In an Oscar season that has brought little campaigning or flash to New York, Warner Bros. treated us last night to a screening of “Joker” with director Todd Phillips and a Q&A moderated by superfan Michael Moore.
The location was the shiny new WarnerMedia headquarters which is tucked away in the irrelevant Hudson Yards mall on 10th Avenue and 33rd St. This is quite a splashy new situation for Warner Bros., which used to be Time Warner and before that Warner Communications at 75 Rockefeller Plaza. Steve Ross, the man who rescued Warner Bros. from oblivion 50 years ago, must be smiling in heaven. Luckily you can see heaven (great views of Manhattan skyline) from the windows of the Warner Media party space.
There were two big takeaways from last night’s screening. The first was that, on second viewing, “Joker” is better than ever. You can see why fans must have gone back and back. As I wrote from the Toronto Film Festival, it’s a brilliant movie. The sudden violence toward the end does make you look away. But it’s a small part of a greater good. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is beyond sublime, it’s balletic. I’d find it hard to believe anyone could beat him for Best Actor this year. As another big Hollywood star said to me this week. “It’s his time.”
Second, Phillips responded to an audience query about reports of a sequel. He said, “There are no deals for a sequel. We have no plans as of yet. We were caught off guard by a story that ran this week.”
But obviously there will be two sequels since “Joker” has made a billion dollars worldwide on a $60 million budget. Phillips and Phoenix are now set for life if they weren’t already. In the current movie, Bruce Wayne is a child who slides down a short pole when leaves Wayne Manor’s gatehouse to meet Arthur Fleck. Later we see him watch his parents get murdered by a clown. I surmised to Phillips that we’d see a teen Bruce in part 2 and the adult Bruce become Batman in the finale. “You’ve got it all plotted out, haven’t you?” he said with a laugh. Indeed.
Right now I don’t see any way that “Joker” could be excluded for Best Picture. It would join The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Two Popes, Marriage Story, Little Women, Bombshell, and one more– either Parasite, Richard Jewell, or 1917 since 9 is the magic number for nominees. By the end of next Monday, we’ll know better where things stand.