'Tis the Season: 'Foxcatcher', 'Big Eyes' Latest Oscar Contenders Under Attack

Oscar voting opened Monday, and like clockwork, the haters have come calling. As Deadline’s Pete Hammond wrote on Monday, ’tis the season for controversy over fact-based awards contenders: Now, Bennett Miller’s real-life Olympian tragedy Foxcatcher and Tim Burton’s art exposé Big Eyes have joined MLK Jr. drama Selma, the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken in ducking for cover over accuracy issues in mixing fact-based stories with narrative structure.

Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, who’s played by Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher, publicly supported the Foxcatcher-tatum-carellfilm through its November theatrical release. That changed drastically in a series of angry online rants this week as Schultz turned on the Golden Globe-nominated pic, which won Miller the Best Director prize at Cannes. He blasted Miller and the film on Facebook after he read reviews dwelling on the suggestion of a sexual relationship between him and John du Pont (Steve Carell), who shot his brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) to death in 1996 after hiring the brothers to lead his wrestling team:

“Leaving the audience with a feeling that somehow there could have been a sexual relationship between du Pont and I is a sickening and insulting lie. I told Bennett Miller to cut that scene out and he said it was to give the audience the feeling that duPont was encroaching on your privacy and personal space. I wasn’t explicit so I didn’t have a problem with it. Then after reading 3 or 4 reviews interpreting it sexually, and jeopardizing my legacy, they need to have a press conference to clear the air, or I will.”

Foxcatcher‘s scenes are mostly straight out of my book (except a few),” Schultz tweeted on Monday. “But the relationships and personalities are complete fiction. They’re based on a kernel of truth but not much more than that. Dave was no saint. I was articulate. du Pont was dirtier… Pretty lousy what the director did to my character huh?”

Related ‘Foxcatcher’s Bennett Miller On Wrestling with Psychosis And Dislocated People In His Nonfiction Films

In interviews that included one that Miller did with Deadline at the Toronto Film Festival, the filmmaker

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher

was respectfully circumspect in describing the relationship between du Pont and Mark Schultz. Any creepiness in their scenes comes from du Pont and his ambiguous motives, particularly juxtaposed with the warmup scenes between Mark and Dave Schultz, which wordlessly convey a graceful relationship between brothers. It was a scene so powerful that it prompted Miller to cut 25 pages of dialogue out of the script. Miller must feel terrible about Mark Schultz’s outburst, since he, Tatum and Ruffalo relied so much on the Schultz family in creating the haunting portrait.


Miller has company in playing defense this Oscar season, and there is a long tradition of movies coming under attack, some possibly fanned by distributors behind rival films. A Beautiful Mind won Best Picture Image (10) ZeroDarkThirty-500x281__130209083334-275x154.jpg for post 426303despite charges of anti-Semitism leveled at its subject, mathematician John Nash. Two years ago, Argo withstood some accuracy attacks to win Best Picture; rival film Zero Dark Thirty, saw its Oscar chances torpedoed after three U.S. senators including John McCain disputed the characterization that waterboarding and other interrogation techniques helped elicit intelligence that led to locating 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Also coming out on the losing end of controversy was the Denzel Washington starrer The Hurricane, about wrongly convicted former boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. In the instances of films that got hurt, filmmakers didn’t challenge the disputed claims early, or strongly, enough. It will be intriguing to see how filmmakers and distributors in the current Oscar race handle the brickbats.

Paramount’s Selma, the critically acclaimed account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Selma-Selma Bradford Youngto-Montgomery civil rights marches of 1965, weathered a volley on Monday — just as the Oscar polls opened — over its suggestion that President Lyndon Johnson didn’t quite step eagerly up to the plate to help out King and his cohorts in their quest for equal voting rights. That’s according to two of Selma‘s harshest critics, who also happen to be protectors of Johnson’s legacy: Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library, and Joseph Califano Jr., President Johnson’s top assistant for domestic affairs from 1965-69. More dissenting voices came forward in today’s New York Times.

Selma helmer DuVernay, the first black woman director to be nominated for a Golden Globe, responded on Twitter: “The notion that Selma was LBJ’s idea is jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.”

Selma Mayor George P. Evans touched on the topic in a quote issued with a Paramount press release today about the film opening in his town, “We must keep in mind that the movie is just that, a movie, and not a documentary.

