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Joaquin Phoenix becomes second Joker to win an Oscar

The win comes 11 years after Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker looks to the sky Photo: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures via Polygon
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Forget the days of the Oscars’ comic-book-movie stigma: Joaquin Phoenix just won Best Actor for a Joker origin story.

After winning big at the Venice Film Festival, then commanding the awards season right through the Golden Globes, Joker has taken its last laugh by delivering an Academy Award to its leading man. We’ve come along way from The Dark Knight sending the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences into a tailspin. Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse broke the curse, and now Joker has again mainstreamed the legitimacy of comic-book movies. Phoenix took it seriously, and so did the voters.

“This form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life,” the actor said in his opening remarks. “But the greatest gift that’s been given to me is to use our voice for the voiceless.” Phoenix went on to stand up for every kind of injustice, detailing how we’ve become “disconnected from the natural world.”

Phoenix is the second actor after Heath Ledger to win an Oscar for playing the Joker onscreen. The idea of two actors winning awards for playing the “same” character is rare, but not unheard of. Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh were both nominated for their roles as Henry V way back when. Marlon Brando won for playing Don Vito in The Godfather in 1972, while Robert De Niro won Best Supporting Actor for playing his younger self in The Godfather Part II. Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart were nominated for playing the same person, Rose, in the same movie, Titanic. And get this: Cate Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress for her title role in Elizabeth. Then Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for playing the same character in Shakespeare in Love. Then Blanchett got another Best Actress nomination for playing her again in Elizabeth: The Golden Age! The Oscars, baby.

There was stiff competition in the 2020 Best Actor category: Phoenix topped Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes) to pick up his statue.

So what’s next? Well, there is sequel talk, and if Cate Blanchett could do it…

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