‘Joker’ Wins At Venice Film Festival; Will It Be The One To Legitimize Comic Book Movies At Awards? 

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BY September 7, 2019

An origin story about a comic book villain has won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Todd Phillips’ Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character, has won the Golden Lion at the acclaimed film festival. Could we be on the verge of legitimizing comic book properties in the eyes of the awards-circuit?

Joker is a DC Comics villain mostly associated with Batman. The character has seen many different iterations, from TV to animation to feature film. Phoenix is the latest to portray the role in an unprecedented standalone origin movie. Even though Warner Bros is producing the movie, the film is separate from the studios’ DC Extended Universe movies, with no connections to any other story.

The marketing campaign for Joker has been impressively nuanced. The movie that threw everyone for a loop seemed to be taking a different approach with how it regarded the Batman villain. And now, the Todd Phillips directed Joker movie, has stepped foot into an arena occupied by few other films. Winning an accolade usually reserved for movies that go on to become Best Picture nominations at the Oscars.

But how did we get here?

Joker Movie’s Announcement Met With Confusion and Derision

I still remember when a stand-alone Joker movie was first announced. The sting of Jared Leto’s Joker performance in Suicide Squad from a year ago was still fresh. So the raised eye brows, massive eye rolls, and audible scoffs at another misguided attempt by Warner Bros. and DC Comics were understandable. The disappointment of Justice League a few weeks later would further cement this feeling. This was also at a time when other stories of a spin-off of Leto’s Joker and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn circled the entertainment media circles.

Jared Leto as Joker in a still from 'Sucide Squad'. Maybe be a little serious? (Image via Warner Bros.)

The news of a Joker movie, directed by Todd Phillips, until then widen known simply for the Hangover movies, seemed baffling. It was yet another sign of the WB not knowing how to deal with their DC Comics properties in the cinematic universe. But signs of hope were coming.

The First Glimmer At The End Of The Tunnel

When news broke that Todd Phillips was directing Joker, it also included the name of one of Hollywood most legendary filmmakers, Martin Scorsese, as producer. While that ultimately was not the case, the homages and influences by Scorsese on Phillips have been undeniable.

Then came the casting of the lead, Joaquin Phoenix himself. The Oscar-nominated actor has established himself as an immensely talented actor whose films are always of note. So with his leading the Joker cast, impressions of the movie swiftly did a 180 turn.

Poster for 'Joker'. Image via Warner Bros.

As new images, set photos, posters, and trailers of the film released, Phillip’s Scorsese connection made sense. Phoenix’s costumes seemed similar to those of Robert DeNiro’s in Scorsese’s own The King Of Comedy. Even the story of Joker seemed oddly similar; about a comedian descending into madness. And finally, when Robert DeNiro was cast in the movie itself, things began to take shape.

Joaquin Phoenix Privately Pitched This Movie To His Agent

Fans love when a film comes from passion and personal interest, instead of through a desire to make money or other business reasons. So when Phoenix revealed how he had an idea for this Joker movie years ago, fans were decidedly on board for Joker.

“Three or four years ago, I called my agent and said ‘Why don’t they want to take one of these characters and just make a lower budget film about it, a movie but a character study, and why not take one of the villains?’ And I thought, ‘You can’t do the Joker, because, you know, it’s just you can’t do that character, it’s just been done.’”

Will Joker Finally Give Comic Book Properties Awards Recognition?

Joker winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival is a big deal. For years now, comic book movie fans have latched onto any signs of acknowledgement of their beloved movies by the awards’ circuit; the people regarded as insiders of the industry. This was not out of a misguided sense of validation. But from a need to be accepted as part of an industry that is made up of people from all over the world that love stories. An acknowledgement that art comes in many forms.

An image of Joaquin Phoenix from 'Joker'. Image via Warner Bros.

We took any nomination, any acclaim, and any win as one step closer to that goal. When The Dark Knight received a posthumous Best Supporting Oscar win for Heath Ledger.  Logan’s nomination for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. And most recently, Black Panther’s nomination for the Best Picture Oscar, that won for Best Costume, Music, and Production instead. But Joker could bridge that gap from commercially successful to the type of critical darlings that award voters love.

Joker’s Win Is Indicative Of A Larger Awards Circuit Contention

Most big budget Hollywood productions rarely win at Venice, much less a comic book property. The previous winners of the same award included Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape Of Water and Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. Both films were the top contenders at the Oscars in their respective years. With both also winning multiple Oscars in various categories.

Joker’s win is an achievement to the film itself. As well as the directing talent of Todd Phillips and the intense performance of Joaquin Phoenix. The film releases everywhere in November 2019.

Until then, Joker will continue on its award circuit tour with a stop at the Toronto International Film Festival. Time will tell if the win at Venice is truly indicative of great things for the film, or just a one-off.

Do you think Joker will be the one to legitimize comic book movies for the industry award voters? Let us know your thoughts below.

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Shah Shahid is an entertainment writer, movie critic (so he thinks), host of the Split Screen Podcast (on Apple Podcasts & everywhere else) and filmy father on a mission to educate his girls on decades of film history. Armed with uncontrollable sarcasm and cautious optimism, Shah loves discussing film, television and comic book content until his wife’s eyes glaze over. So save her by engaging him on his own blog at BlankPageBeatdown.com or on Twitter @theshahshahid.

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