‘Joker’ star Joaquin Phoenix’s Golden Globes victory continues awards season chaos

Joaquin Phoenix in  "Joker."
(Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. )

Just like its title character, the movie “Joker” has been one surprise after another, bringing an unpredictable, chaotic energy to the end-of-year movie season. And now that includes two Golden Globe wins.

A dark, disturbing vision of a world beset by income inequality, suffering a legacy of trauma and ripped apart by explosive violence might not seem the most obvious film to be celebrated by the typically upbeat Golden Globe awards, but the entire life of the “Joker” movie has been one twist after another.

Stepping outside the canonical comic-book legacy of a character that has previously been portrayed by the likes of Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Cesar Romero, Zach Galifianakis and in an Oscar-winning turn by Heath Ledger, “Joker” stars Golden Globe winner Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man who transforms into a symbol for anger and rebellion.

It’s Phoenix’s second Globes victory, following his win for the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” in 2006.


In a sincere but shambling speech, Phoenix said to his “Joker” director Todd Phillips, “You encouraged me to give everything and to be sincere. And I’m such a pain in the ass. I cannot believe you put up with me.”

Phoenix noted his fiancée, Rooney Mara, in the room before saying, “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t want to rock the boat but the boat is … rocked.”

He added, “I have not always been a virtuous man. I am learning so much, and so many of you in this room have given me multiple opportunities to try to get it right. And I am deeply grateful.

“But I think together hopefully we can be unified and actually make some changes. It’s great to vote, but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves. And make changes and sacrifices in our own lives. And I hope that we can do that.”

Phoenix’s speech had already touched on animal agriculture, climate change and the Australian wildfires when music began to play him off as he mentioned not taking private planes to awards ceremonies. Phoenix concluded by saying, “I’ll try to do better, I hope you will too. Thank you so much for putting up with me.”

Directed and cowritten by Phillips, previously best known for comedies such as the “Hangover” series, “Joker” won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival after having its world premiere there. It then swept into the Toronto International Film Festival, where it set off wave after wave of controversy and conversation, with some loving it, some despising it and basically everyone talking about it.

Next, in the run-up to the film’s release, there was much media hand-wringing and concern that it would somehow spark real-life violence among movie audiences or beyond.

Once the picture opened — safely and to no severe incidents — it went on to make more than $1 billion at the global box office, becoming the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time.

Then came awards season. The movie was nominated for four Golden Globes — drama, actor in a drama, director and original score for Hildur Guðnadóttir, winning the prizes for actor and score; seven nominations from the Critics Choice Awards; two from the Screen Actors Guild; one from the American Society of Cinematographers; and was named one of the 10 movies of the year by the American Film Institute.

As to what it is about this movie that ignited with audiences around the world at this moment, Phillips said as part of The Times’ directors roundtable last fall, “Oftentimes, movies can be a mirror for what’s going on in the world. Some are connecting to the loneliness that is conveyed. Some are connecting to the themes of income inequality. And, you know, oftentimes when you hold a mirror up, it’s not always pretty what you see. And I think the movie’s been divisive because of that reason. But it’s definitely struck a chord around the world. And it’s been really exciting to have a movie on that scale.”