2018 has been a very prolific year for three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix. He has already starred in two acclaimed films — as a gun-for-hire in Lynne Ramsay‘s “You Were Never Really Here” and Gus Van Sant‘s biopic about paralyzed cartoonist John Callahan, “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” And now Phoenix returns to the nation’s theaters in Jacques Audiard‘s Western, “The Sisters Brothers,” for which Audiard recently won the Best Director prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
Phoenix has been no stranger to awards circles. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards (“Gladiator,” “Walk the Line,” “The Master”), five Golden Globe Awards (including a win for 2005’s “Walk the Line”) and four Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Phoenix looks to have a busy 2019 as well as he stars in the title role as DC Comics’ “Joker,” focusing on the iconic supervillain in a film directed by “The Hangover’s” Todd Phillips.
Before you head out to see him in “The Sisters Brothers,” let’s take a tour of his 12 greatest performances, ranked from worst to best in the photo gallery above.
12. I’M STILL HERE (2010)
Let’s face it — “I’m Still Here” is a mess, but I’ve included it here because it was a crucial film in potentially derailing Phoenix’s career. In Casey Affleck‘s mockumentary, Phoenix posed as himself, abandoning his acting gig and starting up a music career in hip-hop. During his press promotion, Phoenix kept in character, which resulted in a catastrophic appearance with David Letterman in which viewers, unaware that Phoenix was in character, thought that was having a nervous breakdown.
11. SIGNS (2002)
Phoenix was lucky enough to encounter M. Night Shyamalan during his good period, and his presence in this huge hit helped solidify his box-office status. As Merrill, a failed minor-league baseball player who now lives with his older brother Graham (Mel Gibson), Phoenix gives an ensemble-minded performance as his Merrill is stunned at the mysterious crop circles that have suddenly appeared in Graham’s yard and stands tall when faced with the prospect of an alien invasion.
10. THE IMMIGRANT (2013)
James Gray created a great role for Phoenix in his insightful look at immigration at the start of the last century. Bruno (Phoenix) notices new immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard). Although he doesn’t really consider himself a pimp, Bruno gets her through customs and brings her to his house, with the intention of eventually prostituting her out, while at the same time, falling in love with her.
9. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018)
In Ramsay’s Cannes-acclaimed film, Phoenix, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance, plays Joe, a gun-for-hire who is contracted by a NY state senator who engages Joe’s services to find his missing daughter Nina. He manages to save the girl, but police, believing that she has been kidnapped, storm in and take Nina, severely wounding Joe.
8. PARENTHOOD (1989)
Phoenix really made his mark in Ron Howard‘s ensemble comedy focused on the travails of the Buckman family. Much to the displeasure of her mother Helen (Dianne Wiest), daughter Julie (Martha Plimpton) has married her boyfriend Tod (Keanu Reeves) and gotten pregnant. When Helen becomes concerned about her porno-obsessed son Garry (Phoenix), Tod steps up to give Garry a man-to-man talk. Helen is impressed and begins to reconsider her dislike of Tod.
7. TO DIE FOR (1989)
In Gus Van Sant‘s sharp-edged mockumentary, Nicole Kidman plays Suzanne Stone-Maretto, an aspiring weathercaster on a local TV station who wants more and will stop at nothing to get it. Fed up with her husband Larry (Matt Dillon), she seduces teenager Jimmy (Phoenix) into killing her husband. Jimmy follows through on the deal and is soon arrested.
6. HOTEL RWANDA (1995)
In Terry George‘s film about genocide in Rwanda, Phoenix plays Jack Daglish, a real-life American reporter who was largely responsible for bringing the plight of the Rwandan people to the world’s attention through his reports from the field. As Daglish, Phoenix gives a straight-ahead performance here as befitting the material and. by dialing it back, Phoenix is totally believable as a no-nonsense journalist.
5. INHERENT VICE (2014)
Even in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s eccentric filmography, “Inherent Vice” is a real loon of a movie. Phoenix plays 1970’s hippie P.I. Doc Sportello, who is asked by femme fatale Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) for help in protecting her new boyfriend from being abducted and placed in a mental institution. Needless to say, things for Doc suddenly become extremely complicated. For his performance as Doc, Phoenix earned his fifth Golden Globe nomination.
4. THE MASTER (2012)
After the P.R. disaster that was “I’m Still Here,” Phoenix’s reputation was seriously damaged, but just as he was about to hit bottom, Phoenix was rescued by Anderson, who wrote a great role in “The Master” that was perfectly suited to Phoenix’s talents. World War II vet Freddie Quell (Phoenix) who can’t seem to adjust to life back home, is taken under the wing of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is the spiritual leader of a movement called “The Cause,” to which Freddie becomes an eager disciple, a decision that he will come to regret. For his performance as Freddie, Phoenix earned his third Academy Award nomination and his third Golden Globes nod.
3. HER (2013)
Though few of us would likely consider Phoenix a dweeb in real life, he certainly played one effectively in Spike Jonze‘s science-fiction romance. Although Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) has a new loving girlfriend (Amy Adams), he becomes infatuated with his computerized operating system which has a female voice whom Theodore calls Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Although it begins as an innocent flirtation, Theodore has no idea how his relationship with Samantha will impact his life. For his performance as Theodore, Phoenix was nominated for his fourth Golden Globe Award.
2. GLADIATOR (2000)
Phoenix’s first serious award attention came for his performance as the evil Commodus, ambitious son of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). As Commodus, Phoenix exuded a decadent sleaziness that he had never before displayed but which was perfect for the character. Phoenix was finally on the awards map. For his performance as Commodus, Phoenix earned his first Academy Award nomination, his first Golden Globe nod and his second Screen Actors Guild nomination.
1. WALK THE LINE (2005)
To date, Phoenix’s portrayal of Johnny Cash remains his artistic triumph, not merely attempting a sound-alike performance but instead trying to get to the essence of the man. Phoenix’s performance largely rests on his interpretation of Cash as a husband — a very smart choice and one that stands out among music biographies. For his performance as Cash, Phoenix won his first Golden Globe Award and was nominated for his second Academy Award and his fourth Screen Actors Guild Award.