Sometimes, the conversation around a film becomes much bigger than the film itself. That has definitely been the case with "Joker," a supervillain origin story that is nominated for a whopping 11 Academy Awards this year, including "Best Picture."
The film, directed by Todd Phillips, centers on mentally ill would-be comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Fleck is miserable. He's put-upon, often literally beat down, deeply troubled and delusional. Over the course of the film, he becomes more and more violent, losing touch with reality until he emerges as comic book history's most notorious villain: The Joker.
The buzz around the film has been immense. It's received critical acclaim and financial success, even becoming the most successful R-rated film ever – but it's also faced heavy criticism for its portrayal of mental illness and violence, as well as sparked genuine fear. It's a lot of noise to sift through. But for what? When it comes down to it, is "Joker" even worth watching?
The short answer is no. "Joker" isn't a unique movie in any way. In fact, in a lot of ways, it's basically a mash-up of two Martin Scorsese movies: "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy." All three even feature Robert De Niro. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there has to be a line somewhere.
And beyond the lack of creativity, "Joker" is a lazy movie – and an unwise one. For what the film is, Phoenix's performance is impressive and will almost definitely score him his first Oscar. But the production design is flat (Gotham City has never looked more like normal New York than in this film) and if "Joker" takes home awards for costume design or makeup and hairstyling, it will be, well, a joke.
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But where "Joker" proves itself unwise and reckless is the transformation of Fleck. The discussion of whether or not films have any responsibility to uphold in the public conscience is one that will probably go on forever with no real answer – but it's careless, especially right now, to make a film about an undeniably mentally ill man who turns to violent murder when he feels he's been mistreated. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes and does no one any good.
If the Academy names "Joker" the year's best picture, they will certainly be making a statement. But they'll also be making a mistake.
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Let's break down the big questions:
Who might enjoy "Joker"?
Fans of "Taxi Driver" and/or "The King of Comedy" who don't feel like rewatching those films. People determined to see the entire filmography of the actors in this film.
What else is it nominated for?
Best Director, Actor in a Leading Role (Phoenix), Adapted Screenplay (Phillips and Scott Silver), Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
What's the likelihood it will win "Best Picture"?
It's among the top contenders. Every year, about half of the films nominated for Best Picture are really in the running and this year, for better or worse, "Joker" is one of those. It also has the most nominations – though that's not always a sure sign of success. Twice in Oscars history, the film with the most nominations didn't win anything and, in the last decade, the film with the most nominations has only won Best Picture half of the years. If "Joker" is close to a sure thing on any of its nominations, it's Best Actor and possibly Adapted Screenplay or Cinematography.
Ahead of the 92nd annual Academy Awards, KVUE's Britny Eubank is reviewing all of the Oscars' "Best Picture" nominees. If you'd like to read more of her thoughts on all sorts of movies, she writes about them every month. And don't forget to catch the Oscars on KVUE on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.
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