OSCAR: Is 'The Fighter' A Heavyweight?

It has been common wisdom as this awards race moves into full gallop that Best Picture Oscar may come down to The Social Network and The King’s Speech. But, after this week, I believe we may be adding a new heavyweight contender if mounting buzz is any indication. Academy members who are starting to see Paramount/Relativity’s The Fighter, particularly after Monday  night’s premiere, are starting to talk in ways that make Oscar consultants for rival films nervous.  “It’s a great movie, it really is,” one major writer/director told me last night. An exec close to the film’s campaign says the studios are starting to hear this a lot and points out one director branch member who came up after the film and told her, “I think I’ve just seen the Best Picture of the year.”  This exec says , “I know I should be drinking coffee but I am starting to drink my own Kool Aid. I think this thing is really starting to take off.”

At the premiere, stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale came on the Chinese Theatre stage after closing credits to introduce the real life inspirations for the film, Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, and the venue erupted into a big standing ovation. The exec estimates there were about 200 Academy members in attendance which helps make up for the disappointingly low turnout at last Saturday night’s “official” Academy screening. DVD screeners sent to various awards organizations arrived  in the mail on Wednesday.

Now this morning I’ve also exclusively  learned that the Palm Springs International Film Festival will be honoring The Fighter’s director David O.Russell with  the Director of the Year  Award at their annual gala on January 8. Coming as it does right in the heart of Oscar voting, it gives the movie and its helmer some needed momentum. Russell has not always been known as the most popular guy in town, but for the director of movies like Three Kings and I Heart Huckabee (both also featuring Wahlberg), the industry acclaim and acceptance for this “little movie that could”, at least in early screenings and at its premiere, could be a turning point. It’s entirely possible the film could be nominated but fellow directors ignore Russell’s own contribution — which is why any Best Director kudo like this can be helpful to try to steer him into serious contention as well. Of course it’s important that the movie do well at the box office, and it opens in a limited engagement in LA and NY tomorrow followed by its national break on December 17.

  1. Good to see a project with Mark Wahlberg getting serious consideration. He’s been at it for quite some time. All that’s missing is the nod from his peers. Good luck to him.

  2. Totally agree with the buzz, saw The Fighter last night and it brought the house down. Incredible performances by Bale and Leo who are surely going to win the oscars. Black Swan, Social Network and The Fighter are my faves so far this year and I’m hoping to add True Grit to that this Saturday. Good for David O Russel!

  3. It’s nice that “The Fighter” is getting all of this pre-mass screening publicity/hype, including the “well-timed” softball “60 Minutes” interview the other day with Mark Wahlberg, a guy whose moxie and tenacity as a one-time Hollywood outsider-turned-player I really have to respect, no holds barred.

    But really folks, this “Rocky”-lite, self-consciously award-seeking movie is more sizzle than steak. “The Fighter” is wildly uneven and not polished storytelling at all, in the manner of “Cinderella Man” or “Raging Bull” or — dare I say it? — “Hurricane”. The script, to be honest, was a roller coaster ride — and not in the good way at all. Sloppy. Uninspired stretches. Cliches.

    ‘The Fighter’ is, in a word, a pretender. The REAL contender, the celluloid opponent other movies need to look out for, is ‘TRUE GRIT’ . As much as I had reservations about the need to re-do the classic John Wayne Western, the hit-or-miss Coen brothers have created a nice epic that will leave ‘The Fighter’ on the mat muttering to itself.

    (All of this said, the person who really deserves an Oscar is the publicity guru behind ‘The Fighter’ who is making a yeomen’s effort, albeit a mediocre film, stand a fighting chance at bigger glory. That, my friends, is what you call ace marketing!)

    1. Excellent analysis. (I was surprised at what a softball interview 60 mins did…)
      Christian Bale gives his all, as usual, but this movie is not a contender.
      The PR people are the winners on this one.

    2. SAINT comment was DEFINITELY by a rival competitor. No one spends that long writing a comment like that about a good movie like The Fighter.

    3. Couldn’t agree more with Bobby. The movie is wildly uneven. As for being a rival studio exec–then why would he hype “True Grit”?

      No matter how badly Mark Wahlberg wants it and how much he gladhandles, it’s not happening. A nomination at best in a weak year.

      1. Oh also–THE PALM SPRINGS FILM FESTIVAL. As if that’s an indicator of anything, other than the fact they found someone to say yes? Come on.

    4. The fighter is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. I’ve lived in Boston in college and was pretty broke at the time. This resulted in me living in a working class neighborhood and getting to meet people like the family depicted on the film. They are spot on. I feel bad for Mark Wahlberg because this is probably the best performance he has delivered so far, but you don’t notice because Christian Bale is incredible as Dicky.

      I agree that SAINT has to be a competitor. The “uneven” comment is unwarranted.

  4. Bobby the Saint – or better known as “A Planted Paramount Publicist Who’s Afraid of a Little Competition.” Plant!

  5. Mark Wahlberg was mediocre in the film – not bad, just nothing special. But Bale…dude, Bale killed it. He always plays these intense, humorless characters and in this he was funny, charming…he just killed it.

