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Joaquin Phoenix just called the Oscars, the awards season and awards campaigning “bullshit.” But will that comment really hurt his chances at winning an Oscar for his stunning performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master? If the annual award show’s history proves anything...probably not.
“I'm just saying that I think it's bullshit. I think it's total, utter bullshit, and I don't want to be a part of it. I don't believe in it,” Phoenix said in an interview with Elvis Mitchell. “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. It's totally subjective. Pitting people against each other.”
Several sites assumed that this could spell doom for Phoenix’s chances at a third Oscar nomination and his first win, but that’s not necessarily going to happen. The Oscars have a history of honoring actors even if they don’t like the process. As Entertainment Weekly notes, George C. Scott wrote to the Academy, telling them that he didn’t believe in competitive awards. They gave him an Oscar for 1970’s Patton anyway, which he refused. He was also nominated for The Hustler and refused that as well.
There’s also the famous incident in 1973 when Marlon Brando refused to accept his Oscar for The Godfather. Instead, Sacheen Littlefeather, a young Native American, attended in his place and refused the Oscar for him.
More recently, there was Mo’nique, who was considered a contender for her performance in 2009’s Precious. She refused to attend events for the film, although she did attend the Oscars. The Academy still gave her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar anyway.
Phoenix also took aim at the campaigning process, which The Hollywood Reporter notes, is something the Academy agrees with. It is constantly adopting new limits on campaigning.
The irony of the situation is that The Master is being distributed by the ultimate Oscar campaigning machine, The Weinstein Company. Harvey & Bob Weinstein have released the last two Best Picture winners, The Artist and The King’s Speech, and likely helped Meryl Streep get a win for The Iron Lady. In addition, their power helped propel Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The English Patient to Best Picture wins while running Miramax.
While those are their success stories, EW notes that their campaigning for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York backfired. It took a low-key campaign for Warner Bros.’ The Departed to finally get Scorsese his wins.
We won’t know until Jan. 10 if Phoenix’s comments will stop him from getting an Oscar nomination, but if Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in Lincoln is as good as the critics say, the whole point may be moot.