Did Joaquin Phoenix screw up when he ended the Oscars so abruptly?

93rd Academy Awards - London

This post is just for some housekeeping around the 2021 Oscars, which were disappointing overall, even if I was happy with the actual award winners. The telecast was not great, and at times painful. Looks like people opted out of watching it in historic numbers too – early numbers suggest that the Oscars got less than 10 million viewers, and the show only scored 1.9 in the crucial 18-49 demographic, which is the demo most advertisers want. This was the least-watched Oscars of all time, and a steep 58% drop-off from last year (which was already a historic low). We knew that this year’s telecast would draw low numbers, but this is just depressing. The reason why the Oscars keep limping on with little shake-ups is because despite the bad demos and declining viewership, advertisers still like the Oscars and they’re willing to pay to advertise during the Oscar telecast. While almost all of the numbers are bad, ABC still made money on Oscar night because of the wall-to-wall commercials.

Variety spoke at length with ABC’s Rob Mills, executive VP of unscripted and alternative entertainment at Walt Disney Television, about producing this year’s show. Of course he hyped all of the “unexpected” moments, of which there were very few. Remember what I just said about the ad buys? Yeah, Oscar producers worried that the show would run too short, which is why they allowed speeches to go on and on without playing anyone off. It’s also why they did that musical trivia number just before 11 pm. As it turns out, Glenn Close did not know THAT much about “Da Butt” but she learned her lines for the scripted bit.

Mills laid the credit/blame at Steven Soderbergh for the mixed-up order of awards presenting, but Mills failed to properly explain why Best Actor went last that night. The only thing I can think of is that Oscar producers truly believed that Chadwick Boseman would win. It just shows that they actually don’t know who will win ahead of time, which is a good thing. But the Guardian had an added wrinkle to the not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper way the show ended:

Unusually, the best actor winner was the final award of the always long ceremony this year… Many assumed it was scheduled last because Boseman, who died in August, would win posthumously for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Instead Anthony Hopkins was named winner for his role in The Father and since he was not available to make an acceptance speech the evening ended abruptly.

Hopkins was also unavailable for the Bafta film awards two weeks ago when his best actor award was accepted by Florian Zeller, writer of the original play and director of the film. The actor did however turn up virtually at the post-ceremony press conferences from his hotel in Wales. This time it was understood that in the event of Hopkins winning, Olivia Colman, who played his daughter, would accept his award.

Instead Joaquin Phoenix announced Hopkins name, accepted on his behalf, and the show ended. The abruptness of it all sparked comparisons to to the ending of The Sopranos, which finished with Tony eating onion rings before the screen went black.

[From The Guardian]

So far, I haven’t seen any of the Hollywood trade papers discuss this in detail, but I’d like to know if this is true and who exactly f–ked up. Did Joaquin Phoenix f–k up and forget to read the teleprompter to see if Olivia Colman would like to speak on Hopkins’ behalf? Or did producers not tell Joaquin because they were so sure that Chadwick would win? It feels like Joaquin f–ked up and people are covering for him. We could have had a lovely speech by Olivia Colman!!

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55 Responses to “Did Joaquin Phoenix screw up when he ended the Oscars so abruptly?”

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  1. Lightpurple says:

    And it’s very professional and courteous for both Olivia and Anthony not to make a fuss about it.

  2. Aphra says:

    I didnt watch and can’t find a video of the ending. anyone have a link?

  3. SarahCS says:

    At this point in 2021 this is the sort of drama I am here for. It’s nice to have a break from everything else and look at a nice little potential conspiracy about who messed up.

    • derps says:

      I think even if he did mess up, he didn’t: whoever assigned that responsibility to him messed up. It’s not like we don’t know after all this time exactly what we are getting when Joaquin Phoenix is made responsible for this kind of stuff. He has very conflicted feelings about it, he always gets anxious and flustered, he always loses the plot. He did his personal best, most likely. Some suit chose him for that part, and they probably get paid big bucks to make good organizational decisions, so it’s on them to have chosen so poorly when choosing well is their reason to be.

  4. Darla says:

    So…there are so many factors in play. Due to Covid few people saw films. The Oscar numbers have been declining every year. But what about streaming? I really wonder if some of these old duds have a point about places like Netflix doing all of this original programming…it takes some of the glamour and mystery away maybe? Making the Oscars even more irrelevant? We’re not going back and I wouldn’t if we could, I love all of this fresh content in my living room. But it’s also a possible factor I think.

