With an Oscar Buzz already in the air, from the Venice Film Festival, Joker — starring Joaquin Phoenix, written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver and directed by Phillips himself — is already gaining momentum as being the best motion picture at the next Academy Awards…
From the little we know is that Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a new name given to this new Clown Prince of Crime of Gotham. There is a lot of hype and hate already for this film. From the “Incel” martyr rumors to the fact that the director said it takes nothing from the comics themselves (but, instead, tells a modern day origin of the Joker divergent to those known in DC Comics), to fit the social and politico commentary of America today.
Reactions to the trailer have been divided amongst comic and cinema fans alike. Ranging from pure hatred that the film is nothing but a cash grab and only using the name/title of, Joker, to fill theatre seats so the films creators can make money off an original idea that might have been too close to its supposed subject matter. While on the other side of the mirror there is an optimistic following that claims the dethroning of, Ledger as the Clown prince and the crowning of a new Clown King (Phoenix) of Gotham.
No matter your views on Joker the acting talent of Joaquin Phoenix cannot be denied. Through his “highs” of films such as Walk the Line to his lows of I’m Still Here, Phoenix has proven himself a “Prince” of Hollywood– even when challenging the norm of how an actor should conduct himself.
Here are 5 movies you should watch before seeing Joker, in no particular order.
–You Were Never Really Here (2017): Written & Directed by: Lynne Ramsay.
Phoenix plays Joe, a veteran suffering from PTSD who struggles with his mental affliction that manifests into nightmares. He self medicates with attempts of suicide by asphyxiation. Joe makes a living off infiltrating Under Age Sex Dens. One in particular houses the kidnapped daughter of a Senator. The film is a modern noir with Phoenix’s, Joe as an anti-hero whom’s violent lifestyle is given empathy for the “pure” reasons he does so. The scenes acted out with Joe and his Dementia stricken mother (played by Judith Anna Roberts) are heart warming and also heart wrenching at the same time. This film could have possibly been a Marvel Knights/MCU-version of The Punisher and no fan would have argued it’s changes to the character’s source material.
How “Joker” is it?: Though the shared name of Joe and Jo-ker are really all this character shares with the DC Villain there are hints of Arthur/Joker having a Co-dependent relationship with his mother in Joker’s trailer; so, we shall see how much Joker and You Were Never Really Here have in common with each of their pro/antagonist.
–The Master (2012) Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Phoenix again takes on the role of another Veteran plagued by the anguish of PTSD. This time he portrays Freddie Quell, a man with a violent past and talent for making moonshine. Freddie eventually meets the leader of a cult, Lancaster Dodd played by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman whom takes a liking to Quells lightning brew and eager to belong personality. The film is a look into fanaticism and blind faith. Freddie eventually becomes a sort of blind enforcer for Dodd and his church known as “The Cause” until eventually Freddie is ostracized from the church and family he has grown to know as his only connection to the world. The end is a passive aggressive battle between two minds. One still questioning its manipulation while the other, though proven a false, defends its merits and deeds.
How “Joker” is it?: There is not much in common with Freddie and The Joker in the DC comics storyline(s) except the fits of violence. But, after viewing this film, the audience can see how Phoenix might handle the violent mood swings that The Joker is known for in the comics/films. In many moments of the film you sympathize with Freddie and his actions; only to pity or gnash your teeth in disgust at his naive attempts to be loved by a narcissist.
–Gladiator (2000) Directed –Ridley Scott– Written – David Franzoni.
Playing the antagonist Caesar Commodus to Russel Crowes’ Maximus. This was the film that began to get audiences interested in the talent of Phoenix. No longer was he looked at as the younger brother of the late River Phoenix, Joaquin was now becoming a household name stepping out of the shadow of his bother…though not in the brightest of light. His Commodus sickened patrons creating a deplorable view of a character/actor not seen since Billy Zane’s Cal Hockley in the 1997 film Titanic.
Spurned by his father Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris, Harry Potter’s Albus Dumbledore) to be passed over as Caesar for the more battle experienced Maximus (Crowe), Phoenix plays the role of the spoiled son which has never earned rank nor title but has been given them simply cause of lineage. Commodus orders the death of Maximus and his wife and child after the soldier refuses loyalty to the new emperor. What follows after is a vendetta drama lead by Crowe/Maximus against the Demagogue Commodus, whom cannot murder Maximus cause of his new found fame as a gladiator in the arenas, which Commodus himself had renewed (this inspired Planet Hulk and it’s MCU counterpart Thor: Ragnarock). The film builds to a bitter sweet ending that remained in the minds of all whom saw it, only matched by the ending of Fight Club — a film that had hit theaters only a year before.
