Although Joy is under embargo for formal reviews, several people have already written about Lawrence and the film in terms of the Oscar race. The first thing to remember is nobody really knows anything. No one knows how the film will land with critics, with audiences, or with voters. We base our opinions mainly on experience with this kind of thing. Thus, it’s all to be taken with a grain of salt.
You mostly have to go back to Marion Cotillard beating Julie Christie to find a year when the presumed frontrunner early on in the year did not ride that expectation through to the end. Sandra Bullock, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchette, Julianne Moore, were all actresses who took the lead early on and maintained that lead with hardcore campaigning at every event, showing voters that they were in it to win it. Cotillard also did that, and Julie Christie did not. Streep had a formidable challenger in Viola Davis, but Streep had Harvey Weinstein behind her and they were in it to win it. It was close, though. That year seemed very close — as evidenced by Davis upsets at the BFCA and SAG Awards.
One thing that is always funny to me is how people parse the award groups. This one “counts,” this one doesn’t. There are some that really do have an impact on the race and some that don’t but it has nothing to do with what defines the members of any group. For instance, the National Board of Review remains influential, partly because they’ve been around so long, but also because their name alone has cache. They also announce first and lend credibility to contenders even if there wasn’t any before. You see, one of the mistakes the pundits (like I) make is that we think we’re leading the race. Sure, we have a hand in weeding out and penning in the selections so that voting members of the various groups kind of, sort of have an idea of which direction to head in. By the time the big industry voters get their hands on their ballots they already know what films have been leading via the pundits and the early award groups. But the truth of it is, announcements and award nominations really lead the race. So if a contender appears on the National Board of Review of the New York Film Critics, or the SAG or the Golden Globes the pundits will swiftly shift their predictions, making a judgment call as to whether this will matter or not.
Ben Auk puts such care into these video montages he makes and I have to admit they always catch in my throat at one point. He always makes the year in film somehow better than it seemed. Enjoy.
Finding the single best moment in Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is impossible as you have two actors playing the same person. Then there’s Elizabeth Banks. Add Paul Giamatti and you have one of the best ensemble performances of the year. Banks glides confidently through the film in a way we’ve never seen before. This is a woman who began her career in sports until an injury shifted her focus from sports to acting, eventually, and later, directing. What power she contains emanates from her throughout Love & Mercy because her Melinda is the anchor and touchstone that ultimately saves Brian Wilson (John Cusack) from horrific circumstances. Her finest moment is a tossup between the scene where we first meet her — shiny nails, a clipboard and tight skirt, she puts Wilson immediately at ease and changes his life. Probably the scene that seals the deal is when she’s being confronted by Paul Giamatti on the other side of a door. As he’s threatening and insulting her she whips the door open and stares him down. Banks strength is balanced by the portrayals of Brian Wilson’s vulnerability and crippling mental illness, embodied by two brilliant performances – Cusack’s struggle to come up and out from behind the oppressive drugs and controlling forces, along with Paul Dano’s bright young genius on the rise. In Dano’s performance, we see the Brian Wilson who was consumed by musical gifts that lured him in different directions, some of them good, some of them not so good. Both actors capture that sweetness in Wilson, and, underneath it all, a man worth saving. All three actors give best-of-the year performances in Love & Mercy.
Creed is that one movie that can sometimes come along and land in the Oscar race with absolutely no warning. It comes with an interesting Oscar story, one not unlike its subject, and its subject’s first film. Rocky is a story of an underdog and Creed has to be seen as one of this year’s underdogs, without a doubt. It wasn’t ushered in as an “Oscar movie,” and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of Oscar ads or fancy q&as, not yet anyway. It was a film that could have gone either way – but it landed like a champ. An A Cinemascore, maybe looking at a 35 – 40 million opening weekend, and hitting the sweet spot at Rotten Tomatoes with 93% puts Creed very much “in the conversation.” And if it isn’t then there is something very very wrong with Oscar season.
Creed is what my dearly departed friend David Carr would call a “movie movie” and is another example of how this year might really might be — or certainly could be — dominated by big studio movies for the first time in years. It’s too soon to know, of course, how the whole thing will settle. We won’t really know for a few more weeks at least. Joy and The Hateful Eight are still to be seen.