There is a long tradition of the Oscar voters voting for actors even when those actors have poo-poo’d the awards. Why? Because there probably isn’t a single person in the Kodak, either in the audience or on stage who doesn’t think the same thing. The only people who really think that much of the Oscars are the fans, and the journalists who always start an obit with “Oscar winner so-and-so.” Even Joaquin Phoenix, someday, will acknowledge this. But Sally Field put it best when she won her second Best Actress Oscar (I think she might win a third for Lincoln): “You like me.” That’s really what it is. They like you. And for that one shimmering moment you have some deserved power in Hollywood to do with what you like. Someone just handed you a big check and said, here, go do something with this. It’s that, and being part of Oscar history.
The Oscars really do mean something for up-and-comers, however. It would mean the difference in the career of, say, Ava DuVernay or Benh Zeitlin, or Ann Dowd, or any struggling artist who has trouble raising money or getting called for parts. Pardon me for saying that Joaquin Phoenix ought to consider himself lucky, first in having an easy entry into showbiz in the first place, and second, for having critics, audiences and Hollywood love his work. Once you evolve past yourself? As in, get over yourself? You can begin to let the love in.
But Phoenix’s heart is in the right place when he says:
“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. 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 … It’s the stupidest thing in the whole world.”
And recalling the nightmare of publicity when you have an Oscar favorite and you have to schmooze he wrote:
“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.”
Does this mean no one will nominate Phoenix? I don’t know. My first reaction was Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman, George C. Scott, Woody Allen — none of them liked the Oscars at all, yet they still won. But lately? It does feel like you have to really walk the line, do what Jeff Bridges and Marion Cotillard did to win their Oscars and it ain’t pretty. But when it’s all over maybe you made a few more million for that production. Maybe it means you can be first in line for a really great part. Maybe you don’t have to worry about that because you’ve never had to worry about that. So the answer is, I don’t know.
But I’ll point Phoenix, and anyone else who is lucky enough to have Oscar buzz and therefore has to put him or herself out there for what has to be among the most putrid and soul-crushing activities known to privileged people: When Flight had their on-camera q&a, Denzel Washington was down with the flu. But there was John Goodman acting like John Goodman. He clearly didn’t want to be there and his answers were clipped, occasionally bordering on rude. He was the same way last year when he had to do press for the Artist. But Goodman has been around a long time, long enough to know what it is to have no money to pay your electric bill, long enough to understand that your appearance in the awards race makes a huge difference for all of the actors in the film, and everyone closely involved in the project. No, to Paul Thomas Anderson or Joaquin Phoenix thumbing their nose at awards might be a privilege now. But wait until you’re David Lynch taking a cow to Sunset Blvd. to try to GET awards attention for Inland Empire, a movie that was so difficult for Lynch to make (financially and emotionally, he may never make one again). So I would say to the very talented and very lucky Phoenix: Count your blessings, son. You have no idea when the gravy train will stop. Like it or not, movies still cost money to make. Publicists bend over backwards FOR YOU. They are there to promote YOUR movie. They aren’t trying to ruin your life.