Undoubtedly the man of the moment in the film that has the festival circuit buzzing, Joaquin Phoenix is the frontrunner for awards for his titular performance in Todd Phillips’ origin story Joker. During a film climate that seems dominated by superhero films, Joker seems like it is doing something entirely different by twisting the tone and idea of the superhero movie. It feels that after years of playing the underdog in Indie features and his reluctance to entertain the spotlight, the mainstream media has finally caught up. It feels only right that I compile a list of my top 5 performances although it’s very tricky to do so.
Here’s my top 5 in chronological order:
I never thought Gladiator would be in a top anything list. Truth be told, I find the film overwhelming overall but the one element of it I absolutely love is Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant performance as the evil Commodus, the power hungry son of Marcus Aurelius who gives power to Maximus (Russell Crowe) until a new empire is formed. His lust for power knows no bounds as he murders his own father and has Maximus arrested. It’s Phoenix’s performance that brings the real depth to this film. He could have easily played this role as a cartoonish villain but instead brings a snakelike presence to the character. His strength comes from the power that others give him rather than strength that he has by himself which comes to fruition in the final fight scene with Maximus.
The Master (2012)
Undoubtedly my favourite Joaquin Phoenix performance, The Master follows ex-marine Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as he becomes involved with a cult called The Cause, led by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife, Peggy (Amy Adams). I won’t dwell too much on this film, mainly because I have written an extensive review for this film (which you can read here). Phoenix brings his A game to his performance and it truly is a career best. The scene where he initially undergoes “Processing” with Lancaster in which his darkest secrets and even darker past are revealed. It’s a brilliantly shot scene that brings together to titans of acting and should have won both Phoenix and Hoffman Academy Awards.
Spike Jonze’s romantic Her shows a tender side to Phoenix in the role of Theodore Twombly, a depressed soon-to-be divorcé whose job is writing intimate letters for people who are too afraid to do so. He is so emotionally intense and yet detached at the same time as he begins a sexual relationship with his OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Featuring a stellar cast that is rounded off by Amy Adams and Rooney Mara, this was one of the best films of 2013 and brought Spike Jonze a much-deserved Oscar for his screenplay. It’s a saddening portrayal of love and heartbreak in the 21st century. This is a film that easily could have fallen into ridiculous due to its eccentric plot but the sincerity that Phoenix brings to the role allows the audience to become truly invested in the plot.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Phoenix’s second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson brings renowned author Thomas Pynchon to the big screen in what is the only adaptation to date. Based on the drug-infused novel, Inherent Vice, we follow Doc Sportello, an alcoholic, drug-loving cop in 1969 as he tries to bring down a drug lord. It’s a hallucinogenic mesh of colour, music and Joanna Newsom who stars as a narrator only Doc can see. The film itself is hugely underrated, possibly due to the fact that it is too bizarre for a lot of people. Being a big fan of Pynchon, I was so excited to see how it would work adapting one of his books into film and it works perfectly. Phoenix is perfect casting and carries off Doc’s happy-go-lucky attitude with ease. He heads up a star-studded cast fantastically and commands the screen whenever he is on it. He brings the perfect amount of slapstick while also keeping the character’s dignity intact. It’s truly a brilliant film that I think is wrongly overlooked.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Lynne Ramsey’s gritty New York City based nightmare follows Phoenix as hitman, Joe, who lives and breathes violence and killing all while living with his elderly mother in his childhood home. He specialises in rescuing trafficked girls. He’s a character who’s backstory is stained with violence and abuse and there isn’t much else that he is capable of doing. He is quiet and alone but happy in his loneliness. When tasked with retrieving a Senator’s daughter from traffickers, Joe embarks on his hardest mission yet. The film is bloody and holds no punches. It’s brutal from beginning to end with devastating results. The direction and writing is super tight and brought both Phoenix and Ramsey prizes at Cannes Film Festival in a rare double win.
With the release of Joker, it seems that Phoenix is going to break into the mainstream and he’s the frontrunner come award season. It seems that these awards are long overdue. If it were up to me, he’d have a couple of oscars in his cabinet already but sadly that hasn’t been the case. I’d hope that those who are introduced to phoenix’s talents as the Joker watch him in other films and see his talents beyond that superhero universe.
I’ll be posting a review for Joker as soon as its released and I’m looking forward to seeing whether it would break into my top 5.
What do you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below!