When he was great: The Yards (2000), Quills (2000), Gladiator (2000), Hotel Rwanda (2004), Walk The Line (2005)
Since then: A bizarre, unsuccessful stretch of method acting/performance art as a wannabe rapper
Part of what made Joaquin Phoenix such a dynamic and intriguing actor in the early aughts was his eccentric nature away from the camera; seated next to David Letterman or being profiled by magazine reporters, he was an impenetrable oddity, and that real-life uniqueness benefited his on-screen performances immensely. In all of his roles, from the narcissistic and spoiled brat turned ruler in Gladiator to the troubled Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, Phoenix’s real world evasive persona disappeared, giving way to a powerful thespian at the top of his game.
As any superior actor would, Phoenix decided to challenge himself in early 2009 by staging an elaborate spectacle of performance art: He pretended to the entire world that he was quitting acting to become a scraggily bearded, incoherent, and lyrically deficient rapper; an “MC” supposedly being managed by Diddy, no less. As we all learned the hard way in the 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here, it was all one big hoax, and a fruitless, inconsequential one, to boot.
We won’t have to wait too long to see Phoenix’s resurgence, fortunately: He’s one of the two leads in brilliant filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) next movie, the long-awaited and, according to early word, Scientology-skewering drama The Master, which is expected to hit theaters by year’s end.