How “Joker” is it?: Commodus’ Borderline personality disorder mixed with sociopathic tendencies make for the perfect reflection of the Joker’s characteristics. A personality that views themselves a “hero” despite the crooked perversion they have made of, Humanism. The thought that they themselves are making a better world for all…if only those share their twisted view.
–The Sisters Brothers (2018) Directed –Jacques Audiard – Written – Thomas Bidegain & Jacques Audiard
Based on the book by the same name and coined as a comedy, this film shares the same marketing mistake as Trainspotting & Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s.. not a comedy. Rather, The Sisters Brothers is a tragedy based around the kindred bond between two dissonant brothers and the camaraderie of a bounty hunter and his mark, whom eventually becomes his pursuers friend and business partner. Though it has its humorous moments (mainly John C. Reilly’s Eli shocked at the inventions of the modern world), the film is a solemn look into early capitalism and its Rook like industrialists of the time.
During the gold rush, Phoenix plays Charlie, the sisters’ the hot headed, impulsive brother to Reilly’s Eli. The two are employed by a man simply known as The Commodore to find a chemist named Hermann Kermit Warm. At first, Phoenix’s Charlie seems a very two dimensional character, nothing but a thorn in the side to his brother Eli. The film shares the slow character development of other great Westerns and, eventually, we find out more tragic events that made Charlie the man he is today (through exposition and flashbacks told by Eli). The entire film is about brotherhood between Charlie and Eli or Warm and the Bounty Hunter Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) It is a film based around the proverb, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
How “Joker” is it?: There are not many “Joker” moments in this film. Except for the dark humor Charlie has, one scene in particular is Reillys’ Eli trying to sleep. He overhears his brother crying during at nightmare. Eli goes to comfort Charlie next to the campfire. Charlie reels up from his fake slumber and begins to laugh in his brother’s face; saying “You gonna kiss me?” Followed by a deep laugh. This type of humor stretches throughout the film with Charlie/Phoenix finding pleasure in playing with the emotions/love of his brother Eli/Reilly.
The Immigrant (2013) Directed – James Gray – Written – James Gray & Ric Menello.
Phoenix/Bruno Weiss is a pimp that takes advantage of Immigrant Women coming into Ellis Island. He finds Marion Cotillard/Ewa Cybulska a woman whom has a sister that might have TB and promises that he can help her raise money to get her sister out of the Immigration quarantine by becoming first, a dancer that dresses like the Statue of Liberty…only to later become a prostitute.
–Brother Bear (2003) Directed – Aaron Blaise & Robert Walker – Written – Tab Murphy & Lorne Cameron.
A Walt Disney Animated film. Phoenix plays, Kenai an Inuit warrior…I don’t want to say much more about this film cause the plot could be easily ruined.
How “Joker” is it?: Not at all. A great family film to be enjoyed by all.
–Walk the Line (2005) Directed – James Mangold – Written – Gill Dennis & James Mangold – Based on several books of Johnny Cash’s life.
Nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (2006) & perhaps the role Joaquin Phoenix will forever be remembered by. He plays the legendary Johnny Cash, a singer that helped forge the Sun Records style of Country/Western/Rock ’N Roll movement of 50’s America. Cash was also an advocate for Native American Rights when it was not favorable to do so in his “music genre” Cash faced censorship and backlash for speaking out on behalf of native people. Cash never allowed himself to silenced, even when his label threatened to drop him.
The film is about his early life before and then during his younger years in country western limelight. WTL delves deep into his first marriage and later into Cash’s pharmaceutical addiction; focusing on his relationship with June Carter, whom would be his wife until the day he died. This film was the predecessor to the many Rock-ographies in theaters today, Not the first…but one that will never be forgotten.
How “Joker” is it?: Perhaps the only “tie-in” to Joker could be the rise to fame and the fall of a flawed human being. Other than that there is nothing. No matter how good Joker is, it will never be Walk the Line.
Joker, written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver and directed by Phillips hits Theaters October 4, 2019.