The Oscars Ending Is Our New 'Joker' Origin Story

Olivia Ovenden
·3-min read
Photo credit: Handout - Getty Images
Photo credit: Handout - Getty Images

Steven Soderbergh movies are known for their unresolved endings, and the 93rd Academy Awards, which the director produced, was no exception. It feels fitting that the man who helmed Hollywood's take on a global pandemic, Contagion, should be at the controls for the global pandemic's take on Hollywood, as the weirdest night of the year became stranger still thanks to a half empty room and close-ups of Frances McDormand refusing to take her mask off.

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After the buffering that befell the Golden Globes, the Academy forced everyone to come to Los Angeles to avoid the dreaded Zoom doom on the big night. This didn't include Oscar-nominee Anthony Hopkins who, as at the Baftas earlier this month, sat out the ceremony, but Chadwick Boseman was such a shoo-in for the best actor award for his final role in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom that nobody spotted the iceberg that the ship was steering directly towards.

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A refreshed running order saw the best actor award closing the night in place of the traditional ending of best picture. This seemingly pointed towards a heartwarming ending as Boseman, who died last year of colon cancer aged 43, was celebrated and rewarded. Speaking to the cynic inside us, that ending would also negate some of the #OscarsSoWhite criticism that has been levelled at the Academy of late, by taking the time to honour a Black man taken too soon.

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Ending with best picture has seen several dramatic upsets in recent years: La La Land accidentally announced in place of real winner Moonlight in 2017; Parasite crowned the shock winner in 2020. Perhaps the Academy wanted to avoid the anticlimax of 2019, where Green Book took the top prize home, just in case the night ended with Aaron Sorkin's middling drama The Trial of the Chicago 7 clutching a shiny statue.

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Instead the best actor finale gave Soderbergh's show an Oceans 11-esque surprise of a conclusion. It's just unfortunate that the real plot twist was one he didn't see coming. Joaquin Phoenix pottered on stage to present the award to his successor, reading out that Anthony Hopkins had in fact won the award to an unblinking black and white avatar of the actor, and in the process gifting us our new Joker origin story.

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The night ended not with a bang but a whimper as there was no triumphant speech, either from Boseman's wife honouring his legacy or from the veteran British actor who had overturned the most persistent and unchallenged narrative of this year's Oscars race. It was a moment of stilted drama which gave the perfect Hollywood ending to an awards season which has dragged on and on: anticlimactic, absurd and just so awkward.

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