Not only will the film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as the DC Comics villain, have its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, but its world premiere will be held at the esteemed Venice Film Festival in just a few weeks. Both festivals are seen as a kind of ground zero for studios' prestige projects ahead of Oscar season, which is exactly what Phillips believes he has with Joker.
Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera revealed to Variety that while studios (in this case, Warner Bros.) typically arrange for their titles to screen at the festival, it was Phillips who personally pushed for Joker to be on the slate.
"It’s a really surprising film," Barbera said. "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."
This isn't lost on Phillips, who, according to Barbera, told Warner Bros. that "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 [sic] got on our hands?"
Barbera's sentiment echoes what TIFF's artistic director Cameron Bailey told IndieWire this week, that Joker has "some real dark tones to it, but it’s just grounded in this career-best performance by Joaquin Phoenix. I think all the awards bodies will be taking notice."
This already seems like a far cry from Deadpool 2's irony-tinged Oscar campaign last fall, but it wouldn't be the first time a story set on the streets of Gotham City made its way to the Oscars. Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded a Best Supporting Actor award for his hypnotic portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in 2008's The Dark Knight.
Earlier this year, Marvel's Black Panther went into the Oscars with seven nominations, including Best Picture. It went home with three, including Best Costumes and Best Production Design, which itself is a noticeable uptick from the usual effects-oriented categories.
Joker also appears to be a noticeable step up for Phillips in terms of sheer cinematic ambition, given this is a director best known for screwball comedies like Old School and The Hangover trilogy. The director has frequently cited Martin Scorsese's work from the late '70s and early '80s as an inspiration, even connecting itself directly to his 1982 feature The King of Comedy, thanks in part to co-star Robert De Niro. Phillips has also shunned the character's comic backstory, so he's not held back by the confines of canon or continuity.
Unless you're attending VFF or TIFF, we'll have to wait until Oct. 4 to see exactly how well Phillips' tragic origin story in Joker comes together. But based on this very early buzz, perhaps it may very well turn into a viable contender come Oscar time.