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May Star of the Month: Joaquin Phoenix

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A new feature we’re starting here at Moviefellas is the Star of the Month, which entails movie reviews and other posts on the actor or actress we choose for a given month. For May 2013, I decided that our star should be the talented Joaquin Phoenix, after whom I named my goldfish (2012-2012 R.I.P.), and whose picture is currently gracing my mantle (my family hasn’t noticed yet, don’t tell them).

You may know Phoenix from films such as Gladiator (2000), Walk the Line (2005), and The Master (2012), all of which earned him Academy Award nominations for his outstanding performances. Born in Puerto Rico to Children of God missionaries, Phoenix began his acting career as a child after moving to Los Angeles at the age of four, alongside his brother River, who quickly rose to fame (see: Stand by Me). In 1993, tragedy struck when Joaquin’s older brother River died of a drug overdose.

In 1995, Joaquin returned to acting in Gus Van Sant’s dark comedy To Die For alongside Nicole Kidman. Widespread critical success came with his role as the villainous Roman emperor Commodus in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000) starring Russell Crowe. Gladiator earned Phoenix nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and SAG Awards–and it wouldn’t be the last time.

Joaquin proved himself to be one of the greatest actors of his generation with his spot-on portrayal of legendary singer Johnny Cash in the 2005 biopic Walk the Line. Phoenix starred as the Man in Black alongside Reese Witherspoon, who met the challenge of portraying Cash’s wife and fellow musician, June Carter Cash.

Director James Mangold and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Walk the Line

Director James Mangold and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of Walk the Line

Phoenix earned a Grammy Award for his bassy, dare I say angelic/beautiful/tear-inducingly wonderful rendition of some of Cash’s songs for the soundtrack of Walk the Line. Walk the Line brought Joaquin a slew of nominations and wins, including an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe win for Best Actor.

Phoenix shocked and confused both fans and media in 2009 when he announced that he was leaving his successful acting career to become a rapper. His bizarre behavior was later revealed to be part of the making of the “documentary” I’m Still Here, which chronicles Phoenix’s foray into hip-hop music. In an interview with TIME, Phoenix said of the experience:

“Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously. I want it to be so good that I get in my own way. It’s like love: when you fall in love, you’re not yourself anymore. You lose control of being natural and showing the beautiful parts of yourself, and all somebody recognizes is this total desperation. And that’s very unattractive. Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating.

“… I’d just been acting too long, and it had kind of been ruined for me. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would feel brand-new and hopefully inspire a new way of approaching acting. It did do that for me.”

After a hiatus from acting, Phoenix made a triumphant return to the screen in 2012 with acclaimed director (aka one of my absolute favorite directors) Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Phoenix stunned audiences and critics with his riveting performance as the tortured, animalistic Freddie Quell, who is drawn into charismatic Lancaster Dodd’s ‘Cause’. Brutally passionate, physical, and powerful, Joaquin Phoenix seems to burst off the screen with the performance of a lifetime in The Master, which earned him a well-deserved profusion of nominations. Tragically, though, this amazing performance came the same year as Daniel Day-Lewis–the other greatest actor of this day and age–‘s widely praised portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, and, once again, Joaquin was left Oscar-less. (SOON, JOAQUIN. SOON.)

Thankfully, though, this isn’t the last we will see of Joaquin Phoenix’s incredible talent. Phoenix has two movies slated to release in 2013: James Gray’s The Immigrant, co-starring Marion Cotillard; and Spike Jonze’s Her, in which he will reunite with The Master costar Amy Adams. In 2014, Phoenix will reteam with director Paul Thomas Anderson in Inherent Vice.

Joaquin Phoenix has never been one to confine himself to any type of role, and has consistently proved himself to be a talented, versatile actor. Regardless of the critical or box office success of his films, he has always exhibited his strength as an actor onscreen. Offscreen, Phoenix is a cool guy who doesn’t subscribe to Hollywood bullshit. Phoenix gives a comparatively small amount of interviews, but when he does, they always show his insight, candidness, and overall charm. Personally, I can’t wait for the rest of his career.

Did I mention I love Joaquin Phoenix?

Where do I begin?! – Five Joaquin Phoenix movies you should watch

  • To Die For
  • Hotel Rwanda
  • Gladiator
  • Walk the Line
  • The Master
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