The highly anticipated Christmas release Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, screened last night in LA and AwardsWatch* was there to take in what was either going to be a huge success or a big disappointment. Being one of the few films that has yet to be seen in full (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight are other majors), it’s kind of a big deal to get an idea of where this film will land.
I can report that the screening was a pretty massive success. While the film isn’t quite finished it’s closer than most people might think; a few sound mixing issues and some tighter editing and the film should be locked soon and definitely within time to be seen for the upcoming critics and industry awards season. Some of the comments that came out of the screening were pretty clear in their praise:
“David O. Russell’s best film since Three Kings.”
“It’s such a director’s film and I think a culmination of everything from DOR’s career so far plus more.”
“100% Jennifer Lawrence show- in every scene. Could easily win.”
“Erin Brockovich/Mildred Pierce vibes.”
“It’s such a rich, complex story that, I think, that doesn’t hold the audiences hands.”
Joy has been a huge question mark in this year’s Oscar race by many pundits. Most have held back from predicting it almost anywhere other than Jennifer Lawrence in Best Actress but even then it felt like she was a placeholder. AwardsWatch’s team of Oscar experts, The Gold Rush Gang, has been bullish on the film’s Oscar chances since last April, where it’s been #1 by a pretty big margin every month. The Forum Oscar Polls, which are tabulated by votes of hundreds of forum members, has had Joy in the top 2 since March. I’m not really sure what the hesitance is to predict Joy for multiple nominations considering the trajectory of David O. Russell’s last three films. Let’s take a look at their box office and Oscar nominations:
Silver Linings Playbook – 8 nominations (including BP, BD, all four acting cats – first time since Reds in 1981) – 1 win – $132M box office
American Hustle – 10 nominations (including BP,BD, all four acting cats – first time since Sunset Blvd. in 1951 to have no acting wins from four noms) – 0 wins – $150M box office
So that’s an interesting path indeed; the number of nominations and the box office keeps increasing but the number of wins drops. Is that setting up Joy for success or failure?
What I’ve seen circulating amongst Oscar pundits is a sense that David O. Russell can’t possibly four-peat, which was the same thing that was said about American Hustle, that he couldn’t three-peat his success. He did. ‘He has THREE editors, ha ha ha, the film is a failure!’ I’ve heard. This despite that both Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle used multiple editors and both films received Oscar nominations for Film Editing. But wait, there’s more. ‘This fight between Russell and Annie Mumolo over writing credit for the screenplay will definitely sink him this time!’ is also a bell that’s been rung but I’m not buying it. We’ve seen this kind of controversy before, with the co-writing credits for Pulp Fiction and the arbitration fight over 12 Years a Slave. Both of those films went on to win Screenplay Oscars. The next obstacle pundits will probably throw in front of it is that with The Martian‘s success 20th Century Fox now has three HUGE films to push this Oscar season and in lots of similar categories. It’s a big task, to be sure, but far from impossible.
This season of Oscar watching has seen more and more pundits playing the ‘wait and see’ game, pouncing on whatever they’ve seen the most recently and declaring it the new frontrunner in a season that has been surprisingly bereft of one. Currently Spotlight seems to be the favorite among the major pundits but I can’t help to think that the journalism aspect of the film might have them a bit biased. I could be wrong and that isn’t to infer the film isn’t fantastic or deserving of its praise or predictions at all. I do also want to point out though that at this time last year the same thing was circulating around American Hustle. Pundits seemed teamed up against it and then the test screening happened, almost at exactly the same time in October, and AwardsWatch reported back that the film was a pretty big success and just needed a bit of tweaking, like Joy. That turned out pretty well for that film in terms of reviews, box office and Oscar nominations. I get that AwardsWatch is the new kid on the block in the Oscar pundit race and there is and will be a lot of side-eye and questions. But, our short history speaks for itself and if you look back to our time at AwardsDaily, we did a pretty good job then as well.
So, what’s the hesitance, folks? Is it time to give in or does the film still need to be “seen” to be properly analyzed and predicted? To me, that seems to take the joy out of predicting (sorry for that pun). Taking a gamble on an unknown, especially early on, is fun. Sure, it gives bragging rights if you’re right but it’s equally as possible to blow up in one’s face. The risk is part of the challenge, part of the game. Game on.
* I feel a clarification needs to be made here that should have been in the initial story. I, Erik Anderson, did not personally attend the screening. I had two AwardsWatch members attend the screening who reported back to me. I did not intend to obfuscate that and I apologize for being unclear.