    • Lily P says:

      Agreed! I also think social media has eroded the ‘allure’ of Hollywood. There’s few actors that aren’t on Instagram but those that are no longer seem as far away and mysterious. I guess there’s less anticipation due to instant consumption and informality of film now.

      • Darla says:

        Yes, well said! You put it better than I did. Informality of film and the social media aspect, exactly.

      • Charlie says:

        Social media and the fatigue from a saturated award show season. It’s ridiculous how often the Oscar telecast is nominated for an Emmy. Honestly, does your employer gather your colleagues every year to give awards to their competitors’ employees? I can’t think of any other industry that has convention — trade – award shows over and over again like this. It’s too much. Hollywood no longer has the aura of exclusivity and mystery.

    • Cava24 says:

      Totally! I honestly can’t believe how much content A list and B list actors are putting on IG. It’s like they will die if they go a day without posting or having something in their stories. And it makes it hard to forget who they are when they are acting and (to a lesser degree), makes it hard to get enthused about their work because you sort of know 80% of their take on everything. I get that they need to make a buck but wow. Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan and Saoirse Ronan don’t even have accounts.

      • K-Peace says:

        And Carey & Saoirse kind of seem even cooler for not having accounts. So i’m surprised that more famous actors haven’t gone without them. (I understand it can be a useful tool for an up & coming or struggling actor; i’m talking about ones that have already achieved success & fame.) In my opinion, it kind of takes away an actor’s mystique and can make them seem overexposed. (Or maybe i’m just biased/old, as someone with no social media.)

      • Cava24 says:

        Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield both have accounts, Daniel has no posts on his account, Lakeith has three (just as another example of people who are highly regarded and restrained about social media).

        Gemma Chan is pretty active but also pretty thoughtful and smart about it and she isn’t having PR people place stories about her all over in the tabloids to raise her visibility.

        I have to admit though, I enjoy celebrity social media fortrum -even more so when someone is trying to be super coy about what they are pushing or it is so strenuous that it is ridiculous (a lot of “look at my beautiful life!” posts are like this ) it just doesn’t make me interested in their film work.

    • keroppi says:

      Do the Oscars stream live on any streaming service? I would think that might help their viewership. I don’t have cable anymore and haven’t for years. The only way I watch the Oscars is through clips the next day.

    • MissMarirose says:

      I think it also hurts that there are so many streaming apps and movies are “exclusively” on one or another, so you have to subscribe to like a dozen different apps to watch all these movies. Who’s going to do that?

    • tealily says:

      I know personally that I hadn’t watched any of the nominated films this year, not because they weren’t available to me, but because I’ve been steering clear of “worthy” media and sticking to light, stupid stuff. I don’t have the capacity to watch a heart-wrenching film about aging and dementia these days. That is just about the last thing I feel like doing.

      • Charlie says:

        Tealily – Right? Entertainment at it’s best is entertainment that takes you out of yourself and your surroundings. 90 minutes to escape – this year’s films mostly seem to wallow in chaos and misery – and we can do that all by ourselves.

      • Anna says:

        This @tealily And for me also, anything that involves violence or any kind of harm towards Black people or in general BIPOC, I simply can’t watch. I skip it now any time I see it coming. I just can’t nor should I. We are always the butt of the joke or the first ones killed or any number of other horrors including the opportunity for white actors to say the n* word to their hearts content depending on the show because it’s “part of the script” b.s. or some kind of era-based authenticity. I watch the same old shows over and over because I know what they contain and that they won’t trigger me.

      • tealily says:

        100% agree, Anna! I’v been rewatching so much stuff over the past year. I want unchallenging films about joy right now, and that’s about it.

    • Anne Call says:

      I mean because of covid all the movies we’re almost immediately available on video, so I’m confused that less people saw the movies. Movies like Homeland and the Father probably would have been in a few independent big city theatre’s under normal times, so in some ways they were more accessible this year. I think that the awards show at home audience is older and is shrinking rapidly. My 30 something film buff son loves movies and could care less about the Oscars.

  5. Tanguerita says:

    By now everyone know that Joaquin Phoenix is a moody unpredictable ass..le. You have to be very stupid to trust him with any tasks, but actual acting.

