The Curious Case of Joaquin Phoenix and the Oscar Prospects for 'Her'

September 4, 2013

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

For a large amount of movie fans, Joaquin Phoenix is easily one of the best actors working in Hollywood today. In fact, after you get past Daniel Day-Lewis, he is arguably the second best currently in the business, and few would leave him out of a top ten regardless of other choices. Unlike Day-Lewis though, Phoenix's performances aren't automatically deemed worthy of Oscars and a nomination on his behalf is hardly a sure thing. In fact, sometimes (especially lately) Phoenix can have a harder road to a nod than someone else in the same role. Why is that, and what does that mean for his upcoming role this year in Spike Jonze's offbeat romance Her? Well, I have some thoughts on the matter, and they go well beyond his chances for a citation this year. Essentially, Phoenix's worst enemy when it comes to awards noms actually happens to be himself.

First of all, this discussion takes nothing away from his talents. I'm a big fan of Phoenix's work like most people and always look forward to a new project that he's attached to. Aside from that though, Phoenix suffers from the notion of not playing by the rules. He's also messed with the heads of those in high places, which only hurts his cause more. Think about the difference between Phoenix and some of the more nominated folks in the business. Do they ever play elaborate practical jokes on the community at the expense of their careers or shun awards campaigning? I think not.

For those that might not remember, the first thing that got some people's goat with Joaquin Phoenix was when he "retired" from acting to pursue a music career. He grew a shabby beard, gained weight, and made a fool of himself on "The Late Show" with David Letterman. It then came out that Casey Affleck was making a documentary about Phoenix. That's all well and good, but it turned out to be a joke he was playing with brother-in-law Affleck, and that rankled some. Part of it was the nature of not liking having a joke played on you, but also there was the fact that his antics hurt a wonderful little film he was supposed to be promoting called Two Lovers (directed by James Gray). Phoenix was nomination worthy in the role, but no one seemed to notice. Everyone was too busy wondering if he'd gone completely nuts.

Once that was revealed as a hoax, Phoenix slowly began to re-enter the business and scored the high profile lead in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. It was rumored he could be in line for an Academy Award nomination (which would be his third), and once we all saw the movie, that talked turned to if he was a forgone conclusion to win the Oscar or not. All seemed right with his image rehab, but that was short lived.

Then last October, during an interview with Elvis Mitchell, Phoenix seemed to brush off any interest in campaigning for an Oscar nomination. Here's what he said last year in the interview:

MITCHELL: So what are you going to do when they put you on the awards circuit for The Master?

PHOENIX: You're out of your mind, dude. You're out of touch with what has happened.

MITCHELL: I think we've established that you're the one who's out of his mind. [Phoenix laughs] You don't think that's going to happen?

PHOENIX: I'm just saying that I think it's bullshit. I think it's total, utter bullshit, and I don't want to be a part of it. I don't believe in it. It's a carrot, but it's the worst-tasting carrot I've ever tasted in my whole life. I don't want this carrot. It's totally subjective. Pitting people against each other… It's the stupidest thing in the whole world. It was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life when Walk the Line was going through all the awards stuff and all that. I never want to have that experience again. I don't know how to explain it—and it's not like I'm in this place where I think I'm just above it—but I just don't ever want to get comfortable with that part of things.

Honestly, it shouldn't be a big deal that he didn't want to do the dance for voters, but Academy members want need to be wooed, so this pretty much cost him any chance at winning. In fact, it was a minor triumph that he still managed to get a nod (full list of 2013 Academy Award nominations) over others who were more overtly playing the game. The question now is, where does that leave him this year with Spike Jonze's Her?

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Well, as good as Joaquin Phoenix looks in the trailer, I think he'll likely wind up on the outside looking in when nominations come around. Like I mentioned earlier, Phoenix has a harder time than most, even though some of that in the past has just been bad luck. His first two Oscar nods came for more standard awards bait, though his chances at Best Supporting Actor for Gladiator came up short to Benecio del Toro in Traffic and his Best Actor candidacy for Walk the Line couldn't get past Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. Both times, he simply was up against the overwhelming favorite to win and had no chance at a victory. Here, his chances at a Her nomination are hurt partially because the film looks like a hard sell to voters and partially because there's no guarantee that he'll actually bother to campaign.

