With a record $96 million at the domestic boxoffice and $248 million worldwide, Warner Bros. Joker clearly triumphed in theaters this weekend, but how did it do with Oscar voters? In the kind of early-October release slot the studio has used successfully to launch such boxoffice and awards magnets as A Star Is Born, Argo and The Departed, to name a few, there clearly are hopes that this film can land a number of nominations come Oscar time. And that was only amplified when the Todd Phillips-directed film — controversial for the very dark places it goes and uncomfortable realities of today’s society it reflects — won the top award at the Venice Film Festival last month, recently a harbinger of good things at the Academy Awards. Last year’s winner Roma went on to 10 nominations and three Oscars, while the 2017 winner, The Shape of Water was the eventual Best Picture champ.
So how did the Academy respond? Joker was shown to membership on Saturday night at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre with an estimated turnout of around 700 (perhaps a bit less), I am told by two different members who were there. That isn’t a turnaway for the 1,000-plus-seat house, as some highly anticipated films get, but it certainly is respectable considering Joker isn’t exactly the kind of film this group usually embraces. Reaction, at least from what I heard, was mixed, which is not surprising since it mirrors critical response now sitting at 69% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. It got a B+ from moviegoers according to CinemaScore.
One member with no connection to the film emailed: “Turnout was very good and reaction was as well. About three quarters full. Maybe 700. There were several walkouts, though. Good applause at the end. Good applause. Including for the tech credits including Cinematographer.” Another told me many of the older members did not like it, but it seemed like a younger crowd than usual with one particular section delivering strong applause at the end credits. Another older member I spoke with said she had a hard time getting anyone to go with her, but that the person who did accompany her felt the movie made some “salient points” about mental illness. Her opinion, on the other hand, was less generous, calling the applause at end credits “tepid” and said the trailer for the Student Academy Awards shown before the film rolled got a bigger hand. She said she didn’t like the film because it made her worry that it could trigger real-life violence, That had been discussed ad nauseam prior to Joker’s release, but so far no examples of any trouble have surfaced. She did have very good things to say about Phoenix’s performance, however. Phillips, cinematographer Larry Sher and editor Jeff Goth participated in a post-screening Q&A. Time will tell on this one as the season rolls on, but there is no doubt it is making an impact.
On the other coast, New York Academy members flocked to The Irishman, which got such a big response at the MoMA screening room that they had to open up a second room to accommodate the crowd. They delivered a standing ovation to director Martin Scorsese, star Robert De Niro, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, costume designer Sandy Powell and producer Jane Rosenthal, who all attended the post-screening Q&A. West Coast Academy members don’t get their official screening until the last weekend in October.