Several big contenders are starting to emerge in the early race towards the Academy Awards on Sunday February 28th 2016. Alejandro G. Inarritu’s follow up to his Oscar winning Birdman is the equally impressive looking The Revenant starring an inevitably nominated Leonardo DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg has made his first genuine contender since Lincoln in the Tom Hanks Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. And then there’s the British charge with women’s rights period drama Suffragette.
However, the the film that may just sneak the big awards this year, and perhaps the only one with the potential to challenge seriously for the big five, is David O. Russell’s latest drama – Joy.
Joy is a biopic and period film about the matriarchy of Joy Mangano, a real life entrepreneur, inventor, wife and mother. The cast is led by Hollywood’s Golden Girl and Oscar winning Jennifer Lawrence, with Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The last time they all collaborated was The Silver Linings Playbook, in which Russell directed his cast to nominations in every acting category – a rare feat.
The cast itself is diverse, experienced and popular with the Academy, albeit with mixed success. Lawrence’s first nomination came with Winter’s Bone when she was still an unknown to most. Then, after a year which included The Last House on the Left and The Hunger Games, Lawrence scooped a Leading Actress Oscar for playing an unhinged twenty-something in Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper however has been nominated for the last three years for Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and American Sniper – all unsuccessful but two were under the direction of David O. Russell. And then there’s Robert De Niro; enough said.
The Academy love a trier, and though this tactic is still to pay off for Leonardo DiCaprio, we could well see both him and Bradley Cooper score awards next year for leading and supporting actor respectively.
A period drama and biopic is always pretty surefire Oscar fodder, but in a year in which strong women look set to be the dominant theme among the nominees – an expected reaction to last year’s snubbing – Joy has come along at just the right time. Providing it’s a good film, though expectation is very high.
David O. Russell himself has been overlooked for an Academy Award several times, so Joy is a film not only with the right theme, but the right story both in front and behind the camera. If this is a solid movie, then Russell is a shoe in for his sixth and seventh nominations for both directing and writing. Competing against the likes of this will be a hard sell, as for many this could be his year. Whether it’s deserved is yet to be seen, though Scorsese’s long-awaited Oscar in 2007 was hailed despite it being for one of his weakest nominations.
But the Oscars are not just about retrospective awarding and sympathy votes. It can be a significant driver on the ballots, but the film itself has to be good and, most importantly, it has to be what the voters want at that particular time. Luckily, Joy‘s drama named on and built around a strong female protagonist is just the thing for voters – offering a candidate that represents ideological change in Hollywood on camera, while rewarding familiar faces, colleagues and friends behind the camera.
In other words, Joy is a win-win situation. If it’s a great film then voters can vote, watchers can watch, and critics can continue criticizing the lack of African-American representation. Putting that can of worms aside, Joy has everything an Oscar voter could wish for, so unless a genuine alternative contender emerges this has all the potential to sweep the 2016 Academy Awards.