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Joaquin Phoenix Wins Best Actor Oscar for ‘Joker,’ Sweeping Awards Season in the Process

Phoenix is now the second performer to win an Oscar for playing the Batman villain after Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight."



Warner Bros.

Joaquin Phoenix has won the Academy Award for Best Actor thanks to his acclaimed performance in Todd Phillips’ “Joker.” The revisionist comic book drama stars Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a social outcast whose shattered dreams of being a hit stand-up comedian lead him down a dark path to becoming the infamous Batman villain. Phoenix’s Oscar makes him the second performer to win an Academy Award for playing the Joker after Heath Ledger, who won the Best Supporting Actor trophy for playing the character in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” “Joker’ received a total of 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, making it the most nominated film at the 92nd Academy Awards. With Phoenix’s win, it has claimed two statuettes: “Joker” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir won the Oscar for Best Original Score.

Phoenix was considered the frontrunner for Best Actor this year by a wide margin. The moment “Joker” world premiered at the Venice Film Festival (where it won the Golden Lion) many Oscar pundits pegged Phoenix as the one to beat. The actor dominated Oscar season with a clean sweep, picking up Best Actor trophies from the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critic’s Choice Awards, and the BAFTAs. In addition to his wins, Phoenix has made headlines for his industry-pushing acceptance speeches in which he has called out Hollywood for its lack of inclusivity.

“I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” Phoenix said while accepting his BAFTA. “I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry, and in ways that we benefit from.”

Phoenix continued, “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. I think people just want to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected for their work. This is not a self-righteous condemnation because I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of the problem. I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive, but I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural.”

At the 2020 Golden Globes, Phoenix was just as powerful while accepting his trophy for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Motion Picture. The actor used his time at the podium to admit he is a pain in the ass to work with and to call out Hollywood for taking private jets to Palm Springs.

Phoenix’s Oscar win for “Joker” came after three previous Academy Award nominations: Best Actor for “The Master” in 2013, Best Actor for “Walk the Line” in 2006, and Best Supporting Actor for “Gladiator” in 2001. Next up for Phoenix is a starring role in the new film from “20th Century Women” director Mike Mills. The project has the backing of A24. One follow-up possibility is a “Joker” sequel movie, but would Phoenix really want to play the role that won him the Oscar again? The actor is keeping the door open for now.

Backstage at the Globes last month, Phoenix pushed back at the idea a “Joker” sequel would be made as a cash grab. “I don’t think that I’ve ever done too many predictable things,” he said. “So if [a ‘Joker’ sequel] came up it’s not because Todd or I are following some rule book. It’s because we feel inspired to explore the character more thoroughly. That’d be the only reason for me to do it.”

“Joker” was released at the start of October by Warner Bros. and grossed $96 million in the U.S. on its debut weekend before heading to a domestic haul of $333 million and a staggering global gross of $1.06 billion. These numbers make “Joker” the highest-grossing R-rated film in history (unadjusted for inflation), and the most profitable comic book film ever made. The film’s popularity among audiences broke through pre-release concerns from some film critics that “Joker” might entice violence in some audience members. Phoenix told IndieWire in the fall that all of the gray areas in the film’s script convinced him to agree to star in a comic book movie. The actor was long hesitant to join a comic book tentpole and even passed on Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” several years ago.

“I couldn’t come up with any answers,” Phoenix said. “That’s what made me feel I had to do it. I felt overwhelmed and terrified by it. Usually when I’m scared of something, it makes me feel like I have to go towards it. I had so many mixed feelings about the character. And I like that. I don’t think we have enough of that in movies, particularly in a superhero genre movie. I hate the idea of labeling something, just mostly because I don’t really know what the genres are.”

Click here for the full list of winners from the 2020 Oscars.

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