We guess Academy Awards voters did “get it,” in the end. Would that make Arthur Fleck laugh or cry? Either way, Todd Phillips’ Joker surprised during this morning’s Oscar nominations announcement when it became the most nominated film. Earning a grand total of 11 nominations across multiple fields, the Clown Prince of Crime movie punched outside of its expected categories—which included Best Picture and Best Actor for Joaquin Phoenix—by also earning Oscars nods for Todd Phillips in Best Director, Phillips and Scott Silver in Best Adapted Screenplay, and a slew of technical awards that include Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, and more.
Joker narrowly beat out fierce competition in a packed year to have the most nominations going into Oscar night. By comparison Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Sam Mendes’ 1917, and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood each earned a grand total of 10 nominations. But obviously this perception victory is yet another win the folks at Warner Bros. can toast over after their gamble on a spinoff movie about an 80-year-old Batman villain turned into a global box office phenomenon, and now an Oscars-celebrated one.
While a number of these nominations are a surprise, it is again more than expected for Phoenix to get in for Best Actor; after all, he is the favorite in the category. Indeed, the Best Actor category is especially competitive this year with the likes of Adam Driver in Marriage Story and Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood nominated, but like Heath Ledger before him, Phoenix looks pegged to win an Oscar for playing the Joker. It is becoming inevitable after his recent wins for the same prize at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. It turns out that startling physical transformations, particularly into as cadaverous a shape as Phoenix’s Fleck, can still grab attention.
What’s more shocking, however, is that Phillips got into the even more top-heavy Best Director category. With only five slots available for nomination, Phillips had to beat out the likes of Noah Baumbach, Taika Waititi… and Greta Gerwig. In fact, Phillips getting in over Gerwig is disquieting on certain level as it marks 2020 as yet another year when all five directing nominees are male. At least I personally think we can all rejoice that Bong Joon-ho was blessedly nominated here.
It should be noted that having the most nominations does not guarantee the most or even many wins. In all of Joker’s technical categories, as well as the aforementioned Best Director, it faces colossal competition. But with a Best Actor Oscar likely at hand and a slew of recognition, it’s already won in many respects. The success also signals a change in thinking among awards voters about superhero films, at least of a certain type. Hopefully, it will also signal a change in thinking among more of those who make them.