‘Joker’ Is A Great Movie That Has Absolutely Zero Business Winning Best Picture At The Academy Awards

should joker win best picture oscar

Warner Bros.


In the middle of the fourth season of The Office, Michael is enraged when he finds out Karen, who has since left the Scranton office to become the manager of the Utica branch, has offered Stanley a job. Michael responds by recruiting an incredibly eager Dwight and a very reluctant Jim to drive north to Utica with him in an attempt at retaliation.

They wear disguises, break a copier, and ultimately humiliate themselves, which is the end result of essentially any plan dreamed up by Michael Scott.

At one point, Dwight finds himself in the midst of a conversation with Karen and threatens “to burn Utica to the ground.” Moments later, Michael also threatens to do the same. The line has gone on to become one of my favorites from the show, and as someone who can find ways to quote The Office on an almost unhealthy basis, I really enjoy having the option to threaten to burn Utica to the ground when it suits me.

If the DVR didn’t do its job, I’ll vow to burn Utica to the ground. If the garbage truck picks up all of my trash except for that one heavy can I knew they weren’t going to take but that I was really hoping they would, I will fantasize about reducing the tenth largest city in the state of New York to a pile of ashes.

A staff meeting runs long? I’m torching Utica. Amazon messes up an order? Utica’s toast. I break a wine glass while doing the dishes? Scranton might have a strangler but Utica’s going to have an arsonist.

If Joker somehow wins the Oscar for Best Picture, I’ll burn Utica to the ground.

I saw Joker and I thought that it was pretty good. Or I think it was pretty good. I left Joker feeling confused and fairly uneasy.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but at a certain point, I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I found the movie both entertaining and boring as well as equal parts confusing and intriguing. I would be perfectly comfortable never seeing it again, yet at the same time, I’m happy (if not relieved) that I did, because then I wouldn’t have to concern myself with needing to see it to form my own opinion.

That’s not how I’d want to describe a movie that takes home the Academy Award for Best Picture.

How do I feel about Joaquin Phoenix? He was absolutely dynamite as the Joker.

He went all in and I respect that. I don’t understand why he climbed into the fridge at one point but I’m not here to question the intentions of an artist. I guess it made sense to him, so there you go. Case closed.

If they want to give Phoenix the Oscar for Best Actor, I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I suppose arguments could be made for Leonardo DiCaprio or Adam Driver but Phoenix feels like a favorite and for good reason. Again, he was really, really good in Joker.

If Phoenix hadn’t been up to the job of becoming Joker, that movie would have been a colossal trainwreck. He carried the film and did so from start to finish. That’s what we should want from someone who is in the running to win an Academy Award for Actor in a Leading Role.

I like to think of it as the Daniel Day-Lewis Rule. That guy carries movies and owns literally everything he’s in. When he’s onscreen, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. When it feels as if only that one actor could have pulled off playing a specific part, there’s a good chance he was the guy they tried to cast.

If someone goes full Daniel Day-Lewis in a movie, they should win an Oscar. Phoenix did exactly that in Joker. Give the man his trophy.

But the movie itself? I think we need to seriously ask ourselves if Joker was actually good or not. I’m not sure it was.

The last thirty or forty minutes definitely were. The movie’s final act was what stuck with me and was what caused me to not be able to shake it for a few days after I saw it. Once Arthur Fleck turns that corner and becomes Joker, the movie also turns a corner. Joker becomes almost like a horror movie; one of those psychological, mind-altering horror movies as opposed to one that relies on jump-scares.

Fleck makes you uncomfortable the whole time but you’re never really scared of him.

Fleck as Joker though? That’s a different story.

Phoenix’s Joker was the first incarnation of the character in a movie that was truly scary. Cesar Romero’s Joker wasn’t scary and neither was Jack Nicholson’s. Both were too cartoonish to be deeply unnerving.

Heath Ledger’s Joker came close but he didn’t make you nervous or cause you to squirm in your seat in the same way Phoenix’s Joker did. Ledger’s Joker was very much a villain and he was familiar in that sense. The way in which he was methodical and had plans and carried out those plans were things we expect from villains, especially comic book villains.

Phoenix’s Joker was a combustible wild card and an incredibly dangerous one at that. Sure, he had plans, but they were amateur hour compared to what Ledger’s Joker cooked up. They were sketches, whereas Ledger’s were fully-formed Powerpoint presentations. There is just something more troubling, unsettling, and scary about someone making it up as they go along, which is the feeling I got from Phoenix’s Joker.

If that last act of Joker stuck with me, the accompanying visual that I just couldn’t let go of was the shot of him walking out of the subway station while smoking a cigarette with confidence for the first time and pleased with himself in a way he had never really been before. He looked demonically evil, a look we had never previously seen from a Joker.

Ledger’s Joker just wanted to watch the world burn. Phoenix’s Joker wasn’t nearly as interested in watching. Rather, he was more intrigued by the aftermath and the effects of the punishment.

