Is ‘The Fighter’ a late season Oscar contender or pretender?

09.20.10 8 years ago 13 Comments

Unlike the past few awards seasons, a majority of this year’s serious contenders such as “The Social Network,” “Black Swan,” “127 Hours” and “The King’s Speech” will have been screened for critics and media pundits by Oct. 1.  And, of course, that doesn’t even take into account films already released such as “Inception,” “Toy Story 3” and “The Kids Are All Right.”  There are, however, a few last minute holdouts that are hoping to crash the party in Dec.  One of those is Paramount Picture’s true-life boxing story, “The Fighter.”

Perhaps one of David O. Russell’s last shots of maintaining a Hollywood directing career, “Fighter” tells the true story of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and how his half-brother, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), trailed him early in his career while battling a crack cocaine addiction.  The film also features key supporting roles from Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.  You can get a taste for what is being sold as a commercial endeavor from the film’s first trailer embedded in this post.  Make no mistake, though, this picture is also being positioned for a long box office run with awards kudos in mind.

It goes without saying that Paramount was extremely disappointed last year’s best picture nominee, “Up in Air,” didn’t take home even one Academy Award statue after landing six nominations.  The Jason Reitman film had been lauded since it debuted at Telluride and Toronto the previous September and as the months went by, it slowly faded to the background from expected frontrunner status (that’s why it’s akin to a political campaign, things change).  And no matter how hard the studio worked, they couldn’t finds a way into what became an inevitable “Avatar” vs. “Hurt Locker” showdown.  Of course, “Air” probably wouldn’t have come close to its $83 million gross without the constant publicity attention of awards season, but that hardly soothes fragile industry egos.  This year, it appears Paramount wants to try it’s hand later in the game for both “The Fighter” and the Coen Bros. remake of “True Grit” as both films debut only weeks before the end of the year. Whether that strategy works for “The Fighter” critically and commercially remains to be seen. “Grit” probably won’t matter either way, but the “Fighter” is a wildcard.

The filmmaker’s biggest concern needs to be that true-life boxing stories haven’t necessarily fared well with Oscar since “Raging Bull” (which still lost the best picture award to “Ordinary People”).  “Hurricane” and “Ali” are two examples where history didn’t help a contender.  Sure, “Million Dollar Baby” won a slew of statues, but it didn’t have the confines of history on its side.  What’s expected to seriously assist “Fighter” and make it a true contender is Bale’s transformative performance and excellent turns by previous nominees Adams and Leo (or at least what is being whispered about town).  What hasn’t been heard is significant buzz for Wahlberg. That doesn’t mean “The Departed” star isn’t good in “The Fighter,” but he may be unfortunately overshadowed by his counterparts.  That means he’ll most likely need the movie to be a major triumph to land his second nomination. 

And as for Russell, after the on set drama of 2004’s”I Heart Huckabees” and the insane producer’s battle over the still unfinished and unreleased “Nailed,” Russell may have more counting on “The Fighter” than anyone else.  And in his world, good reviews and strong box office will mean more than any award season love.

Look for more on “The Fighter” and “True Grit” over the months to come on Awards Campaign.

“The Fighter” opens in limited release on Dec. 10 and then, just in time for Golden Globe and SAG Awards nominations, it expands nationwide on Dec. 17.

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