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The Oscars are never short on surprises. Remember when the controversial “Green Book” beat the favored “Roma” for Best Picture in 2019? Or when “La La Land” was mistakenly called to the stage instead of actual victor “Moonlight” in 2017? Or way back in 1997, when li’l “Shakespeare in Love” took down big honkin’ “Saving Private Ryan”? Usually that’s all part of the fun.
But to casual film fans, Sunday night’s big upset packed a particularly emotional wallop: The late Chadwick Boseman lost the Best Actor prize to Anthony Hopkins.
The final award of the evening, which had heretofore been Best Picture, was changed to Best Actor for the bizarre occasion. So, viewers then assumed that move was to honor Boseman, who died in August of colon cancer at age 43. But he didn’t win for his role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Hopkins did for playing a man ailing from dementia in “The Father.” Even more anticlimactic, the 83-year-old — the oldest Best Actor winner ever — was far away in Wales, and didn’t deliver a speech. It was the fizzle heard around the world.
Some voters were shocked.
“My jaw dropped,” a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences told The Post. “What the hell was that? I was totally unaware of any sort of movement towards Anthony Hopkins within the Academy. I voted for Chadwick, even if I found the movie itself to be a bit too theatrical for me to be really passionate about it. I figured most were doing similar, and if I’d heard any murmurs about voting for another nominee it was for Riz Ahmed.”
However, similar to when a silent majority opted for Olivia Colman instead of Glenn Close or Lady Gaga in 2019, most people checked Hopkins’ box this year.
Joyce Eng, senior editor of the award season punditry website GoldDerby, said that the win came down, in part, to good old-fashioned Hollywood strategy — something Netflix has yet to master.
“On paper, Chadwick Boseman appeared to be the favorite because he won most of the precursor awards and Anthony Hopkins only had the BAFTA,” Eng told The Post, noting that the “Ma Rainey’s” actor won the SAG Award and the Golden Globe.
“But I think there was something in play that general fans were not aware of, and that’s the fact that ‘The Father’ was peaking at exactly the right time [for the Oscars]. Sony Pictures Classics held off releasing the film till literally the last minute in theaters. It opened Feb. 26.”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” on the other hand, dropped on Netflix back in November, during a tricky year with ample distractions.
“They just knew what they were doing,” Eng added of Sony.
Also, let’s make something clear: Like Boseman in “Ma Rainey’s,” Hopkins gives a triumphant and very deserving performance in “The Father.” He’s not some Oscar hog like Meryl Streep or, now, Frances McDormand. He won only once before, for “The Silence of the Lambs” almost 30 years ago.
The Welshman gave a kind speech the next day on Instagram, and paid tribute to Boseman.
“At 83 years of age, I did not expect to get this award,” he said. “I really didn’t. I am grateful to the academy, and thank you.
“And I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was taken from us far too early,” he said.
Still, the rotten production choice of placing a category right at the end of the evening when there was a solid chance the winner — or even a proxy — might not even be in attendance was a boneheaded one. It certainly proved one thing: The accountant-held ballot count really is secret. Otherwise, they would not have changed the freakin’ order of the awards. Ultimately, it left a foul taste with everybody.
“I love Anthony Hopkins and his performance,” the Oscar voter said. “But it was a really disappointing end to the evening.”