THE IMITATION GAMELikewise, The Weinstein Co.’s  has been scrutinized by historians who argue the film, directed by Morten Tyldum and scripted by Graham Moore, beefs up Turing’s contributions to England’s codebreaking exploits, his relationship with female analyst Joan Clarke and the degree to which he might have placed on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum in the name of artistic license.

Unbroken, Universal’s biopic of Olympian-turned-WWII POW Louis Zamperini, has shouldered criticism in Japan for the depiction of brutality at the hands of Japanese soldiers. And there also has been some questioning whether Zamperini’s ordeal that included Unbroken47 days floating in a life raft after his plane crashed. As for the prison camp torture, the criticism is aimed at the 2010 book by historian Laura Hillenbrand, who previously wrote Seabiscuit. Said Hiromichi Moteki of Japanese nationalist group the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, per the Telegraph: “It’s pure fabrication. If there is no verification of the things he said, then anyone can make such claims. This movie has no credibility and is immoral.” A petition to boycott the film has 9,420 signatures. In an interview with Deadline, producer Matt Baer, who spent 17 years working to get Zamperini’s story told on film, said Zamperini — who died in July at 97 — found many disbelievers when he told the story of his iron spirit; landing a top-flight historian like Hillenbrand to validate his claims meant everything to him, the producer said.

The other new film facing claims of accuracy is Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, The Weinstein Co. picture that stars Amy Adams as Margaret Keane and Christoph Waltz as her ex-husband Walter in the bizarre tale bigeyes1about who painted the famed “Big Eyed” waif portraits that during the 1950s became one of the first examples of mass-merchandised artwork. Margaret won a 1986 slander suit against her ex after she claimed to have generated the artwork he took credit for during their marriage. The controversy, and even the notion of whether the Big Eyes portraits were legitimate art or schlock, presented all the makings of a Tim Burton film. Walter took his claims of ownership to his grave in 2000 at age 85, despite a stirring courtroom conclusion depicted in the film and the fact he never painted another picture after he split with Margaret. Now, he’s got someone to carry that torch in his estranged daughter Susan Keane. Days before The Weinstein Co. opened Big Eyes on Christmas Day, she launched the website Bigeyesmovie.com, blasting Margaret’s lack of original artistic ideas and her “false claims” against Walter.

“Despite our best efforts, the Keane Family has been unsuccessful in opening a dialogue with the creators of the film Big Eyes,” the site says. “All of our communications to date have gone unanswered. We are here to dispel the myths perpetuated by the media.” Susan Keane argues her own training as a painter and relationship with the Keanes makes her uniquely qualified to discern who deserves credit for the paintings. The website is also now promoting a new documentary on the “truth” behind the Big Eyes.

Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski say they were never contacted by anyone identifying themselves as Susan Keane, whose anti-Big Eyes website seems to draw heavily on Walter’s own memoirs. “It’s recommended reading – we did look at that book, but it did not logically make sense. We were telling Margaret’s story,” said the writers, who spent a decade working on the heavily researched project. “Her story makes complete sense. Walter lived till 2000 and had 35 years to produce another painting but didn’t. It’s hard to take Walter’s version of events seriously on any level.”

Musician Matthew Sweet, a collector of Keane art who served as consultant on the film, agrees. When he Big Eyesbegan a years-long obsession with the Keane paintings, he believed Walter’s claims. After closely studying hundreds of originals, a brush with Walter himself changed Sweet’s mind after he purchased a Keane waif painting from Walter that was dated 1985. “One night I lightly took my thumbnail on the 8, and there was a 6 underneath it,” Sweet told me via phone from Nebraska. “He re-dated a real Margaret painting to try to claim he painted it that year. The propaganda of Walter is so strong you want to believe it, but there is not a single piece of art from him before he met Margaret or after they divorced.”

Still, Alexander and Karaszewski say they’ll gladly speak with Susan Keane about her concerns over the film, which Margaret has seen and supported publicly.

Said Alexander, “To us, there is no mystery,”.

  1. This is sadly hilarious. They’re upset that John DuPont, a murderer, is portrayed as a possible homosexual? I mean, this is another example of how deeply horrified people can still be about gayness. Okay to be a murderer but not a closeted gay? Are they listening to themselves?

