Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.
A comic book movie has won the top honour at a prestigious film festival. Take a moment to let that sink in. Joker — the standalone DC film starring Joaquin Phoenix in the lead and directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) — was awarded the Golden Lion at the 76th Venice International Film Festival over the weekend, which came as a surprise to everyone considering Warner Bros. was said to take a risk by even premiering it at the world's oldest film festival. Moreover, film festival prizes are generally handed out to films that have serious Oscar-winning credentials — that has been the case for three of the last five Best Picture winners — which then argues that Joker is now looking at some Oscar momentum.
“They took a comic book mythology that has been done in so many ways and overturned it and revitalised it for now,” Venice Film Festival jury member Mary Harron said after the awards ceremony on Saturday in the Italian city. The Canadian director Harron was one of seven jury members alongside Toronto International Film Festival executive director Piers Handling, French actress Stacy Martin, Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Japanese filmmaker and actor Shinya Tsukamoto, Italian director and screenwriter Paolo Virzì, and Argentine writer-director and jury president Lucrecia Martel. Harron said she also loved Phoenix's work, but Venice rules prevent top film and acting honours from going to the same movie.
Accepting the award, Phillips concurred and said: “There is no movie without Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin is the fiercest and brightest and most open-minded lion I know. Thank you for trusting me with your insane talent.” In turn, Phoenix noted the number of directors and the “wild and eclectic group” on the Venice jury as he thanked them for awarding his film with the Golden Lion. Phillips also thanked Warner Bros. for “stepping out of their comfort zone and taking such a bold swing on me and this movie.”
Joker's win at the 2019 iteration of the Venice International Film Festival wasn't the only surprise. In a heavily controversial move, the festival's second biggest / runner-up award — the Grand Jury Prize — was handed to director Roman Polanski's An Officer and a Spy, a French drama about the political scandal the Dreyfus Affair. Polanski was convicted of statutory rape in the US in 1978 and has since been a fugitive, living mostly in France. After the rise of the #MeToo movement, Polanski was stripped of his Oscar membership in 2018, more than 40 years after he pled guilty.