• Daniela Urzola

Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019) / Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold, 2019)

An overrated disappointment and a pleasing surprise, Joker and Ford v Ferrari come in last in my race for this year’s Best Picture.

Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019) DP: Lawrence Sher / Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold, 2019) DP: Phedon Papamichael

Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019)

Viewer discretion advised: This review might seem more of a hate rant. To avoid fainting keep repeating, it’s only a review… only a review… only a review[1]

I was dreading the moment I had to sit down and watch Joker. Yes, I was biased. But still, I was hoping I would be surprised and somehow understand why so many people have liked this film. Well, I couldn’t find a single reason. Here’s to one of the most underwhelming pieces of “cinema” with delusions of grandeur I have ever seen. And here’s to the Academy falling for every bit of it. Let me start by saying the movie in itself is completely unnecessary and irrelevant to the character of The Joker. Todd Phillip’s origin story of one of the most iconic movie villains in history remains shallow and void of significance, with a so-called social criticism that isn’t poignant nor well-developed.

If there’s one word to describe Joker, that’s pretentious. It’s “The Joker made artsy”. It’s a movie made to make you feel like you’re an intellectual watching a superhero story. Like you’re better for watching this than watching Avengers. It’s snobbish and arrogant, proclaiming it gives a higher status to what would otherwise be a banal story -which, by the way, is a flat-out fallacy-. The thing is, Christopher Nolan already did this. The difference is he did it masterfully, without resulting in a pseudo-intellectual approach to an otherwise complex, multi-layered character. And this pretentiousness repeats itself throughout the entire film, with scenes like the ones where The Joker gleefully dances on the stairs or in front of the TV, highlighting his psychotic traits in the most obvious ways. If you want true artistry, go see The Lighthouse or The Irishman, not this.

Leaving all that aside, Joker is still not a great film. It does have a great lead. Joaquin Phoenix is an amazing actor and he has proven himself time and time again. And although this is no exception, his rendition of Batman’s archenemy is far from being his best role, having delivered truly raw, authentic performances in the past, specifically that of a disturbed war veteran looking for a “cause” in The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012). His win on Sunday is a lock, but this is no more than the classic Academy move of handing out awards for the wrong part to people who have yet to receive a long overdue Oscar (this one’s for Leo in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant). Phoenix’s performance in Joker, outstanding as it is, simply isn’t enough. It’s not iconic, it’s not unforgettable, and that’s precisely what you look for in The Joker, especially after Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the same character, which is hands down one of the most memorable, mind-blowing performances of all time. Besides, if I were an Oscar voter, I wouldn’t think twice in choosing Adam Driver over Phoenix, who gave a much more emotionally gripping performance as Charlie in Marriage Story.

The fact that Joker leads the Oscars with eleven nominations is downright disappointing. The only truly remarkable aspect I found in it was the score, being this the only rightfully earned nomination. The cinematography is quite good, but it’s nothing compared to other nominees like 1917 or The Lighthouse -and even to some snubs like Midsommar-. As far as the direction goes, I can find at least five names that are more deserving of being included in this category over Todd Phillips, starting with Greta Gerwig (seriously, I can’t begin to explain my frustration). Finally, the screenplay is plain and it doesn’t deserve to hold a place next to The Irishman or Little Women.

I think it’s safe to say that, out of all the films I’ve seen, Joker holds the last spot. I struggled to finish it. Halfway through it I had to take a break, and right there and then I had already made up my mind on where I stood on the polarizing critics that have surrounded it. I thought I needed to finish it to get a good grip of it, but the truth is there wasn’t anything much to grip. Joker is an overrated disappointment. And if you don’t have the self-imposed obligation to write reviews on every Oscar nominee, you might as well just skip this one.

Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold, 2019)

Unlike Joker, I was utterly and pleasantly surprised by Ford v Ferrari. To tell you the truth, the only reason I even watched it in the first place was to be able to finish my Oscar race reviews. However, I’m glad I did, and that was quite a shock. James Mangold’s tale of a historic race is a well-executed film with many technical achievements. The cinematography is great -much better than Joker’s-, and the sound is remarkable. Overall, it’s a compelling film in its visual and technical aspects. And, even though it’s 2 hours and 30 minutes long, it keeps a good pace, managing to tell a story that could otherwise be dull and conservative in a greatly entertaining way.

The actors also deserve a special praise. Matt Damon is unexpectedly great in what seems to be one of his best roles ever, and Christian Bale is, as usual, brilliant in his performance. Howevver, they still don’t seem to rise up to the level of some of the finest performances this year, but they do deserve some recognition, both for their respective roles and for the amazing chemistry between each other’s characters.

Much to my surprise, going in expecting a good old traditional tale of the American hero, the film managed to captivate my attention all the way through the end. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a traditional story. And that’s mainly why I wouldn’t include it in the race for 2019’s Best Picture. Because, as noteworthy as it is, it brings nothing new to the table. Even in a year with such innovative stories like Uncut Gems or Us, the Academy still can’t seem to think outside the box, choosing the same type of films year after year. Ford v Ferrari is in fact outstanding, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t more of the same.

And this is also why I can’t seem to find much to say regarding Ford v Ferrari. It’s a good film, but that’s about it. It often relies on the same tropes of any other historical drama nominated for an Oscar. It’s an epic biopic, it’s the tale of the underdog we all love to watch, involving the outcast turned hero, the mean white man that stands in the middle of his victory, and even the angry Italians as villains. So, even though its nominations are certainly rightfully earned, Ford v Ferrari still feels like the movie that was picked to fill the ninth spot, just because it was the safest choice. With so many cards on the table, one would expect the Academy would start taking bigger risks, and this just feels like another let down.

[1] Reference to the trailer of Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972).

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