It’s amazing how quickly Oscar is put behind us. The parties, products and paparazzi instantly become a thing of the past.Everyone is eager to move on — except for the winners, that is. They have to contend with their hangovers, the sudden entreaties from new agents and, most important of all, the Oscar Curse. The source of the Oscar Curse can be reduced to one word: expectations. Once actors and filmmakers have been enshrined, more is expected of them. That means, if you’re Cuba Gooding Jr., you quickly turn down Steven Spielberg when he offers you “Amistad.” After all, you’re a star now. George Clooney owns the town. He receives so much adulation at awards shows that he doesn’t even need to win anything. Trouble is, now he feels he has to top himself. Terrence Howard was every host’s dream guest on the Oscar circuit, but now, after working for near SAG minimum on seven straight movies, he deserves a big payday. That would be giving in to the Oscar Curse, to be sure — the critics will be lined up to accuse him of “going Hollywood.” The Oscar Curse arguably helped make Roberto Benigni and F. Murray Abraham invisible. Winning an Oscar made Charlize Theron a star but didn’t do much for Helen Hunt or Mira Sorvino. The Oscar encouraged Clint Eastwood to keep churning out pictures, but apparently psyched out James Cameron. One winner who will not be victimized by the Oscar Curse is Larry McMurtry. He plans to go home to his Texas bookstore; he knows his customers don’t expect him to write better screenplays, just sell them better books. Ill-fated forays As the Oscar ritual reminds us, people like to talk about success but don’t like to deal with failure. I was therefore surprised that a writer named James Robert Parish decided to write “Fiasco,” a book about Hollywood’s biggest flops. I wondered how he’d get anyone to talk about their turkeys — especially to a writer whose previous work was titled “The Hollywood Book of Death.” Despite my skepticism, “Fiasco” turns out to be a smart, well-researched account of Hollywood’s “iconic flops” — a book that refutes the theory that no one sets out to make a bad movie. In detailing the background of 14 fiascos, it becomes clear that each was essentially doomed from the start and that only supreme flights of ego (and greed) spurred them through production. It was as though the words “forget it” were flashing across the sky, emblazoned in neon. What studio in its right mind would hire Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood to sing in a musical, then entrust the production to a director who was flying on lithium? That was the sad saga of “Paint Your Wagon.” What self-destructive studio chief would pay top prices to mobilize three of the biggest egos of the time (Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Elaine May) to star in a story so lame that Time magazine included it among one of the Hundred Worst Ideas of the 20th Century, along with the Edsel and asbestos. For that matter, why would anyone try to interweave the real and surreal in a mega-budget action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and then boast before its release that it was the hottest film of the decade? (In the original story gimmick, a kid becomes pals with a famous action hero and guides him through his crime-fighting sprees, as the lines blur between the characters in the film and those watching them — thus mashing together the genres of satire, action and fantasy). Reading “Fiasco” makes you realize how lucky you are when the movie god grants you an Oscar and your biggest problem becomes the Oscar Curse.
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