Oscars 2019: The Case of Joaquin Phoenix

The Case of posts for performers up for Academy Awards on February 9th arrived at Joaquin Phoenix as Joker in the Todd Phillips directed blockbuster:

The Case for Joaquin Phoenix

After three previous nominations for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master, all signs are pointing to Phoenix finally getting the gold. For this particular comic book pic, Joker defied all expectations with a worldwide gross of over a billion dollars. Much of the focus was on Phoenix’s intense performance and he’s been rewarded with Golden Globe and SAG victories already. The film itself leads the Oscars with 11 total nominations.

The Case Against Joaquin Phoenix

The release of Joker was met with some controversy about its themes and overall message. There could be enough of a backlash that it could prevent Phoenix rising up to the podium.

The Verdict

Simply put, he is a massive front runner for his first Academy Award. If Phoenix does so, he would make a bit of Oscar history. There’s only been one combination of actors winning for playing the same fictional character: Marlon Brando and Joaquin’s Joker costar Robert De Niro as Michael Corleone in the first two Godfather epics. In 2008, Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded Supporting Actor as Joker in The Dark Knight. Expect there to be a second instance of that occurring.

My Case of posts will focus next on Charlize Theron for Bombshell!

2019: The Year of Joaquin Phoenix

My first Year of 2019 post for actors named Scarlett Johansson on account of her remarkable year in film. My second goes to her A.I. character’s human boyfriend from 2013’s Her, Joaquin Phoenix. The mysterious performer has been a fixture onscreen for 30 years dating back to Parenthood. He’s a thrice nominated Oscar contender for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master who’s yet to win.

That could change this year due to his title role in Joker from Todd Phillips. The project was considered a significant risk for Warner Bros and this is evidenced by its $40 million budget (peanuts for a comic book adaptation). The result? Over a billion dollars worldwide.

Phoenix is not the first actor to make his interpretation of the Joker iconic. Yet this origin story was the most unexpected smash success. I currently have Joker slated to receive eight Academy nods, including Picture. Its biggest chance at victory goes to Phoenix. If he wins, he would follow Heath Ledger to the podium after his performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. That would be Oscar history as only one other combination exists of two actors winning statues for playing the same character. This honor belongs to Marlon Brando and Phoenix’s costar Robert De Niro as Michael Corleone in the first two Godfather pics.

For three decades, Phoenix has appeared in numerous acclaimed works with kudos for his skills. Joker might finally earn him the Academy’s praise with his billion dollar gamble. My Year of posts will continue…

Joker Movie Review

When Batman ruled the summer three decades ago, Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader was deemed too dark by some. That seems quaint now with the harder edged comic book adaptations that have come our way recently and it especially applies to Joker. This stand-alone origin pic from Todd Phillips wears its influences overtly with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver being the most obvious. It’s a grim tale focused on mental health in which Joaquin Phoenix dominates every frame of celluloid he’s in and that’s pretty much every moment. Much of the time, we are simply waiting for his character to snap. The tension is palpable as his involuntary cackles providing the soundtrack. Heath Ledger might still be the best Joker, but this film has the most Joker. And Phoenix runs a somewhat close second.

It’s 1981 in a gamy Gotham City and Arthur Fleck is a clown for hire with hopes of becoming a stand-up. He gets a load of meds from the government that don’t seem to stem the tide of a slow boiling rage (with a makeup infused smile, of course). He dreams of killing it (in the humorous sense) on a national talk show hosted by Robert De Niro’s Murray Franklin. Arthur watches the show with his ailing mother (Frances Conroy), whose screws may also not be fully tightened. And there’s a fledgling romance with a single mom (Zazie Beetz) whose apartment inhabits the same floor of a dingy high rise.

Joker is centered on classism almost as much as Arthur’s derangements. Among our central character’s first criminal acts involves a trio of WASPy Wayne Enterprise employees. This is just as billionaire Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is exploring a Mayoral run and the eventual Bat Dad might have some surprising connections to the eventual Bat nemesis. Some have accused Joker of romanticizing the man. I didn’t see it that way, but there’s certainly a sense of the have nots sticking it to the haves.

