I often write the "rantnrave" in establishments other than my own. My favorite breakfast spots or sometimes SOHO HOUSE in different cities. I was having brunch at the one in WEST HOLLYWOOD and a nice guy came up to me and said he’d been reading REDEF for years and was a fan. That guy was Director TODD PHILLIPS. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve seen his films. Over and over. In good times and in my worst personal moments, I turn to movies and TV to escape. Often I want that escape to be filled with laughter. OLD SCHOOL, THE HANGOVER trilogy, STARSKY & HUTCH, SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS, ROAD TRIP and many others. Pretty insane list. At lunch a few months or so later, we exchanged histories, pop culture obsessions, talked about our NYC upbringings, and what we were working on. That’s when he told me about JOKER. The general idea, but no spoilers. Anybody can get pigeonholed in HOLLYWOOD. Comedy people can only do comedy and so forth. Not fair, and not Todd. He’s too smart, too many ideas, too many interests for that. He's now leapt into the beloved DC UNIVERSE with its most popular villain. That’s a character that comes with a lot of baggage. Pre-conceived notions. He’s been played by CESAR ROMERO, JACK NICHOLSON, HEATH LEDGER, JARED LETO, MARK HAMILL, CAMERON MONAGHAN, and many, many others. And now JOAQUIN PHOENIX. I tortured my friend, WARNER BROS MOTION PICTURE GROUP Chairman TOBY EMMERICH, for a screening. He set me up on the lot this week and let me escape for two hours. These are my friends. I want them to do well. But I'm always honest about my media thoughts. This film is a masterpiece. I don't use that word often, if ever. It is not your typical "action every second" popcorn movie. It's character-driven. It's like great rock songs that start out slowly and build into a crescendo. Think "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" or "DREAM ON." Even a little of BJORK's "IT'S OH SO QUIET." Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. He's so good it's hard to describe. Can't take your eyes off him. I laughed at the ridiculousness of how good he was. It's a nuanced and then grandiose performance completely without regard to vanity. I can't imagine any other actor playing this role in this film. I can't imagine who would beat him for an OSCAR. I don't do spoilers. I do themes. Not being seen or heard. Depression. Sadness. Mental Illness. Empathy and lack thereof. Cruelty. Delusion. A person's own reality, history, and narrative. Acceptance and rejection. Ridicule. Misunderstanding. Throwing away people. Transformation. Rage. There is some action. But not a lot. There is violence. Not a lot. But It's not comic-book violence. It's meant to be taken raw and seriously. HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's very thoughtful executive editor, STEPHEN GALLOWAY, nails it in his piece, "In Defense of 'Joker' and Its Repulsive Violence." He writes, "it lays down a gauntlet before the genre that’s dominated Hollywood for the past two decades, the superhero movie, entering its own turf as if to say: enough, it’s time to see violence for what it is. It deals with the real rather than the unreal, the believable rather than the unbelievable, the probable rather than the impossible. And it does so with extraordinary daring, limiting its plot to the most basic elements in order to focus on a character richer, scarier and more upsetting than any we’ve seen in the superhero world." Bingo. This is not a political film. Not in my POV. If anything, it's humanist. First, this is an entertaining movie. Masterfully made and acted. Set in what appears to look like the late '70s / early '80s NYC (aka GOTHAM). A time period that THE WARRIORS would have been at home in. Chock full of references straight from the pages of the NY POST. It alludes to the scandals of BERNARD GOETZ, JOEL STEINBERG, and HEDDA NUSSBAUM. There are hat tips to some of Todd's favorite character-driven films. All of which have origin story components. SERPICO, TAXI DRIVER, NETWORK, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and THE KING OF COMEDY. In fact, ROBERT DE NIRO (aka RUPERT PUPKIN), is in this one in a role reversal. A better part than he's had in recent years. Sort of a cross between talk show legends JOE FRANKLIN and JOHNNY CARSON. I don't like reading interpretations of movies before I see them. Reviews, fine. But, I like to analyze and noodle on my own and with friends. Then read. That's ironic given I'm asking you to read this, but life is filled with ironies. Decide for yourself. Make up your own mind. There will be lots of stories. Complaining about themes and pointing fingers. Seeking to cast an agenda, where the movie is really just an ad-lib for a pre-determined worldview. The debate already started and it's not out yet. Don't fall into that trap. Films have always covered all aspects of our lives and fantasies. They've explored dark and unsettling parts of our society. Sometimes through fiction. Often art is about exploring those themes. It catalyzes the conversation. Phillips recently said, “I think movies are oftentimes mirrors of society, but never molders." This is not a film that glorifies violence. It is not toxic. It's a thoughtful exploration of how the bad guy becomes the bad guy. It's an origin story. I now understand the bad guy. I don't excuse his actions or blame society. Yet, society should reflect. And I didn't root for him in the end. I had empathy for his past but not for his present. I loved this film. And now I get to say, "my friend directed and wrote a masterpiece." Psyched to hear what you think... This is why I curate. You're welcome... Happy Birthday to SIBYL GOLDMAN, HAPPY WALTERS, JON BROD, NICOLE DELMA, and DOUG GOLLAN.