  6. I don’t understand why Hollywood doesn’t make more boxing movies. They all do well. Even the bad ones. I read there’s a Roberto Duran movie in the works. He was the best. That could just be the best boxing movie ever.
    Anyway, hopefully The Fighter would bring my favorite genre back to life. I’m so sick of the generic crap the studios are making today. Everyone is. The Tourist is insulting.

  7. Am I the only one that thinks Mark Wahlberg phoned in his performance? I’m a Wahlberg fan but his performance was lackluster at best and I think it had something to do with the DP…I saw David O. Russel at a q&a and he talked about his DP (who did “Let the Right One”,this was his first American film) and how he removed all the “red” from the film. I think that’s the problem here – Mark doesn’t look flustered or sweaty in any of the fight scenes. Removing the red from a vampire movie works, but not for a boxing film. I thought Christian Bale steals this movie and Mark’s performance and the directing are not their best.

  8. Christian Bale was amazing in this role. Showing the real Dicky Eklund in the credits reinforced even more what a great job Bale did. I hope he gets the Oscar for it.

  9. I was shocked by how much I loved this movie as I was almost taken kicking and screaming, that’s how bored I am by fighting movies. But the heart and soul of this family saga, the performances, filmmaking, Leo and Adams make this so much more than all other boxing movies. Contender for sure.

  10. You ain’t no saint Bobby. You sound like a savvy producer or rival publicist or oscar consultant for one of the other “frontrunners”. I saw TRUE GRIT. It’s boring, but nice spin!

  11. I like David O.
    And frankly I can’t think of a director that does not have his enemies; that comes with the job.
    If he doesn’t get nominated for Best Director then once and for all it will only prove that the Academy Awards are NOT about the films but rather a filmmaker/actor’s popularity; like high school’s king and queen of the prom.

  12. The Fighter is my favorite film of the year. Glad to hear its getting the attention it deserves.

  13. The problem with The Fighter is the Micky Ward character. For much of the film he doesn’t really seem to care whether he wins or loses. I went into this film with high hopes, but was ultimately let down by the wildly uneven script and sometimes cartoonish characterizations. I will say that Bale works his magic, as does Melissa Leo. I could get behind nods for their performances.

  14. Saw this at a screening last month, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Christian Bale – definitely a nomination there. And yes, it is a roller-coaster ride, of the best kind. For me, the best movie of the year. Furthermore, it’s not a REMAKE. What a novel concept.

  15. I saw this movie at AFI and then again at a SAG screening — the film got a standing ovation at the SAG screening too. I loved it even more the second time. This and The Town are, in my opinion, the best movies of the year. But nothing made me feel quite as good as The Fighter. Good for Mark Wahlberg! He deserves the love.

  16. Wahlberg didn’t phone in his performance.
    This project was supposedly very important to him.
    Wahlberg is just not an actor of complexity or one who can convey deep or conflicted emotions.
    He’s trying and God love him for that.
    But he’s just not a very deep actor.

    In THE FIGHTER, he was fine.
    As for Bale, I love him, but I’m growing weary of all the flamboyant exterior affectations he puts into some of his roles. Maybe he needs to became different externally in order to become someone different internally, but seriously enough already.

  17. I thought the fighter was always in contention for the awards. I just wish that Inception was the front runner.

  18. “The Fighter” really surprised me. It is much more than a boxing movie. It’s a story about family, loyalty, and humility. It snuck up on me and I was surprised at how emotionally invested I became in the relationship between the two brothers. Bale is unrecognizable in a good way and if he doesn’t win best supporting for this I will be shocked. Russell’s unique comic touch can be seen especially in the scenes with Micky’s family– his mother (Leo) and his Greek Chorus of bleach blond sisters, who deserve some kind of supporting award of their own. Great great film. And people who say it’s condescending or that the characterizations are overblown have never been to Lowell, MA. It’s spot on!

  19. I saw a screening of the film tonight at the Arclight Sherman Oaks. Best picture – no way! It was a messy script and tried to tell too many stories. The direction swerved all over the place… some fantastic moments leading into some bizarre ones. And it felt like it was three hours long. Definitely would have been better if it had been about Bale’s character instead – WAY more interesting. Bale COMPLETELY blew Wahlberg out of the water, he is absolutely incredible in this. You really see how limited and one-note Marky Mark is an actor. Leo was great as usual.

  20. I’ve liked Black Swan, True Grit, Social Network and King’s Speech best this year but The Fighter would make my top 10 – mainly for the all-round (yes, even Wahlberg) good performances and the extraordinary performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. I know Bale is hated in Hollywood but this one should get him the Supporting Actor Oscar and if it doesn’t it will be this year’s travesty of Oscar justice. Leo also deserves the win i think and will surely at least be a front-running contender. I’m not sold that the film could earn a nom without the aid of the expanded field of 10 though.

    1. Agree with Seth Imis in every way. Decent film, would never make it in a field of 5. But the acting carries it.

  21. After turning away nearly 100 WGA’ers at last night’s AMC screening, they’re certainly not gunning for a script award.

  22. Yeah, I’m confused. The film is very mediocre with great performances. I don’t see this happening. I also think talk of audience reaction has been way overhyped. It definitely has its fans but I’ve seen it twice and neither time got a standing O, even with the cast in attendance.

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