Obviously the big news coming from this year’s Oscars ceremony is Anthony Hopkins unexpectedly taking the Best Actor award from what seemed to be an obvious choice in Chadwick Boseman. So obvious was this outcome that the Academy’s showrunners restructured the ceremony in the hopes of ending on a touching tribute to the late Boseman, only for Hopkins, who was unable to attend the ceremony (and denied the ability to attend via Zoom), to win. But also a surprise win was the Best Adapted Screenplay category, where The Father beat out the favoured nominee Nomadland, adapted from a novel of the same name by Chloé Zhao.
Goldderby, who provide the most in-depth analyses year on year of a film’s chances of being nominated, and then winning, put Nomadland at a comfortable first place with 16/5 odds of winning, and The Father in second place with 39/10 odds. So, how did it manage to come in swinging so late in
Adapted by Florian Zeller from his celebrated stage play Le Père, in his directorial debut, The Father is the story of a patriarch suffering from dementia, attempting to keep track of his ever shifting life.
The film’s rollout strategy was virtuosic. It premiered at Sundance on 27 Jan 2020, only to be halted due to covid-19. Producers began weighing their options, like dumping it onto steaming services, which may have buried the film among the many, many awards contenders (so many Netflix left some heavy lifters, like I’m Thinking of Ending Things, without ‘for your consideration’ campaigns). They saw the potential the film had, and decided they could better manage its awards attention if they handled a theatrical release when the time was right.
This was a highly fortuitous choice, because while Academy voters received screener copies to watch at home for their first round of voting, probably putting off something with such heavy subject matter till the last moment, the Father only released in theatres around the end of February. Its public interest peaked just as voters were finalizing their decisions for the second round of voting.
None of this is to say the film didn’t earn its award, every modern winner plays the game to maximize attention in various ways, and The Father was completely deserving, probably speaking strongly to much of the older academy members. It is as dramatic as its subject demands, but trusts its audience to gather subtleties as well, like when Hopkin’s character doesn’t address another change in his life, because he knows that an explanation won’t help. Its clarity is especially impressive considering how complicated its methods are forced to be to give the audience this view into the character’s world.
We are both meant to identify with Hopkins’ character, feeling his confusion, and with his daughter as she observes his loosening grip on reality. The screenplay accomplishes both, charging through disorienting scenes with repeated lines, doubling back and insisting what clearly happened actually hasn’t, whilst maintaining its ability to tap into the audience’s distance, delivering powerfully emotional moments of empathy when we see Hopkins as helpless, and someone we wish we could
Most of the press junkets for The Father are several months old, but you can watch an interview from just a week ago on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, made as the film’s team revamped efforts in preparation for the Oscars. Perhaps this explains Hopkin’s unforeseen (though justified) win too, he takes some time to explain that everything he needed was there in the script.