To be clear, Hopkins was not underserving of the Oscar. One of the greatest thespians of his generation, Hopkins drills into all of his characters to a granular level, and in Florian Zeller’s The Father, he gave a genuinely haunting rendition of a man enduring the waking nightmare of dementia; his essay of how one loses their grasp on reality and the world around him is devastating.
However, it is hard not to suspect that by breaking with nine decades of tradition, the Oscar producers were counting on Boseman to win the Best Actor award—as he had at all other major awards ceremonies this year, minus Hopkins’ BAFTA win, with the British Academy Film Awards often favoring British talent. Boseman winning a posthumous Oscar also would’ve provided an excellent, if bittersweet, ending to what was being presented as an intimate Hollywood story. The industry bids farewell to a tremendous talent who was taken far, far too soon.
One imagines, like so many Oscar prognosticators (including myself), producers looked at the numbers, and assumed the Academy would do like the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild before them and recognize Boseman’s beautiful, monumental talent with the one and only performance he could ever win for.
So the Oscars telecast ended not on Nomadland’s raucous (and joyful) Best Picture win, but with Boseman’s final farewell being denied, and a living winner who was not even able to attend the ceremony, likely due to traveling at an advanced age during a pandemic.
It gave the Oscars ceremony a sour aftertaste and a sense of disappointment. The irony is it did not need to close out this way. While there is probably much to say about why Boseman’s heartbreaking performance as a Black musician in the 1920s being used and abused by white business owners lost to an old favorite, Hopkins is as raw in a turn many consider to the best of his career—and one that is situated nearly 30 years since his last Oscar win for The Silence of the Lambs.
But how this category played out will fairly frustrate many, and it acting as the night’s denouement reframes an evening that saw a tremendously diverse field of Oscar winners throughout the categories, including Daniel Kaluuya in Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, Youn Yuh-jung in Best Supporting Actress for Minari, and Chloé Zhao in Best Director for Nomadland. Even Nomadland’s wins for Best Picture and Best Director are recognitions of a movie with perhaps the strongest anti-capitalist sentiments since The Grapes of Wrath (which won Director, not Picture, in 1941).