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.