Joaquin Phoenix wins the Oscar for Best Actor for ‘Joker’


I think out of all the sure-thing Oscar winners tonight, Joaquin Phoenix was the surest thing. His campaign coalesced so quickly, pretty much as soon as the reviews of Joker came in and the film became a massive box office juggernaut. Joker has already earned more than one billion dollars worldwide, which is remarkable for an incredibly violent, R-rated film about mental illness within a loose comic-book framework. I won’t pretend to even like Joker or what Joker says. I found the film overwrought and exploitative of mental illness. I found the “he does terrible things because he was mistreated all his life” backstory to be problematic AF.

That being said, Joaquin has been turning in Oscar-worthy work for decades, and I felt like the move to give Joaquin an Oscar for his role was down to two things: one, he played the game this year and actually showed people that he wouldn’t thumb his nose at the awards and two, many people saw it as giving Joaquin an Oscar for his body of work. Sometimes, it just works out that way and it’s mostly okay.

Much like Brad Pitt, it felt like Joaquin hired someone to help him out with his awards season speeches, only in Joaquin’s case, I think that happened mid-way through the compressed awards season. His BAFTA speech was so much better than his Globes speech, you know? And in Joaquin’s case, I don’t hate it at all, because he’s not trying to be Mr. Jokey Hollywood. He’s actually been Mr. Bummer. In his speech, he said “I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees,” and he talked about how he respects all of the artists in the room, and that he sees commonality in the fight against injustice among artists. He name-checked feminism, queer rights, animal rights, environmentalism. I’m not going to transcribe this, because it’s a vegan treatise and it’s kind of a bummer. Joaquin also quoted his late brother, River Phoenix. That got me – Joaquin must have been thinking about his brother the entire way through this Oscar campaign. In the end, the speech was a cry to love each other, so there you go.

Congrats to Joaquin and the Joker team.

Joaquin Phoenix, winner of the best actor BAFTA for 'Joker' arrives at the 73rd BAFTAS After Party at Grosvenor House, London, England, UK on Sunday 2 February, 2020.  Picture by Justin Ng/Retna/Avalon

Photos courtesy of WENN, Avalon Red, Backgrid and ‘Joker’.

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46 Responses to “Joaquin Phoenix wins the Oscar for Best Actor for ‘Joker’”

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  1. Naddie says:

    Well deserved, but I wanted Adam.

  2. Tai says:

    His speech was very moving.

  3. Lucy says:

    Wasn’t expecting the River tribute, but absolutely should have. Very much deserved.

  4. Spicecake38 says:

    His speech was nice,I could feel his discomfort ,and his emotion was so raw mentioning his late brother.
    Ive said before and will say again I will be glad when Joaquin doesn’t have to do so much publicity,his campaign is over,and Ive just let out my own sigh of relief.His discomfort is palpable.
    He totally deserved this win,he was the entire Joker movie,best performance I think I’ve ever seen.Congrats to him.

  5. Carrie says:

    He should also have won for Walk the Line and for Gladiator. Great actor

  6. Katebush says:

    The joker isn’t my kind of movie and I didn’t expect to enjoy it, but his performance blew me away. He is such a brilliant actor he totally deserved this win.

  7. Over It says:

    I loved Joker and thought Joaquin was brilliant. A much deserved award for a great actor and a great guy.

  8. Blueskies says:

    @Carrie, I agree he should have won for his Johnny Cash portrayal in Walk The Line, it was a beautiful performance. I doubt I will ever watch Joker but I am all for this being an award for Joaquin’s body of work. In that regard, it is most deserved. I like him a lot and I greatly admire him for getting out there for animal rights and the environment among other crucial issues. He’s been active in that for many years now. There can never be enough strong, genuine voices for animals. Nothing wrong with a vegan treatise either.

    I follow Rain Phoenix on instagram and she has been remembering River a great deal lately. She also wrote and currently performs a song about him. I think he’s at the forefront of their minds lately…you get to that age…it seems genuine. I’m also glad Joaquin can relax now.