    • Jenn says:

      I don’t know about that other stuff, but “unpredictable” for sure. I cringed when he began — it sounded like he was deeply uncomfortable with the task at hand, very “I’m not saying all that stuff they scripted for me, let’s just get moving.” He didn’t do anything WRONG, but he can’t really speak extemporaneously either. Like, what did they expect would happen???

      Don Cheadle (just for example) would’ve known what to do, y’know? He would’ve said all the words, sensed the abruptness of the night, taken some sort of responsibility for the moment and given it better pacing somehow.

  6. Becks1 says:

    Having Colman accept the award on his behalf would make sense, and I don’t think Joaquin would purposely snub either Colman or Hopkins, so it sounds like something wasn’t communicated to him or he just didn’t look back at the teleprompter after opening the envelope – he knew it was the last award of the night, he knew Anthony Hopkins wasn’t there, he just figured that was it.

  7. Amy Bee says:

    Apparently Hopkins wanted to attend via zoom instead of travelling to Dublin or London for the show and the Academy said no.

    • Sigmund says:

      Which is so weird. Like, look at what they got instead! Some kind of appearance would have been better than nothing.

    • MissMarirose says:

      That’s weird. Because one of the producers of an animated film nomination was shown in Kilkenny, Ireland. If they can have a couple of guys zoomed in from Kilkenny, they could have Anthony Hopkins zoom in from Wales.

  8. Case says:

    Re: Oscar viewership – I watch faithfully every year and had it muted most of the time this year while I read a book. It was WAY too long without musical acts – should’ve been cut by an hour.

    On top of that, the bigger issue is that they didn’t have a general audience-friendly movie nominated this year. No Black Panther, A Star is Born, La La Land, Get Out, etc. Nothing for people to really latch on to and get excited about. Most of the nominees were slow and/or dark films, and I think that was too much for people already dealing with COVID. I watched 8/10 BP nominees this year and found them to be mostly joyless to watch.

    I think next year the ratings will recover a bit when delayed films are able to be released. It just wasn’t a great movie year, honestly. I don’t think we can treat this year’s ceremony like normal year or that it’s indicative of future ratings.

    • Alarmjaguar says:

      You’ve definitely articulated my feelings, each time I think about watching one of the nominated films (all of which sound great in theory), I just can’t b/c I don’t want to be depressed. I want escapism this year.

      • Anne Call says:

        Same. I watched Mank, Chicago 7 and earlier in the year watched Palm Springs. I feel like some of the other films just seemed like a joyless chore to get through. I just prefer interesting usually foreign tv series these days…

  9. Scal says:

    Meanwhile Joaquin sources are saying on twitter that he actually had prepared remarks to give at the end-but the producers got some flustered at the end when Boseman didn’t win that they cut him off.

    Honestly I kind of believe him? He’s not the one that cut the camera and brought up the music. I think the control room freaked and him saying goodnight gave them a quick close

    • Eleonor says:

      I tend to believe him, and the only positive news I get from all of this is that everyone is so shocked by Anthony Hopkins Osca, that nobody never knows who the winner is.

    • Dutch says:

      Soderberg scripted the show to the Nth detail. If you remember, one of the winners of Best Animated Feature said during her speech she “wasn’t supposed to speak” as the producers asked “teams” that were nominated to designate one person to speak if they won. So if Hopkins expressed a desire to the producers to have Coleman that would have been in the script and the director would have cut to Coleman rather than cutting back to Phoenix.

    • Anna says:

      I see this. Also, remember what happened with Moonlight? It’s not out of the ordinary now as in, it’s happened before!, for a Black artist or Black-focused film to get disrespected with a massive “mistake” (not buying it for a minute, Warren) so it makes sense that if there was this huge expectation for Chadwick to win, that there might have been some upset to the flow and rightly so given past “errors” (cough, b.s.).

  10. Esme says:

    It’s also that the movies got less entertaining over the years: now we have worthy social issues movies or hyper indie ones or children movies… Contrast this with the last Hopkins win, Silence of the lambs, which was an entertaining piece of fiction, well shot and acted, not for children, but not depressing or overly artsy.
    I mean, I’m sure The Father is a great movie, but I’ll never be in the mood to watch it. Same for Nomadland or Sound of metal and CB last movie. Give me something that feels less like homework.

