One quirk of every awards season are the filmmakers who enjoy a shining moment of glory, full of the promise of cinematic brilliance to come, only to fade away into obscurity. Out of sheer curiosity, we’ve pored through the millennium’s one-hit wonders to see what’s happened to those stars who made such an impact.
It feels harsh to open with Nyong’o. After all, she’s hardly been twiddling her thumbs since winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. She’s nabbed a recurring role as pseudo-Yoda Maz Kanata in the blockbuster series du jour, Star Wars, and 2018 holds a role for her in Black Panther, one of the most anticipated Marvel films in years and a crucible for the best black talent working in film right now.
That said, after her brutal, emotionally raw performance in 12 Years, we were hoping to see more of Lupita’s dramatic ability. Queen of Katwe offered a hint, but it simply wasn’t on the same level as Steve McQueen’s masterpiece. There’s also the troubling fact that her two big blockbuster roles in The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book didn’t actually show her on screen (see also Idris Elba, Zoe Saldana etc. for more on this worrying trend when it comes to people of colour).
A fellow nominee from the Academy Class of 2014, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Abdi hasn’t matched his success on Captain Phillips. It was, after all, his film debut, a role he won while working as a chauffeur in Minneapolis. His electric performance won him countless fans that year, but he’s not been able to secure anything as high-profile since.
Small roles in Eye in the Sky and Grimsby have kept his reputation ticking along, but he has found nothing as meaty as Muse in Captain Phillips. Perhaps his upcoming role in Blade Runner 2049 will give him the opportunity to build on his success.
Hollywood loves a dream debut. It’s remarkable how many filmmakers earn Oscar nominations after an incredible first performance either in front of or behind the camera. Sidibe is one of many examples, earning her breakthrough role as the title character in Precious (2009), a devastating performance that saw her nominated as Best Lead Actress, eventually losing to Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.
Since then she’s landed a few roles in big films like Seven Psychopaths and Grimsby, but often only as brief comic relief, with her size regrettably being used as the butt of jokes. Television has proved a much more welcome home, providing Sidibe long-running roles in The Big C, American Horror Story and Empire. It’s undoubtedly a success story for someone who wasn’t even planning to go into acting, but we can’t help but feel Sidibe’s debut role showed potential that still hasn’t been fulfilled.
Remember City of God? Back in 2002, anyone who knew their Spielberg from their Peter Berg had seen Meirelles’ pulsating poem of life on Rio de Janeiro’s mean streets. It was how you proved you were into foreign films, see?
Typically for many “breakthroughs” crafted outside Hollywood, Meirelles had actually been working in film and TV for nearly 20 years before City of God’s global success. The problem was, it was all in Portuguese! It’s ever been the case that to “make it” you have to go west, but Meirelles’s English-language efforts were a mixed bag. The Constant Gardner (2005) was a huge success, earning three Oscar nominations and one win (though none for Meirelles personally), but Blindness and 360 somewhat burned up all his goodwill. He’s since focused on TV and producing, setting himself up as a future pub quiz answer alongside Danny Boyle thanks to his work directing the Rio 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony.
You all know who Jennifer Lawrence is. But what about the woman who made her famous? Winter’s Bone (2010) wasn’t Lawrence’s first role, but it was the one that nabbed her an Oscar nomination and proved she was one to watch. Its writer-director Debra Granik has enjoyed rather less success since.
Granik has never been prolific, directing just the two features plus a few documentaries and shorts, so it’s not like her lack of major success since Winter’s Bone is a real change of pace. But the bare brilliance of that film left us wanting more. After all, if she could produce a performance that turned plain old Jennifer Lawrence into J-Law, then what else could she do? We’ll be able to find out later this year when her next film, My Abandonment, begins production with Ben Foster and Thomasin Mackenzie cast so far.
Like Meirelles before him, it seems Hazanavicius is one of those international directors who enjoys a crossover hit that global audiences can fall in love with, before happily returning to his native tongue. The Artist (2011) took home a heap of Oscars and reinvigorated the silent movie for a good ten minutes, with Hazanavicius earning most of the plaudits (and a Best Director Oscar).
He immediately returned to less mainstream fare with The Search, a film about war-torn Chechnya starring Annette Bening, and his wife and frequent collaborator Bérénice Bejo. It featured at Cannes but disappointed audiences, who were perhaps expecting something a little more like The Artist. His next film, Redoubtable, is an intriguing real-life story of Jean-Luc Godard falling in love with and marrying actress Anne Wiazemsky, but it seems unlikely he’ll return to Hollywood any time soon.
Another debut breakthrough, and possessor of the greatest pen name in 21st century film, Diablo Cody seemed to herald the arrival of something new and exciting when she wrote Juno back in 2007. Uncompromising female voices were rarer in comedy than they seem to be now, and her tale of a girl struggling with an unusual teen pregnancy was something unique but universal.
If you were feeling generous you could exclude Cody from this list thanks to the success of United States of Tara (the TV series which helped usher in the age of Brie Larson) and Young Adult (starring Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt). Both are great in their own right, but neither is anywhere near as good as Juno’s brilliance promised. Thankfully, Cody’s upcoming slate of films looks to be just the thing to reinvigorate her career.
Tully, a re-team with Juno director Jason Reitman and Young Adult star Theron, is a comedy about motherhood – a simple description that could become amazing in Cody’s hands. It also features rising star Mackenzie Davis, who I guarantee will have an Oscar and boundless international fame within five years. That simple premise is nothing compared to Barbie, a film based on the popular toys, starring Amy Schumer as an outcast from Barbieland, too imperfect to make it. The fact it’s a film about a toy threatens a far blander affair than its stars and writer’s reputation suggest, so here’s hoping they get the chance to work their magic.