  9. Emily says:

    I don’t think I will ever watch Joker because it will make me super anxious and disturb me emotionally. But Joaquim has always been a hell of an actor and super intense so he deserved it. Someone said he deserved to win for Walk the Line and he totally did. All these years later his performance of Johnny Cash haunts me. Reese Witherspoon won that year for her portrayal of June Carter and I did not think she deserved it. And I imagine he was thinking of his brother all night—probably thinking he ended up where River should have. His speech was great too.

    Wondering if something is going on with him and Rooney Mara? Something seemed off to me or are they just super discreet?

  10. Lucy says:

    I didn’t see the movie and I probably won’t, but I’m glad he won. He seems lovely, and his work is always amazing. I loved his speech. It felt very genuine.

  11. Gigli says:

    You completely missed the point of the film IMO. It was beautifully done and not at all exploitative of mental illness, he deserves the oscar.

    • m says:

      I completely agree. The comment about exploiting the mental illness – well that is a sure sign of a missed point! The movie is exeptionally well done, he is amazing in it, well deserved indeed!

    • Leriel says:

      But it is, this movie suggests that if people with mental illness will not get treatment, they go and start killing people all the way around. It’s an old cliche in Hollywood movies (that people with mental illness are criminals or may become ones, or other way, criminals have mental illness), and I still don’t understand why Americans don’t see a parallel with real events and this movie, like mass shootings, when shooter is killed and then Trump says that he was mentally ill, seriously. It’s a trop and it builds stereotypes in society that mentally ill people are dangerous, and it is offensive. Instead of keeping Joker where he was – a real villain – Phillips tried to “justify” him for no reason really. The Killing joke did a way better job portraying a person who went through a bad day and became a criminal.

      • Snowslow says:

        There was an article by a psychologist in the Guardian stating the same thing you say, that it’s a dangerous trope to connect violence with mental illness. I haven’t watched the film and now I think I have to because it really is such a huge debate and I am willing to bet that the film clearly goes to the side of the violence as a response to being trapped (I think the film director said something about it being impossible to tell jokes nowadays so he clearly writes from the woe-is-me white culture of the moment… but I’ll have to wait and see).

      • paranormalgirl says:

        The majority of people who are mentally ill never commit horrendous crimes and the majority of horrendous crimes are not committed by people with mental illness.

    • Starkille says:

      Or perhaps it’s possible that someone could watch the same film as you and form a different opinion. Saying someone dislikes something you like means they “missed the point” is rude and dismissive; it merely means they have a different opinion than you.

  12. JJ says:

    He is such a great actor I’m so happy for him. And I have to say, as a vegetarian for 21 years now, I can’t ever remember an actor on a mainstream awards show getting up there and advocating for animal rights even a little (I’m admittedly not a full time vegan) but it really surprised me.

    Back twenty years ago I was the only kid on my block being the downer talking about how we should care about climate change, and now it seems like people are more openly talking about it (or maybe I’m in an echo chamber.) If people could talk about animals a tiny bit more, that would be great too. just imo.

    • Nina says:

      Yes jj yes.

    • Snowslow says:

      Yes. I was on a WhatsApp thread for a party one of my kids is attending and was the only parent saying he is vegan and only another parent mentioned his kid being vegetarian (and I know they are vegans, they’re close friends). It still is a stigma so I hope all the parents in the borough heard Phoenix’s speech, honestly. Sick of this relaxed stance regarding the planet and animal welfare. (BTW I proposed to pack my kid’s lunch so as not to bother anyone).

      • Kebbie says:

        That’s so crazy to me. I admire vegans so much. I do vegan days and it takes so much more effort to avoid animal products. People who commit to that as a lifestyle are awesome.

    • Blueskies says:

      @jj YES. More discourse about animal rights and welfare and climate change/the environment. Joaquin is passionate about these issues and has been for a long time. I’m glad he made it part of his speech.

