There are many actors who would go as far as to say that playing oneself is the hardest part an actor can play. In the case of Joaquin Phoenix, he played "himself" over the course of a year. Remember back in 2009 when the actor sat down on late night television host David Letterman's couch? He came out in sunglasses and with a beard so scraggly he could be confused for an animal in season. The interview itself was entirely curious as well. The one word answers befuddled even the astute interviewer Letterman, and the media was quick to label Phoenix's appearance as the sign of a meltdown. Phoenix is more prone to this kind of media attention, thanks to the circumstances of his actor brother's death, River. Of course, it turned out it was all a hoax. Phoenix hired Casey Affleck to make a documentary about Phoenix's supposed "meltdown," but in the end it was a parody of celebrity culture. Critics were less than amused by the results, and gave the documentary, "I'm Still Here," mixed reviews. Phoenix is not used to such mixed reviews when he's playing other characters though. Here are the five best performances of the actor's career.
Russell Crowe may have won the Oscar for playing the hero in this sandals and swords classic, but Joaquin Phoenix's
turn as the venomous Roman Emperor Commodus is the real star turn. Commodus is a complicated character, filled with envy, weakness and lust for his sister. Phoenix explores all facets of the power hungry emperor, and turns him into one of the most human villains in recent cinematic memory.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to have a way with actors, and with "The Master," he guides Phoenix to the best performance of his career. Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic soldier who is seduced into a cult by the wily ways of its charismatic leader. Freddie may seem like little more than a drunken buffoon at first glance, but Phoenix transforms him into a tortured, animalistic and confused man, lost in post WWII America.
To Die For
In his breakout role, Phoenix plays a high school stoner who starts a relationship with the twisted local weathergirl (Nicole Kidman). Phoenix is different in this film than in most: Goofy and relaxed. This may not be his most iconic performance by any means, but it does display his versatility.
Phoenix has paired with director James Gray more than any other director. Their 2008 collaboration, "Two Lovers," is far and away their most successful. In this old-fashioned love story, Phoenix gives a remarkably restrained and truly touching performance as a suicidal man torn between the love of two women.
Walk the Line
Surprisingly, this remarkable actor has only two Oscar nominations to his credit, and only one leading nod. He earned it for his incisive portrayal of country legend Johnny Cash in the 2005 film "Walk the Line." While the film rarely rises above the level of average music star biopic, Phoenix's transformative turn makes the audience feel heartbreakingly close to the emotionally fragile man in black.
Few actors would have possessed the skill to eclipse the shadow cast by an actor as skilled as Phoenix's departed brother. Joaquin Phoenix has gone a long way to do, and has established himself as one of his generation's finest actors.