Few films released in 2019 have managed to gather as much publicity as Todd Phillips’ Joker which had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, and hit movie theaters around last week.
The initial critical response to the movie was warm. It reportedly received a standing ovation in Venice, where it won the Golden Lion award, and was similarly well-received at the Toronto Film Festival at the start of September, which helped to build public anticipation.
But over the last few days there has been a backlash, with some critics questioning the film’s approach to violence and mental health. The negativity was further boosted by an interview with Phillips in which he denounced ‘woke’ culture as the reason why he no longer made comedy movies (although given that his resume includes The Hangover, The Hangover Part II and The Hangover Part III some might question whether he has ever made comedy movies).
The backlash hasn’t yet hit the film’s Best Picture chances, as it is generally regarded as 9/2 third-favourite in that category by bookmakers, but the feeling is that it is controversial without being quite good enough to encourage Oscars judges to give it the ultimate award.
But there are no such concerns when it comes to Joaquin Phoenix’s chances of clinching the Best Actor prize at the 2020 Academy Awards. Critics and public alike have been universally enthusiastic about his performance in a role that has become harder to play over the years. After Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger both redefined the character of the Joker, finding a new approach to this iconic villain became increasingly difficult, but Phoenix has managed to find a fresh angle.
In particular, critics have praised the physical aspect of his performance and his portrayal of a bitter man whose sense of humour is out of kilter with society.
Phoenix is the 4/7 Best Actor favourite with bookmakers, and at this stage, it is hard to see him being knocked off that spot. Adam Driver is his nearest competitor at 9/2 but The Marriage Story is less obviously a showcase for its leading man’s talents than Joker, so Tom Hanks may be more of a threat for his role in A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood at odds of 6/1.