Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Diana Drumm
October 18, 2013 10:00 AM
21 Comments
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Why Joaquin Phoenix is the Most Fascinating Actor Working in Film Today

During a climactic scene, Samantha disappears from all of Theodore's electronic devices and he, not knowing what to do, instinctively runs through streets of "Los Angeles" for help, presumably to his office or the offices of Samantha's manufacturer. In the middle of his mad dash, Theodore falls to the ground, gets up, and then keeps running until Samantha finally pops back on the screen, explaining that she had merely gone down for maintenance. In this crazed run, Phoenix captures Theodore's deep, innate passion for Samantha and his great fear of ever losing her. Oddly enough (at least in the eyes of this viewer), this scene evokes Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris," in which middle-aged widower Paul (Marlon Brando) chases after young Jeanne (Maria Schneider) through the streets of Paris, fearing that he may have lost her. In most respects outside of this one moment, the two films are antithetical of each other with "Last Tango in Paris" being about a purely (or impurely) physical relationship whereas Theodore and Samantha's romance transcends physical being.

What binds them is the utter emotional desperation of the male lead in pursuit of his romantic interest, portrayed with such unequivocal, heartbreaking authenticity by Marlon Brando and Joaquin Phoenix. Eerily, both relationships come to an end after these pursuits, but in very different ways. Paul becomes too effusive and ruins what there was between him and Jeanne, leading to the demise of him and their relationship. While Theodore confronts Samantha on the status of their relationship, to which she admits not only to talking with thousands of other people, but being in love with hundreds of them (kind of puts the woman from Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues" in warped perspective -- "I thought I was her daddy, but she had five more"). Somehow through the mystery of life, Jonze's sentimental lens and the transformative believability of Phoenix's performance, Theodore comes to terms with this and, after Samantha leaves permanently, accepts their relationship as a cherished period of time, but not his whole life, with his memories and their song as a bittersweet souvenir.

Both as Bruno and Theodore, Joaquin Phoenix reflects on the depth of human emotion, particularly the bizarre notion of love. Bruno and Theodore tap into the core of the audience's hearts, to varying degrees and destructive tendencies, but both make it out with redeeming qualities (Bruno letting Ewa go, Theodore resolving his past issues with women). With these two magnificent performances under his belt for 2013, Phoenix may try to shy away from the press like a majestic mythical creature (with E-cigarette smoke tumbling out of nostrils, resembling something of a dragon), but these performances have touched and will continue to touch the hearts of audiences worldwide, possibly even awards voters. Whether you think he's utterly bizarre or the finest actor of his generation or a wonderful combination of both, there's no doubt that Joaquin Phoenix and his instinctive acting will continue to mesmerize onscreen.

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21 Comments

  • Zaira | October 28, 2013 3:51 AMReply

    Awesome article. Joaquin is brilliant!

  • Laurie Glode | October 22, 2013 10:47 AMReply

    Good job, Diana.

  • parsyeb | October 20, 2013 6:59 PMReply

    This guy is a complete fraud, and the movies he's in are made by people as phony as he is. All of his tortured yearning must reflect the utter lack of soul in his life and work.

    Jon Jost says it better than me:
    "Joaquin Phoenix has been cited for his bravura performance, one which in my contrarian eye is a perfect example of actors acting and looking very much like they are acting. Here Mr Phoenix adopts a kind of left-tilted mouth sneer which oscillates wildly, sometimes clearly a consciously forced matter, and sometimes evaporating away. Likewise he sports an absurd body gesture, with his hands on his hips, arms akimbo, elbows leaning forward. A bundle of transparent acting mannerisms which our critics seem to think is good “acting.” I’d suggest they look at some Japanese films to see some good acting – say Kurasawa’s High and Low, or Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Cafe Lumiere: in the former, done in extreme wide-screen, Kurasawa has tableaux of 10 actors or more on screen, each inwardly using their entire being to embody their character; in the latter, the father, without seeming to do anything (unlike a flailing American “method” trained actor would), silently contains his character’s explosive anger but makes it readable to the spectator through real acting. Phoenix instead takes his bundle of mannerisms, and, in several terrible scenes, wildly flails about in one of the worst examples of the damage inflicted by Lee Strasberg’s famed acting studio."
    http://cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/cinema-musings-amour-and-the-master-and-other-things/

  • C Olson | November 20, 2013 4:35 AM

    Oh, I think I get it. He must be in a film that is so indie that it's only played at very few regional indie theaters and he has to be an actor that only other actors maybe know about if they're REAL actors. Or, he has to be in theater. Maybe you're one of those people that are like "yeah I've heard of that band. I liked them a little bit before they released their first album. But now they're just so predictable.". Yeah. He and the people he's worked with are so phony.... Boy, there's an intellectual observation. Well said.

