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Joaquin Phoenix: Ranked


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Freddie Quell

The Master, 2012
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Simple minded and animalistic with an unquenchable thirst for jet fuel (no, seriously, he makes moonshine with it) and sex, Freddie is violent and erratic. By chance, he hooks up with a cult and develops a strange camaraderie with the organization's leader, becoming so close that it's practically a romance.

Phoenix plays this role masterfully and is mesmerizing to watch. Philip Seymour Hoffman is equally great, but the film crawls along at a snail's pace and features s***ty people doing s***ty things to each other and I find myself bored with it. It is really beautiful though.

Rank: 14
Film Rating:

Hotness Factor: 2 (Too gaunt for my tastes but Freddie would definitely be up for it.)
Write-Ups: November 8, 2019

Leonard Kraditor

Two Lovers, 2008
Directed by James Gray

Leonard is a man child who has let his anxiety, emotional trauma, and suicidal thoughts arrest his psychological development. He is dependent on his parents and isolates himself from others - until he meets his free-spirited but troubled neighbor and becomes infatuated with her. He's not a particularly likable guy - especially since his obsession with his neighbor obscures his ability to feel for the other young woman he meets (who actually cares for him) - but he's easy to relate to and Phoenix plays him very convincingly.

Rank: 13
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 3 (He looks good, but the character's personality drags him down.)
Write-Ups: November 17, 2019

Bruno Weiss

The Immigrant, 2013
Directed by James Gray

Like Leonard Kraditor, Bruno is a man obsessed with a young woman he meets (and, like Gwyneth Paltrow's character in Two Lovers, I don't get the woman's appeal beyond her physical beauty). But Bruno isn't the man child Leonard is. He's manipulative and seeks to exploit the women he encounters, taking advantage of their poverty and vulnerability.

He's a bad man who, in the end, finds some good inside himself and I've long been drawn to characters like that.

Rank: 12
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 3 (He's a literal pimp and looks good in a suit.)
Write-Ups: November 17, 2019

Abe Lucas

Irrational Man, 2015
Directed by Woody Allen

Struggling with alcoholism and erectile dysfunction, and no longer seeing any meaning in his life, this professor of philosophy finds that lost meaning in an act of murder.

I called Doc Sportello my favorite of Phoenix's comedic performances but I suppose that's not quite true. That said, the laughs that Abe brings come from a very uncomfortable and dark place as his thoughts and actions go from exhilaration at the execution of what he thinks is the perfect crime to desperation as he discovers it might not have been as perfect as he thought.

Rank: 11
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 2 (That final act kind of kills it.)
Write-Ups: January 14, 2016

Although never wanting to be put into a box and always doing a variety of roles, Joaquin Phoenix is at his best when he's playing broken or unhinged men with no real sense of purpose.

But not only that, the next film he can be singing Walk The Line, frightening you with accuracy (wait, is Johnny Cash still alive, what's going on?), with a hard exterior yet warm tenderness on the inside. Or maybe he takes that warmness and turns it into something intimate and sad like Her (from the scrawny dude who dressed up as a naked granny in one of the Jackass movies).

The guy has infinite range, without having to go full chameleon like Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale. Speaking of which, I once said Bale was the best actor of his generation...
WARNING: "best actor of the 21st century" spoilers below
He still is of course, but Joaquin comes a very close second.
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Ethan Learner

Reservation Road, 2007
Directed by Terry George

Ethan is a man obsessed. After his young son is killed in a hit and run accident and the police have no suspects, he takes the investigation into his own hands and hunts down the boy's killer - hardly taking notice as his marriage begins to crumble and his remaining child is left to grieve and to struggle to understand the loss without his fatherly guidance.

Phoenix and his castmates Jennifer Connelly and Mark Ruffalo all turn in really solid performances that make the characters seem authentic even when the rest of the film sometimes feels contrived.

Rank: 10
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 2 (Grief isn't exactly sexy, but he looks good.)
Write-Ups: November 19, 2019

Bobby Green

We Own the NIght, 2007
Directed by James Gray

Phoenix is mesmerizing as Bobby, who begins the film as a manager at a night club owned and frequented by gangsters, who treat him like hes's family. His life is one big, flashy party. But this is 1980s New York and what his friends and employers don't know is that his real family - his father and his brother - are the very same police officers that are cracking down on the crime and drugs that run rampant there. When the two worlds violently collide, he is forced to assess his alliances and man up for his family.

Rank: 9
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 5 (Bobby's style and swagger coupled with Phoenix's piercing eyes and brooding intensity? Oh yeah.)
Write-Ups: October 7, 2019

ahwell's Avatar
Registered User
I finally watched another Phoenix film, Her. It was very solid, and Iím sure his performance will rank highly on this list (well, clearly it already has).

I finally watched another Phoenix film, Her. It was very solid, and Iím sure his performance will rank highly on this list (well, clearly it already has).
The film is in my all time top ten so, yeah itís pretty much a given that itíll be high on this list. Glad you liked it.

Lewis McBride

Return to Paradise, 1998
Directed by Joseph Ruben

Although he gets relatively little screen time, Phoenix absolutely steals the show with this devastating performance as a young American environmentalist, full of hope and ideals, wasting away in Panang prison while he awaits execution for the crime of drug dealing. That is, unless he can convince his friends to return to Malaysia and take responsibility for their share of the hash, which they bought for personal use while the three were vacationing in the area.

It's a very difficult performance to watch, but it's also deeply affecting.

Rank: 8
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 0 (This one's all about the emotions.)
Write-Ups: June 9, 2019

Johnny Cash

Walk the Line, 2005
Directed by James Mangold

Phoenix really shines in this Golden Globe winning role as the legendary Man in Black. He completely embodied Cash (though the real Johnny was never that good looking) and did all his own singing, resulting in a performance that felt fully authentic. Too bad a certain other awards ceremony failed to reward him for his work.

Rank: 7
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 5 (He is smoking. It's actually distracting how good he looks.)
Write-Ups: November 8, 2019


You Were Never Really Here, 2017
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Joe is a man traumatized by his life experiences. He's closed himself off to most of the world - both socially and emotionally. He's a man full of hurt who copes with his pain in acts of self suffocation and brutal violence. But neither give him any real relief and that anguish remains written plainly across his face and in his eyes. It's a powerful and affecting performance but it's one that's hard to watch as both the character and the film are completely without joy.

Rank: 6
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 3 (He doesn't look his best here, but the intensity he brings to the role is very attractive.)
Write-Ups: November 1, 2019

Doug Holt

Inventing the Abbotts, 1997
Directed by Pat O'Conner

Doug is a young guy who tries and fails to be cool. He's an embarrassment to his much more confident and experienced older brother and his attempts to impress the ladies are awkward but also endearing. It's a performance that, though simple and straightforward, feels very genuine and very sweet.

Rank: 5
Film Rating:
Hotness Factor: 3 (I wouldn't call him sexy here, but he is pretty cute.)
Write-Ups: October 8, 2019