Joker, DC’s forthcoming stand-alone spin-off about the clown that usually terrorizes Batman, was always intended as a renegade comic book movie — a dark and inevitably R-rated outlier only tangentially connected to cinema’s current biggest genre. But the film has already been succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. When Joker premiered last weekend at the Venice Film Festival, it received widespread — albeit not unanimous — acclaim. One week later it’s gone and taken the prestigious fest’s top prize.
As per Deadline, on Saturday Joker — which stars Joaquin Phoenix and was directed and co-written by The Hangover series’ Todd Phillips — nabbed the Golden Lion, aka the festival’s top prize. (Phoenix, alas, did not walk off with the Best Actor trophy, which went to Luca Marinelli for Martin Eden.) What that means it’s achieved what no other comic book movie has till now: earned the most coveted trophy at a major, serious film festival.
Of course, no comic book movies have ever had the chance to do what Joker has accomplished. Superhero films don’t often play film festivals, and if they do they’re not in competition. They tend to stay in their lane, which is to say they premiere at a billion theaters worldwide at once and rake in all the money.
Over the years, those lines have been slowly if not entirely erased. A decade ago, Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his turn as — as it happens — the Joker, in 2008’s The Dark Knight. But when Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film didn’t get a Best Picture nomination, the outcry was such that by the following year the category was expanded from five to ten nominees, to make room for more populist/blockbuster fare. Then again, it took till last year for a comic book movie — namely, Black Panther — to be the first to find its way to that category.
Even going back to when it was first announced, Joker has attracted Oscar talk, which has amplified since its rapturous Venice premiere. Now that it’s bested such acclaimed fare as James Gray’s Ad Astra, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, and Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, that awards buzz will no doubt get even louder, especially since it’s also headed for the Toronto International Film Festival, already in progress. Meanwhile, cinephiles and fanboys will likely have to do a bit more fraternizing than ever before, at least for the next six months.