So yeah, let’s give Phoenix the Oscar. And while we’re at it, let’s give Joker the Oscar for cinematography too.

All Fleck talked about throughout the movie was how dirty and disgusting the city had become. Joker’s cinematographer Lawrence Sher was able to create a Gotham that truly looked like Fleck described it. You could almost smell the trash through the screen and feel the grease and grime on your hands.

But I think that’s about it. I don’t think it should win anything else.

Todd Phillips shouldn’t win for directing because he essentially ripped off the vibe of the films Martin Scorsese put out in the late 1970s and early 1980s (and I didn’t get the sense he was purposely paying homage to them). Joker also shouldn’t win for costume design, score, or sound editing. The film can be in contention for those awards, sure, but they shouldn’t win.

And Joker should definitely not win for Best Picture.

Why?

Because it’s not the best movie to come out in the past year. That about sums it up.

If it were only the last act, then we could have that conversation. Unfortunately, there was about an hour and a half that preceded that culmination that was boring, emotionally confusing, boring again, kind of okay, head-scratchingly confusing, and repetitive. I found myself wondering why I was watching the movie a handful of times and I’d like to think I wasn’t alone there.

To make things worse, I figured that was going to happen before I saw the movie.

Prior to watching Joker, one of the biggest things I wrestled with was if I really wanted to potentially feel sorry for him. The Joker is a bad guy. Sympathizing with antiheroes is one thing but the Joker isn’t an anti-hero. I don’t want to know why he’s doing what he’s doing because then I could potentially empathize with him, and frankly, that’s not something I’m very keen on.

That didn’t stop me from seeing it anyway and the concerns I had going in were warranted. I certainly found myself feeling bad for Arthur Fleck (the movie made it almost impossible not too) and then was mad at myself for feeling bad for Arthur Fleck because he eventually becomes the Joker and the Joker is a bad guy. I don’t want to feel bad for bad guys. I want to feel bad for the people harmed by bad guys. I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way.

Plus, you knew Fleck/Joker was going to eventually kill Zaziz Beatz’ character as soon as she was introduced and you knew he was going to kill Robert DeNiro’s character the moment he was invited on Murray Franklin’s show. I don’t know how Marc Maron’s character survived but I’m impressed that he did.

Also, what was that nonsense about Fleck thinking he was Thomas Wayne’s illegitimate son? There are plenty of other ways that Phillips and company could have driven the point home that Fleck’s mother was delusional. Trying to shoehorn Batman history and canon into the story just felt cheap.

AND. WE. DON’T. NEED. TO. SEE. THOMAS. AND. MARTHA. WAYNE. GETTING. KILLED. ANYMORE. Thank you very much.

If you want to show their murder from a different perspective, maybe show them with bodyguards for once because it doesn’t make any sense that a man of Thomas Wayne’s stature (especially how he’s portrayed in Joker) wouldn’t have some kind of security detail.

The city is on the brink of a riot and he’s running for office, yet he and his family are gallivanting around the wretched streets of Gotham by themselves? Come on now. Include at least one dude with an earpiece following close behind them and then maybe I’m buying it.

But that doesn’t mean I want to see it. At least not again.

Adding that part felt a little too cute and took away from the overall impact of those few minutes of anarchy portrayed in the film’s final moments. For a while there, the movie had brought you so far into their story, you almost forgot that this was even related to Batman and that was part of the reason why it got so good.

But then they ruined it. It was a bummer.

Earlier this week, I was talking to my wife about the Oscars and the subject of Joker came up. I started venting my frustration with it receiving so many nominations when she asked why they even made a movie about the Joker.

It stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t have an answer. It was such a simple question and simple questions should normally have simple answers.

Why did we need a movie about the Joker? Are we that starved for comic book content and/or for expanding every comic book universe under the sun.

In 1989’s Batman, we got a glimpse into how Joker came to be and that was fine. I’d argue that it was significantly more interesting in The Dark Knight when the Joker just appeared, and not only did he not really have a backstory, that backstory kept changing.

The Joker is the bad guy. Since when do we need deep dives into how the bad guy came to be? Dipping our toe into the shallow end should get the job done just fine.

Being confused by movies is normal but we shouldn’t be as confused by the intention of a movie. As strange as The Shape of Water was, the intention was clear. Guillermo del Toro wanted to make a fairy tale, which he did (albeit a mighty strange one).

So what was the actual point of Joker? Was it to tell a story about the people left behind and disowned by society or was it simply an attempt to tell the Joker’s story? Maybe it was both?

Either way, there are other ways to tell if Option A was the reason and not much of a reason for digging into Option B. Whichever movie wins for Best Picture shouldn’t feel pointless and Joker feels pointless.

Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Joker was remarkable. Joker was not.

And yes, if it wins the Oscar for Best Picture, I will burn Utica to the ground.