Oscar Moment: “The Fighter”

9 11 2010

“The Fighter” was supposed to be sight unseen until after Thanksgiving, a move that lends a certain amount of prestige and mystery to an Oscar contender.  However, all assumptions are out the window after today’s announcement that it will be shown as a “secret screening” at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles tonight.  So tomorrow, official speculation begins on one of the most buzzed movies of the season.

To begin the chatter, it’s best to start with how this staked out a spot on every pundits top 10 list without anybody laying eyes on it.  “The Fighter” is a prestige December release for Paramount (the studio bringing us “True Grit” in the same month) about the boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg.  Boxing is a very Academy-friendly sport: “Million Dollar Baby” and “Rocky” won Best Picture, “Raging Bull” was nominated, and acting nominations have been bestowed upon “Cinderella Man,” “Ali,” and “The Hurricane.”  Sasha Stone at Awards Daily attempted to figure out why the Academy is so in the ring for boxing and came up with a list of 10 reasons.  Here are the most pertinent:

3. During the fight, it is required that the fighter retreat momentarily to get rubbed down, stitched up, and sponged. During this time, the fighter is warned to back off because “it’s not worth it.” And if that doesn’t work, “cut me.”

5. If the hero does lose, he or she must manage to look like the winner because he or she won at the important stuff:  he or she was a good person and tried hard.  No matter what, never smash a champion belt for the jewels. It’s worth more intact and in its original condition.

7. There has to be something else at stake besides just playing the game. Palpable desperation for financial gain, for instance, personal recognition, a chance to play like the big boys do: nobody likes a rich fighter doing it just for sport.

With those in mind, “The Fighter” seems to be a straight down the Academy checklist movie.  Then again, I said the same thing about Clint Eastwood’s rugby flick “Invictus” last year, and it didn’t fare too well.  So is it really just the subject matter that gives us faith in the movie?  It’s certainly not because of David O. Russell, whose movies have hardly been a hit with the Academy in the past.  To make matters worse, Anne Thompson puts Russell in a category with Mel Gibson for despised people in Hollywood.  His quarrels with actors have been well-documented thanks to sites like YouTube, and Thompson says that the movie would have to be really good for people to get over the fact that he directed it.

I think the actors are the big selling point of the movie.  Mark Wahlberg is four years removed from a much-deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination for ‘The Departed,” and he tried to get back in the race last year for “The Lovely Bones” (which stunk and accordingly flopped).  The leading role of boxer Ward will offer up some meaty material for the actor to sink his teeth into, and as long as he does a good job, I don’t see what could keep someone like Wahlberg out of Best Actor.  He’s a likable actor who has a great success story of his own.  Besides, look at the boxing movies I listed that have found Oscar success.  With the exception of “Cinderella Man,” the movie’s main boxer has been nominated.  Swank and DeNiro won.

The movie also has three supporting performances that could each be big movers in the Oscar race this year, particularly given how volatile both fields are.  Christian Bale took off all the Batman brawn and went skinny for his role as Dickie Eklund, Micky’s older brother and trainer.  It’s really more of a co-lead from what I hear, and according to a nice chart laid out by Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience, one can learn that those were quite popular over the past decade.

Eklund also struggles with substance abuse, and addicts are another Academy favorite.  This category saw nominees Benicio del Toro in “21 Grams” as a reformed alcoholic, Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways” as a promiscuous wine enthusiast, Eddie Murphy in “Dreamgirls” as a recreational cocaine user, and Josh Brolin in “Milk” as the man who can’t put down the Twinkies.  Bale is playing a role that screams “OSCARS” from the rooftops; like Russell, he has a temper issue that people will have to forgive for him to go the extra mile.

Two-time nominee Amy Adams and one-time nominee Melissa Leo will both try to crack the Best Supporting Actress field, and given the year, both of them could make it provided that “The Fighter” is a big threat across the board.  This is a category especially friendly to doubly nominated movies; in six out of the last ten years, one movie has received two Best Supporting Actress nominations.  With “For Colored Girls” almost entirely out of the picture, this could be the only movie to swoop down and grab two spots.

But if there’s only one, I have a feeling it will go to Melissa Leo.  She was a surprise nominee back in 2008 for “Frozen River,” and the Academy picked her up out of obscurity and put her on the map.  That means they like her and want her to succeed.  From early buzz, she has a showier role as the mother of Wahlberg and Bale than Adams has as Wahlberg’s love interest.  Looking over the past decade of nominees, maternal figures, good or bad, show up a lot.  (Just for fun, Mo’Nique was the last bad mom to win, Jennifer Connelly was the last good mom to win.)

The movie could also score nominations in technical categories like editing, cinematography, and makeup because boxing movies require a lot of orchestration with the camera to make the fights coherent.  But the big question remains if this could be a Best Picture nominee.  It’s been assumed for months now, but it can’t stay hidden any longer.  Soon we will see the true colors.

We aren’t entirely dry on news about “The Fighter” as a whole; the movie showed at ShowEast for theater owners and won raves according to Steve Pond at The Wrap.  These aren’t Oscar prognosticators, but Pond said the consensus was that it would be a “likely Best Picture nominee, with a pair of performances that will definitely figure into the Supporting Actor and Actress races.”  We will know a lot more tomorrow, but until then, we sit back and predict.  And wait.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress (Leo), Best Film Editing

OTHER POTENTIAL NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Adams), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup


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2 responses

10 11 2010
Stu

It’s so good to see Christian Bale taking interesting roles again. Will the movie be nominated? Let’s hope so.

13 11 2010
CMrok93

This looks so good, I’m just hoping that Bale get’s that Oscar nomination that he so rightfully deserves honestly.

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