Monday, February 4, 2013

5 Reasons Why I Want Joaquin Phoenix to Snatch Daniel Day-Lewis's Third Oscar

1. He's weather-beaten and looks about 10 years older than he is (not Lincoln, Joaquin Phoenix, 38), but I still had a hard time taking my eyes off of Phoenix (and by extension, Freddie Quell) whenever he was onscreen in The Master. The way he walked, the way he stood, the way he sat, shoulders perpetually slumped forward, hands awkwardly positioned on the back of his hips, all gave Quell an arch disgracefulness that was nothing short of Masterful. Thanks to Phoenix's specific physical choices, Quell seemed uncomfortable not only in his own skin but in the world as well.

2. The way Phoenix guided Quell from at ease and playful to increasingly uncomfortable to tense and agitated to enraged to wistful to regretful to tearful to jovial during the first processing session with Philip Seymour Hoffman's titular Lancaster Dodd was more powerful than anything I saw Denzel Washington do in Flight, or Bradley Cooper do in Silver Linings Playbook, or Hugh Jackman do in Les Misérables, or, yes, even Daniel Day-Lewis do in Lincoln. Quell was a mix of standout characteristics of at least three of the characters played by Phoenix's Best Actor Oscar competition, a drunk like Washington's Whip Whitaker, cuckoo like Cooper's Pat Solitano (though hardly recovering) and criminal like Jackman's Jean Valjean (again, hardly reformed). If The Master had been set 100 years earlier, circa 1850, I have no doubt that Freddie would have wanted to free the slaves, too.

3. Daniel Day-Lewis name-dropped Phoenix in his SAG acceptance speech, probably partly because The Master director Paul Thomas Anderson's previous directorial effort, There Will Be Blood, won Day-Lewis his second Oscar five years ago, but probably mostly because Phoenix is that good. And how fitting would it be for him to win for a film in which he co-starred with Philip Seymour Hoffman, the guy who beat him last time he was up for an Oscar, in 2006, for resurrecting Johnny Cash without a hint of imitation in Walk the Line.

4. It's the kind of detailed anti-heroic characterization that used to regularly win Jack Nicholson Oscar nominations in the '70s and ultimately the grand Best Actor prize for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Phoenix is like a master '70s thespian dressed for the '50s, a decade that Anderson beautifully recreated for The Master, as an actual decade, not as the set design it seemed to be in On the Road, another 2012 film co-starring Amy Adams, still not quite justifying why she's a four-time Oscar nominee. In Phoenix's hands, Freddie Quell was almost like an extension of the character Phoenix played in his last film (himself), 2010's I'm Still Here, while remaining original and fresh enough to avoid coming across like a self-portrait.

5. Phoenix made you feel for Freddie and want to strangle him at the same time. The character was introduced as an enigma -- it was hard to tell if he was crazy, damaged, crippled, or just always drunk -- and Phoenix maintained those shades of gray while making the man-child specific and distinctive. The performance was a perfectly calibrated blend of internal and physical. He was combative and feral, at times scary, seemingly always on the brink of erupting into violence (and more so as the film went on). At other times, he made Freddie's internal pain so palpable that I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him -- and maybe offer him a healthy meal plan, too. Freddie might not have been the good man that Daniel Day-Lewis's -- and history's -- Lincoln was, but Phoenix made him nearly as indelible.


Colin Biggs said...

I can't help but shake the feeling that Daniel Day-Lewis won't win the Best Actor trophy on Feb 24th.

If he doesn't, Phoenix would be more than qualified.

Jeremy Helligar said...

I hope you are right, Colin. I'd love nothing more than to see a repeat of 10 years ago when Adrien Brody snatched Best Actor from frontrunner Daniel Day-Lewis, when Jack Nicholson was seen as the only potential spoiler.