Here's a caveat I want to make that should make some of you feel a bit better about Phoenix and Her's awards prospects. Regardless of his choices in terms of a campaign, what it really comes down to is if the film is good or not. If you can believe filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, it's "one of the best films he's seen in some time". A really great movie builds its own buzz, be it at a film festival (Her does close out the New York Film Festival this year, after all) or just in the days and weeks leading up to its release when critics chime in. A beloved film can make its own case, so if that's the case here (which it may be), it may not matter who's doing the campaigning, since the movie itself will be doing the heavy lifting and culling support.

Going forward, I think if Phoenix decides to change course and woo voters he could stand a better chance at a surprise nomination, but more likely it'll just get him to a place where voters won't have a raised eyebrow when looking at him. There's no denying Phoenix's acting talent, it's just a matter of him learning to play nice. Once he does, it'll become likelier that one day voters will reward him with an Oscar. Essentially, the ball is very much in his court and I can't wait to see what he does this year. Thoughts on Joaquin?

Find more posts: Awards, Discuss, Editorial



Tom Selleck?

Will on Sep 4, 2013


In my book he is nr 1 (DDL is second..) And by God - I hope he never learns to "play nice" ! But, I have to agree with you on the Two Lovers though, the film got a bit lost, which I think JP regrets.

Snowangel on Sep 4, 2013


Indeed about Two Lovers.

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


I think Two Lovers was one of his best performances, but it did get lost.

PinkCandy on Nov 8, 2013


I don't know. I mean Woody Allen doesn't care about the Academy and he won a couple statues. I think like you said if a movie gathers so much momentum and everyone's on board with it, he's just going to win, it's not even up to him. And if I remember correctly Joaquin did go to the ceremony, whereas you couldn't drag in Woody if you tried. I think as much as the Academy likes people who actually care about the Oscars, they're also concerned with getting some people recognition if EVERYONE loves them. So I think this year Di Caprio is going to win (they're always a step behind). And The Master wasn't exactly the kind of film that the Academy would love or back up. Part of it has to do with the subject matter, parts of it is that it's a "cold" film and they prefer "big emotions".

DavideCoppola on Sep 4, 2013


Woody's a very special case though, and it's not so much going to the ceremony as it is going to the events prior to the nominations are announced...

Joey Magidson on Sep 4, 2013


If he "deserves" it in the eyes of the voters, I'm sure he'll the nom/win. Woody, George C. Scott, Brando have all gone against the Oscars and still won and been nominated more than everyone. And who cares if he gets a nom or not, as long as he delivers a good performance.

Whoa on Sep 4, 2013


They were looked at as legends in a way that Phoenix isn't currently. One day perhaps. You're right though, the performance is what matters most at the end of the day...

Joey Magidson on Sep 4, 2013


His chances are definitely diminished because of his behavior. Which I'm perfectly cool with. But if the performance is solid I think he can get a nomination. If I were to go with my guts though, I would say he won't.

Isildur_of_Numenor on Sep 4, 2013


He's definitely someone who will be in the running, though I really do think he'll never win until he plays their game, for better or worse...

Joey Magidson on Sep 4, 2013


And when he gets nominated he always seems to end up alongside equally strong performances from other actors, giving the Academy a good excuse not to award him. I mean, if you have to choose between Daniel Day-Lewis and Phoenix, it's pretty clear who will win even if Joaquin's performance was outstanding. The Academy likes safe bets.

Isildur_of_Numenor on Sep 5, 2013


That they do/

Joey Magidson on Sep 5, 2013


I actually don't care for his acting simply because his basic wounded self seems to leak into all of the roles in some way. I always feel as if he is projecting that others are going to inflict pain and therefor he will provide the shield of being rude and inconsiderate first. He's obviously a very intelligent man and potentially a great actor, but somebody needs to give the man lessons in being a decent human being.

jessied44 on Sep 4, 2013


I'm one who always separates the person from their work, but I'm just saying that the Academy doesn't always...

Joey Magidson on Sep 4, 2013


My position is that with actors, the internal informs the external. It isn't his behavior I deplore as much as the sense that he could actually be a better actor if he worked on being a better person. DDL and Jackman don't seem to have any problem being gentlemen and considerate of others and they are probably two of the best working on both stage and film.

jessied44 on Sep 4, 2013


Duly noted.

