As anyone who follows the Academy Awards can attest, the Oscars have a tendency to reward a lot of the same talent. It’s why certain actors and directors are frequently listed on the ballot. After all, how many times have you seen Meryl Streep nominated over the years? A record 21 times.
Joaquin Phoenix isn’t anywhere near that astounding total, but the actor does consistently earn praise for his performances. Often, that attention from critics leads directly into awards buzz. So, as the star of the surprising Oscar frontrunner Joker gets ready for Oscar night, we’re wondering: does Phoenix already have an Oscar?
Joaquin Phoenix’s big breakthrough
Phoenix first appeared on-screen in the 1986 release SpaceCamp opposite Kate Capshaw and Lea Thompson. But the film’s box office failure didn’t do much to bolster the then-child star’s career. Rather, 1989’s Parenthood with Steve Martin served as Phoenix’s first major Hollywood role.
For the next decade or so, he appeared in films like To Die For, 8mm, and The Yards, the last of which began a prosperous relationship with director James Gray. Yet, mainstream moviegoers didn’t really take notice of Phoenix until Gladiator in 2000.
As the villainous Commodus in Ridley Scott’s historical epic, Phoenix earned his first Academy Award nomination. Gladiator itself won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for star Russell Crowe. Although Phoenix didn’t win Best Supporting Actor that night, he had officially arrived in the academy’s eyes.
A series of underrated performances
Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Phoenix has delivered a string of critically acclaimed performances. Sometimes, these roles slipped beneath the academy’s radar, as with Her, Inherent Vice, and You Were Never Really Here. The actor has always been drawn to films which seem too esoteric or inaccessible even for Oscar voters.
However, in some cases, Phoenix has managed to snag a slot in the Best Actor category. Following Gladiator, his next Oscar nomination came in 2006 for Walk the Line. Ironically, he lost the Oscar to Capote‘s Phillip Seymour Hoffman, alongside whom he would deliver his next Oscar-nominated performance in The Master.
In both cases, Phoenix went home empty-handed, leaving him a three-time nominee with zero wins. Throughout that time, the actor has become one of those performers who feels overdue for an Oscar win. Now, thanks to the most unlikely project, Phoenix may be well on his way to finally landing his first Academy Award.
Will ‘Joker’ finally get him an Oscar?
The notion of a standalone movie about DC Comics supervillain the Joker seemed laughable. After all, as fans protested, the mystery surrounding the character is what makes him work. Yet, all those worries dissolved when Phoenix was cast in the role. Now he’s been Oscar-nominated for his performance.
As Arthur Fleck in Todd Phillips’ Joker, the actor famously lost a ton of weight to climb inside the headspace of a mentally ill loner on a collision course with chaos. The film itself divided critics and fans. Despite a muddled reception from critics, Joker has soared to the top of the box office charts with $1.1 billion worldwide.
An R-rated comic book movie isn’t what anyone expected might land Phoenix Oscar gold. However, his committed performance in Joker elevated the film in the eyes of its biggest critics. Right now, he’s widely considered the frontrunner for the 2020 Best Actor trophy.
Phoenix’s career has never followed a straight path. So, in that regard, perhaps it’s fitting that Joker would be the film to get him on the Oscar stage. We’ll find out soon enough if Phillips’ film can finally make it happen.
The 92nd Academy Awards will air on ABC on Feb. 9, 2020.