Thumb Wars: Joaquin Phoenix

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If you've ever heard some celebrity drop the term "method acting" in an interview, you know your own gag reflex when it comes to emoting workshops. For non-professionals like myself, a lot of the picturing-your-cat-dying-to-cry shit can seem like an absurd pastime for all of those bored celebrities hanging out in Los Angeles.

And if there's one actor who should be bored by now, it's probably Joaquin Phoenix. Since an interview with David Letterman back in February 2009, the man has been engaging in a whole lot of "method" amid what the public has decried as madness.

A bearded, rapping, cranky Phoenix is now in theaters, with Casey Affleck's directorial debut and pseudo-documentary "I'm Still Here" that chronicles the public demise of the Academy Award-nominated actor's legitimacy which, come to find out, was completely staged.

For all of my hesitation when it comes to "getting in the mood" for a role, I actually really appreciate the investment that Phoenix has made. It's as if he's playing us in a reverse "Truman Show" scenario. And I'm not the only one who sees the irony in light of certain mythical birds, right? Phoenix rising up out of the ashes of an intentionally botched career? Anyone?

I'm going to see this film in theaters because with all of the big production budgets out there that would have happily written Phoenix checks with six or more digits, the actor chose to experiment not just with a young first-time filmmaker, but with more than a year of his life.

He also rocked a beard for WAY longer than Brad Pitt, and he didn't have any hairy Angelina Jolie by his side to help him comb it either.

Phoenix: 1. Public: 0. Method acting: You're still on watch.

Hate It

In case you were wondering, Joaquin Phoenix is still here. Not that anyone cared where he went in the first place. Since the premiere of the Casey Affleck-directed mockumentary "I'm Still Here," Phoenix has gone from has-been to I-don't-want-to-know-where-this-guy's-been.

When Phoenix announced on the "Late Show with David Letterman" back in 2009 that he'd forgo acting in pursuit of a hip-hop career, nobody took him seriously. If you did, you were most likely asleep under a very large boulder while all of pop culture flew by overhead.

Things were already getting weird even before the "Letterman" lampoon. In 2006, Phoenix was pulled from the driver's seat of his flipped car - you might guess with a BAC higher than his Rotten Tomatoes score - by one Werner Herzog. Since Phoenix's downward spiral began, he has created some kind of personal meta-narrative about show business and its stultifying effects.

But the fact remains that, at least for "I'm Still Here," everything has been staged. Phoenix has been operating on a certain trajectory from the beginning and, once Casey Affleck confirmed this after the movie's release, everything up to this point is rendered totally embarrassing - if it wasn't embarrassing enough already. Phoenix's stunt is contrived, to say the least. That beard alone is enough to discredit an otherwise solid, sometimes great body of work.

Let's have a moment of silence for the Joaquin Phoenix of bygone days: The nebbish Joaquin of "Two Lovers," the half-baked studmuffin of "Walk the Line," the alien-ass-kicking-baseball-wielding Joaquin of "Signs" and even that little shit in "Gladiator."

However, if "I'm Still Here" were directed by Werner Herzog, I'd reconsider my position.


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