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Whatever Happened To….

18411092A recent article in The Onion’s A/V Club listed ten celebrities who made notable comebacks in recent years but failed to get any new career traction out of it. They included Burt Reynolds, who got an Oscar nomination for Boogie Nights but was soon after back in straight-to-video action movies; Jane Fonda, whose post-Ted Turner movie Monster In Law was a hit but way beneath her talents, as was the recent Georgia Rule (and if you don’t think she still has it, check out her on The Colbert Report, accomplishing what no other guest on that show has to my knowledge done—flustering the usually unflappable Steven Colbert), and George Lucas, whose three new Star Wars movies made fans wonder if he was the same Lucas who made the original Star Wars in 1977 or if their memories were being attacked by a clone.

The movie business only has room for so many stars, and for so many directors to get their projects green-lighted. A lot of performers make a big splash, only to fade into supporting roles or smaller films that don’t get much attention. The phrase “Whatever happened to … “ is one that pops into my head a lot.

So in no particular order, here’s part one of an ongoing list of Comebacks I’d Like To See:

Debra Winger (pictured above)—One of Hollywood’s top actresses of the 1980s, her career was hurt by a reputation for being difficult to work with, and she’s hardly been seen at all since the early 1990s. Winger’s departure was so dramatic that Rosanna Arquette even made a documentary film, Searching for Debra Winger, about the difficulties actresses have sustaining careers in Hollywood. With any luck Jonathan Demme’s upcoming Dancing with Shiva will bring her back to the top.

Bob Hoskins—Still works regularly in supporting roles, but he was a unique presence starring in tough movies like The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was a big hit but it domesticated him—he needs a role tailored to his ferocious talents.

Christopher Walken—He’s in so many movies that it may seem strange to want him to make a comeback. But 1997’s Suicide Kings was the last time he had a substantial role of the kind that made him famous. Enough already with the oddball act—it’s time for him to remind the world that he’s a serious actor with a singularly menacing presence.

Bill Forsyth—The dour Scottish writer-director of such 80s gems as Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl did equally good work in wry comedy-dramas like Comfort and Joy, Housekeeping, and Breaking In (which has one of Burt Reynolds’ best performances). But his ambitious, underrated American debut Being Human was buried by the studio after it didn’t turn out to be the formulaic Robin Williams movie, and his career never recovered: after a disappointing sequel to Gregory’s Girl that was never released in the US, he announced he was retiring from filmmaking. Maybe Wes Anderson should sponsor a comeback—he’s clearly been influenced by Forsyth’s style of humor.

Elizabeth Perkins—It seems like I could name dozens of actresses who had a great film or two but faded away because Hollywood has so little use for smart, quirky women. Perkins started out strong by stealing About Last Night from stars Demi Moore, Rob Lowe and Jim Belushi, then made a graceful partner for Tom Hanks in Big. One suspects that after a few years of parts in films like Avalon and Love at Large that scored with critics but not audiences, she let herself be talking into playing Wilma in the godawful The Flintstones. (Well, that’s what I’d like to think.)

Alex Cox—Repo Man and Sid and Nancy made him one of the hottest up-and-coming directors of the 1980s. But his ambitious Walker left critics and viewers scratching their heads, his indulgently silly Straight To Hell went pretty much straight to video (though it has a cult reputation now), and he went back to England to make small television films. Repo Man so hilariously skewered the Reagan era that I find it hard to believe he doesn’t have some story ideas for the Bush & Blair years.

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