Can Sony Classics land two Best Actor nominations for ‘Foxcatcher?’

I was glued to the Twitter application of my iPhone Sunday night waiting for the reactions to Bennett Miller's “Foxcatcher” to roll in as the film bowed in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. It was interesting to watch the first wave of knee-jerks, all of them just a touch muted, I assume because Miller is not a filmmaker whose movies hit you right away. They kind of seep into you the more you spin away from them, and I got the feeling “Foxcatcher” is absolutely one such example.

We were all more or less expecting something special out of Steve Carell here. From photos and that early trailer that slipped out last fall, it was clear he had undergone a transformation for the role of multimillionaire murderer John du Pont, both physically and professionally. And indeed, all indications are that it is a career-altering portrayal. Here's one juicy description from Guy Lodge's review:

Deftly playing variations on one softly sinister note, Carell”s wittily grotesque performance fashions du Pont as the non-cartoon equivalent of C. Montgomery Burns — his feeble posture and listless, slurry vocal delivery a constant physical riposte to his delusions of grandeur.

But accompanying those huzzahs have been more than a few raves for what Channing Tatum has delivered here. As the impressionable prey to Carell's ego-driven whims, the actor delivers, in the words of Variety critic Justin Chang, “what is easily the most emotionally complex performance of his career, hulking through much of the picture exuding rage, surliness and disappointment.” Plenty have chimed in with the thought that he, too, should be considered in this year's Oscar race. (Here is our own Greg Ellwood's take, with some brief awards analysis.)

The question, though, isn't whether Carell will fall under the lead or supporting category. Variety reported that this decision is still up in the air, but a source confirms to HitFix that the plan for Carell is lead. Rather, the question is whether Tatum will join him for a dual push in the category, and early intimations to me are that he will.

As we all know, this can be an uphill climb. But it's not impossible. Last year's co-lead television movie “Behind the Candelabra” has been brought up enough by way of comparison to “Foxcatcher” to serve as a reminder that dual lead actors can, sometimes, find their way through an awards season. (Michael Douglas won most of the prizes while he was often nominated alongside co-star Matt Damon.) But let's look at the history.

There are actually only 12 instances in 86 years of a film landing two Best Actor nominations, and you have to go all the way back to 1984's “Amadeus” for the most recent example. (On the flip side, there have been five instances of dual Best Actress nominations for a film, with 1991's “Thelma & Louise” being the most recent.) Those are obviously stiff odds. And on top of it, the Oscar season and culture (so to speak) of today is a very different beast. Competition makes it very difficult to squeeze two lead nods out of a picture and that's certainly at least partly why it's been over two decades since we last saw it happen.

In addition to all of this, Sony Pictures Classics already has another hopeful in the category with “Mr. Turner” star Timothy Spall (also drawing raves at Cannes). Not that they haven't always been a sterling example of maintaining a balancing act throughout the season when multiple options are on the table.

Let's be clear that no decision is in stone yet. A lot of things happen on the way to settling on campaign strategy in an Oscar season, and it's not always the distributor making the calls. Movie stars have their own teams making cases for this direction or that (sometimes even to the dismay of studio awards strategists who might know better). And “Foxcatcher” will also have Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures pushing it along, another set of voices in the mix, emboldened by recent awards season successes like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “American Hustle” and “Her.” We'll just have to see what everyone agrees upon.

And needless to say, it's ultimately the actors who will make the final call when they put pencil or pen or magic marker to paper to chalk up their selections in each category. For now, though, assuming the campaign does go ahead with a dual push, this is the exclusive history Sony Classics would be looking to join:

– F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, “Amadeus” (1984)
– Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney, “The Dresser” (1983)
– Peter Finch and William Holden, “Network” (1976)
– Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier, “Sleuth” (1972)
– Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, “Midnight Cowboy” (1969)
– Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole, “Becket” (1964)
– Maximilian Schell and Spencer Tracy, “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961)
– Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, “The Defiant Ones” (1958)
– James Dean and Rock Hudson, “Giant” (1956)
– Montgomery Clift and Burt Lancaster, “From Here to Eternity” (1953)
– Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, “Going My Way” (1945)*
– Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone, “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935)

And here are the ladies, for good measure:

– Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, “Thelma & Louise” (1991)
– Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger, “Terms of Endearment” (1983)
– Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, “Turning Point” (1977)
– Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, “Suddenly, Last Summer” (1959)
– Anne Baxter and Bette Davis, “All About Eve” (1950)

We'll see how “Foxcatcher” navigates the awards season in due time. Perhaps Carell and/or Tatum receive a prize at the festival and help push the issue even more. For now, though, you can get a glimpse of what they're both up to in the clip embedded at the top of this post.

Stay tuned to HitFix/In Contention throughout the week for more as it happens from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

*Barry Fitzgerald was actually nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for “Going My Way,” after which the rules were altered to prevent such a scenario. He won for the latter, allowing the Academy to honor both him and Bing Crosby.