June 15, 2024

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Why ‘Joker’ deserves its 11 nominations and should win Best Picture

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Joker Happy Face
Joker Happy Face

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

  • “Joker” has been nominated for 11 Oscars, but detractors of the film claim it didn’t deserve any.

  • “Joker” is one of the best films of the year and will have the longevity its fellow best picture nominees won’t.

  • “Joker” deserves its 11 nominations, and would be a worthy best picture winner, too. 

  • Not only is it the most talked-about movie of the year, but Joaquin Phoenix delivers an incredible performance.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Joker” faced controversy and backlash during its billion-dollar run in cinemas, drawing polarising reviews.

But, despite all this, Todd Phillips’ film has consistently been the leading movie nominations-wise at almost every major awards ceremony this season, and that didn’t change when the Academy announced their Oscars shortlists.

“Joker” received 11 nominations, the most of any movie. Apparent outrage was sparked as people scrambled to detract from the brilliant work of the filmmakers behind the movie and argued that they didn’t deserve their respective nominations.

In my recent op-ed about “1917,” I stated “Parasite” is the year’s best picture and the most worthy of the prize, an opinion I stand by. But “Joker” is an astounding achievement in and of itself, deserves its 11 Oscar nominations, and would be a worthy Best Picture winner, too. 

It’s the most talked-about movie this season and I believe will be the most remembered in years to come

The critics and detractors of “Joker” cannot be ignored. The movie has a 68% Rotten Tomatoes critics score (88% audience score), but that seems surprisingly low to me — I would probably give it 95% or more.

But what also cannot be ignored is how much “Joker” has created, stirred, and contributed to the conversation both in 2019 and in 2020.

In fact, the film has been talked about more than any other movie this year — more than, I’d argue, even the gargantuan, record-breaking “Avengers: Endgame.” Certainly more than any fellow best picture nominee.

Joker and Thanos
Joker and Thanos

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros./Walt Disney Studios

Most impressively, however, is that the dialogue around the film has not remained in the world of cinema but leaked into the wider culture and sparked passionate discussions about violence, loneliness, austerity, mental health, and our society as a whole.

So wide was the societal impact of “Joker” that in the 2019 Lebanese protests, people painted their faces to look like the comic-book villain. At the Beirut protests, there were Joker facepaint stations. In the 2019 Chilean protests, the phrase “we are all clowns” (a key line in the movie) was written on the base of a statue. In Hong Kong, protesters wore Joker masks. No other film has had this much of an impact, or been so important to so many important movements, in a long time.

This basically guarantees that “Joker” will not be forgotten. While films can get glowing reviews and be utterly beloved upon their first release, they can be quickly forgotten. Take, for instance, best picture nominees “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “A Serious Man,” “Winter’s Bone,” and “The Kids Are All Right.” Four good films met with acclaim when first released, but did you remember any of them before I listed them here?

The Kids are All Right:Winter's Bone
The Kids are All Right:Winter’s Bone

Focus Features/Roadside Attractions

While I cannot, obviously, predict the future, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to argue that in 10 years’ time, when looking back at the films of 2019, “Joker” will be remembered right at the top of the list. The conversation around it has cemented that. And since time is the film world’s greatest judge, that is a pretty solid achievement in and of itself.

It wouldn’t look good for the Academy if their best picture winner was forgotten while “Joker” remained an important film in the history of cinema.

It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before

One of the most prominent criticisms of superhero films is that they’re all the same — or, at least, they all follow the same formula.

Even the MCU’s greatest triumphs (“Endgame,” “Infinity War,” “Civil War”), or Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, largely follow the same pattern while still being excellent movies. And DC’s previous attempts to ‘go dark and gritty’ failed quite spectacularly.

So when “Joker” arrived on the scene as a Martin Scorsese-soaked, Joaquin Phoenix-starring character study, we finally got something new. Director Todd Phillips, of “The Hangover” trilogy, infused his picture with a sense of ’70s Scorsese, and while I guess you could call it an origin story, it never felt like one. Instead, it felt like we were simply watching a tragedy about a mentally ill man spiraling into delusion and, ultimately, having a breakdown.

Joker Arthur Fleck
Joker Arthur Fleck

Warner Bros.

Our main character was the most iconic comic-book villain of all time and yet we pitied him, felt sorry for him, and, to a point, even rooted for him.

Some of the film’s key segments didn’t even have dialogue, like Arthur dancing in the bathroom to Hildur Guðnadóttir’s beautiful score. It felt more like an arthouse drama rather than the big, bombastic superhero flicks we’d grown used to. This was all unheard of in a superhero movie. And so, in the genre of superhero films, “Joker” is a complete and utter departure from anything we’ve ever seen before.

It bridges the gap between auteur cinema and blockbuster

On one hand, “Joker” evokes strong memories of (and borrows directly from) films like “Serpico,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Man Who Laughs,” and a trio of Scorsese movies “Taxi Driver,” “The King of Comedy,” and “Raging Bull.” But “Joker” also belongs to the world of comic books and was inspired by “Batman: The Killing Joke” while obviously being compared to the gritty-superhero world of “The Dark Knight.” It could only have been made because of the existence of the superhero genre and its popularity.

Critic Jim Vejvoda (writing for IGN) summed the film up perfectly: “It would work just as well as an engrossing character study without any of its DC Comics trappings; that it just so happens to be a brilliant Batman-universe movie is icing on the Batfan cake.”

