I think out of all the sure-thing Oscar winners tonight, Joaquin Phoenix was the surest thing. His campaign coalesced so quickly, pretty much as soon as the reviews of Joker came in and the film became a massive box office juggernaut. Joker has already earned more than one billion dollars worldwide, which is remarkable for an incredibly violent, R-rated film about mental illness within a loose comic-book framework. I won’t pretend to even like Joker or what Joker says. I found the film overwrought and exploitative of mental illness. I found the “he does terrible things because he was mistreated all his life” backstory to be problematic AF.
That being said, Joaquin has been turning in Oscar-worthy work for decades, and I felt like the move to give Joaquin an Oscar for his role was down to two things: one, he played the game this year and actually showed people that he wouldn’t thumb his nose at the awards and two, many people saw it as giving Joaquin an Oscar for his body of work. Sometimes, it just works out that way and it’s mostly okay.
Much like Brad Pitt, it felt like Joaquin hired someone to help him out with his awards season speeches, only in Joaquin’s case, I think that happened mid-way through the compressed awards season. His BAFTA speech was so much better than his Globes speech, you know? And in Joaquin’s case, I don’t hate it at all, because he’s not trying to be Mr. Jokey Hollywood. He’s actually been Mr. Bummer. In his speech, he said “I do not feel elevated about any of my fellow nominees,” and he talked about how he respects all of the artists in the room, and that he sees commonality in the fight against injustice among artists. He name-checks feminism, queer rights, animal rights, environmentalism. I’m not going to transcribe this, because it’s a vegan treatise and it’s kind of a bummer. Joaquin also quoted his late brother, River Phoenix. That got me – Joaquin must have been thinking about his brother the entire way through this Oscar campaign. In the end, the speech was a cry to love each other, so there you go.
Congrats to Joaquin and the Joker team.
Photos courtesy of WENN, Avalon Red, Backgrid and ‘Joker’.