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


I really liked Joaquin's comment about the "worst-tasting carrot." I can't watch award shows, they drive me crazy. Good for him, for striving for his personal best and trying to build a body of work that he's proud of, and for NOT making it about achieving a statue. I didn't see "I'm Still Here" but it seems to me that a lot of people were upset because he called out the ridiculous side of this business, and exposed so many for the vapid sheep they are.

amazonkris on Sep 5, 2013


He's certainly entitled to say and do as he feels...

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


Who would have thought that a guy named Joaquin Phoenix would be an eccentric?

Edomaniac on Sep 5, 2013


He didn't pick his name...

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


So it's his parents fault.

Edomaniac on Nov 8, 2013


JP is a great actor, but I think the fact that he is always so Anti-everything, rubs people the wrong way, and he ends up making himself look like an outcast. So why is he acting if he constantly acts like he hates it???

PinkCandy on Sep 11, 2013


I don't think he hates acting so much as the marketing part of it might rub him the wrong way.

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


Exactly this post is pretty old when we were discussing this, but I came across it when I was doing a search of name to see what would come up and this comment came up. lol. Anyways, he has done a movie or two since then and is about to release a movie directed by Woody Allen that she be supp-orb. He is a great actor and his attitude has changed greatly and he become more humble and is being offered leading roles again. I for on am very glad, because I have enjoyed his acting,.

Melissa Sipe on Aug 6, 2015


I just watched that documentary. THANK GOD it was a hoax! I did not know he was making movies, I thought he swam away in that beautiful island and was never seen again. He is brilliant and I will watch what ever he puts out.

Melissa Sipe on Sep 21, 2013



Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


Joaquin keep being the original human being only you can be! I'm sure he does not waste his time worrying about what "the academy" or anyone else thinks of him.

Erika on Sep 25, 2013


I'm sure he doesn't.

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


Okay, I know this is a month old but I've only caught it and despite being late to the party, I do feel the need to say, 'Wait, hold on a moment'. Let's not get carried away with hyperboles. Joaquin Phoenix is a marvellous actor. He got nominated for an Oscar 3 times in the period between 2000 and 2013 (Gladiator, Walk the Line, The Master), that is, 3 nominations before the age of 40. In that period, he's given great performances in around 10 movies that were mostly received with let's say, a lack of excitement. Whenever a movie has managed to step above that even remotely, he received a nomination. The most glaring case for that is The Master - the reception was lacklustre, it was Phoenix's first real acting job in 4 years (out of his own choice), and he got the nomination. If you want to compare him to Daniel Day-Lewis, compare him to the parallel period in Day Lewis's career, not to the same period in time. DDL now is not 40 years old. I would say that would be the 90s for DDL. In the 90s, DDL appeared in a slightly smaller number of more critically acclaimed, better received movies, and was nominated once, for In the Name of the Father. He wasn't nominated at all again until Gangs of New York. DDL took some time to become DDL. People now throw 'best actor alive' at him so it's hard to forget that no, he wasn't always considered worthy of nomination for every good turn he's given. If anything, comparing the two... Joaquin Phoenix is now in a better place with the Academy than DDL was at his parallel stage of his career. I know this is the season for hyperbole and this year more than most. But c'mon. No, Joaquin Phoenix has not yet reached the stage of his career where every performance of his should automatically be considered for an Oscar. And luckily so. To be honest, I think that's a very sad day for any actor. Let Phoenix continue to push himself, let some of his other talented contemporaries catch up (I think only DiCaprio has the same number of nominations from their age group?) and let's see what happens in another decade. Why declare the height of his very interesting career has already arrived? There's so much future to look forward to.

Pitry on Oct 13, 2013


It's certainly not the height, but he's at a great stage in his career, that's for sure.

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


He seems like a weirdo to me.

Kim on Nov 8, 2013


As long as he continues to deliver strong performances, he can be whatever he wants...

Joey Magidson on Nov 8, 2013


I don't get why he should have to play ball with them. I mean, the Oscars are undermining their own process by having actors and directors schmooze in order to win or even be nominated. It's supposed to be based on the quality of the work, but really it's based on who can lick the most arses. I like the fact that Joaquin Phoenix doesn't rise to it. It singles him out as one of the few people in that industry that has a bit of self-respect. He's a great actor - let the Academy come chasing after him and maybe they'll lend a bit of legitimacy to their charade.

WhoDat on Jan 6, 2014

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