Oscar Justice: Joaquin Phoenix

Welcome to Season 3 of Oscar Justice, a weekly feature at IceCream4Freaks.  It’s a simple concept: I give an Oscar to someone who rightfully deserved it, then I follow the repercussions down the line until I am satisfied.

This week on Oscar Justice: Joaquin Phoenix in The Master


2001 Best Supporting Actor, Gladiator – Lost to Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
2005 Best Actor, Walk the Line – Lost to Phillip Seymour Hoffman,
2012 Best Actor, The Master – Lost to Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
2020 Best Actor, Joker – WINNER


Acting is a family affair for Joaquin Phoenix. All four of his siblings have been involved in acting, most prominently his brother River Phoenix. Alongside his brother, he made his acting debut in the television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in 1982. And off he went.

He made his big-screen debut in the adventure film SpaceCamp in 1986. In 1989, Phoenix received his first critical awards in Ron Howard’s Parenthood. Following River’s death in 1993, Joaquin stepped away from acting until 1995 with Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Again receiving highly positive reviews, Phoenix was back in the spotlight, which he rode through the 90s. Oscar finally came calling in 2000 with his dynamic supporting performance in the Best Picture-winning Gladiator. He began a mainstream Hollywood career throughout the early aughts, including another Oscar nomination for his performance as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line in 2005.

In 2010, Phoenix took a different turn with a “performance” in the 2010 documentary I’m Still Here. Phoenix teamed up with director Paul Thomas Anderson in 2012 for the drama The Master. He received the best critical notices of his career and earned his third Oscar nomination, but still couldn’t take home the trophy.

Phoenix continued his role of critical successes through 2019 when he received his fourth nomination and first Oscar statue for his performance as Arthur Fleck in Joker. There are no signs of him slowing down with highly-anticipated lead roles in the upcoming Disappointment Blvd. and Napoleon. on the horizon


Joaquin Phoenix defeats Daniel Day-Lewis at the 2012 Oscars for Best Actor in a Lead Role.


Phoenix is such a talented and singular performer, his win for Joker feels wrong. It’s a great performance, but it doesn’t feel right. His dynamic villainy in Gladiator and steady leading man in Walk the Line doesn’t feel like the same performer. His performance as Freddie Quell is unlike anything he has ever done and will probably never do again.

Phoenix devotes his whole self into this character. His mannerisms, body contortions, and unique disposition are an indelible invention into this disturbed man looking for a cause. His interaction with Phillip Seymour Hoffman is an example of two actors at the absolute peak of their powers doing stellar work. No makeup, no sets, no frills, no tricks.

With his performance, Phoenix transforms himself into an unpredictable man who can’t be understood and probably doesn’t understand himself. Not only does his performance transcend the relative straightforwardness happening around him, but it adds a layer of danger. His penchant for bursts of anger makes him that much more captivating.

The film has been proven to be remarkably divisive. There are people who love it and others who can’t stand it. I feel Phoenix is one of the most momentous performances of the 21st century. I know that sounds like a bold claim, but if you are a fan of The Master, it’s hard to deny.


Daniel Day-Lewis is hard to deny. If he was across the table and I asked him to pass the salt, he could silently scare me into getting it myself (I’m sure he’s a lovely man). His first two Oscar wins are practically unimpeachable. I will never be touching his 2008 win for There Will Be Blood (also directed by Anderson). I go back-and-forth with some maneuvering for his 1989 win for My Left Foot, but it stays for the time being. This isn’t about Day-Lewis. He still has two Oscars to fall back on.

With Phoenix winning in 2012, that opens the potential for another option for Phoenix’s win in 2019. Pedro Almodovar is known for directing fantastic females, but his male muse in Antonio Banderas earned his first Oscar nomination for his work in Almodovar’s semi-autobiographical Pain and Glory. It is a toweringly devastating performance of physical and emotional pain and long lost love. That is the performance I will remember years down the line. Banderas gets an Oscar. Phoenix still has an Oscar. Day-Lewis still has two. All is right with the world.


Joaquin Phoenix wins Best Actor in 2012 over Daniel Day-Lewis
Antonio Banderas wins Best Actor in 2019 over Joaquin Phoenix

Next time on Oscar Justice

Oscar gets around to awarding a completely comedic performance, despite it being “tired”

All Oscar Justice category fixes

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