For most of the 93rd Academy Awards, the night went pretty much as expected. Movies like Sound of Metal, Nomadland, and yes, even Tenet racked up wins with very little surprises to either outrage or elate. However, when it came to handing out the award for Best Actor, Chadwick Boseman not winning the Oscar might have been the biggest shock of the night.
Instead of the Ma Rainey's Black Bottom star winning a posthumous award, Anthony Hopkins’ performance in The Father’s titular role was what ended up taking home the Academy Award for Best Actor. This was a huge surprise in an evening that already departed from the usual formula of an awards show with a scaled down version of what Oscar audiences are used to seeing. Not to mention, the ending of the 93rd annual proceedings ended in a switch up from the usual order of operations.
The last three Oscars were presented in the following order: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Actor (an odd thing given that Best Picture is typically last). The evening’s top honors went to director Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland, with Frances McDormand scoring a slightly surprising upset in the Best Actress category for that same film. Some had expected that Best Actor might have been scheduled to be the final award in order to highlight Chadwick Boseman’s potential victory as the final punctuation on the evening’s events. But things didn't exactly work out that way, with Joaquin Phoenix announcing Anthony Hopkins' name and then explaining that the performer wasn't present at the event to accept the trophy.
Between his untimely passing and the knock out performance he’d given in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Boseman felt like he was going to be a lock for the Best Actor honors. The pattern that emerged throughout the strange awards season saw Chadwick Boseman’s legacy being honored by critics and his peers throughout multiple victories on the road to the Oscars. But the Academy Awards upset was delivered as the most shocking twist of the evening, and could quite possibly go down in history as one of the biggest surprises to ever grace the Oscars.
This was the second of two upsets in the Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom camp at the Oscars. With four-time nominee Viola Davis also being tipped by some as the potential choice for Best Actress this evening, the stars seemed aligned for the Netflix original film to fulfill what seemed to be its destiny. Out of the five Oscars George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of August Wilson’s play racked up at tonight’s ceremony, only Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Costume Design wound up falling into the film’s win column.
When all was said and done, the Best Actor victory that saw Anthony Hopkins beat out Chadwick Boseman’s performance will be the moment this night will be remembered for. Morning headlines and history books will remember tonight as an event where a mostly predictable night took a left turn at the last possible moment. No matter your opinion on the result, you have to admit that the ending to this year’s Oscars was truly symbolic of the year that was 2020.