mind” (2001)
- Nicole Kidman
“The Hours” (2002)
- Olympia Dukakis
“Moonstruck” (1987)
- Mira Sorvino
“Mighty Aphrodite” (1995)

#1: Gwyneth Paltrow
“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)

While Gwyneth Paltrow sobbed during her speech at the Academy Awards ceremony, we sobbed at the fact that she had won. Her performance as Viola de Lesseps opposite Joseph Fiennes’ playwright William Shakespeare left something to be desired in this overrated film. While not terrible, it was more of an impersonation than a worthy performance; it lacked depth, focus, and certainly didn’t break any new ground. When she said she felt undeserving in the presence of actresses like Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, we couldn’t help but agree.

Do you agree with our list? Which female Oscar winners do you think received an undeserved statuette? For more entertaining top10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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