Renowned for his chameleon-like ability to embody diverse characters, Joaquin Phoenix's filmography is a testament to his unparalleled talent and commitment to the craft. With an Oscar for Best Actor under his belt, Phoenix is finally getting the respect and acknowledgment of his talent that has been criminally underrated for years. From playing Johnny Cash to his depiction of a lonely man in a relationship with an operating system, these are the 20 best Joaquin Phoenix films we can't get enough of.
1. I'm Still Here (2010)
Directed by Casey Affleck, I'm Still Here blurs the lines between reality and performance as it follows Joaquin Phoenix's supposed retirement from acting to transition into a hip-hop career as a rapper. The faux documentary explores the consequences of celebrity, the nature of fame, and the public's perception of Phoenix's unconventional journey.
Phoenix's commitment to the role is evident as he fully immerses himself in the character, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. His dedication to the performance is both compelling and controversial, fully convincing people he had gone insane for an entire year of his life.
2. Buffalo Soldiers (2001)
Directed by Gregor Jordan, Buffalo Soldiers is a dark comedy set against the backdrop of the U.S. Army stationed in West Germany during the Cold War. Joaquin Phoenix plays Ray Elwood, a cynical and opportunistic soldier involved in various illegal activities. Phoenix's performance is charismatic and morally ambiguous. He captures the essence of a character navigating the absurdities of military life, which adds a satirical edge to the film's exploration of corruption and boredom.
3. Irrational Man (2015)
Directed by Woody Allen, Irrational Man delves into the complex world of Abe Lucas, a brilliant but troubled philosophy professor portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Abe arrives at a small liberal arts college, his reputation preceding him as an enigmatic figure with a penchant for existential pondering.
Plagued by existential angst and disillusionment, Abe seeks solace in his teaching and a newfound romantic entanglement with Jill Pollard, a bright student played by Emma Stone. As the film unfolds, Abe's life takes an unexpected turn when he becomes embroiled in a morally ambiguous situation that challenges his philosophical convictions.
Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of Abe is characterized by a nuanced exploration of the character's inner turmoil, blending intelligence with a palpable sense of existential crisis. Phoenix brings depth to Abe's philosophical musings, making his performance a central pillar in Woody Allen's exploration of morality, free will, and the consequences of one's choices.
The film invites audiences to ponder the intricacies of the human psyche and the blurred lines between rationality and irrationality, with Phoenix's captivating performance anchoring the narrative.
4. Quills (2000)
Directed by Philip Kaufman, Quills is a period drama that imagines the final years of the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) in an insane asylum. Joaquin Phoenix plays the Abbe du Coulmier, a conflicted clergyman responsible for overseeing the Marquis. Phoenix brings a sense of moral conflict and vulnerability to his role as a foil to the Marquis de Sade. His performance adds layers to the film's exploration of censorship, morality, and human nature.
5. Two Lovers (2008)
Two Lovers is a romantic drama directed by James Gray, where Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard, a troubled man torn between two women. Set against the backdrop of Brooklyn, the film skillfully examines themes of love, family, and mental health and showcases Phoenix's ability to convey emotional depth.
6. The Immigrant (2013)
Directed by James Gray, The Immigrant unfolds the story of Ewa Cybulska, played by Marion Cotillard, as she navigates the challenges of immigration in early 20th-century New York. Joaquin Phoenix portrays a complex character who becomes both a savior and a source of conflict in Ewa's life, offering a poignant exploration of survival and sacrifice.
7. 8mm (1999)
In the gritty thriller 8mm, directed by Joel Schumacher, Joaquin Phoenix stars alongside Nicolas Cage. Phoenix plays Max California, a street-smart private investigator assisting Cage's character in a disturbing investigation into the world of underground snuff films. The film explores the darker corners of humanity and the consequences of seeking the truth.
8. Joker (2019)
Joaquin Phoenix delivers a mesmerizing performance as Arthur Fleck, a mentally unstable comedian who transforms into the iconic DC Comics character, the Joker. Directed by Todd Phillips, Joker offers a gritty and unsettling origin story that explores society's impact on mental health and the birth of a supervillain. The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver served as vital inspiration points for the plot, but Phoenix's tour-de-force performance brings it home and finally earned him the Oscar for Best Actor.
9. The Master (2012)
In Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, Joaquin Phoenix portrays Freddie Quell, a troubled World War II veteran who becomes entangled with a charismatic cult leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film explores the complexities of power, control, and the human psyche, showcasing Phoenix's intense and transformative performance.