    1. I think Shultz is upset that he (himself) is being seen as someone who is possibly gay. I think his anger comes from critics making that assessment in some of their reviews.

      1. I was absolutely convinced the relationship was gay. But since I remember the events of the time I’m not putting gayness ahead of murder as a behavior not to be emulated. Get with the program, Jack.

  2. Nationalism is hugely on the upswing in Japan, so it’s not a surprise that certain groups there are trying to dispute the depth of Japan’s brutality during the war. But the historical record disagrees with them.

  3. Maybe they should stop giving out awards period. Just have a show that celebrates films without winners. How ridiculous it is that adults act this way. Trying to tarnish a film. They are films not documentaries. Films take some poetic license. Not saying they shouldn’t be as truthful as possible.

    I’m tired of the Awards season and it hasn’t started. We have Movie bloggers trashing movies because they are a threat to their favorite films. We have people in other countries pissed because the truth of their history is not as glorious as they would want; same with any country. People going on twitter rants threatening to harm another person. CRAZY.. just CRAZY. Not to mention sites being very biased in giving some actors more attention than others.. Not fair.

    I wish it was all over now.. just makes it all so seedy and unwatchable.

    1. I agree that the whole oscars awards season thing is extremely political…and this could be a potential blow to some major contenders, namely Foxcatcher and Selma..

      ..that being said, mark Schultz does not strike me as someone who cares at all about Oscar politics and timing his words around awards voting ‘season’..but who knows?

  4. Big Eyes deserves to get a full frontal attack, because it was ripped off from an article written by veteran publisher Adam Parfey of Feral House WITH Walter Keane in 1991 in The San Diego Reader. He was ripped off and never once received any compensation for his source material.

    Google “San Diego Reader The Keanes”, the 3rd article down is a Huffington Post article which clearly states that Adam Parfey and Walter Keane wrote an article that brought The Keane story into the zeitgeist.

    But this isn’t the first time Tim Burton ripped off Adam Parfey. He first took him in 1994 when he made Ed Wood, with material based on “NIGHTMARE OF ECSTASY” The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. by Rudolph Grey. Tim Burton is pretty adept at turning other people’s work into his own, and taking all the credit for it.

    1. Adam Parfrey and Walter Keane don’t own the life of Margaret Keane. Margaret Keane does. They were her rights to sell. More men trying to take credit for something that I sn’t theirs.

    2. Simmer down, Tweety. BIG EYES is wholly the creation of its writer/producers, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, who worked on it for over a decade. Burton agreed to direct the film for them because they couldn’t get the financing if they directed it themselves. So he’s entirely blameless of any perceived “theft.” In any event, as for Walter, he was a con artist and a fraud and it was proven seven ways from Sunday; the trial transcript is more than sufficient proof.

  5. That’s a misleading headline. There is no Big Eyes controversy. There is a disgruntled relative of the discredited husband without any proof.

  6. Um, well…I saw Foxcatcher and that relationship is big part of the narrative arc…so…I’m wondering about the story now.

  7. I wonder about the authenticity of unbroken..it’s such an unbelievable story, u wonder how the books author went about verifying everything she was told by zamparini himself..

    I don’t fault the movie though, the screenplay was adapted from the book so if there were any inaccuracies it was by the author.

    1. There are many vets that have validated the accounts. The book was well researched.

      sometimes events in life can see unbelievable. But they are infact true. This is one of those cases.

      Mr. Zamperini was a remarkable man that showed how remarkable we all have the capability of being.

    2. Of course, because we all know – and accept – that screenwriters never make changes when adapting a book and never take artistic license.

  8. Well I’ve seen Unbroken, Imitation Game, and Big Eyes, they all work as dramatic features with excellent performances by all the leads and supporting actors. I read Unbroken and met Zamparini once to shake his hand in awe, and there is no way Laura Hilldebrand spent a decade making things up from such an extraordinary life, there is no way the film can encompass all that he endured or witnessed and survived.

    I can’t speak to the veracity in The Imitation Game but I thought Cumberbatch was outstanding in this role, and I found his portrayal very moving.

    As to Big Eyes, i saw the filmmakers speak, they spent 11 years trying to get this film made with tenuous rights granted from Margaret Keane 11 years ago that were renewed for over a decade!

