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Joaquin Phoenix Disses Oscar Campaigning – But Don’t Write Him Off

Joaquin Phoenix says he hates the Academy Awards circus — but, hey, everybody hates Oscar campaigning. And he's still likely to get an Oscar nomination


What's all this nonsense about Joaquin Phoenix's hatred for the Academy Awards circus dooming his chances to be recognized for "The Master"?

Don't the people who have been writing about how his intemperate comments might hurt his standing with voters know that everybody hates Oscar campaigning? And that everybody in the Academy knows it?

Getty ImagesSure, Phoenix is more honest than most. "I think it's bullshit," he told Interview magazine recently when asked about campaigning for "The Master." "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."

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Is it going to "cost him… an Oscar nomination," as a subhed on the front page of Yahoo! suggested? Of course not. Phoenix's performance in "The Master" is undeniable, and the idea that enough Academy voters are going to hold his anti-Oscar stance against him is laughable.

To get an Oscar nomination, Phoenix needs about 200 members of the Academy's Actors Branch – one-sixth of the branch, basically – to think that he gave the year's best performance as the unhinged World War II vet in Paul Thomas Anderson's thorny drama.

Not only are that many voters bound to put him at the top of their ballots, I'd guess that his comments will draw an approving nod from at least that many.

Besides, who is he up against? Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln" is arguably the race's other front-runner, and he's not likely to be hitting the campaign train except in the smallest, most carefully-chosen doses. Denzel Washington gives a bravura performance in "Flight," but at the film's media launch — a coast-to-coast preview screening followed by a Q&A with director Robert Zemeckis and the cast transmitted into all the theaters — Washington called in sick.

Let's face it: Nobody likes to do what now seems to be required to land an Oscar nomination – and for every Academy member who would like a prospective nominee to show some respect, there's probably another who admires Phoenix's guts in saying it.

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Now, that's not to say that the guy has a clear shot at winning, though he stands at or near the top of most Oscar polls. But it isn't his attitude that may well keep him from the stage of the Dolby Theatre – it's the chilly nature of the movie, and the fact that the character is vividly drawn, fascinating but fundamentally unlikable. Voters want to embrace the characters played by Oscar winners (Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"), or love them (Sean Penn in "Milk"), or be moved by them (Colin Firth in "The King's Speech"), or even be scared by them (Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood"). They don't want to pity them.

So if Phoenix ends up losing to Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, or Washington as an alcoholic airline pilot, or John Hawkes as a polio victim losing his virginity, or Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, it most likely will be the fault of the movie he's in and the character he plays, not the big mouth he can't keep shut.