Sure, you'll work. But then everyone expects greatness, every time—an unattainable standard, even for Meryl.
To be fair, everyone we're about to mention can still carry a headline—and some of them can even still carry a movie! But with respect to the so-called prestige-with-a-capital-P that's supposed to follow the big win, here are eight actors who have yet to match, let alone surpass, their Oscar-year magic:
1. Adrien Brody, Best Actor 2003: It's not as though he disappeared or anything, but he followed up his upset-shocker-of-a-win for a truly magnificent performance in The Pianist with three straight flops—The Singing Detective (a star-studded mess), The Village (M. Night Shyamalan in the thick of his decline) and The Jacket (sorry, Jacob's Ladder called and wanted its concept back). Thanks to Wes Anderson, Brody is still in good movies, but he's yet to find the right star vehicle post-Oscar. It was the kiss, wasn't it?
2. Hilary Swank, Best Actress 2000 and 2005: A two-time Oscar winner, no less! But by now we all agree that she is most effective when she totally disappears into a role, as she did to maximum, heart-wrenching effect in Boys Don't Cry and just as convincingly in Million Dollar Baby. This isn't a rom-com star, Hollywood. Transform her!
3. Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress 2007: The Dreamgirls star's celebrity is still off the charts, and she'll be singing at the Oscars this Sunday, but as far as the movie-making portion of her career since running away with her category back in the day... Entirely forgettable, despite scoring the lead role in the biopic Winnie Mandela. (If only she'd gotten to play across the Idris Elba-Nelson Mandela instead of the Terrence Howard-Nelson Mandela!)
4. Halle Berry, Best Actress 2002: Was Catwoman the fluke? Or was Monster's Ball, for which Berry became the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for a leading role? No argument, the stunning-as-ever thesp is a star, and the Elie Saab dress she accepted her Oscar in will live on in Academy Awards all-time-best fashion history. But except for 2005's Their Eyes Were Watching God (a TV movie), Hollywood has failed her in the drama department.
5. Nicolas Cage, Best Actor 1996: When you think about it, he was always ripe for parodying. But it was only after he was "Oscar Winner Nicolas Cage," the award-season runaway train for his role as a suicidal alcoholic writer in Leaving Las Vegas (we can still smell the whiskey just thinking about it) that he truly became a caricature of himself. He notched another Oscar nomination seven years later, for Adaptation, but it's just been a veritable meme-fest since. He got strong reviews for his recent indie drama Joe, but...if you didn't read the review, you missed it!
6. Helen Hunt, Best Actress 1998: Remember that time, around What Women Want and Dr. T and the Women, when it was all about Helen Hunt? Kinda like how it was all about Bill Pullman when Independence Day came out? Well, her Oscar win for As Good as It Gets (one of our favorite movies ever, FYI) actually did give her the bump, but after 2000... Was it Helen overload? Hunt fatigue? Playing Woody Allen's love interest in Curse of the Jade Scorpion? After a long drought of interest in what she was up to, she earned her second Oscar nomination in 2013 for The Sessions, but the full-frontal nudity unfortunately made more headlines than the speaking part of the performance.
7. Renée Zellweger, Best Supporting Actress 2004: The America's-sweetheart type stole every scene she was in in Cold Mountain and then... After her hotly anticipated Bridget Jones sequel, she just didn't pick the right roles. Obviously playing Russell Crowe's devoted wife in a Ron Howard-directed, Depression-set movie seemed like a good idea, as did playing a fast-talking lady journalist opposite George Clooney in Leatherheads, but... what were we talking about again?
8. Cuba Gooding Jr., Best Supporting Actor 1997: There is no shame in having peaked in Jerry Maguire. He has one more Oscar than Tom Cruise does.