Reel Reviews: DC makes run at Oscar contention with ‘Joker’

By on October 9, 2019

Movie trailers are not usually that tricky to figure out. You can pretty much tell if all the funny parts are crammed into the preview of a new comedic release. A low budget flick is going to look like a flop no matter how you sell it in advertising.

“Joker,” the serious-looking take on one of DC Comics’ most well-known villains, looked great in trailers, and it came nowhere near disappointing.

It is no secret I have been pretty rough on DC Comics and their movie variants. They deserve it. “Shazam!” Need I say more?

But “Joker” is a whole different subject. This is the best superhero origin story ever put onto the big screen (Sorry, M. Night Shyamalan). And it stands alone as a darn good movie even if you have no care at all about comic books, superheroes, or DC vs. Marvel.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lost and wounded man living with his mother (Frances Conroy) and piecing together a living as a clown in a city, Gotham, that is falling into social revolution. Tormented, tortured — by bullies and the truth — Fleck dons the alter ego of Joker before going on a late-night talk show hosted by his idol, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Fleck’s on-air actions ignite the masses and Gotham burns. Riots and violence aid in the murder of the city’s most wealthy individual, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), and the Joker, and Batman, are born. (Note: this is not a Batman movie.)

This movie is absolutely brilliant. As I realized the film was coming to an end, I spun into denial, hoping there was another hour or two left in the tale. I would have watched the screen all day if the tale were to continue to unwind. Writer/director Todd Phillips has eclipsed his filmmaking reputation (“Old School,” “The Hangover”) and singlehandedly* lifted DC Comics stories out of the disrespected doldrums of the DCEU. The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) is to DC as MCU is to Marvel. (*Along with co-writer Scott Silver, “The Fighter.”)

Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a.k.a. “Joker.”

Riddle me this: why is DC so bad at figuring out how to string together a series of films moviegoers can take seriously and fans will love? It’s frustrating, but anyway…

It is hard to say Fleck/Joker is the role of a lifetime for an actor as accomplished as Phoenix, but this could be the Oscar-winner he has been waiting for. The golden statue eluded him in “The Master,” “Walk the Line,” and “Gladiator,” and this is a perfect setup for the Academy to honor a hardworking actor who mostly floats just below the radar and is sometimes overshadowed by his own real-life tragedy.

Coming soon

There was no doubt “Joker” was going to take the top spot at the box office over the weekend. Last week’s top openings, “Judy” and “Abominable,” couldn’t come close to the $93 million the DC bad boy brought in for Warner Bros. This weekend Will Smith will try and show the box office he still has pull with the sci-fi action “Gemini Man” and on the 18th, two sequels square off as “Zombieland: Double Tap” goes up against “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” And on November 1 all heck breaks loose as The Terminator faces flicks from Martin Scorsese, Edward Norton (in his sophomore directing effort), and a biopic on Harriet Tubman. Talk about prepping for some Oscar nods!

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