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Columns Eleanor Ringel Cater

A ‘luckier’ Anthony Hopkins gets Oscar nod in lieu of the late Chadwick Boseman

Anthony Hopkins delivers and Oscar-winning performance in "The Father"

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

So, they backed the wrong horse.

It happens.

The producers of the 93rdOscar ceremony had a number of challenges, not the least of which was, how do you stage a show in the middle of a pandemic?

But surrounded by variables, the producers thought they could count on one sure thing: the late Chadwick Boseman, tragically dead too young, would win Best Actor for his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

So, they took a chance. Instead of ending, as Oscar-casts traditionally do, with Best Picture, they made Best Actor the final award of the evening. The idea was inherently dramatic – a final salute to a truly fine actor whose excellent performance in “Black Panther” had also made him a cultural icon in a country plagued more than ever by the cruelty of racism.

A poster of “The Father” starring Anthony Hopkins who won “Best Actor” at the 93rd Academy Awards

But as Sunday’s producers learned, when it comes to the Academy Awards, to paraphrase what Oscar-winning scripter William Goldman said about Hollywood in general, nobody knows anything. Best Actor didn’t go to Boseman. It went to Anthony Hopkins for his phenomenal performance in “The Father.”

The 83-year-old Hopkins was back at home in Wales and likely fast asleep. So last year’s Best Actor winner, Joaquin Phoenix, said the tried-and-true “The Academy accepts the award….” And the show drizzled to an abrupt end.

It was, in its way, every bit as memorable as the mix-up a few years back when the wrong winner (“LaLa Land”) was read instead of “Moonlight.” But where that moment somehow underscored the glitzy mess the Oscars have become, Sunday’s sequence was ineffably moving. For several reasons.

On the one hand, Boseman didn’t win. And now he will never win; he’s gone, and we’ve been robbed of a memorable and important talent. A beloved and iconic talent.

On the other, Hopkins gave the better performance. It’s true. Boseman was terrific, but he should’ve been nominated in the Supporting category. And “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” simply isn’t as good a play as “The Father” (both began on stage).

Apparently, when push came to shove, Hollywood couldn’t ignore pure excellence. It’s as if, despite all the hollow glitz and social hypocrisy that have come to define movie-making, deep, deep down, there is still a streak of what drew most people into the business to begin with: to put on the best show possible. And that’s what Hopkins did.

Magic time indeed.

Anthony Hopkins delivers and Oscar-winning performance in “The Father”

As for the rest of the evening, well, my buddies were split.  Stephanie Z. (not her real initial) and Anita R. (not her real initial) were impressed. Jill T. (not her real initial) and Terry C. (not her real initial) less so.

I liked what they did – though there was still a sugar-low lull about the time the show hit Best Editing. I didn’t miss the clips. I really didn’t miss a host handing off to presenters (often paired to plug an upcoming project) who then engaged in flat patter meant to be funny. Since it was such an odd year, perhaps a Chuck Workman-like montage of great moments from the year’s films might’ve helped. Aside from Regina King’s long tracking-shot entrance (an homage to “Goodfellas” and “The Player”), the show didn’t seem especially cinematic (as promised).

Some random thoughts:

THE GOOD

Everything Best Director Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) did, said or wore. She even confessed that, when she was stuck, she’d ask herself, “What would Werner Herzog do?”

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) winning Best Original Screenplay

Brad Pitt refusing to upstage Yuh-Jung Youn after she won Best Supporting Actress (“Minari”).  He didn’t take her arm until their backs were to the camera, forcing the cameras to stay focused on her.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon motif that provided the pre-show backdrop. (though my husband dubbed it an Overdressed Hollywood Pool Party)

Tyler Perry’s gracious and thoughtful acceptance speech for the Jean Hersholt Award.

The grand Big Dresses worn by Carey Mulligan (in gold) and Amanda Seyfried (in red).  When the camera pulled back to show the audience, they looked like glamorous bookends.

THE BAD

One of the pre-show hosts (he was wearing green velvet) announcing that “I’ve just had a bird poop on me.”

The endless plugs for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures building.  Was it just me or did part of it look like a gigantic breast? How very Hollywood.

The awkward acknowledgment of the Native American tribes whose land was, um, appropriated by L.A.

The ending. Not anyone’s fault, but talk about a whimper, not a bang.  Maybe Joaquin Phoenix should’ve broken into a Joker dance.

Leslie Odom Jr. went home Oscar-less. I knew he’d lose Best Supporting Actor (“One Night in Miami”). But I hoped he would win Best Song.

The scene hosted by Bryan Cranston in the Dolby Theatre meant to honor the, um, “little people,” i.e. nurses, social workers, landscapers, chaplains, cooks…well, everyone who keeps the Motion Picture and Television Fund viable. (It’s the Old Folks Home for the industry). The honorees got to stand in the dark around these tiny little tables.  Didn’t see much in the way of champagne or roses.

THE CRAZY

Glenn Close, after a slightly embittered dig at her “Academy friends,” performs Da Butt.  Turns out it was scripted.

Frances McDormand howls in honor of a crew member who committed suicide. What is this? The Year of the Crazy Old Woman?

Dear Daniel Kaluyaa (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), accepting his Best Supporting Actor prize, decides to talk about his parents’ sex life.

Losing your virginity at a drive-in during “The Sterile Cuc

koo?” (somebody said it, but I can’t remember who).

The Hollywood winners were pretty restrained politically (Regina King kinda said it all in her intro), but the winners of the smaller awards (Say, Best Live-Action Short) jumped right in.  Did we really need a police-as-killers acceptance speech?

The whole evening just…stopped.

One last but very important take-away: What Yuh-Jung Youn said in her acceptance speech.  That, yes, she won, but essentially, she was just “luckier” that night.

Words to live by.

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Eleanor Ringel

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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