October 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm #71986
Joaquin Phoenix calls Oscar season ‘total, utter bulls-t’ — ANALYSIS
by Anthony Breznican
Joaquin Phoenix just destroyed improved his chances at an Oscar nomination.
In a new Q&A with film critic Elvis Mitchell in Interview magazine, the star of The Master
— widely considered to be a Best Actor contender — is asked about being
on the awards circuit for the film. Phoenix, who has two previous Oscar
nominations for Gladiator and Walk the Line, scoffs at Hollywood’s season of backslapping.
“I’m just saying that I think it’s bullsh–t,” Phoenix says. “I think
it’s total, utter bulls–t, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t
believe in it. It’s a carrot, but it’s the worst-tasting carrot I’ve
ever tasted in my whole life. I don’t want this carrot.”
That distant rattling you hear is the sound of Oscar pundits grasping
their pearls at this sacrilege. Many will say he has crushed his
chances of a nomination by insulting the great golden god of Hollywood,
but that — to borrow a term from the actor — is also “bulls–t.”
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First of all The Master was already fading in the Oscar race.
While it has some fierce champions, many voters complained they felt
confounded by Paul Thomas Anderson’s story of a psychotic drunk
(Phoenix) and his relationship with a new-age religious impresario
(Philip Seymour Hoffman.) It’s a little counter-intuitive, but Phoenix’s
interview makes him a prime topic for conversation now, which could
lead voters to sit up and take notice of his work in the movie again,
despite his diss of awards season.
If Phoenix doesn’t get a nomination, it won’t be because of what he said to Mitchell.
Yes, the remarks will certainly cost him a few votes among the huffy
and thin-skinned, but many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences have been Oscar contenders themselves — and most know that
when you pour your heart into the race, it comes back to you fairly
hollowed out. The Oscar race is a campaign, and the endless glad-handing
and schmoozing and selling, selling, selling can make even the
most ego-driven psyche a little sick of itself. A healthy cynicism
about awards is one thing every nominee wins, regardless of whether he
or she takes home a trophy.
Frankly, the thing that is even more poisonous to an Oscar campaign is wanting it too much. When Miramax’s campaign for Gangs of New York
suggested Martin Scorsese was owed an Oscar for past classics that had
not been honored, the Academy shrank away like a teenage girl from an
overly clingy boyfriend. A more low-key approach in the campaign for
2006′s The Departed finally got Scorsese the award that had eluded him for so long.
The Academy has a long history of rewarding people who shrug off the
traditional nominee duties (or in some cases openly reject the Oscars
themselves.) The most famous one is George C. Scott, who tried to have
himself removed from the race when honored early in his career, and did
so again when nominated for Patton. In a letter to the Academy,
he wrote: “I respectfully request that you withdraw my name from the
list of nominees. My request is in no way intended to denigrate my
colleagues. Furthermore, peculiar as it may seem, I mean no offense to
the Academy. I simply do not wish to be involved.”
It was a much more polite variation on Phoenix’s remarks (except Phoenix isn’t saying he will refuse a nomination.)
Though Scott’s rejection caused a massive stir, we all know who won that year.
Recent history provides us with another example: Mo’Nique. Although
she was willing to accept the honors coming her way for her sinister
turn as an abusive mother in Precious, the actress famously refused to stump for
the honors by reaching out to voters at Los Angeles Q&As and
traveling to film festivals. She had a more practical — some might argue
“mercenary” — attitude toward it all: “What are you campaigning for,
though? That’s what I need to understand,” she said. “What does it mean financially?” Pundits considered this an Oscar death sentence. They were wrong once again.
Why does this happen? It’s because Oscar voters do take the award
seriously, and hope it has meaning. There’s a lot an actor can do to
alienate the academy, but knocking the Oscar race is not necessarily a
capital offense. If anything, voters often choose to cast their ballots
in favor of deserving stars in spite of such statements, which itself is
evidence against the argument that the award is “bullsh–t.” If they
were to withhold their votes despite great work by a performer, that
pettiness would validate the criticism.
All this is to say that many Oscar voters will know what Phoenix is
talking about, even if he comes across as somewhat blunt and
disrespectful to outsiders. He didn’t say “the respect of my peers is
bullsh–t.” Mitchell clearly asks him about “the awards circuit,” and
that’s a different thing. Phoenix goes on to point out a discomfort that
a lot of Oscar nominees have expressed:
“Pitting people against each other . . . It’s the stupidest thing in
the whole world. It was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life
when Walk the Line was going through all the awards stuff and
all that. I never want to have that experience again. I don’t know how
to explain it — and it’s not like I’m in this place where I think I’m
just above it — but I just don’t ever want to get comfortable with that
part of things.”
Movie awards are not like the 100-yard dash, where every contender is displaying the same ability. Phoenix’s work in The Master will be measured alongside top-tier performances such as Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln and John Hawkes in The Sessions, even though the roles couldn’t be more different from each other. So how can they logically compare?
Well, we compare them anyway. And that’s just how it is. It’s
subjective and sometimes arbitrary, and favoritism and campaign
resources play a role. Phoenix characterizes that a little crudely, but
he’s saying the same thing many others have noticed.
Like most movie fans, I love and respect the Oscars, even if I sometimes disagree with their choices. (Crash over Brokeback Mountain?
Seriously?) I’m not sure I have the same affection for the vast array
of awards that have popped up around the Academy Awards, but I
understand that phenomenon — everyone wants their say, and that
long-running conversation helps focus us for a few months on the best
film work of the year.