    • AKA says:

      This is exactly why I didn’t want most of the movies last year. They all sounded like depressing topics I wasn’t up for during an ongoing pandemic. The nominations and awards this year felt a lot like an inclusive industry event where only a select few watched all these movies and were aware of them. It’s no one’s fault either because many movies were not released last year, but that’s the sad reality of the “show must go on” concept.

      • Chaine says:

        ITA. I want movies that are an escape from reality, not grinding my nose further in how awful everything is and probably always will be. Give me sci fi or fantasy or Downton Abbey fluff or a cheesy rom-com! I haven’t seen any of the movies this year. I intend to see Minari eventually, but I never heard of some of these other films at all and the rest don’t remotely entice me.

    • gemcat says:

      I mean I don’t know your personal ‘idea’ of homework but Sound of Metal is far from what I would consider homework (or depressing even). It is heavy, sure. But it is beautifully so, very human and to me also incredibly entertaining because of how sound was, or was not, used or included which made it interesting aside from the personal journey Riz’s character was on..

    • Case says:

      @Esme I said the same thing upthread. I watched 8 of the 10 Best Picture nominees and they largely felt like work (though I highly recommend Sound of Metal; a genuinely beautiful and entertaining film, though a bit heavy). I think in a normal year, we would’ve had some more “fun” nominees – we didn’t have any blockbusters this year, musicals like In the Heights were delayed, etc. Most years we have at least one or two films nominated that general audiences love – whether it’s Lord of the Rings or Titanic or La La Land. Because of the lack of theatergoing in 2020, that just didn’t happen and we ended up with a bunch of indie films that people were too depressed to watch.

      • Esme says:

        @Case I saw your post up thread only after posting mine – I agree with your analysis of this year Oscars, but I also feel it’s a more general trend in HW movie making, like @Becks1 also pointed out: Marvel, Raunchy Comedy or Indie/Serious.
        I’m not saying the Indie/Serious movies cannot be good or great, many are, it’s just that they’re not easy… I don’t feel like just watching one to unwind – and yes, I know the answer is “those plots have migrated to tv series”, but I still feel that’s a loss for the movie industry and for its general cultural relevance.
        The Emmys will become more relevant and watched than the Oscars.

    • Soupie says:

      Watching the gorgeous and superb cinematography of Nomadland is not “homework.”

      • Case says:

        I’m a huge movie buff. I watch 100 new-to-me movies a year. But a lot of the BP nominees were dark, heavy, and/or slow, albeit beautifully shot and performed. Not everyone was in the mood for that during the pandemic, no matter how good the films might be. So yes, watching movies like Nomadland did feel like homework to some of us, even those of us who really love and appreciate movies.

        I think some understanding and kindness that people have been watching what feeds their soul in this dark and isolating time is really important right now.

      • Anna says:

        I understand what @Esme is saying, though. I tried to watch Nomadland twice and just could not get through it. It’s too close to home. Depressing, scary, a possible future if my employer fucks around and if I take a wrong step, it’s just all too real.

    • Becks1 says:

      Yes I agree with this. I just haven’t been in the mood to watch any of the BP nominees because they seem so heavy. They all look like excellent movies – but heavy. I do think that movie making has skewed towards these kinds of almost depressing movies lately – well it seems like its either a Marvel or DC movie, some sort of raucous comedy with Melissa McCarthy, or a super depressing heavy movie. I want something like Silence of the Lambs like you said – disturbing, but not depressing, and so well shot and well acted.

      Like @Case said – movies like Titanic and Lord of the Rings are excellent movies (even though Titanic is a little cheesy in retrospect, lol, it’s still a gorgeous film), and they aren’t heavy, depressing (well I bawled during Titanic but who didnt?) etc. I don’t know.

      I’m hoping with In the Heights and West Side Story coming out this year that next year’s Oscars will be a little lighter with great music performances.

      • Esme says:

        @Becks1, I agree completely.
        And it feels like a epic shift, for me: the great achievement of American filmmaking was the well made commercial movie, which no one else could do. They still can’t. You have the French and the Russians and the Germans (etc) for great introspective movies, but only Hollywood could do “FBI vs Cannibal Killer” or “Cop and Robbers in a Tower” and have those come out as excellent movies, harnessing talent from all over the world. I mean, it takes serious talent to do a stupid plot well.

        Now we have very good and great American movies, but the light touch seems lost.

