The “make up Oscar” is a real phenomenon, when an actor gives a great performance but doesn’t win a trophy, only to come back within the next few years and win for an obviously less interesting/challenging role, making up for the previous loss. The most obvious modern example is Judi Dench losing Best Actress for Mrs. Brown, only to win Best Supporting Actress the next year for less than 15 minutes of screen time in Shakespeare in Love. It’s not that Dench isn’t good in Shakespeare, she is, but it’s obviously a less challenging role than she played in Mrs. Brown (though both films have her playing historical English queens).
The reverse phenomenon has no name, but it’s when an actor wins an Oscar only to give an even better performance right after. For instance, Emma Stone winning for La La Land, only to give an even better performance just a couple years later in The Favourite. I don’t know what to call that, but it happens, and it is probably happening to Joaquin Phoenix at this very moment. A trailer for his upcoming film, C’mon C’mon, dropped yesterday, and it looks wonderful (it got great reviews at Telluride), and Phoenix looks wonderful in it. I’m not picking a fight with the Joker people, but this looks like a much better performance than Joker, for which he won an Oscar. Should C’mon C’mon deliver, and should Phoenix be nominated for it, he would find himself caught in this unnamed phenomenon.
Maybe I’m partial because it’s been a while since we’ve seen Phoenix play an everyday man, or maybe it’s because C’mon C’mon is from writer/director Mike Mills, who specializes in low-key humanist dramedies about finding beauty in life amidst all our foibles and failings, but C’mon C’mon looks lovely. Phoenix plays just, like, a guy who has to take care of his nephew. Just a regular dude, doing regular dude stuff. When was the last time we saw that from him? Her, maybe, if you look past the futuristic setting and sci-fi nature of a story in which a regular guy falls for the AI girl next door. Maybe The Master, in which he plays a dude enmeshed in a cult. With no qualifying details, though, the last regular guy Phoenix played was in 2008’s Two Lovers, a romantic drama from James Gray. Ordinary men are not Joaquin Phoenix’s bread and butter, and yet he is good at it. Just look at how charmingly pedestrian he seems in this trailer. Could we be entering Joaquin Phoenix’s regular guy phase?