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Newsletter: Oscar prospects for ‘Joker’ nothing to laugh about

Joker Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix stars in “Joker.”
(Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros.)

Happy “Taxi Driver” Week, everyone! On Wednesday, we had the president of the United States making like Travis Bickle at a news conference. And now we have the arrival of “Joker,” a movie that self-consciously imitates the style of that 1976 Martin Scorsese classic ... when it’s not ripping off elements of Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy.”

Which brings us again to the Gold Standard, the newsletter from the Los Angeles Times that helps guide you through the ins and outs of the awards season leading up to the Oscars.

I’m Glenn Whipp, The Times’ awards columnist and your newsletter host.

‘Joker’: All noise, no ideas

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Todd Phillips’ comic book origin story “Joker” earned the Golden Lion a few weeks ago at its Venice Film Festival premiere. But it has been all downhill from there. Its reception, as I reported, at the Toronto International Film Festival was muted. And critics haven’t been kind, with the relentlessly bleak film currently sitting at a 58 on review aggregator Metacrtic.

Times film critic Justin Chang first saw the movie at Venice and recently revisited it for a fresh review. Phillips’ glib approach felt even more tiresome upon a second viewing, though Justin does find much to admire in the film’s craft and lead Joaquin Phoenix’s committed turn.

Justin and I talked about “Joker” after Toronto, and even then, I did not find anything about it — including Phoenix’s exhausting, one-note performance — to recommend.

Still, the bad reviews and the controversy surrounding the movie won’t hurt the box office this weekend, as Times’ Company Town reporter Ryan Faughnder writes. But the movie’s awards season prospects — outside of Phoenix, who has many admirers — have definitely taken a tumble.

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Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese introduce “The Irishman” at the New York Film Festival.
Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese introduce “The Irishman” at the New York Film Festival.
(Getty Images )

Scorsese’s ‘Irishman’ wows at NY Film Festival premiere

Why do we need imitation Scorsese anyway in a year that features the real deal? “The Irishman,” the latest from the acclaimed filmmaker, premiered at the New York Film Festival last week, and I was there to cover the event and the party afterward.

The three-and-a-half-hour crime drama feels like both a summation and a farewell to a genre that Scorsese helped define with films like “Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “The Departed.”

It’s a full meal, violent and morbidly funny, ruminative and alive, sober, sweeping and, in its final half hour, a delicate, deeply moving portrait of regret. It opens with a trademark Scorsese tracking shot — only it’s through a nursing home. Death hovers; time and mercy, in the words of the great spiritual, are out of reach.

“The Irishman” will begin streaming on Netflix on Nov. 27, but I’d recommend you try to find it in a theater when it opens Nov. 1. It’ll likely still be playing theatrically too all the way through the Oscars.

Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory.”
Antonio Banderas in “Pain and Glory.”
( Manolo Pavón / Sony Pictures Classics )

‘Pain and Glory’ is Pedro Almodóvar at his best

It’s quite possible we might have two international films nominated for the best picture Oscar this year — Bong Joon-ho’s moving and exhilarating thriller “Parasite” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory,” a gorgeous look into the great Spanish filmmaker’s soul.

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Times film critic Kenneth Turan reviewed Almodóvar’s latest, which opens in limited release today. He writes: “A film with many touchstones, pain, memory and enduring love among them, ‘Pain and Glory’ concerns itself most with the nature and influence of the creative impulse and the power of the past to revive and enlighten us in the present.

“And, not surprisingly since Almodóvar has just turned 70, it both demonstrates and deals with how all things change with age, the regrets we have to live with and those we do not.”

This is another movie that will likely stick around in theaters for the next few months. In Los Angeles, it’s currently at the Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood. But it’ll continue to add more theaters — and cities. It’s worth finding.

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.


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