Joaquin Phoenix is truly one of Hollywood’s best and also most overlooked performers of our time. Here are his best movies.
From now until the next award season is over, one of the names that we’re going to be hearing and seeing all the time is Joaquin Phoenix, the chameleonic actor that always delivers incredibly compelling characters but that’s constantly overlooked by the industry. Probably as intense and complex as his character, his life has definitely given him experiences that could easily make a great fictional story.
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to American parents, Phoenix is the third of five children who, from a very early age, found themselves in a fiction-like life. His parents joined a religious cult called "Children of God" and travelled throughout South America and the US, until they discovered the cult wasn’t really what they had thought. They settled down and tried to give their children a more stable and normal life. With that in mind, they left everything behind, even changing their name to Phoenix as a symbol of renaissance.
Both Joaquin and his brother River started acting at a very young age, but River was the one the industry had really high hopes in. I mean, he was nominated for an Academy Award at the age of 19. But sadly, he passed away at 23, which Phoenix has claimed was the most difficult moment of his life.
Both to honor his brother and follow his passion, he continued acting, becoming one of Hollywood’s best. Here are the very best performances of his career… so far!
10. The Immigrant (2013)
Dir. James Gray
This is the story of two Polish sisters who are separated upon arrival at Ellis Island and classified as unapt for immigration. Right at that moment, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) meets Bruno (Phoenix), a pimp who becomes enthralled by her and offers to help her, if she agrees to work for him. He might not be an extremely complex character, but he definitely shows Phoenix’s ability to portray basically any character and, along with the visuals and the cast's performances, the movie is one of the best rated ones of his career.
9. The Sisters Brothers (2018)
Dir. Jacques Audiard
Set in the Wild West, the movie tell us the story of two violent outlaw brothers who are hired to track down a chemist who’s created a way to easily find gold. One of the brothers (John C. Reilly) is tired of the violent life they’re leading and gets into a conundrum between the easy life his brother (Phoenix) loves and the moral tranquility he desires. The movie didn’t do that well and it’s even considered a box-office flop, but the critics loved the performances and the story.
8. Gladiator (2000)
Dir. Ridley Scott
This is probably the movie where most of us first met Phoenix, in the role of the disturbing Commodus, the obnoxious son of the emperor who, after learning his father has decided not to name him heir to the throne, decides to get rid of his successor, Maximus (Russell Crowe). The movie was highly praised and got several nominations, including Phoenix’s first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting actor, which he didn’t get. As time has gone by, people talk less about this great film, but Phoenix’s role is still one of the great assets of the movie.
7. Inherent Vice (2015)
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) is the classic seventies pot-smoking hippie who happens to be a private investigator. After the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, he find himself in the middle of a dangerous case connected to the depths of Los Angeles’ criminal underworld. This is the type of role that Phoenix does best, the quirky conflicted character, and it really adds a lot to the film that only grossed half of its investment.
6. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (2018)
Dir. Gus Van Sant
In this film, Phoenix plays John Callahan, an alcoholic cartoonist who becomes quadriplegic after a car accident. The movie revolves around his recovery and how he deals with his own demons, but also how hope presents to himself in the form of his physical therapist (Rooney Mara), who eventually becomes his girlfriend (both in the film and real life). Besides his great performance, the movie also got praised for the work of Jonah Hill and Jack Black.
5. Walk the Line (2005)
Dir. James Mangold
Earning him his second Academy Award nomination, here Phoenix plays the one and only Johnny Cash. The biopic takes us from the moment Cash rose to fame to how he battled with his drug addiction and his intense and toxic relationship with June Carter (played by Reese Witherspoon, who did win the Oscar). Phoenix might not have won the Oscar, again, but he did get a Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Visual Media Grammy and a Golden Globe for his performance.
4. You Were Never Really There (2018)
Dir. Lynne Ramsay
In partnership with Amazon Studios, this is one of Phoenix’s most compelling movies, at least in the last decade. Here he plays a violent criminal who is hired by a wealthy man to find and rescue his young daughter. He does manage to find her, but immediately becomes the target of a dangerous group of criminals following them. This modern noir might be one of his most overlooked performances, but also the one that challenged his acting game.
3. Joker (2019)
Dir. Todd Phillips
Well, of course we have to talk about Joker, the hit of the moment. Though it’s not Phoenix’s best, it’s definitely one of the most gripping performances of his entire career. As you know, this is the origin story of the iconic comic book villain, who goes from a misunderstood man whose mental condition escalates in parallel with violence in a city that feels neglected by the authorities. This will surely earn him a fourth nomination and, likely, his first Academy Award.
2. The Master (2012)
Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Freddie (Phoenix) is a war veteran who, after his return home, starts experiencing a form of PTSD. He meets a charismatic man who has just created his own religion and little by little gets more and more involved in an attempt to find peace. It’s said that the movie is slightly based on the story of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, but it definitely goes beyond that. It’s the story of a troubled man who can’t find stability in his life. This role earned Phoenix his third and last Oscar nomination to date.
1. Her (2013)
Dir. Spike Jonze
This might be Joaquin Phoenix’s very best film of all time. This deep kind of romantic comedy tells the story of Theodore Twombly, a lonely man who falls in love with his operating system in an attempt to find a human connection. This heartfelt movie was totally overlooked by the Academy and pretty much the other important awards, but it’s truly a beautifully crafted film with a deep analysis of our time.
As you can see, Joaquin Phoenix is really an acting genius capable of bringing depth and emotion even to the most simple character. Truly, one of Hollywood’s best and certainly the most overlooked performers of our time.