  • C Olson | November 20, 2013 4:25 AM

    If his greatness, Sir Jon Jost (who clearly is the authority on how to act and what is and isn't acting) can't help us out here maybe you would be so kind as to enlighten us, as to who you consider to be a great actor in 'film'?
    Just throw a few names along with notable performances, so we can all see just what 'not acting-acting' looks like. I get the critique on posturing and emoting and such, while I do disagree with you applying that to his performance. But, what should he do? Be strictly himself and just follow the emotional line of the play? Not create the character, a person who himself will have manorisms and quirks that make him who he is? So he should be like... Mark Walberg? Nicolas Cage? Will Smith?
    Point is, it's an art form. And in art... Well, you probably already know.

  • TRUTH | October 21, 2013 2:10 PM

    Well, you and Jom Jost (whoever the f*ck that is) are both in the minority. Kbye.

  • Sam | October 20, 2013 6:43 AMReply

    A lot of his old movies have been playing on telly over this year and watching them I am shocked to see that it's the same person in each movie. He's so compelling in Return to Paradise, I watched it in fear and fascination. Then at the credits I was shocked to see that it was the person who played Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. Same with Inventing the Abbotts. This man has been robbed of an Oscar and I hope he is nominated for Her and wins next year. And it doesn't hurt that he's always been gorgeous.

  • Stacey | October 19, 2013 4:37 PMReply

    I think Mr. Phoenix is very interesting, no one says you all have to agree (all the haters). I believe that he is a tortured soul and the only people who will find him interesting are also tortured souls. I think his talent cannot be measured, his onscreen roles captivating and haunting, and I am one of his biggest fans. He is inspiring, beautiful and I hope he continues to be interesting for many many years to come.

  • Snowangelsweden | October 20, 2013 5:34 AM

    "I believe that he is a tortured soul and the only people who will find him interesting are also tortured souls. " Well put!

  • angrydroid | October 18, 2013 11:30 PMReply

    You're welcome, Diana.

  • Dan | October 18, 2013 9:50 PMReply

    Great article!

  • IVANA | October 18, 2013 8:27 PMReply

    he is more than just most fascinating actor.he is an artist that is above acting.his acting is unique because of his edgy creative personality that is strange,he is from other world,and he is funny because he is not aware of it :)

  • Moisés da Silveira | October 18, 2013 3:15 PMReply

    Why Joaquin Phoenix is the most fascinating.... what? ... actor... what?? ... working... what??? ... in film... what???? ... today... what?????

    Are you crazy?

  • marcia | October 18, 2013 1:54 PMReply

    as Evelyn explained I am stunned that you able to profit $4224 in four weeks on the computer. did you read this webpage....http://7.ly/bPDH

  • Snowangelsweden | October 18, 2013 12:57 PMReply

    Hear,hear! One of the best article I´ve read on Phoenix. He is number one in acting - He owns every second he is on screen. He truly is fascinating both as an actor and as a human being.

  • prince | October 18, 2013 10:56 AMReply

    His healed hairlip is the only thing that interests me. He was good in The Gladiator.

  • angrydroid | October 18, 2013 10:52 AMReply

    I think you must have meant his film/performance art piece "I'm Still Here" as opposed to "I'm Not There" which was the film about Bob Dylan. This would explain why the latter wasn't listed in his IMDB listing. That is, because he wasn't in it.

  • Brandon | October 18, 2013 3:47 PM

    I was going to comment the same thing. And if the writer had scrolled a bit further and done a tiny bit more research before posting the article, she would know that "I'm Still Here" IS listed under SELF: MOVIE. Which would have then given her the correct title.

  • thedudeabides | October 18, 2013 10:19 AMReply

    I always tell people the same thing. Joaquin is consistenly doing interesting and different work. No studio/big budget films, works with intersting directors, chooses good scripts and creates fascinating characters.

    Even PT Anderson said although I'm Not Here wasn't a hit, it was a really great performance from JP. Ever since then with The Master he's on a whole other level.

  • Selma | October 18, 2013 10:11 AMReply

    I really don't care if Phoenix is "bizarre" or a crack-head or what not, in my humble opinion he is one of the best living actor we have and I find it insulting that when mentioning the greatest actors, people tend not to list him.

    Meryl, Cate, Joaquin and Daniel are the four actors that are on their own level. It's insulting that DiCaprio is mentioned above Phoenix. Phoenix's performance in The Master was beyond acting. It deserved the Oscar, even though I love Day-Lewis. It was one of my top 5 performances, EVER. Every single movie he does, every single performances touches me.

  • Adam Orton | October 22, 2013 11:58 AM

    When is DiCaprio mentioned above Phoenix?