Oscars 2021: Anthony Hopkins makes history with a (deserved) shock win

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Anthony Hopkins attends The Two Popes Gala Event at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 18, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Netflix)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 18: Anthony Hopkins attends The Two Popes Gala Event at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 18, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Netflix) /

Now that the dust has settled from the joyless, humorless 93rd Academy Awards, there’s been plenty of controversies to rage over, particularly the way the ceremony set up Anthony Hopkins’ shock win for Best Actor in The Father over the late Chadwick Boseman.

But directing that ire towards an 83-year-old man – one already considered one of our greatest living actors –  who gave the performance of his lifetime, is just plain wrong. Largely because the win for Hopkins was understandable – and deserved.

Immediately after screening The Father at last year’s Sundance Film Festival – this was over a year ago, mind you –  here is what I wrote.

"“Now that the Oscars are over [in 2020], it’s time to focus on Oscar season for next year, and I can already tell you who should win for Best Actor, Anthony Hopkins in The Father.”"

As a patriarch in the throes of dementia, Hopkins gives a shattering performance that left not a dry eye in the screening I saw at Sundance. In a career that is virtually comprised of phenomenal roles, I can attest that The Father is his greatest yet. It is a tour-de-force performance whose quieter moments will haunt you and features a gut-wrenching breakdown in the conclusion.

Only Hopkins’s pained butler in The Remains of the Day comes close to his work in The Father. In fact, his loss for that role at the 1994 Oscars was considered a bit of a robbery at the time, He lost out to Tom Hank’s heart-rending lead turn in Philadelphia, a role that Hanks would turn a repeat feat at the 1995 Oscars with his win for Forrest Gump. So it seems fitting that the great Anthony Hopkins at least now equals the two-time winner Hanks.

With the win at age 83, Hopkins surpasses Christopher Plumber (who won at 82 for Beginners in 2011), becoming the oldest actor to take home a statuette. Visiting his father’s grave the morning after, in Wales, he posted a moving tribute to Boseman, and seemed as surprised as everyone else by his win.

A tribute had been planned for the Black Panther star, who lost his battle with colon cancer at the young age of 43 last fall. Instead of intending it as a centerpiece—where it would have served as a highlight of the ceremony—it was saved for the penultimate moment after the award was won posthumously. A tribute to Chadwick Boseman was needed, but it should have been included for its own merit, and not as an afterthought to whether or not he claimed the Best Actor award.

It’s clear that the tribute was supposed to close out the ceremony as well, after Boseman’s widow would have accepted the award on his behalf. Moving the Best Actress and Best Actor awards to the conclusion of the evening spoke to this motivation. But instead, we got a surprise win by Hopkins, who did not attend, and the presenter, Joaquin Phoenix, deflatingly accepted on his behalf. Cut to the credits and with that, the 2021 Oscars went out with a whimper.

The misguided change in awards order unfortunately also took some of the excitement out of Nomadland’s historic win for Best Picture. Having the group responsible for the winning picture storm onto the podium always ends the ceremony on a fun, energetic note of celebration. Sure, Nomadland’s win was no surprise—it had been the critics’ darling all season and is an incredible ode to storytelling—but Chloe Zhao’s vision as a woman of color, an Asian woman who has already achieved many firsts, and the ceremony should have ended with her historic celebration.

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What did you think about the Anthony Hopkins, Nomadland or any of the other Oscars surprises? Sound off in the comments.