As a man who writes loving greeting cards despite living a lonely life, Phoenix’s turn as Theodore is sweet, earnest, and at times, heartbreaking. Falling for a sophisticated A.I. named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), “Her” challenges the notions of love and relationships. As Phoenix’s top rated film on Rotten Tomatoes with a 94 per cent score, the success of “Her” rests squarely on the actor’s shoulders as he navigates the relationship without physically appearing opposite his leading lady.
While his Commodus is famous for giving the thumbs down, Phoenix’s performance gets nothing but thumbs up. The actor earned his first Oscar nomination for his performance as the villain prone to pathetic temper tantrums.
‘You Were Never Really Here’ (2017)
The actor delivered a tour de force performance as a traumatized veteran who tracks down missing girls for a living. Bleak, violent and full of complex moral themes, director Lynne Ramsay gets a career-best performance out of Phoenix as the sympathetic Joe, a man who is at once both brutal and tender.
‘Walk The Line’ (2005)
20th Century Fox
Who knew he could sing? As the late Johnny Cash, “Walk The Line” showed us Phoenix like we had never seen before. Oozing chemistry with his on-screen partner Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash, the actor excelled at both the story’s musical moments and Cash’s off-stage turbulent relationship with June. Though he didn’t live to see the final film, Cash signed off on Phoenix’s casting, reportedly “thrilled” at the choice.
‘To Die For’ (1995)
Phoenix was cast as the dim-witted teen Jimmy, a young man who finds himself manipulated by Nicole Kidman’s fame-seeking local TV reporter Suzanne Stone (Nicole Kidman) in the black comedy. Filmed in a documentary style, Phoenix gets to show his sweet and vulnerable side as Suzanne slow digs her claws into him.
At age 15, Phoenix landed one of his first acting gigs in Ron Howard’s dramedy “Parenthood”. Playing the son of Dianne Weist, Phoenix had some memorable on-screen moments, like reacting to a rejection from his estranged dad and hiding VHS porn tapes from his mom.
‘I’m Still Here’ (2010)
In 2009, Phoenix appeared to be having a very public nervous breakdown as he made a number of erratic appearances, grew his hair and beard out and announced his plans to become a hip-hop star. Turns out, it was all a ruse according to the actor and pal Casey Affleck who chronicled it all for “I’m Still here”. Filmed in a documentary style, the performance art piece is a fascinating watch that shows the actor’s commitment to a role on and off the screen.
“Signs” didn’t quite live up to the hype of director M. Night Shyamalan’s first feature, “The Sixth Sense”, but Phoenix’s turn in the suspenseful movie shouldn’t be ignored. As Merrill, the younger brother of Mel Gibson’s reverend who struggles to protect his family after crop circles appear on their farm, Phoenix adds both comedic relief and weight to the more emotional and dramatic moments.
‘The Master’ (2012)
Paul Thomas Anderson lured Phoenix onto the screen as WWII vet Freddie Quell after the actor’s self-imposed hiatus following his string of bizarre and erratic public appearances around “I’m Still Here”. Coaching an Oscar-nominated performance from Phoenix, he embodies a conflicted disciple of an enigmatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is searching for truth and meaning in a world full of conflict.
“Joker” may have a mixed reception from critics with its 68 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but one thing critics and viewers can agree on is Phoenix’s performance. Losing 52 pounds for the part of Arthur Fleck, Phoenix doesn’t deliver an anti-hero but a portrait of a lonely man plagued with mental illness, completely disappearing into the role.