best film: It is The Master (2012) here by a landslide. This is both a compliment to Paul Thomas Anderson’s film (one of the best of the 2010s decade) and sort of a nitpick at Joaquin Phoenix’s filmography. The number two film here is probably James Gray’s Two Lovers (2008) but that is a few steps down from The Master. Joaquin has a cluster back-end of the top ten quality of the year films (maybe as many as seven (7) – including all of the work with James Gray) but is lacking that second masterpiece or that film that seriously contends with The Master.
best performance: Joaquin Phoenix gives the best male acting performance of the 2010s in The Master so there is a decent sized gap in this category again between the top spot and everything else. Same here though – the overall depth is strong – there are performances like his turn as Johnny Cash (Walk the Line – 2005), his second time with Paul Thomas Anderson in Inherent Vice, and his project with Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here) – this is high quality work spilling out of his top five (5). It seems doubtful Phoenix will ever touch the highs of The Master and his work as Freddie Quell again – and that is totally fine. Freddie Quell is one of cinema’s great characters. Phoenix nails the ticks, the posture – his face a brilliant craggily façade. The processing sequence is screen acting at its finest.
stylistic innovations/traits: Performances like Joaquin Phoenix’s in The Master do not come along often and still, he has enough here to make him anything but a one hit wonder sort of Peter Lorre or Malcolm McDowell-type resume (those two were not total one hit wonders like Bjork or Falconetti but still lean to that type of top heavy resume). One more big achievement would be crucial to help Phoenix climb up this list – and he has plenty of time. He was born in 1974 – the same year as peers Leonardo DiCaprio and Christian Bale. He is as talented as either of them. And, like both DiCaprio and Bale, Joaquin was a successful child actor. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother River Phoenix of course – who sadly passed away in 1993 at the age of 23. Joaquin had a few credits (including working with Gus Van Sant like his brother) in the 1990s – but 2000 was his breakthrough year – he stunned film fans in the immensely popular Gladiator, impressed in Quills and started his four (4) time connection with James Gray (The Yards). In one year, he showed he could act at the same level as Russell Crowe (white hot in 2000) and Kate Winslet (same). His work has been more than stellar since then with mentions as one of the best actors of the year in 2008, 2012, and 2019 (and close again in his strong 2013 with bot Her and The Immigrant). Joaquin is a four-time Oscar nominee (winning for Joker in 2019) with nineteen (19) total archiveable films and counting.
directors worked with: James Gray (4), Paul Thomas Anderson (2), Gus Van Sant (1), Oliver Stone (1), Ridley Scott (1), Spike Jonze (1), Lynne Ramsay (1), Ari Aster (1). The James Gray collaborations seem to be over (nothing in the ten years from 2014-2023) and that is a shame because that was such an artistically fruitful partnership – but Phoenix seems to have no lack of promising auteur collaborations to choose to work with.
top five performances:
- The Master
- Two Lovers
- We Own the Night
|1995- To Die For|
|2000- The Yards|
|2005- Walk the Line|
|2007- We Own the Night|
|2008- Two Lovers|
|2012- The Master|
|2013- The Immigrant|
|2014- Inherent Vice|
|2017- You Were Never Really Here|
|2018- The Sister Brothers|
|2021- C’mon C’mon|
|2023- Beau is Afraid|
I Hope Napoleon is a masterpiece.
@KidCharlemagne- haha me too. Would be 41 years between masterpieces for Sir Ridley. One can hope though.
Phoenix’s best films
4.We Own the Night-HR
6.You Were Never Really Here-HR
First the gap between The Master and his 2nd best film, performance is huge. Then he has an incredible number of HR or near HR level films. And he plays a crucial role in every single one of them
Hey Drake, thanks for this page on my favourite actor working today; Archives updates make my days better 🙂
Just wanted to point out that the character’s name is Freddie Quell, not Quill. I wouldn’t normally bother to mention such a minor point, but I think the meaning of “quell” is relevant to understanding the character (defined by his inability to quell urges)—and probably the homophony with “quill” is relevant as well (Freddie as Dodd’s muse or “quill”).
@Logan 5- Thank you for the kind words on the site and this is a good catch/correction. Thank you!
Do you guys think Joaquin Phoenix will have a better perfomance than his on The Master? Do you agree with drake? when he says Joaquin Phoenix is on his prime
@Tozoco – I can certainly hope he tops it one day but I honestly would be surprised if Joaquin Phoenix ever gives a performance better than The Master (2012) as it is one of the best of all time. The one actors who I think have 2 performances at that level would be
Marlon Brando – The Godfather (1972) and On the Waterfront (1954)
Robert De Niro – Raging Bull (1980) and Taxi Driver (1976)
Al Pacino – The Godfather II (1974) and Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Jimmy Stewart – Vertigo (1958) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Humphrey Bogart – He might have three; The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and In a Lonley Place (1950) and Casablanca (1942)
Maybe I am missing a couple others but they are rare
*the only actors
@James Trapp-I think Brando’s performance in Last Tango is the best screen performance of all time
@Malith – I watched that film for the 1st time in the last few weeks, it is incredible performance for sure, not ready to label it that but very impressive. I love that opening shot, the camera movement and the way Brando delivers his first words. Few actors could communicate so much emotion with facial expressions as well as Brando.
I already have my top 50 of the best male performances (waiting for Drake to post his top 100) and Phoenix is in my top 15 (10-15 range).
I was saying before how exciting the future is for Joaqin with Joker 2, Napoleon and films with Lynne Ramsey and Pawel Pawlikowski being his upcoming projects.
But now he’s also aligned with another top autuer and will lead in Todd Hayne’s upcoming 1930s drama.
The future is looking bright for his career!
@Harry – Bright indeed! These can’t all happen, right? We’ll see. Hard to think of a film more anticipated for me than the next thing from Pawel Pawlikowski
@ Drake – I jinxed it lol, just saw this morning on world of reel that the Pawilowski film has been scrapped
@Harry- haha I know- I saw this news, too. Hopefully just a hurdle they get over.
@Harry – Even with the superhero aspect of it I never even considered Joker 2 as a serious possibility and apparently neither did Warner Bros (link below) It is described as a “musical psychological thriller”. Interesting for sure.