He once pretended to give up acting, which would have been a shame. Fortunately, Joaquin Phoenix is still going strong, as you can now see with the wide release this weekend of Her, a science fiction film in which he believably falls in love with his computer's operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, which helps). Later this year, moviegoers will also get to enjoy him in The Immigrant, his fourth collaboration with writer-director James Gray, which received terrific reviews at film festivals last year.
If Phoenix had truly retired to become a rapper, as he fooled the world into believing for the sake of his documentary I'm Still Here, he also wouldn't have been in The Master, for which he earned his third Oscar nomination. And many consider that movie to feature his greatest performance yet. His other contenders include his prior two nominated roles: Walk the Line, where he gave us a wonderful portrayal of Johnny Cash, and Gladiator, the film that truly broke him out as a serious adult movie actor.
Beforehand he was the former child star who'd initially gone by Leaf Phoenix in credits. Even then, he showed immense talent acting opposite a robot in Space Camp or an incredible ensemble including Diane Wiest and Steve Martin in Parenthood. His best promise of how he'd turn out, though, has to be in the underrated 1995 black comedy To Die For, in which he's seduced by an extremely career-driven weatherperson played by Nicole Kidman. Another very underappreciated movie of his is Gray's Two Lovers, where he's a man torn romantically between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw.
Earlier this week, we polled users on Twitter on which is the best of Phoenix's movie performances, and here are the very varied results followed by a few select tweets:
The Master: 2
Space Camp: 1
Walk the Line: 1
To Die For: 1
@thefilmcynic I still see that kid from PARENTHOOD, no matter what movie he's in.— John Gholson (@gholson) January 9, 2014
@thefilmcynic Don't love the film, but he was very good in SIGNS. WALK THE LINE is also a great job by him.— North/South Film (@NorthSouthFilm) January 9, 2014
@thefilmcynic HER, THE MASTER, WALK THE LINE. In that order, I think...— Reel Georgia (@ReelGA) January 9, 2014