Awards buzz for Todd Phillips’ “Joker” skyrocketed this week after it was announced the Warner Bros. comic book tentpole would world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival and also screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s rare for a comic book movie to break into the major fall film festivals, so that “Joker” is going to play at two of the season’s biggest events is a huge sign of how the industry is perceiving the Joaquin Phoenix-starring drama.
In an interview with Variety, Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera revealed that it was Phillips who pushed for “Joker” to land a coveted slot in the festival’s competition lineup. Warner Bros. was set to premiere the movie out of competition, like it has in previous years with eventual Oscar winners “Gravity” and “A Star Is Born,” but the “Joker” director wanted a shot at the Golden Lion.
“Yes, as usual [Warner Bros.] said they wanted to be in a more protected situation [as with ‘A Star Is Born’ last year, which launched out of competition],” Barbera said. “But then [director] Todd Phillips said: ‘I don’t care if I run the risk of not winning. Why shouldn’t I go in competition when I know what we’ve got on our hands?’
Barbera continued, “I have to say, Warners was convinced pretty rapidly, because it’s a really surprising film. It’s the most surprising film we’ve got this year…This one’s going straight to the Oscars even though it’s gritty, dark, violent. It has amazing ambition and scope.”
By competing at Venice, “Joker” not only has a shot at winning the Golden Lion (last year’s winner was “Roma,” and we all know how that film went on to dominate Oscar season) but Phoenix can also compete for the best actor prize. Phoenix won Venice’s best actor trophy several years ago for his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.”
Barbara’s comments on “Joker” are similar to what TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey told IndieWire earlier the week. “It’s an original story, not part of the existing canon,” he said. “It does take the character and a lot of the elements that we know from Joker’s backstory. But it’s an original story that allows the filmmakers to go in an original direction. It’s got some real dark tones to it, but it’s just grounded in this career-best performance by Joaquin Phoenix. I think all the awards bodies will be taking notice.”
Warner Bros. is set to release “Joker” in theaters nationwide October 4.