        Your point about upcoming musicals makes me hope a bit, anyway. (Film discussion here on Celebitchty is great and informative as usual)

      • Anne Call says:

        Best picture winners in the 1970’s were movies like The Godfather part one and two, the Sting, French Connection, Rocky, Annie Hall and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Movie making in Hollywood these days are all comic book movies, special effects blockbusters and then a very small independent film squeaks in.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ Anne Call, and the installation of Fast and Furious 19, and the other stupid movie that have 15 sequels! I watched Singin In The Rain on Sunday night as TCM was running a 30 days Oscar films. I don’t care for remakes or they have one actor, one idea and run 20 sequels on it due to only wanting to ensure that it’s a blockbuster that will make money. Most of Hollywood has turned from making art into making money, with no desire to produce anything worthy for viewership.
        Also, I read an article in THR that an Oscar voted favorably with movies were they were clearly biased to an screenwriter/director/actor/book that the voter favored without having watched the movie and did not watch all of the movies! How can you vote on an Oscar nomination without being fully informed ? It’s ridiculous that these powers come in to play in the voting process and should be banned.

  11. AKA says:

    I know I earlier mentioned Anthony Hopkins could have arranged for someone to collect on his behalf, but apparently the academy doesn’t allow that anymore after the infamous Brando incident. I don’t remember in recent times anyone collecting the award on someone else’s behalf, so maybe there is something to it. But there have been strong reports that Anthony’s team requested to let him join by zoom, which the show refused because it wasn’t at one of their hubs. So sounds more like the producers were aware this situation would happen and prompted Joaquin to act accordingly. The cut to Questlove at the end made it seem like it was a plan B in action. Still the whole thing left a bad taste. These are show runners with years of experience. Clearly they would know there would be unexpected wins, and they need to be respectful to everyone about that.

  12. Astrid says:

    You couldn’t pay me enough money to sit through an award show.

  13. Insomniac says:

    I know Joaquin can be eccentric (understatement of the century there!), but it’s very hard for me to believe he would have just decided to end the show himself if he’d been informed there was a plan in place for Hopkins’s win. Someone’s trying to throw him under the bus for their own bad planning.

    • Case says:

      Yeah, I feel like…it’s not up to him to end the show? He was just following what the teleprompter said. I don’t see how it’s his fault. He’s not the one who pulled the camera away and started playing the ending music.

    • tealily says:

      He didn’t seem to be improvising in any way. It felt like he read that off a teleprompter.

  14. Rocķy says:

    I didn’t watch because I thought it was in bad taste to have a gathering like that when most of the world is locked down still. Especially right now with the crisis in India showing us how far we still have to go. A fancy dress up party for millionaires to give each other awards? No thanks.
    But I did read that Joaquin wore the same tux for the 6th time and all I could think was good for you for not buying into the hype and commercialism

  15. Renee says:

    This is not Joaquin’s fault. The fault falls on the producers and director. They are the ones who began playing music as soon as Joaquin signed off. They then did an overhead shot of the auditorium as the show ended. This was how it was planned to go. Believe me, I could blame Joaquin for a lot of things, but this is not one of them.

  16. Regina Falangie says:

    It’s because this past year has taught us many things and one of them is that celebrities are irrelevant. No one care about them anymore. A select few use their voice and their power for good, the rest we don’t care about. They’ve shown us how desperate for attention they are. It’s frankly pathetic.

  17. Queen Anne says:

    I watched the entire oscars until the end because I wanted to see best actor. I really thought Chadwick Boseman would win posthumously. I was shocked. It appeared to me that Joaquin Phoenix was shocked. The ending was bizarre. The next morning when I saw Anthony Hopkins most gracious acceptance speech, I felt like he thought Chadwick Boseman was going to win as well. His speech was wonderful. Chadwick’s movie was the only one I saw so I can’t speak to the others. He was absolutely amazing in it. You can see how much weight he had lost but he had not lost his passion. The movie was really good, not one I usually watch, as I prefer escapism, but I’m glad I watched it. I learned something. And I’m glad I saw his last movie.

  18. Tursitops says:

    In this age of wage parity and the amplification of women’s voices in film, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the gender issue. The last category of the evening is reserved for the “most important” award. The Academy thought that Best Actor would go to Chadwick Boseman, so they moved Best Picture up. Once again, the Academy shows how tone-deaf they are. Can they not see that by moving Best Actor to the last spot, the necessary implication is that it was more important than all other awards, including but especially Best Actress?