With Joker stunning everyone by winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, it’s now a legitimate contender in the race for Best Picture at the Oscars. Now that the summer movie season is in the rearview mirror, attention has turned to the awards race and which films are legitimate contenders this year. The fall brings about several high profile festivals, including Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, where many of the Oscar hopefuls screen in an effort to generate buzz. Warner Bros. made the somewhat surprising decision to premiere Joker in-competition in Venice, evidently confident in what they had.
It turns out WB was smart. Joker received rave reviews out of Venice, with some people going so far as to call it a masterpiece that will transcend its genre. Joaquin Phoenix’s transformative turn as Arthur Fleck was an aspect that earned heavy praise, firmly putting him in the Best Actor conversation. Of course, Joker is proving to be a very divisive film due to its approach and subject matter, but the general consensus seems to be it’s an excellent work that could make some noise on the awards circuit. And it’s already scored one major win.
Yesterday, it was announced Joker won the Golden Lion at Venice, which is the festival’s highest honor. Historically, there isn’t much correlation between Venice and the Oscars; the Golden Lion isn’t like Toronto’s People’s Choice award where the winner is basically guaranteed a slot in the Best Picture field. However, that hasn’t been the case in recent years. Prior to Joker, the last two recipients of the Golden Lion – The Shape of Water and Roma – were nominated for the Oscars’ top prize. The Shape of Water won Best Picture two years ago.
So, right now, Joker has to be considered a realistic Oscar contender. There’s still an awfully long way to go and several more precursors to get through, but winning Venice was extremely fruitful for both The Shape of Water and Roma. The former netted 13 nominations (winning 4) and the latter scored 10 (winning 3). Roma probably came very close to winning Best Picture last year, though it still took home Best Director. This isn’t to say Joker is going to lead the pack in nominations at the 2020 Oscars, but its prospects got a massive boost over the weekend. The Venice win is going to embolden WB during the Oscar campaign, and they were probably already planning on giving Joker a huge push. Bypassing Comic-Con for the festival circuit was proof of that, and WB isn’t alone in thinking Joker has what it takes to be a prominent Oscar player.
Joker stands a good chance to be nominated, but winning is something else entirely. The Academy votes for Best Picture using a preferential ballot, meaning members rank the nominees based on their personal preference. This system can benefit films that are generally “well-liked” by all over works that are more polarizing, which is where Joker may hit a roadblock. Joker hasn’t been released to the general public yet, and it’s become a lightning rod for controversy. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like the film that could score a plethora of second and third place votes on a preferential ballot, which are essentially necessary to win. The Shape of Water and Roma weren’t nearly as divisive as Joker is shaping up to be, but perhaps the film industry professionals who vote on the Oscars feel otherwise and will give it a ton of support.