Yesterday, “The Master” star Joaquin Phoenix raised some eyebrows when a choice quote from his conversation with Elvis Mitchell in Interview Magazine, in which he slammed the awards process, made the rounds: “I’m just saying that 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… 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.”
Whether the double-nominee has squandered his chances for a win or even a nod for Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “The Master,” remains to be seen (we suspect not necessarily, and even if he has, he’s unlikely to care), but Phoenix is following a fine heritage of performers who’ve dissed the Oscars over the years, many of whom then went on to win awards. There have been many famous Oscar controversies over the years — Marlon Brando and Vanessa Redgrave spring to mind — but not all of them actively attacked the institution itself. Below, you can find ten who did.
Allen — who’s had 15 nominations for Best Original Screenplay, and has won four Oscars personally — has always been uninterested in the Oscars, having only attended once, to pay tribute to New York at the 2002 ceremony. Back in 1978, he said “There are two things that bother me about them. They’re political and bought and negotiated for, and the whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept them when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept them when they say you don’t. It’s ‘The Green Hills of Africa,’ that’s what it is. You put yourself in their hands as you’re judged, and you’re flattered, and the next year they say, ‘No, you don’t get it, Steve McQueen gets it’ – and you know you were fantastic. The whole thing goes against everything you’ve worked for in your life. Also, there’s no provision made for comedy and never has been. Consequently, artists like Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton never win Academy Awards. But it’s not fair. Of course, if you’re judging Groucho Marx against ‘Death of a Salesman‘ or ‘Streetcar Named Desire,’ it’s wrong.”
He seems to have softened in recent years, telling the Washington Post earlier this year that “They always have it on Sunday night. And it’s always — you can look this up — it’s always opposite a good basketball game. And I’m a big basketball fan. So it’s a great pleasure for me to come home and get into bed and watch a basketball game. And that’s exactly where I was, watching the game.”
A few years after his first nomination for “Before Night Falls,” Javier Bardem seemed to be unimpressed with the whole thing, telling About.com: “I live in Spain. Oscars are something that are on TV Sunday night. Basically, very late at night. You don’t watch, you just read the news after who won or who lost. No,” and adding, in an echo of Bogart’s quote “What does my performance have to do with Russell Crowe’s? Nothing. If I play Gladiator and we all play Gladiator with Ridley Scott in the same amount of time, maybe we have a chance to see who did it best.” He won three years later for “No Country For Old Men.”
Nominated, but beaten, in 1944 for “Casablanca,” Humphrey Bogart remained skeptical about the Academy Awards, saying in 1951, “The only way to find the best actor would be to let everybody play Hamlet and let the best man win.” Sadly, the Academy didn’t take up his suggestion (we’d have loved to have seen Bogie’s Hamlet), but his criticism didn’t stop him from winning for “The African Queen” the following year.
The surrealist filmmaker said in 1970 that, “Nothing would disgust me more morally than winning an Oscar.” Three years later, he was nominated for the screenplay of “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” and again in 1977 for “That Obscure Object Of Desire,” but presumably a nomination wasn’t so morally disgusting.
Field gave one of the most famous and imitated speeches in Oscar history when she won in 1985 saying, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me… right now… you like me.” But soon after winning her first, for 1979’s “Norma Rae,” she said, “What does the Academy Award mean? I don’t think it means much of anything?” She’ll have another chance at being liked this year with Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln.”
The director of this year’s hopeful “Quartet” started out with an approach to the Oscars that was mostly focused on self-loathing, saying on night before the 1968 ceremony, for which he was nominated for “The Graduate“: “I hope to God I don’t win an Oscar tomorrow night. It would really depress me if I did. I really don’t deserve it. It wasn’t that important a part anyhow.” Fortunately for him, Rod Steiger won for “In The Heat Of The Night.” Seven years later, when nominated for “Lenny,” he was much harsher, saying, “The Academy Awards are obscene, dirty… no better than a beauty contest” (which earned him a rebuke from Frank Sinatra).
When he won for “Kramer Vs. Kramer“, four years later, he was more gracious, while not letting go of his essential problems with the Oscars. “I’m up here with mixed feelings. I’ve been critical of the Academy, and for reason. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be able to work… I refuse to believe that I beat Jack Lemmon, that I beat Al Pacino, that I beat Peter Sellers. I refuse to believe that Robert Duvall lost. We are a part of an artistic family,” he said. “There are sixty thousand actors in this Academy – pardon me – in the Screen Actors Guild, and probably a hundred thousand in Equity. And most actors don’t work, and a few of us are so lucky to have a chance to work with writing and to work with directing. Because when you’re a broke actor you can’t write; you can’t paint; you have to practice accents while you’re driving a taxi cab. And to that artistic family that strives for excellence, none of you have ever lost and I am proud to share this with you. And I thank you.”
The “Ghostbusters” star’s chances have faded this year after “Hyde Park On Hudson” picked up disappointing reviews, but it might be for the best. In 2005, the year after another one-time Oscar agnostic Sean Penn beat him to Best Actor, Murray responded when the Guardian asked if he was pissed off by saying “Pissed off? You bet I was. I don’t approve of award ceremonies, so I was wondering what had persuaded me to attend that one. I was pissed at myself.”
The star of the biggest franchise in history hasn’t yet been in awards-bait material, so he may come to regret the comments he made earlier this year, sparked by disappointment that the final ‘Harry Potter‘ only received technical nominations. “I don’t think the Oscars like commercial films, or kids’ films, unless they’re directed by Martin Scorsese,” Radcliffe told the Radio Times. “I was watching ‘Hugo‘ the other day and going, ‘Why is this nominated and we’re not?’ I was slightly miffed. There’s a certain amount of snobbery. It’s kind of disheartening. I never thought I’d care. But it would’ve been nice to have some recognition, just for the hours put in.”
George C. Scott
One of only a handful of actors to outright refuse an Oscar, Scott initially turned down a supporting nomination for “The Hustler,” then when he was nominated in 1970 for “Patton,” did so again, telling the press: “The ceremonies are a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons… offensive, barbarous and innately corrupt.” He still won, but was at home watching a hockey game.
Perhaps the most flamboyant refusal of an Oscar of all time, Marlon Brando who had glady accepted the statue in 1955 for “On The Waterfront,” wasn’t so eager the next time around. In 1973, he won for his role in “The Godfather,” but Sacheen Littlefeather attended the awards in his place, and when the actor’s name was called, went on stage and explained that Brando “very regretfully” couldn’t accept the award. Brando later clarified his position in an editorial in the New York Times. “The motion picture community has been as responsible as any, for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil,” he wrote.
Brando would be nominted twice more, but wouldn’t win.
Bonus: Matt Dillon
Ok, so Dillon’s never spoken out against the Academy himself, but in character as his Tom Hanks-inspired movie star in 1997’s Frank Oz comedy “In & Out,” Dillon summed up the approach of many ambivalent stars. Dillon says on the Oscar red carpet: “Basically to me, awards are meaningless. I’m an artist. It’s about the work. All the nominees are artists. We shouldn’t be forced to compete like dogs.” The interviewer, understandably puzzled, asks him why he’s still attending to the ceremony, to which Dillon replies, “In case I win.” Fair enough.