The Art of the Underdog (And The Comeback of Todd Phillips)

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What is an underdog to you? Is it the football team in all of those high school movies in the 2000s? Or is it Auburn pulling off a victory against Alabama with seconds left on the clock? Or is it a movie director that no one on the street knows of except the one person who’s somehow inspired by his mediocrity?

Okay, you got me, mine is the last one.

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Despite directing two on and off-set disasters, Todd Phillips just walked out of Venice Film Festival with the top prize, and is about to become one of the hottest filmmakers in the industry. You might know him from such, “Well wouldn’t it be funny if we-“, films such as, “The Hangover: Part 2”, “The Hangover: Part 3”, along with “Starsky & Hutch”, and “Schools for Scoundrels” (what?). Anyways, Todd Phillips made “The Hangover” and was worshipped as a comedy god by every 13-year-old in America who snuck the DVD out of their parents bedroom (me), but then had to go to Warner Brothers with “So, I have this idea for a sequel”, TWICE. Phillips tried his hand at drama with the Wolf of Wall Street-esque “War Dogs”, which was an Oscar hopeful at one time but was met with so-so reviews. Todd Phillips shouldn’t be at the Hollywood status he’s about to be at, but he will be.

Phillips took a year off after “War Dogs”, or so everyone thought. During that year, he was cooped up in an 8×10 cell at Warner Bros. slaving over what was soon to be the Second Coming of cinema. Excuse me, my emotions got the best of me. Phillips was hastily at work on a new screenplay with “Finest Hours” And “8 Mile” scribe, Scott Silver. Phillips had an idea, an idea to take an overplayed genre and turn it on its head. That idea was a little film that is now “Joker”. A movie that’s been the center of controversy for the past few weeks, especially after its Golden Lion win at Venice. Phillips polishes the script with Silver, turned it into Warner Bros. and they just said “Uh, well, alright sure.”

But wait, there’s more!

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Weeks later, they got Joaquin Phoenix. Yeah, you know, the actor that goes into his little hiding spot in the trees every few years and is about as pretentious when it comes to roles as Daniel Day Lewis? That guy. The last guy anyone thought would ever do a comic book movie, who has turned down millions because he didn’t want to sign a contract, is now the Joker, in a movie…spearheaded by Todd Phillips. There was a point where this all became a blur and at about right there is a good marker.

So it’s never going to get made, right? That what myself and seemingly everyone else thought. No way it ever happens. This is just a fantasy of Todd Phillips’. A dream project. Oh wait, it’s filming?

Warner Bros. gave the man $50 million and Joaquin Phoenix and now he’s about to pay dividends as the world burns around us. There’s no other real explanation for this. The world’s probably just ending and this is all just a fever dream of ours to numb the pain.

So, the movie’s not good right? It’s Todd Phillips, I mean how could it be? He lucked out on “The Hangover” and ran to the bank, at least that’s what I thought.

“Joker” has now screened at two different festivals and has been met with rave reviews by most critics and attendees of Venice and TIFF. It profoundly sits at a 75 on Metacritic, and is generating more Oscar-buzz currently than any other film in the mix. This is the fun part. This is the grand finale that everyone (or, well, probably just me) has been waiting for. Phillips took the mic to center-stage, and now the confetti rains.

What I’m so fascinated with regarding this project, is not necessarily that I love the idea, or that I love the creatives behind it, the talent behind it, the movie itself, or the reception. It’s taking someone that’s been a laughing stock of the industry for years now, and that person giving so little fucks about it, that they go and make something like “Joker”. It’s inspirational, honestly. Because Todd Phillips is the last person in this industry that should be coming to studios with, “I want to make a grounded, 70s-style, character study about a psychotic clown that plays on the modern political issues in a neo-Taxi Driver kind of way, oh and also I want to use YOUR most famous brand for it.” But he did it, and the studio said yes. Despite his past mishaps, he’s matured more as a filmmaker in four years than anyone ever, usually does in life. And know the king himself is sitting at the top of his throne with his Golden Lion as the industry bows at his knees, as they should in front of the savior.

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I’m only slightly obsessed, but in the best and most hilarious way possible, promise.

Joker, in theaters, uh, October 4th.

 

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