Another year of cinema has passed, which means it’s time for our second annual Golden Cages awards, the only end-of-the-year awards program featuring everyone’s favorite actor as a screaming statuette! Over the next two weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, we at Flixist will be announcing our winners across seventeen different categories for what we consider the best achievements in film in 2019. Why do we wait so long into the year to do this? Because we can! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the awards.
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the Oscar villain.
On the day of the Academy Awards, it’s my ignoble duty to write about Todd Phillips’ Joker, the Flixist staff’s pick for the most overrated movie of 2019.
I don’t think Joker is awful, but it’s not particularly good, and definitely not the subversive social drama the award season makes it out to be. Joaquin Phoenix does his darnedest to wring a worthwhile performance from a thin script, which borrows heavily from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy yet lacks its own voice or sensibility. Lawrence Sher shoots the grime of Gotham with an artful eye reminiscent of gritty dramas from the 1970s and 1980s, and Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score is full of sinister, fractured menace.
These standout formal elements are in the service of a superficial, self-pitying movie, one that doesn’t say much but rather shouts everything it says.
To a certain extent, Joker may be a victim of the online discourse. It won the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival; past winners of the Golden Lion include Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, and Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers. Critics praised the film’s maturity and its portrait of a tortured soul’s bleak existence, while others branded the movie as socially irresponsible, likely to cause riots among angry young malcontents. The latter unfounded concern became the best free marketing that Warner Bros could hope for.
But for all the hype, Joker is as overrated as the comic book The Killing Joke from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. Yeah, it looks adult, but consider the content rather than the veneer of maturity. Joker brings up mature topical ideas, but it never explores what is going on in the zeitgeist in a more meaningful way. It is all text, no subtext; a deep-looking surface without actual depth.
For instance, Joker may center some of its plot on income inequality and the differences between the haves and have-nots, but it never does anything substantial with the idea. (Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite does this better.) The film may touch on the alienation and radicalization of lonely, aggrieved men, but never gets deeper than narcissistic despondency. (In some ways, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit does this better.) Even Arthur Fleck’s rise as a lunatic political symbol for the masses feels like a hollow gesture emulating better movies with bolder, more original ideas. (Errol Morris’ much-maligned American Dharma does this better.)
At the end of Joker, my immediate thought was, “This is what everyone was getting so worked up about? A high school essay about how society is unfair?” We do certainly live in a society.
There were worse movies in 2019 (that Golden Cage is coming soon), but few movies have inspired so much ire and bafflement as Joker. The movie wears the clothing of a serious adult work, yet its sensibilities are adolescent. Picture an angry teenager wearing his dad’s work clothes. And also clown makeup.
Kid, you look ridiculous. You also look like you need a hug.