    • Moo says:

      Agree with all you say and am sad that I have long felt like the downer person talking about the environment, animal suffering, and human suffering. I loved his speech and am grateful to him for using his airtime to share these important thoughts with a large audience.

  13. Casey says:

    awful film undeserved award. should have won for gladiator

  14. Space person says:

    He was so brilliant in Gladiator. And in Joker which itself was an average film but he is captivating in it!

  15. Beth says:

    I thought he was told exceptional in the Joker. I think whilst it can be seen as the worst of mental illness, it should be viewed as such, the worst, and the fact viewers can find it within themselves to feel compassion whilst watching is a good thing. Mental illness needs compassion. And if it acts as a warning not to ignore those who are begging for help again I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Cinematically also it was brilliantly done. In my opinion.

  16. Jess says:

    I won’t watch Joker but I can’t be mad about Joaquin winning as he’s deserved an Oscar for years. And I thought his speech last night was fantastic, even though it made me feel bad about not being vegan.

  17. Rikki says:

    I don’t think Joaquin hired anyone to write his speeches for him. You could feel that everything he said came straight from his own heart, and I don’t understand why people don’t think he would be capable of writing something like that himself? His brother River made speeches like that when he was just a teenager, and if anything, I think Joaquin might have looked to him and some of his old interviews and speeches for inspiration. The reason his speeches got better toward the end of awards season was probably just because he realised that he had become the front-runner and so he started preparing his speeches instead of just improvising them as he seemed to do at the beginning?

  18. Sass says:

    Some idiot local DJ said Adam Driver won it at 6:30 this morning 🙄 I spent the past 2 hours thinking that. Congrats to Joaquin, I’ve always thought he was that really eccentric but really kind guy who was overlooked despite his prolific career. I always think of River when I see him too.

  19. tealily says:

    Eh, I didn’t really need a big vegan speech during the Oscars. Kudos to him for “using his platform,” and I’m pro animal rights, but it just felt too much like a lecture instead of a moment of empowerment. Plus I think there are more pressing places to lend your voice at the moment (sorry, vegans), but that’s obviously his personal passion.

  20. BeanieBean says:

    And yet, Al Pacino only has an Oscar for Scent of a Woman.

  21. Lala11_7 says:

    River was so close to his brothers and sisters…and River always had Joaquin and Rain around him…I’m glad that Joaquin is talking more about River…such a light…such a WONDERFUL LIGHT….

    River is one I will NEVA get over…

    I feel that River should have won an Oscar a longtime ago….so though I will NEVA see the “Joker”…pretty much for the same reasons why I have NEVA seen “The King Of Comedy”…I’m glad that he’s finally got one….

  22. YAS says:

    He’s an incredible actor and I’m glad he got recognized. He was literally the only good thing about that movie, and he’s given some sensational performances during his career.

    Sort of bummed that Antonio Banderas didn’t win though. I thought he was exceptional in Pain & Glory. Almoldovar is my favorite director and I love his collaborations with Banderas. I hope there’s more exceptional work like Pain & Glory in their future so that Banderas can be recognized.

  23. Moo says:

    Loved his speech and feel grateful to him for using his airtime to share these important thoughts with a large audience. I admit I often say nothing to avoid causing others feel judged or annoyed with me for bring up these subjects. I don’t judge individuals, but I absolutely judge the terrible systems we’ve created which result in tremendous human, animal, and environmental suffering. Thanks again to Joaquin for doing an uncomfortable thing in the interest of the greater good.

  24. Jess says:

    HECK yes he won! LOVE him, he’s talented, beautiful, Joker is a legit spiral down into the abyss of mental illness. Beautifully done film – Goddamn I loved it and so glad he won.

  25. Anon says:

    Meh. He’s played a lot of psychos and weirdos, so it wasn’t that big of a stretch.

    My issue is that he always promotes veganism, which I have no problem with, but continues to smoke and support the tobacco industry, which still targets children with its massive ad campaigns.

    It’s a disgusting habit, so it kind of nullifies his message.

  26. Eve says:

    Best actor I’ve ever seen. First Oscar long overdue.