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The fall festival circuit, a prelude to awards season, kicks off at the end of next month with the Venice Film Festival. There are plenty of anticipated films and awards hopefuls that will screen in Italy, but perhaps the most intriguing is Todd Phillips’ Joker. Not only is the comic book movie screening at the Venice Film Festival, but Warner Bros’ origin story for the iconic Batman villain will play in competition.
It’s an extreme vote of confidence in the film, and for the festival’s artistic chief, Alberto Barbera, it was an obvious decision. Because according to him, Joker has real Oscar potential. He said:
I have to say, Warners was convinced pretty rapidly, because it’s a really surprising film. It’s the most surprising film we’ve got this year…This one’s going straight to the Oscars even though it’s gritty, dark, violent. It has amazing ambition and scope.
Can you feel the hype building, Joker fans? That’s a pretty enthusiastic and encouraging statement that Alberto Barbera gave to Variety about Joker. Saying that Joker is “going straight to the Oscars” is pretty unequivocal and means he thinks that Todd Phillips’ film has real artistic merit and serious Academy Award potential. It also supports the high hopes that many comic book movie fans have had for this film since it started coming together.
The other interesting thing is the way Alberto Barbera described Joker. He called it the “most surprising” film the Venice Film Festival will have in 2019. Whether he’s talking about in-competition or at the festival overall, that’s a lot of movies. So for him to find Joker the most surprising is pretty interesting, and makes you want to know even more about what this film has in store for audiences.
What it does have in store is apparently some stuff we have been expecting, namely that the R-rated film about Batman’s most famous villain will be dark, gritty and violent. But Alberto Barbera also praised Joker’s scope and ambition. Given how Alberto Barbera feels about it, you can see why Joker is debuting at the festival.
However, Warner Bros. doesn’t usually premiere films at the Venice Film Festival in competition, as evidenced by last year’s A Star is Born, which launched out of competition. But despite the studio’s reticence, director Todd Phillips got his way, as Alberto Barbera recalled:
Yes, as usual they said they wanted to be in a more protected situation. But then [director] Todd Phillips said: ‘I don’t care if I run the risk of not winning. Why shouldn’t I go in competition when I know what we’ve I’ve got on our hands?’
You have to appreciate the faith Todd Phillips has in his film. He knows that Joker might not win, but he felt that the film had merit and deserved to compete. So the director pushed for Joker to join other U.S. films like Ad Astra, The Laundromat and Marriage Story in competition for the Golden Lion.
From the very beginning, Todd Phillips’ Joker has seemed like it could be something special. The casting of acclaimed actor Joaquin Phoenix, who has eschewed comic book movies in the past, upped its potential, as did the comparisons to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Then the trailer dropped and we got our first glimpse at the kind of comic book movie we haven’t seen before.
Now Joker is heading to Venice, and if Alberto Barbera is right, that’ll be its first step on an immutable path towards the Academy Awards. We’ll start to get a sense if he’s right or not when the Venice Film Festival kicks off at the end of August.
Joker opens in theaters on October 4. Check out our 2019 premiere guide for that and all the biggest blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls headed to theaters this fall.