Unless you're unlikely contrarian Armond White, the Eddie Murphy comedy Norbit is best known for two things: being awful, and derailing Murphy's big chance to win an Oscar. When the movie came out in February 2007, Murphy was considered to be an awards-season front-runner for his recent work in Dreamgirls, yet his chances were lessened each time an Academy member had to suffer through yet another terrible ad, trailer, or poster for the upcoming Norbit; eventually, Alan Arkin walked away with the Best Supporting Actor trophy Murphy might have nabbed if he had chosen his follow-up a little more wisely. Do any of this year's potential Oscar nominees have their own Norbits waiting in the wings? Let's take a look.
Geoffrey Rush, The Warrior's Way
A very heady week is coming up for Geoffrey Rush. On November 26, the Weinstein Company will release its Oscar front-runner The King's Speech, a traditional piece of awards bait that's expected to make Rush a Best Supporting Actor candidate. Seven days later, Relativity Media's The Warrior's Way will debut, and it's an utterly insane-looking green-screen action movie where a dessicated Rush (wearing a cowboy hat and an unlikely accent) gets the centerpiece line, "Ninjas. Damn." It's the role David Carradine was born to play!
Darren Aronofsky, Wolverine
Black Swan is an on-the-fence Oscar contender: Everyone is expecting a nomination for Natalie Portman's lead performance, but is Darren Aronofsky's directing awards-worthy or just glossy camp? He may have sealed his fate by picking a follow-up film that reads like the ultimate paycheck gig: directing Hugh Jackman in Wolverine 2. Will the Academy be eager to elevate Aronofsky to its prestigious short list if he'll simply cash his chips in to make comic-book movies?
Justin Timberlake, Yogi Bear
Justin Timberlake has an outside shot at a Best Supporting Actor nod this year (that is, if you think his Social Network co-star Armie Hammer hasn't already taken his slot), but it's not going to help matters any when the execrable-looking Yogi Bear comes out this winter and leans heavily on his big name to help sell the movie. Sure, he's wearing his serious actor glasses now, but you can't see them when he's only providing a voice. (One plus: Unlike his Yogi-voicing co-star Dan Aykroyd, Timberlake at least makes a convincing Boo-Boo.)
David O. Russell, Drake's Fortune
If the Academy penalizes Darren Aronofsky for choosing to make a comic-book movie after what may be his most prestigious film yet, how will they feel about the fact that David O. Russell — considered to be a contender for directing The Fighter — is going to follow it up with a film based on a video game? Academy voters haven't played the sophisticated Drake's Fortune; to them, Russell might as well be making Prince of Persia or Resident Evil.
Nicole Kidman, Just Go With It
Nicole Kidman is widely admired for her roles in tough indie films, including this year's Rabbit Hole, but when she tries to make a mainstream studio movie, it doesn't always go so well. If anything's going to break the spell of her anguished, tightly controlled Rabbit Hole performance, then, it's the knowledge that just a few weeks before the Oscars, she'll be appearing in the Adam Sandler–Jennifer Aniston comedy Just Go With It. In her favor is the fact that the first trailer doesn't include her extended cameo; then again, you could say the same about Heidi Montag, who also appears in the film. Yes, Nicole Kidman is co-starring with Heidi Montag in an Adam Sandler movie. That might be a tough one.
James Franco, Rise of the Apes
Voters see James Franco as a true independent, the kind of actor who's used his growing fame for artistic self-analysis and intriguing side projects. Then again, he's also starring in the wholly unnecessary Planet of the Apes prequel Rise of the Apes. Tim Burton's version already sank the idea of rebooting this musty franchise, and a bad-looking teaser trailer would take some of the wind out of Franco's sails this awards season.
Natalie Portman, No Strings Attached
Natalie Portman doesn't look totally objectionable in the trailer for No Strings Attached, and at the very least, her friend-sexing comedy is going to hit theaters a few months before the one her Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis is in. Still, smack-dab in the middle of awards voting season is probably not the most ideal time for your Ashton Kutcher rom-com to come out, especially one that looks like it was first offered to Katherine Heigl. (Can't you see her in Portman's place, wearing scrubs and having overanalytical casual sex with attractive men? Probably: She did it on Grey's Anatomy for years.)