Nevermind, Anthony Hopkins, You Deserved Your Oscar Win For “The Father”

The Academy Awards and I have had a turbulent relationship over the decades. From their voters trying to convince me that Damien Chazelle deserved the Best Director win for La La Land over Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, giving him the same amount of golden statuettes as Martin Scorsese; to them giving Emma Stone the Best Actress award over Lily Gladstone this year, her second in the category and two more than the likes of a legend like Viola Davis; safe to say my ire towards the show has grown to the point of exhaustion. Honestly, anger isn’t something I even feel anymore when the annual event airs in early Spring on ABC. Because from experience I know that, in one category or another, there will be either a blasphemous omission from the nominees, or that the winner will go to the individual or film that either best “fits” the academy’s politics, or to whichever executive campaigned the hardest in the months leading up to the ceremony. As such, many sighs are exhaled from my mouth during these evenings.

Such a sigh escaped my body when in 2021, 83-year-old Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor award for his performance in The Father over both Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed. Yeun’s performance as Jacob Yi in Minari was almost transformative; the actor took the body, voice, and soul of a struggling South Korean immigrant family man in 1980s rural America and performed the part with such a subtle honesty that I’d forgotten that I was watching the same actor who’d played Glenn in The Walking Dead. His performance reminded me of the many older-generation (South) Asian immigrant uncles I know; from their curt cadence, slumped shoulders, and an unfettered desire to “make it” in these Western lands. Ahmed’s performance as the metal drummer Ruben Stone in The Sound of Metal, on the other hand, was anything but subtle. Coming out swinging with a fiery passion, Ahmed took an approach to this character that was angry, an anger that festered throughout the film’s two-hour runtime until, finally, his character found a calm within. Though I had my qualms with the film as a whole, Ahmed’s riveting performance carried the narrative with both a fire and a quiet introspection.

Academy Award Best Actor Nominees 2021. Image: Variety
Academy Award Best Actor Nominees 2021. Image: Variety

Seeing both of these fine gentlemen be nominated for the Academy Awards was a joy. It would’ve been even more joyous to see either of them take home that coveted golden statuette by the evening’s end–especially considering how Asian actors (South Asians more so) have been woefully underrepresented at the Academy since its inception. But, alas, such was not the case. Instead, I witnessed Joaquin Phoenix announce Anthony Hopkins as the award’s winner and accept it on his behalf due to Hopkins not being in attendance (the man’s in his 80s, I’ll give him a pass). I hadn’t watched The Father at the time so I knew it wouldn’t be right for me to be upset, but I was nevertheless. Nothing against Hopkins, the man is a legend and has several incredible performances under his belt and I was sure his performance in The Father was good, but it just felt like, yet again, the academy went for the safer choice.

Well, after having recently watched Florian Zeller’s The Father, Anthony Hopkins’ performance was anything but just “good” or “safe.” Simply put, the man gave us what I would consider one of the greatest performances in the past decade. Based on Zeller’s book, Le Père, The Father tells the story of an elderly man named Anthony struggling with dementia and refusing to take any assistance from carers that his daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) tries to procure for him. While Olivia Coleman is her usual brilliant self, bringing a wealth of heart to the story while showcasing the wide canvas of emotions her character is going through, from the guilt to the love to the frustrations, it’s Anthony Hopkins who had me truly mesmerized.

Frankly, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe what I felt after I’d finished watching his performance as the wryly Anthony. Within the relatively short hour and a half runtime, Hopkins is able to illustrate every facet of this character’s long life; from his sturdiness as a successful man, which leads to his stubbornness in refusing to unburden himself from this aura of pomp and vigour, to his surprising charm that’s still able to snap out quick-witted comebacks when met with a younger woman, almost transporting us to what a younger and vivacious Anthony once was. When all of this history slowly but surely begins crumbling around him, Hopkins is able to then seamlessly transition to portray the restrained fear and anxiety of Anthony; a man struggling with his mind and body while still doing his damndest to stay in control. Some love must also be given to the film’s editor, Yorgos Lamprinos, who does an impeccable job playing with jump-cuts and transitions to give audiences the apt sense of disarray as it pertains to time and place; putting us quite literally in the headspace of Anthony’s character.

Anthony Hopkins as Anthony in The Father.
Anthony Hopkins as Anthony in The Father.

I always say that to win an Academy Award, an actor needs to have an “Oscar moment;” a scene that truly showcases their acting chops and acts as the crescendo for their overall performance. Though I could argue that the entire film of The Father acts as an “Oscar moment” for Hopkins, it’s in the last scene where I truly was in disbelief at what I was witnessing. When all of Anthony’s pieces fall by the wayside, leaving him truly and devastatingly vulnerable, Hopkins brings forth a childlike (im)purity to his performance; one that leaves all semblance of structure and sense to the wind. It’s a moment of acting that is so harrowingly beautiful, so unashamedly raw yet isn’t forced or made into “a moment,” that I was truly and utterly awestruck.

The fact that Anthony Hopkins continues to work at his age is commendable in and of itself, but the fact that he’s still able and willing to put out such a calibre of performance at this stage of his life is beyond impressive. I will gladly eat my words and apologize for initially groaning at his win for Best Actor–sorry Steven and Riz. This isn’t to say that I think the academy is going to get it right again in the future (they most certainly will not), but this is one of the rare exceptions when I will happily concede.

Shaz Mohsin

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