With the recent release of Todd Phillips’ Joker, it is safe to say that Joaquin Phoenix is pretty well-known figure in the movie industry. If you actually give a damn about cinema, you knew this already.
Many may know him from his shocking and masterfully absurd guest spot on Letterman back in 2009, where he gave one of the best performances he’s ever staged. But if you only go see what is typically out at your closest AMC, you’re likely missing all of the non-commercial work Phoenix has done over the years. Among a long list of credits, here are a few roles that stick out the most.
4. You Were Never Really Here
Screening in limited theaters in April 2018, You Were Never Really Here showcases a man broken from the war, unable to settle back into the real world. It’s a role that Phoenix has played before, and one which he can pull off with ease.
His character, Joe (a common name for broken characters these days – see Blade Runner 2049), makes a living by searching for missing girls. Phoenix has a breakdown scene in the third act that surely stuck inside a lot of voters’ minds at Cannes, where he won Best Actor in 2017.
3. Two Lovers
Phoenix’s third collaboration with longtime director James Gray may be their very best. After 2007’s We Own the Night, Gray (who helmed new arthouse-blockbuster Ad Astra) dropped his mimickry of The Godfather for a long, painful rumination on love.
Phoenix plays a man that still lives with his parents and, as we learn from the very first scene, is suicidal. Then he meets his next door neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he forms a powerful, unhealthy obsession with.
The role represents the lonely man, wanting to put all of who he is into another. By the film’s end, the emotion Phoenix evokes creates absolutely devastating results.
Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning original screenplay is one of modern-day creativity: a man falls in love with a computer. Phoenix, appearing with glasses and a mustache, takes a delicate approach to Theodore, portraying a man out-of-touch with the people around him and more comfortable speaking to somebody not physically present.
With Theodore, you feel the joy of finding something you believe is true … as well as the pain of words that you never wanted spoken. The staircase scene is one that you see coming … but comes at the exact wrong moment. One of Jonze’s best.
1. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are all at the top of their game in this absurd film about the extremes of man disguised as a PTSD-scientology movie.
Hoffman appears to be a man of high morality. He has started his own cult, where he dives into man’s past trauma. He believes our struggles are all false implants. He is also tempted by the animalistic outbursts of Freddie Quell (Phoenix), who makes drinks out of paint thinner. Once Hoffman gets a taste, he has fallen.
One could argue this is a love story between two men who never share any physical interest in each other. Time has been kind to this 2012 powerhouse, which is one of the few recent escapades into 70mm.