As Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker tends to put it, mornings like these always turn out to be bittersweet. Because for all of the attention that movies like “Foxcatcher,” “Leviathan,” “Still Alice” and “Whiplash” may have received from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – a nice cross-section representing the diversity of the SPC slate – there are others like “Mr. Turner,” “Saint Laurent” and “Wild Tales” left on the sidelines. But “Foxcatcher” in particular is surging as of late, no thanks to the early critics groups that have virtually ignored the film.
“Every year and every film is a different thing – no one knows that better than you,” Barker says. “I've had movies that have won critics awards out the wazoo that don't get recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Oscars. We've had films that have been recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Oscars that have not been recognized by the critics. There's a factor of unpredictability here and you take this stuff as it comes. When we brought 'Foxcatcher' to Cannes, we didn't have any idea whether Bennett Miller was going to win the best director prize or not. We had real confidence in the quality of the film, which we continue to have. It's a quality drama in so many departments – direction, writing, acting, editing, makeup – and the fact is, you hope all of that manifests itself into attention.”
Nevertheless, I tell him, as a fan of what Miller achieved and the exactitude of craft on display, I'm let down by the film's critics awards showing so far. It's a movie that seemed a bona fide critical darling set for year-end kudos. If anything, surely we'd have been able to count on them for attention.
“To be honest with you, I appreciate guys like you who say that,” he says. “Because that's your job, to analyze things and say what you think. It's very deserving, of course, and we agree with you. But I think it's a movie that's getting a lot of attention, and it will get more as we continue to move forward.”
One unfortunate blind spot for many who have nominated it or recognized it so far is Channing Tatum's slow burn, incredibly controlled performance. Naturally, it's difficult to stand out opposite someone like Steve Carell, who has such a showier and more outwardly expressive (though no less inwardly tormented) character to play. But Barker and his team have been dogged about maintaining a co-lead campaign for the duo ever since the strategy was first reported by HitFix after the film's Cannes debut.
“And we're going to be relentless on it until the last day,” he says, “because both of those actors give phenomenal performances. Not unlike when you look at movies like 'Midnight Cowboy' or 'Amadeus' or 'Thelma & Louise,' these are two lead actors giving spectacular performances. Channing has great reviews and we are certainly highlighting that in the campaign. But this year the Best Actor category is filled with so many possibilities, and there's no single frontrunner. So there are a lot of actors that are under the bubble.”
Elsewhere, a film like “Whiplash” is really taking off as an industry favorite, though that love has only really surfaced as recognition for J.K. Simmons' performance so far. Still, it remains a definite possibility in the Best Picture race, and Damien Chazelle could even factor into the Best Director category at the end of the day. One would imagine any filmmaker would look at what the wunderkind has accomplished and have a great deal of respect for the confidence and vision, and Barker, of course, has his fingers crossed both for Chazelle and for Miller.
“I don't think it's by accident that quite often there's a difference in the directors' category between what the Hollywood Foreign Press nominates and what the Oscars nominate,” he says. “That difference has to do with the fact that you have directors passing judgment on directors [at the Academy Awards]. That's a whole different dynamic, you know? Remember two years ago when people thought Michael Haneke did not have a chance? And those directors put him in there for Best Director. They don't consider the same things that the journalists do.”
“Foxcatcher” and “Whiplash” are both now playing in theaters.