The term “Oscar-winner” is a short-hand for excellence, which makes
it so enticing and desirable. It is the word’s most glamorous Employee
of the Year award. That may seem like a joke, but who wouldn’t want to
claim that kind of professional honor? The problem comes in wanting it
so much that you lose part of yourself. I’ve heard a lot of past
nominees express that.
At last year’s post-Oscars Governors Ball, the person who seemed to
be having the best time was Jessica Chastain, who had just lost the Best
Supporting Actress award for The Help to her co-star, Octavia
Spencer. While chatting at the party, I expressed mild condolences, you
know: “Sorry you didn’t win, etc …” But she waved that off like the
crazytalk it was. How could she be so upbeat in that moment? Simple. She
told me 1.) she was super-happy for Octavia, 2.) she never expected to
win anyway, so she was hardly crushed, and 3.) she had such a
breakthrough year, culminating in an Oscar nomination (!!!) that she
couldn’t possibly feel bad.
That was a fantastic — but rare — attitude.
Most people in her situation would have felt dejected at only being
named one of a handful of the best actors in the world that year. Some
disappointment is understandable — you try so hard and want it so much,
knowing it could change your career forever. It’s very easy to get
caught up. And after the fact, once the painful emotion fades, it’s easy
to think: “What was the point of all that?”
Most people who pay close attention to the Oscars know that Phoenix
is speaking a truth, albeit crassly. The race is a slog (or as Scott
said of his Oscar rejection “I have to do what is valuable to me:
calling my soul my own.”) But the minute a potential nominee says, “Nah,
I’m not going to do the campaign thing,” and decides to let his or her
work speak for itself, some in the Oscar-watching business perceive it
as the ultimate insult and return fire in kind.
Campaigning for an Oscar is certainly a far cushier gig than working
as a grocery cashier, office temp, or bus driver. But there’s an
authenticity to almost every other profession that “awards nominee”
doesn’t have. Imagine if a stone mason had to compete for best
bricklayer, and spent five months endlessly talking about that one wall.
If it’s a good wall, hey … who could deny that fellow the coveted Golden Trough?
But by the end of that race, Phoenix might be able to supply him with a word for how it all feels.October 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm #71988
the oscar voters shouldn’t care about this comment. the oscar should go to the best performance! Not the one with the best attitude!October 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm #71989
There’s a divisive raction to the movie and coupled that w/his comments, there’s no way he’s winning now. And if we beleive his comments at face value, he could give two fucks. And he is one of the few actors I actually believe when they make the comments of awards being meaningless.October 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm #71990
He ain’t wrong though.October 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm #71991
After the Letterman disaster, I’m not sure why James Gray cast him in Nightingale (personally would have been livid if I were Gray).
Respect his comments and do doubt that they reach most of the voters.October 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm #71992
Gotta love Joaquin. Not like he’s the only one who feels this way. Glad he spoke his mind. If this ‘hurts’ his chances, then he’s even more right.October 18, 2012 at 2:15 pm #71993
Dustin Hoffman said the same thing before he won for Kramer Vs. Kramer. If the performance is strong enough then it doesn’t matter what is said. Same thing with Monique and her barely campaigning.October 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm #71994
Hes already pissed everyone off with his past antics…he might just NOT even get a nomination now..October 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm #71995
A nomination is still there, come on! But I agree, it will be difficult to give him his win if he isn’t that excited about it. Can’t blame him though. Not all actors probably care for the awards type, but more of the material that they were given.
With that said, I think it helps Hugh Jackman the most.October 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm #71996
Looking at Best Actor, there’s Washington, Phoenix, Day-Lewis, Hawkes, Trintignant, Hoffman (I know that they’ll be pushing him in supporting), Hopkins —- don’t know if Jackman can crack this group (tough year).October 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm #71997
Well what works in Jackman’s favor is that he’s the newbie nominee who has the largest chance of being nominated ahead of Trintignant and Cooper. If the Academy wants some fresh face in its line up, Jackman is the most logical chocie they can opt to. Plus, Les Mis is still one of the bigger frontrunners, and he’ll definitely have the buzz et al with the Globe win (it’s definitely him right?), and he’s a respected enough actor, past Oscar host etc.October 18, 2012 at 4:17 pm #71998
Joachim, meet fork. Fork, meet Joachim. Done, his candidacy is.
My dad passed away Tuesday night from complications of lung cancer. Please say a prayer for him, OK?October 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm #71999
I don’t dismiss Jackman’s chances (and I actually forgot about Cooper), but Washington, Day-Lewis, and Phoenix are nearly certain to me (don’t want to call them locks because it is only the middle of October). For slots four and five, I’m making an educated guess in saying that Hawkes (a great part) and Hopkins will fill out the rest of the category. Affleck looks like he’s a director/producer nominee, Cooper may be overshadowed by other actors in his film, Les Mis could be considered a technical and directorial accomplishment (with acting priority to Hathaway above others), Gere’s film may be too small and voters won’t have enough reasons to watch it, and Trintignant may suffer from the film being a “depressing” watch (haven’t seen it myself, but I don’t know if actors will put the screener in during their holiday break, though a critics push would help him).
At this point, I’d order the group:
11. AffleckOctober 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm #72000
Hes already pissed everyone off with his past antics…he might just NOT even get a nomination now..
O I dunno. As things stand, and it is October afterall, I dont think what he said will hurt his chances. Besides, I’ll bet that many of the voting body agrees with him.
*Paul; my deepest condolences. I’m very sorry. RIP
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