Deadline Hollywood’s Pete Hammond called the film “a bravura piece of filmmaking that speaks to the world we are actually living in today in ways that few movies do.”

It’s this combination, wonderfully executed by comedy director Phillips, that bridged the gap between auteur cinema and blockbuster spectacle. It received numerous five-star reviews, has earned a boat-load of industry and awards nominations, and has also made over a billion dollars worldwide (on a budget between $50-$70 million).

Clearly, the movie connected with audiences.

Joker backstage
Joker backstage

Warner Bros.

The fact that a best picture nominee made that much money is pivotal, and will reconnect the Oscars with regular moviegoers during a time when audiences feel disconnected from the awards show and the Academy, who are often seen as out of touch. If the movie did win, it would be the highest-grossing best picture winner ever.

It would be very good indeed for the reputation of the Oscars if “Joker” won. An embrace of the genre would be a step in the right direction and a victory for the audience and pop culture.

It tackles its themes so well that even some mental-health experts called it a ‘revelation’

Psychiatrist Micah Uetricht posted a review for The Guardian and wrote: “We got a fairly straightforward condemnation of American austerity: how it leaves the vulnerable to suffer without the resources they need, and the horrific consequences for the rest of society that can result.”

British neuro-criminologist Adrian Raine was equally taken by the film, telling Vanity Fair that he was thrown by it. “For 42 years, I’ve studied the cause of crime and violence. And while watching this film, I thought ‘Wow, what a revelation this was.’ I need to buy this movie down the road, make excerpt clips of it to illustrate […] It is a great educational tool about the making of the murderer,” he said.

Industry members, too, praised the film and defended it against the unfair backlash it received. “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge told Vogue: “I think the reason people got so uncomfortable is because it feels too true, too raw. I was watching it and thinking to myself, God, if this came out a year into Obama’s time in office, I don’t think we’d be feeling as worried about it.”

phoebe waller bridge 2
phoebe waller bridge 2

Amy Sussman/Staff/Getty Images

Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore said the film is a “danger to society” if people do not see it. And Josh Brolin wrote a lengthy Instagram post praising the film, writing that “To appreciate ‘Joker’ I believe you have to have either gone through something traumatic in your lifetime (and I believe most of us have) or understand somewhere in your psyche what true compassion is.”

There is a reason that these mental health experts, psychiatrists, and expert filmmakers have all given this film their love. It shines an uncomfortable light on society and explores themes of American austerity and mental health with maturity and conviction.

The skill behind and in front of the camera is paramount

But all of this doesn’t matter if the film isn’t good. Thankfully, “Joker” is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Screenwriters Phillips and Scott Silver have crafted a tragic downfall of an everyday man with mental health problems — one who, crucially, tries consistently to reach out for help  — and their adapted screenplay is not your usual superhero CGI-marathon, but a layered and thoughtful character study that explores adult themes and offers a lot of worth on repeat viewings.

They took the comic-book cartoon character of the Joker and made him into a human being.

Todd Phillips
Todd Phillips

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Phillips’ vision of the film, bathed in the aforementioned works of cinema from the ’70s and ’80s, shows a complete command of style, tone, and mood — one that emboldens the character of Arthur Fleck and Gotham City. And his adaptability in working with actor Joaquin Phoenix, tweaking scenes and improvising news ideas on set, shows an unwavering dedication to the character and to the story he is trying to tell.

It’s almost pointless for me trying to describe how good Phoenix is in this film — he has been praised by everyone, regardless of whether they liked the film or not. So, instead, I’ll leave it as this: This will be the most deserving and inarguable Oscar win I have seen since Heath Ledger won for playing the same character in “The Dark Knight.”

The design of the film, too — from cinematography to costumes to makeup (all Oscar-nominated) — is equally measured and thoughtful. It must have been hard to create a unique look for a character with so many iconic and memorable designs, but Mark Bridges (costume) and Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou (hair and makeup) did just that. And director of photography Lawrence Sher lensed the film with a nostalgic glow that lets you know exactly what type of film you are watching, while creating its own distinct visual language, too. They deserve their Oscar nominations.

The technical side of the movie is also awards-worthy, with the film editing, sound mixing and sound editing team utilizing every aspect of their work to maximum effect. The train sequence proves that. The sounds of the three men singing, intercut with the train, the impact of punches and, later, gunshots, all created one of the most key moments of the film where you were fully immersed in the plight of Arthur Fleck.

Joaquin and Todd
Joaquin and Todd

Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

And how about the original score? Personally, I thought Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score was on par with Phoenix’s performance, so entwined were the two. One could not happen without the other, and I cannot recall a score being so crucially part of a film’s character.

It’s unfair to say that the movie doesn’t deserve some of its 11 nominations because 11 is too high a figure. If each area of filmmaking is good enough for a nomination, then so be it. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won 11 Oscars and no one batted an eyelid because each person delivered work that was excellent and deserving.

The same goes for “Joker.” Why should the costume designer lose his nomination because “Joker” ‘doesn’t need 11 nods’ when his work is worthy? And why should director Phillips miss out on a nomination to make room for something else when his work was groundbreaking and unlike any other this year?

Rewarding the best filmmaking of the year is precisely what the Oscars is about, and that’s exactly what the “Joker” is.

Read more:

Every single Joaquin Phoenix movie, ranked

‘1917’ is an impressively made but hollow spectacle that doesn’t deserve to win best picture at the Oscars

How to watch all the movies nominated for the 2020 Oscars

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