The 50 best films of 2015
in the US
Continuing our countdown of the best movies released in the US this year, we get ourselves in a lather about another electrifying Jennifer Lawrence performance in David O Russell’s inspiring biopicBenjamin Lee
Tuesday 8 December 2015 13.10 GMT
There’s something quite perfect about the year ending with the release of David O Russell’s sparkling comedy drama Joy. It’s been an emotive 12 months of increased discussion over Hollywood sexism, kickstarted by Patricia Arquette’s frantic Oscar acceptance speech about the need for equal pay within the film industry. Her words were then echoed by her starry peers, including Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron and, most notably, Jennifer Lawrence, whose essay about how outspoken women are often unfairly labelled sent yet more plaudits her way.
Her words have acted as a sort of primer for her performance as Joy Mangano, a woman boxed in by circumstance but refusing to let societal restrictions stop her from aiming upwards. Within the course of the film, she’s reminded to be aware of her role as a parent, underestimated as a businesswoman and told to dream in a more realistic, more achievable, more “female” manner.
Loosely based on the life of a single mother whose knack for invention led to her creating the Miracle Mop, a domestic innovation that elevated her from struggling dreamer to successful entrepreneur, Joy is a similarly transformative biopic. O Russell takes a story filled with familiar emotional beats and victories and upgrades it into a dreamy, artfully handled opus of triumph and ingenuity.
He confidently juggles surrealism (such as the recurring prominence of a nattily performed soap opera) with grounded authenticity. His knack of bringing dysfunctional families to life while avoiding an overabundance of quirk, as shown in Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, is at its most effective here with a string of perfectly choreographed scenes of domestic chaos. He’s ably assisted by a supporting cast that includes standout turns from Isabella Rossellini, Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen and a wondrously annoying Elisabeth Röhm as Joy’s petty half-sister.
The problem with Jennifer Lawrence at this stage is that she’s so consistently impressive from film to film that her confidence and versatility is often taken for granted. But her performance here is note perfect, proving yet again why her assured grasp of O Russell’s manic energy makes the two perfect bedfellows.
Unlike many lesser films this year (and many a year), Joy works hard for its moments of pleasure, earning its way into our hearts with the same determinism that made the real Mangano a force to be reckoned with. There’s a bounty’s worth of high notes to be savoured here and O Russell makes each one soar by relying on something Joy herself prioritised: the everlasting importance of hard work.
01. Son of Saul