    So if his daughter wants to make a claim a week or two before the film opens, and dispute the life lived by the woman who actually did the work, then that’s her right as his child.

    But anyone who studies this story will know it’s revisionist history. They had to tone DOWN her dad’s insane courtroom antics in the film, as they wouldn’t be believable. So a lack of accuracy isn’t something you can level at this film. In fact, it smacks of desperation as the story is both incredible and verified by the people who lived it that are still alive and working!

    As i suspect with most of these films, they are fact based that by necessity leave out a few due to time and dramatic narrative issues.

    That rival studios start this trash talk is just depressing. It’s hard enough to get films made and seen. There are 10 slots for Best Picture. No reason to trash anyone’s film that is competing at this level. I vote on Sag Awards and this BS just makes me more determined to reward films that suffer this sort of unnecessary maligning.

  9. I remember asking a friend doing stage acting how she could be so fearless to go onto a stage knowing that people would be evaluating everything she did, she said it’s just not something a person can worry about or
    it will keep them from doing anything.

  10. Everyone has an axe to grind. The weirdest one is Schultz denouncing Foxcatcher at this late date because of some reviews that offended him. What are the filmmakers to do now? DuPont is the certainly the weird villain of the piece but hey the Schultz bros got involved with him. Seems like an uncomfortable I’ve reaction. “I hate Bennett Miller!”? Down boy!

  11. seems like sound logic. a film is nominated for an award. someone says something negative about said film. film doesn’t win award. so ipso facto
    negative statement caused the film not to win.

  12. To writer Jen Yamato: you call these people Haters. I have to ask you – are they ‘haters’ or, in some cases perhaps, people who were part of the historical context/story – who are trying to correct the record? You really have to ask – “What was really true?” Isn’t that the point? beyond winning any awards?

    1. c’mon, larry everybody knows haters is a term for people who say something about you you cant directly disagree with.

  13. Best Picture winner ‘A Beautiful Mind’ so grossly misrepresents John Nash’s history that it really shouldn’t have used the man’s name, and does a disservice to the cause of mental health treatment by showing the most serious cases as something that can be overcome rather than as a gravely disabling condition. Hollywood’s power to shape opinion and rewrite history is a powerful tool with real-life consequences.

  14. LBJ was one of the lead attackers against Eisenhower’s attempt to pass an equal rights amendment during the 1950s. So good on Selma for not protraying LBJ like he was all for equal rights all the time.

    1. People don’t go to movies to watch facts, they go to movies to watch stories. Shultz would be well advised to check himself – he may have already destroyed his own legacy.

  15. Bennett Miller is simply ignorant and didn’t respect Mark Schultz:

    The homoeroticism IS intentional because John DuPont was a closeted homosexual. Another athlet left his organization because he made sexual advances on him:

    “Du Pont, who had also provided the funds for Villanova University to build an athletic arena and start a wrestling program in 1986, was let go two years later after facing charges of sexual abuse and other indiscretions. The program was dropped. One of those charges came from another Villanova coach, who said that he was fired because he had refused du Pont’s homosexual advances.”

    I understand why the filmmakers wanted to include that part of the story because it makes for a richer film and colorful character, but why did they need to merge that person, who made the claims, with Mark Schultz’ character?

    I understand that Schultz is offended by such suggestions.

    Why don’t they simply remove the “based on a true story” lies
    and remove his producer’s credit?

    But it’s dishonest to pretend “Foxcatcher” is ‘his’ story.

  16. They left American Sniper out of this. Wonder why. The real Chris Kyle was not above outright lying in the service of his own self-mythologizing and he was not above rank bigotry either (this quote from his book: “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.” )

    1. Absolutely correct. He spun one whopper after another, each more outrageous than the last. But he’s getting a pass, mostly because of the respect people have for Eastwood.

  17. What do the Oscars have to do with historical accuracy? Has inaccuracy ever before prevented a film from being nominated?

    Is this even an issue? Seriously?

  18. WTF!!!! How about a Big SPOILER ALERT warning next time?!?! You’ve ruined Foxcatcher for me. Thanks idiots!

  19. My father, now 94, served with the Marines in the Pacific theater during WWII. He can most assuredly attest to the brutality of the Japanese military. Japanese revisionists may want to attempt to change history, but there is too much evidence out there. They are no different than the Holocaust deniers on the German side.

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