As readers will know, I am a strong believer that Joaquin Phoenix's performance in director Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master will walk away with a Best Actor statue this year, or at very least a nomination. His performance is so dynamic and I haven't seen any that have come close. Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln may come close (it has yet to be seen), but at the very least, Phoenix is a wonderful conundrum of a performer. From his gonzo-faux-documentary I'm Still Here a few years back to him messing with audiences at Venice, he is never one to do the obvious. This is why recent statements only add to what makes him an endearing actor.
It has been making the headlines in the past few days. Many have pondered if this is the moment that costs him a nomination. In a recent discussion with Elvis Mitchell for Interview magazine, he talked about The Master, life, and the Oscar campaign in general. What he said shocked some:
MITCHELL: So what are you going to do when they put you on the awards circuit for The Master?
PHOENIX: You're out of your mind, dude. You're out of touch with what has happened.
MITCHELL: I think we've established that you're the one who's out of his mind. [Phoenix laughs] You don't think that's going to happen?PHOENIX: I'm just saying that I think it's bullshit. I think it's total, utter bullshit, and I don't want to be a part of it. I don't believe in it. It's a carrot, but it's the worst-tasting carrot I've ever tasted in my whole life. I don't want this carrot. It's totally subjective. Pitting people against each other . . . It's the stupidest thing in the whole world. It was one of the most uncomfortable periods of my life when Walk the Line was going through all the awards stuff and all that. I never want to have that experience again. I don't know how to explain it—and it's not like I'm in this place where I think I'm just above it—but I just don't ever want to get comfortable with that part of things.
There you have it. He thinks that the campaigning is bullshit. This can be read as him hating the Oscars in general, but look closer. As the Venice video I liked to it would show, he just cannot stand promoting his stuff. Walk the Line was going to be his big moment, and I can totally understand the consistent press coverage being annoying. It is a lot of nonsense to just sell a movie that couldn't sell itself.
I'm not saying that Phoenix's movies can't sell themselves, but there is often politics that goes into these ceremonies, and it is annoying. Often movies get nominated just for marketing the movie in an endearing format. This has nothing to do with the movie. However, this doesn't mean that films with great merit cannot get nominated, but they are not as excessively desperate as the great campaigns. It feels like a too much kissing up to justify artistic merit.
This doesn't mean also that he won't get nominated. Remember when Marlon Brando and George C. Scott boycotted the Oscars? Even Katherine Hepburn, who won four times, had a rocky relationship with the Academy. Mo'Nique won for Precious with very little campaigning. This isn't the end all of Phoenix's shot at the top prize, but we'll probably see Daniel Day Lewis slink ahead, if just because director Steven Spielberg has more prestige and marketing skills behind him. This is unfair, but the best possible conflict.
Still, I admire Phoenix just because he is so honest and authentic as an actor. He is charismatic and weird, but at the same time, there is some personality behind the role. We know that Phoenix is a person and not just another thing that laughs at bad interviewer jokes. This may make him kind of a dick, but I really just think it makes him one of the most interesting actors working today, and probably a great example of the Hollywood rebel.
I wish him the luck on landing the nomination as I do everything else about The Master, which is still my front runner (though I have a feeling that Argo will play better). I am fine with Phoenix not doing the circuit and if it pisses off voters, that only shows the problems with the Academy's inability to vote on artistic merit alone. Still, if you don't believe me on how great he is, please just go see The Master and know that we're dealing with a genius performance.
Do you disagree? Should Phoenix get snubbed for disagreeing with campaigning techniques?