The 7 Best Joaquin Phoenix Movies
Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of unique. Not many actors can claim on their resume to have worked with Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ridley Scott, M. Night Shyamalan and Lynne Ramsay. Nor can many actors claim that they went on David Letterman’s show to secretly promote their satirical mockumentary in which they retire from acting to pursue a career in hip-hop. Phoenix can claim both of those. He is handsome, likable and undeniably talented in front of the camera. Whether he is playing the heel or the sad-sack hero, he captures the viewer’s attention like no other actor working today. Below are his seven best films to date.
Her is a powerful meditation on loneliness and technology by Spike Jonze. Set in the near-future or some alternate 21st century, Phoenix’s Theodore Twombly struggles to connect with other people following a particularly painful divorce. The answer to his problems come in the form of a personalized AI program named “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The film has a beautiful, minimalist design and an incredible soundtrack by Karen O and Arcade Fire.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is a hilarious adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel. Phoenix plays a drug-addled private detective named “Doc” Sportello living in late-1970s Los Angeles. He takes on a case looking for his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). The investigation leads him to a wide variety of bizarre characters and strange interactions. With a supporting cast including Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Joanna Newsom, Owen Wilson and Benicio del Toro, the film is overstuffed with great performances.
The Master (2012)
Anderson’s previous film The Master also features Phoenix in a key role. He plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran who struggles to re-acclimate to society after the war. By happenstance, he finds himself in the presence of the founder of a cult known as “The Cause,” Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The two forge a strange relationship fraught with power struggles. It is easily one of Anderson’s best, in large part due to the two main performances which hold it all together.
M. Night Shyamalan’s legacy as a filmmaker thus far is nothing short of mixed. He has created some truly laudable films as well as others that are anything but. Signs is generally regarded as one of his better films. Phoenix plays Merrill Hess, younger brother to Rev. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) and uncle to Morgan and Bo Hess (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, respectively). The farm-residing quadruplet awakens one day to find mysterious crop circles in their yard and come to grips with the fact that there may very well be some sort of extraterrestrial attack coming. Like many of Shyamalan’s films, its focus on family is what truly sets it apart.
Ridley Scott’s Roman Empire era struggle for power places Phoenix and Russell Crowe at the center. After Emperor Marcus Aurelius dies, his sniveling, scheming son Commodus (Phoenix) attempts to execute his father’s closest advisor, General Maximus (Crowe). Maximus finds himself destitute and is forced to work his way back to the city by means of becoming a gladiator, so that he may confront Commodus once and for all. Gladiator is Scott giving large-scale entertainment at its best.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
In Lynne Ramsay’s tense You Were Never Really Here, Phoenix once again takes on the role of a traumatized veteran. His character Joe’s manner of coping is tracking down girls who have disappeared. One particular job forces him into the center of a conspiracy that may be too much for one man to take on. The film is haunting and hallucinatory, showing off both Phoenix’s strengths as an actor and Ramsay’s as a filmmaker.
The Village (2004)
The Village is a well-constructed film.It has its detractors, largely because Shyamalan’s proclivity for a twist ending had worn its welcome by the time it was released in 2004. Nonetheless, he continued to show his talent and discipline behind the camera in this story about love, defiance and authority. Phoenix’s Lucius Hunt lives in an antiquated and insulated town. His request to venture to neighboring villages for medicine is not only denied, but derided by the local elders. Gradually, more mysteries of the town begin to unravel for Lucius and his love interest, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard). Though it may not be Phoenix nor Shyamalan’s absolute best, it is undoubtedly a sturdy, watchable film.