Which awards can Joker actually win at the Oscars?

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. /

With 11 nominations, the DC supervillain adaptation leads all other films nominated for Academy Awards this year. But what are Joker’s chances of winning in its respective categories?

A year after Black Panther became the first comic book-based movie nominated for Best Picture and two years after Logan became the first nominated for Best Screenplay, Joker tops both by not only being nominated for those two awards but also becoming the first comic book adaptation to be nominated for Best Director. But does Todd Phillips stand a chance in the Best Director race against filmmaking titans? How strange it must feel to be nominated alongside the director whose work he “copied”. That is a joke, of course, as Joker takes a few cues from Martin Scorsese’s earlier work. Quentin Tarantino is also nominated this year, and he started his career by doing exactly the same thing.

In the end, 2019’s Best Director race comes down to Bong Joon-ho and Sam Mendes. Bong’s Parasite is wholly original and is sharper in its sophisticated satire on classism and elitism than Joker. Then Sam Mendes does something that not many superhero properties can do – deliver non-stop action, threats, and adrenaline, so much so that you can feel the exhaustion dripping off of Corporeal Schofield in 1917. If Best Director is out of reach, what does this mean for Joker when it comes to the big prize of the night?

The fact that Joker was initially quite divisive is part of the reason why its plethora of nominations was unexpected, and it also may require a change in heart from some voters to push it over the finish line for Best Picture. Marriage Story, Parasite, and 1917 are the real triple threat. Marriage Story is the most spot-on depiction of a family going through divorce. Parasite takes the themes of Bong Joon-ho’s previous films and elevates them with urgency into a biting critique of contemporary society.

And 1917 is simply the best World War I movie ever made – just like Christopher Nolan found a unique way to tell a war story with Dunkirk, 1917’s singular long take style is unprecedented for this type of picture. So Joker is up against some unquestionable masterpieces. Sure, it still received the Best Picture nomination but, unlike Black Panther, which was toward the top of the field, Joker is closer to the bottom of the list of the nine nominated films, somewhere next to Ford v Ferrari.

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins should receive his second Oscar for his breathtaking work in 1917. Lawrence Sher does capture a gritty Gotham in Joker. However, the only director of photography who can compete with Deakins is Jarin Blaschke for his exquisite black and white photography in The Lighthouse. The editing category will also likely elude Joker because of how the masterful transitions in Parasite highlight the contrast between comedy and calamity. If not Parasite, the decade-spanning Irishman or the excitingly cut racing sequences in Ford v Ferrari could claim the Editing award.

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Joker is also nominated for both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. While Joker generally fares well in both categories, the sound is not as essential to the film as the space-bound Ad Astra, or the revving engines of Ford v Ferrari, or the intense, battle booming of1917. Joker may have a better chance at winning Original Score, since the composition eerily set a dark mood, although it is at times similar to other gloomy movie music, almost as if they could have used a slower version of Hans Zimmer’s score from The Dark Knight. The category may be a close call with John Williams conducting a fresh Star Wars score and Randy Newman crafting music for Marriage Story that on the surface sounds simple but underneath is quite beautiful.

A major nomination for Joker is Adapted Screenplay. This could be any movies’ category, and Joker does have plenty of memorable lines, such as “don’t you have to be funny to be a comedian?” and “I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy”. However, Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is the most inventive work of all the nominees and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is spectacularly realized with several vivid characters while adding a modern spin on the classic tale. Voters may even be more inclined to select Anthony McCarten’s philosophical and ideological exchange in The Two Popes over a “superhero” movie.

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Best Costume Design is a possibility for Joker, although the real stand-out costumes in the film are reserved strictly for the antihero. On the other hand, Little Women is filled with detailed and delectable costumes all around, for almost every player on screen. Joker is a much stronger contender for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Phoenix’s terrifying portrayal of Joker would not have worked without the perfect application for each scene – the smudged clown makeup and frayed green hair accentuates Phoenix’s glances and gestures.

Joaquin Phoenix himself has a great chance of winning an Academy Award for Best Actor. We already covered Phoenix’s evocative performance when analyzing his chances of getting the nomination. And just as it was back when Joker was first released, his primary obstacle for winning his first Academy Award is Adam Driver. Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas were both strong enough to break into the field, but neither compare to Phoenix in Joker and Driver in Marriage Story. Leonardo DiCaprio is a wild card this year, meaning a win for the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star would be less likely, yet not impossible.

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So while Joker surprised almost everyone by leading all movies with 11 nominations, it would still be surprising if Joker manages to rake in more than two or three victories on Oscar night. The most likely wins could be for Best Actor and Best Makeup, followed by either Best Score or one of the sound categories. Even that many would be impressive for a movie in a genre that was once largely ignored by the Academy.

The 92nd Academy Awards ceremony will take place on February 9, 2020.