We have grown accustomed to high tech and CGI infused violence in this genre. Not here. The bloodshed is sudden, in your face, and occasionally shocking. Just like in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Phoenix undergoes a metamorphosis by losing a ton of weight. Arthur looks as sick as his mind is. Like Ledger in The Dark Knight, it’s hard to take your eyes off him as he dances, laughs in a disturbing elevated pitch, and heads toward the breakdown. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s demented sandbox to play in and I dug the opportunity to witness this darkness without a dawn in its sights.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Joker

Comic book movies arrive in quick order these days, but not many draw comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Such is the case with Joker, the breathlessly anticipated stand-alone DC Universe title featuring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It has premiered at Venice Film Festival ahead of its October 4 stateside release. Early critical reaction portrays this as a grim, sometimes terrifying, and often brilliant experience. And Phoenix’s work is being called masterful.

You’ll recall that it was just over a decade ago that Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar in The Dark Knight as the same iconic villain. Based on word from Venice, there seems to be a strong possibility that Phoenix will receive his fourth nod for his acting (Supporting for Gladiator, lead in Walk the Line and The Master). Even with a high profile costar like Robert De Niro, I suspect all the acting chatter will be directed to the head clown.

Joker could prove to be a massive box office success and that might increase its chances for a Picture nod, direction for Todd Phillips, and the Adapted Screenplay. Bottom line: don’t be surprised if Phoenix becomes the second actor to get Oscar love for this character. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Best Actor: A Look Back

My look back at the major Oscar categories from 1990 to the present arrives at Best Actor today! If you missed my posts covering Actress and the Supporting races, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/31/best-actress-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As with those previous entries, I am picking the three least surprising winners of the last 28 years, along with the three biggest upsets. Additionally, you’ll see my personal picks for strongest and weakest fields overall.

As a primer, here are the winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

1991 – Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

1993 – Tom Hanks, Philadelphia

1994 – Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

1995 – Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas

1996 – Geoffrey Rush, Shine

1997 – Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

1999 – Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

2000 – Russell Crowe, Gladiator

2001 – Denzel Washington, Training Day

2002 – Adrien Brody, The Pianist

2003 – Sean Penn, Mystic River

2004 – Jamie Foxx, Ray

2005 – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

2006 – Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

2007 – Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

2008 – Sean Penn, Milk

2009 – Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart

2010 – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

2011 – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

2012 – Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

2013 – Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

2014 – Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

2015 – Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

2016 – Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2017 – Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Let’s begin with the three that I’m deeming as the non-surprise winners. Whittling this down to that number was a challenge. The double wins by Hanks and Penn and even last year’s winner Oldman could’ve easily been named here, too. Here goes…

3. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman

The legendary thespian was 0 for 6 when it came to nominations and wins entering 1992. He picked up his 7th and 8th nods that year with his supporting role in Glengarry Glen Ross and lead role as a blind former colonel in this Martin Brest directed drama. By Oscar night, it was clear he was finally going to make that trip to the podium.

2. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Like Pacino, DiCaprio had been an Academy bridesmaid before… four times. His fifth nod for The Revenant guaranteed he’d finally be a winner against weak competition (more on that below).

1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

I could have named the Method actor’s victory in 2007 for There Will Be Blood as well, but his win five years later as the nation’s 16th President edges it out. From the moment the Steven Spielberg project was announced, Day-Lewis was the odds on favorite and it never changed.

Now – my selections for the upsets:

3. Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs

While it might seem an obvious win nearly 30 years later, Nick Nolte’s work in The Prince of Tides had nabbed him the Golden Globe. Additionally, there was some controversy about Sir Anthony’s inclusion in the lead race due to his approximate 16 minutes of screen time. This is truly evidence of a performance so towering that it couldn’t be ignored.

2. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful

The Italian director/writer/actor was an underdog against competition that included Nick Nolte (once again) for Affliction and Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters. Mr. Benigni seemed a bit shocked himself when his name was called, as he famously bounded exuberantly to the stage.

1. Adrien Brody, The Pianist

The smart money in 2002 was with Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt or Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. Brody’s win was pretty shocking, as was the giant smooch he planted on presenter Halle Berry.

When it comes to overall fields, I’m going recent history with both. For strongest, I’ll give it to 2012. That’s the year Day-Lewis won for Lincoln. All other nominees were rock solid as well with Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

For weakest, I’m picking 2015. This is the aforementioned year of DiCaprio’s overdue win. The rest of the field, however, was a bit lacking. It consisted of Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl).

And there’s your Actor look back, folks! Keep an eye out for Best Picture soon as the final post in this series…

Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!