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Will Joker Win An Oscar?

Joker, the standalone origin story for the iconic DC villain from director Todd Phillips, has made its debut at the Venice Film Festival. The movie had already garnered immense buzz on the strength of its totally bonkers trailers, which tease a tortured, committed performance from star Joaquin Phoenix — and since it earned an eight-minute standing ovation at Venice, that buzz has grown deafening.

It's become clear that Joker will be a comic book film unlike any other, a gritty character study in the vein of the the '70s and '80s work of auteur filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, who was once attached as a producer and whose works were a heavy influence on Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver in creating their vision. The vast majority of critics present for the Venice screening have posted rave reviews (although strangely, a distinct minority reacted to the film as a if it were a personal affront), raising a burning question: will Joker actually win an Oscar?

Well, the movie hasn't been released yet, but based on the information available, we're of the opinion that a more suitable question would be, "How many Oscars will it win?" Most of the awards talk has centered on Phoenix, which is understandable; what audiences have seen in the trailers alone has been enough to ignite a firestorm of online debate about whether his turn as the Clown Prince of Crime will outdo the late Heath Ledger, whose crack at the role in 2008's The Dark Knight has become legendary and earned the actor a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Judging by the critical response and comments made by Phillips, however, it seems likely that Joker could score nominations in multiple categories — almost certainly Best Actor, probably Best Director, and perhaps even Best Picture.

First, let's hear from Phillips, who discussed his influences and approach to making Joker in a recent sitdown with the Los Angeles Times. The director in no way set out to make a "comic book movie," but was instead inspired by the dearth of the type of Scorsese-esque character studies present in modern-day cinema. A figurative bolt of lightning struck Phillips in 2016, as he regarded a billboard for an unnamed superhero flick while attending the premiere of his film War Dogs. 

"It really came from this idea: What if you just did a comic-book movie differently?" Phillips said. "We all grew up on these character studies, and they're few and far between nowadays. So it was like, 'Let's do a deep dive on one of these guys in a real way.' No one is going to fly in it. No buildings are going to collapse. It's just going to be on the ground, so to speak."

So unconventional was Phillips' idea that he encountered a bit of pushback from studio Warner Brothers; the entire matter was complicated by the fact that the project began to pick up steam in the middle of a regime change, forcing Phillips to essentially have to pitch Joker twice to different teams of executives. According to producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, much of the resistance was due to the fact that Phillips insisted that the film would be R-rated, and not in a gonzo, Deadpool-type way. But Koskoff said that in multiple meetings, Phillips stuck to his guns, knowing that he and Silver were creating something special.

"This is a very gutsy move for Warner Bros., and I commend them," Koskoff said. "There were some hiccups trying to get the green light, and there were some concerns about some of the content. But once we locked and loaded our budget, they really gave us a tremendous amount of space to do what we needed to do. The passion Todd has for this movie is palpable, and when he starts talking about it, he's hard to say no to. At the end of the day, he got to make the movie he wanted to make."

Phillips' diligence appears to have paid off. Critics who served up positive reviews after the Venice screening bandied about descriptors like "exhilarating," "thunderously powerful," "game changing," and "masterful," and as many kudos were doled out for Phillips' direction and creative vision as for Phoenix's performance (which is to say, a lot). But to give us perhaps the best idea of Joker's Oscar chances, consider the words of Alberto Barbera, the Venice Film Festival's director. The actor, film critic, and festival veteran is a man who knows movies, and he had a few choice words concerning Joker when he was asked about the flick in a conversation with Deadline following the screening. 

"I think [Warner Brothers] made a good choice [to screen Joker at the festival]," Barbera said. "The right choice. The film deserves the reception it is getting. It goes beyond the boundaries of the genre. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is outstanding and Todd Phillips did a great job."

In response to the interviewer opining that the film could possibly be up for nomination in three or four different categories including Best Picture, Barbera didn't hesitate to agree. "[It's] very good," he said. "Absolutely, it will be in the running."

In a year in which Avengers: Endgame — the biggest superhero film ever, and the highest-grossing movie of all time — was released, Joker improbably looks poised to be the most talked-about film of the year in any genre. We predict that the flick will score multiple statues, do bonkers box office, and cement the new direction of Warner Brothers' Worlds of DC — singular, filmmaker-driven movies with only a loose emphasis on universe-building.

Joker hits the big screen on October 4.