In a Q&A with Interview magazine this week, Joaquin Phoenix followed in the time-honored, if rare, Hollywood tradition of trashing the Academy Awards.
The notably eccentric actor, considered a strong prospect for a Best Actor nod after his performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” told Interview’s Elvis Mitchell that he had no interest in parading himself around town for the meaningless pony show that is awards season.
“I’m just saying that I think it’s bulls--t,” he told the magazine. “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.”
Phoenix speaks from experience. He has been nominated twice for an Oscar, an honor that often requires actors and their representatives to embark on ambitious “for your consideration” campaigns as they square off against the competition. Phoenix dutifully gunned for a Best Actor win in 2005 for his turn as Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” a process he referred to as “one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life.” And the actor is not the first to express his distaste for Oscar gold. Marlon Brando famously rejected his statuette in protest of the country’s treatment of Native Americans. More recently, the late Heath Ledger frowned on the awards-vying process after he was nominated for Best Actor in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain.”
Both Ledger and Phoenix lost to Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote.”
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So-called Oscar-bait season typically begins sometime after the summer winds down, when studios run out of superhero movies and start concentrating on more serious-minded releases. And, of course, an Oscar win can mean big business for such films. Best Picture winners routinely receive a bump in ticket and DVD sales. As such, movie industry pundits have already begun to place their bets on whether Phoenix’s snubbery has hurt the movie’s chances of cashing in on that statuette scratch.
But for movie fans who have simply grown tired of watching talented film folk, year after year, pander and grovel before the almighty Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as if their very lives depended on filling unused shelf space with a 13-inch trophy, Phoenix’s cavalier attitude is a refreshing change. The actor offered much-needed balance to a conversation that has skewed too far in the direction of Oscars-as-necessity -- as if well-crafted, well-acted movies exist for no other reason but to obtain industry kudos.
The Oscars are a major part of film-industry tradition, and, in celebrating the art form since 1929, when cinema was still in its infancy, they have earned that place in the popular culture. But the point at which healthy tradition becomes blind veneration can ruin it for those of us who don’t share in the habitual piety. These are just statuettes, after all, and to see Gwyneth Paltrow crying over one as if she just discovered a cure for cancer only reinforces the outsized position they have come to occupy.
Woody Allen, perhaps cinema’s most famous Oscar shunner, has always been that rare movie-industry outlier who truly grasps the folly of self-congratulation. “All they do is give out awards,” his character said of Hollywood in 1977’s “Annie Hall.” Of course, Hollywood rewarded his mockery with an Oscar for that very same movie -- during a ceremony to which he couldn’t be bothered to show up.
Now, the same questions are swirling around Phoenix. Will his comments hurt his chances at a nomination? Will the Academy display some of the masochistic tendencies it has shown in the past by nominating him anyway, perhaps just to torture him?
If we take Phoenix at his word, he could care less.