This gritty, downbeat comic book movie imagines the life of Batman’s archnemesis before he realized his calling as a supervillain. Set sometime in the 1970s and clearly inspired by the look and feel of “Fun City” New York, it follows the exploits of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, in another outstanding performance), a troubled loner who earns his living as a clown for hire, dreams of making it as a stand-up comedian, and spends his nights caring for his homebound mother. Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are the obvious points of reference here, though the depiction of Arthur’s mental illness—which walks a fine line between sympathy and clinical fascination—is clearly a product of the DSM-5 era. Christopher Nolan may have brought a sense of grim realism to comic book movies first with his Batman series, The Dark Knight trilogy, but I found this superior; the characterizations more interesting and genuine. Todd Phillips, in a far cry from The Hangover, directed; with Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy.