Even Oscar voters are divided on Joker. It's no secret the film is one of the most polarizing offerings of 2019; some proclaimed it as a masterpiece following its premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival (where it won the Golden Lion), while others were turned off by Joker's depiction of violence and handling of its themes. There was so much concern the film could inspire real-world violence, the U.S. military was alerted to be on the lookout and uniformed police officers patrolled theaters in New York. Despite that controversy and backlash, Joker broke numerous box office records during its opening weekend.
Warner Bros. has a couple of other titles hoping to make noise on the awards circuit (like Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell), but the expectation is the studio is going to give Joker a big push. At the very least, many are predicting Joaquin Phoenix will be a top Best Actor candidate for his haunting portrayal of Arthur Fleck - and the film could crack the Best Picture lineup if everything falls into place. Of course, in order for that to happen, Joker needs to secure the support of Oscar voters, and right now the consensus is split.
THR contacted several Academy members to see what they all thought of Joker. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's a divide here too. The responses run the gamut of people praising it as a brilliant film to panning it for being a rehash of better works (like Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy). In addition to Phoenix, technical aspects like Lawrence Sher's cinematography and Hildur Guðnadóttir's musical score received high marks (even by those who admitted they weren't huge fans of the film). Some voters admitted they haven't seen Joker yet, with a handful of those making it seem like they have no intention to for personal reasons. A couple of people said they felt Joker was Best Picture material.
In order to earn a Best Picture nomination, a film needs to receive at least 5 percent of first-place votes during the preliminary balloting stage. That means 5 percent of Academy members need to consider Joker their #1 movie of the year if it is to be in the running for the top prize. Even though the film is highly divisive, there's a good chance of that happening; polarizing titles have passionate fan bases that will campaign hard for it. Winning Best Picture is another matter, since that award is decided by preferential ballot (where voters rank the nominees from most-liked to least-liked). The provocative Joker doesn't appear to be the type of film that would do well in that system. It would need to get a number of second and third place votes to survive all the rounds of counting, which could sink its odds. Other contenders like Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit look to boast a broader appeal.
Still, it seems as if Joker will receive serious consideration in multiple categories, even if it falls short of Best Picture. Phoenix gives another transformative performance, and with no wins yet (despite three nominations), he could have a convincing "overdue" case. It's also nice to see Joker crew members be cited by multiple Academy members. The film as a whole is obviously not everyone's cup of tea, but most critics were in agreement director Todd Phillips and company did an exemplary job bringing the dirty and grimy Gotham City to life. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out, but the fact Joker is even part of the Oscar discussion shows how far comic book adaptations have come in the eyes of awards voters.
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