10. You Were Never Really Here (2017)
Lynne Ramsay directs this gripping thriller where Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a traumatized war veteran turned vigilante for hire. You Were Never Really Here explores the impact of violence on the human psyche while delivering a visceral and atmospheric narrative, earning Phoenix critical acclaim for his portrayal of a haunted protagonist.
11. Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)
Based on the life of cartoonist John Callahan, played by Joaquin Phoenix, this Gus Van Sant film chronicles Callahan's journey from a life-changing accident to becoming a quadriplegic and finding solace in art. The film navigates themes of addiction, recovery, and redemption with a blend of humor and poignancy.
12. The Village (2004)
M. Night Shyamalan's The Village features Joaquin Phoenix as Lucius Hunt, a resident of a secluded village surrounded by mysterious creatures. As the villagers confront their fears, the film unfolds a tale of love, deception, and the consequences of challenging societal norms in a suspenseful and atmospheric setting. Phoenix's chemistry with Bryce Dallas Howard is palpable, and he embodies a courageous, honorable man so expertly you can't help but feel heartbroken for him when tragedy strikes.
13. To Die For (1995)
In Gus Van Sant's satirical drama, Joaquin Phoenix plays Jimmy Emmett, a young man manipulated by a cunning television journalist portrayed by Nicole Kidman. To Die For explores the lengths people will go for fame and the media's impact on shaping reality, with Phoenix delivering a memorable performance.
14. Inherent Vice (2014)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and adapted from Thomas Pynchon's novel, Inherent Vice follows Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello, a private investigator entangled in a convoluted web of crime and conspiracy in 1970s Los Angeles. The film blends noir elements with humor, showcasing Phoenix's versatility in a complex and whimsical role.
15. We Own the Night (2007)
In this crime drama directed by James Gray, Joaquin Phoenix plays Bobby Green, a nightclub manager who must confront his loyalties when his family becomes entangled with the Russian mob. The film explores themes of family, betrayal, and redemption against the gritty backdrop of the New York City underworld.
16. Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott's epic historical drama Gladiator features Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus, the corrupt and power-hungry son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The film follows Maximus, a betrayed general played by Russell Crowe, as he seeks vengeance in the gladiatorial arena. Phoenix's portrayal of the scheming and villainous Commodus earned critical acclaim and jumpstarted his career as a serious actor.
17. Signs (2002)
M. Night Shyamalan's sci-fi thriller Signs stars Joaquin Phoenix as Merrill Hess, a farmer who, along with his family, discovers mysterious crop circles on their property. The film explores themes of faith and extraterrestrial encounters as the Hesses grapple with the unknown in a suspenseful and atmospheric narrative. It's my favorite alien flick and Shyamalan's most underrated film. The chemistry between Phoenix and Mel Gibson as brothers is compelling, with an especially moving confrontation about the former priest's loss of faith.
18. Walk the Line (2005)
Walk the Line is a biographical drama that chronicles the rise of music legend Johnny Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film explores Cash's tumultuous journey, including his relationships with June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and struggles with addiction. Phoenix's mesmerizing, authentic portrayal earned him an Academy Award nomination.
19. Her (2013)
In Spike Jonze's futuristic romance Her, Joaquin Phoenix takes on the role of Theodore, a deeply introspective and emotionally isolated man navigating the complexities of modern life. Set in a near-future Los Angeles, Theodore finds solace and connection in an unexpected place — an advanced artificial intelligence operating system named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
As Theodore's relationship with Samantha evolves from mere convenience to a profound emotional bond, the film delves into the transformative power of human connection, challenging societal norms and exploring the blurred lines between the tangible and the virtual in the ever-evolving landscape of love and loneliness. Joaquin Phoenix's nuanced performance captures the delicate nuances of Theodore's journey, making Her a thought-provoking exploration of the evolving nature of human relationships in a technologically driven world.
20. Beau Is Afraid
In the Kafkaesque nightmare Beau Is Afraid, Phoenix plays Beau, an anxiety-riddled man with severe mommy issues, to say the least, on a perilous journey to return home to grieve his recently deceased mother. However, getting there is a Sisyphean task in itself. Three hours of pure horror and absurdity, combined with Phoenix's brilliant performance of a mama's boy lacking agency who is terrified (and rightly so) of the world around him, forms an absolute masterpiece.