Oscar to Obscurity: Which Winners and Nominees Stumbled After Statue

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This story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

You would think an Oscar win, or even a nomination, is an instant game-changer, and often it is. But thanks to language barriers, unwise career choices or just plain bum luck, some find their Oscar moment all too brief. "The entertainment industry is like a bad boyfriend who knows the minute you love it more than it loves you and starts to treat you badly," says Quinn Cummings, now 44, whose acting career faltered after her 1977 nomination for best supporting actress in The Goodbye Girl. "Then you say, 'I'm moving on with my life.' Then you book a job, and say, 'Oh, the entertainment industry is really sweet!' " Cummings quit acting at 23 and became a successful author. The following eight winners and nominees have distinct legacies as artists. For some, the years have afforded a steady climb toward the peak of their craft; for others, a modest stream of opportunities or achievements in realms far from Hollywood. Whatever their arc, these Oscar graduates made a lasting impression and left the awards conversation for destinies as diverse as the characters and films they created.

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Jessica Yu, Breathing Lessons (1996, win)

Since joking that her $200,000 outfit cost more than her short doc about iron lung-bound poet Mark O'Brien, Yu, now 45, has directed seven films and TV shows like Parenthood. John Hawkes plays O'Brien in 2012's The Surrogate.

Isabelle Adjani, The Story of Adele H. (1975, nom)

After a second nom (for 1989's Camille Claudel), the French actress' Hollywood luck soured. But Adjani, 56, has won more Cesar Awards than anyone, and Abel Ferrara wants her for his Dominique Strauss-Kahn-inspired rape-case film.

Jaye Davidson, The Crying Game (1992, nom)

Davidson, now 43, found his startling transvestite role a hard act to follow, but his striking looks and out-of-this-world demeanor won him a role as Ra in the $197 million-grossing 1994 sci-fi film Stargate.

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Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields (1984, win)

The Cambodian killing-fields survivor got more film roles but was killed by gangsters near his L.A. home in 1996 at 55. The National Endowment for the Arts has granted $75,000 for Arthur Dong's documentary on Ngor.

Quinn Cummings, The Goodbye Girl (1977, nom)

"My mom's priority was raising a human, not a star, so I lost momentum," says the actress-turned-writer, nominated at age 10. Her 2012 book about home-schooling "is being read by people looking for the next Modern Family."

Christopher McQuarrie, The Usual Suspects (1995, win)

His wickedly clever script for the innovative whodunit helped make director Bryan Singer a star and McQuarrie, 43, a usual-suspect writer for Tom Cruise (Valkyrie and the upcoming McQuarrie-helmed One Shot).

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Janet Suzman, Nicholas and Alexandra (1971, nom)

After her nomination, she became a top stage actress and director. "Regret? No. I prefer a more maverick existence, and I happily returned to my first love, Shakespeare. And hey, I did make a film with Fellini," says Suzman, 73. 

Rinko Kikuchi, Babel (2006, nom)

The Japanese actress made a splash as a mute beauty in the cross-cultural hit, less of a splash in the bookish Norwegian Wood. At 31, her fate might rest on the costly, risky upcoming Keanu Reeves samurai epic 47 Ronin.

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