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Winning Best Actor Oscars ruined Kevin Spacey and Denzel Washington. Before they won they were names to look out for. Darkly charismatic actors who seemed to be able to effortlessly lead a movie, carrying lesser actors along with them. Their performances felt real and in some cases impossible. I mean, *spoilers* look at Spacey’s death scene in LA Confidential. How does an actor manage to convey life leaving a human body with just his face? *end spoilers*. Washington’s power has always been his dignity. Quiet sometimes, loud and fiery others, his pre-Oscar work is a murderers row of brilliantly sketched characters both real and fictional.
So what happened? Why does Washington seem to solely be in the business of making action movies (perhaps he and Liam Neeson share an agent) and how does it come to pass that one of Spacey’s few post-Oscar credits is a supporting role in a Vince Vaughn Christmas movie?
It is possible that these career lulls are just simply inevitable (look at Pacino and De Niro) but you only need look at each actor’s IMDB page to see when the rot sets in. Prior to winning his Oscar, Spacey made Se7en, Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, Swimming with Sharks and Glengarry Glen Ross. After winning the Oscar he made Pay It Forward, Fred Claus, Ordinary Decent Criminal, and that shitty Bobby Darin biopic. Now, I love House of Cards, and even though sometimes the writing lets him down, you see glimpses of pre-Oscar Spacey yearning to break through, or at least I did until I heard he was recently cast in a movie in which he plays a cat.
Washington is the same. Pre-Best Actor Oscar: Malcolm X, Cry Freedom, Crimson Tide, Glory, Philadelphia (in which I might add he holds his own against prime Tom Hanks). But post-Best Actor Oscar: The Equalizer, Safe House, John Q, Déjà vu, Flight, 2 Guns. Again it’s not all bad. The Inside Man reminded me that Washington is an actor that radiates charm and makes acting look effortless. For a time I thought it was a grand come back, but then he made Déjà Vu.
There is obviously hope for both actors (even De Niro’s shown some of the old fire while working with David O. Russell) and I wait for a return to form. Of course, in the end, I’d rather watch Washington or Spacey in something beneath them, than a lot of actors working at the top of their game. And in the end, a million 2 Guns can’t ruin Philadelphia just as Pay It Forward doesn’t erase Glengarry Glen Ross.