Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Is the Success of "Foxcatcher" at Cannes Going to Help Its Oscar Chances?

Left to right: Channing Tatum and Steve Carell
It seems to be a running gag in Hollywood right now of highly anticipated films getting pushed back. Most recently, Andy and Lana Wachowski's Jupiter Ascending was moved back to 2015 within months of release. However, the real champion of the "Pushed Back Channing Tatum Films" list (and there has been a handful) appears to be Foxcatcher. After it was held back last year, my expectations were lowered significantly. While I enjoyed quoting the attached trailer (which has since been removed), there was little to grab me. However, after last month's Cannes Film Festival, things are looking up for the the latest film from director Bennett Miller. It actually may stand a chance as a serious Oscar contender.

I know it is wrong to assume that films that are pushed back are doomed. The reality is that while I have the assumption of these films falling into obscurity, not too many actually do. Consider The Wolf of Wall Street moving a few months back or even The Great Gatsby before that (or Shutter Island before that in the completion of the "Pushed Back Leonardo DiCaprio Trilogy"). The fact is that I can complain, but I sincerely enjoy those films a lot. In fact, there has only been one truly disappointing film to be held back: The Monuments Men. After doing phenomenal work with The Ides of March, it was disappointing to see George Clooney direct such a lackluster film. It is probably the shining example of why I was skeptical about Foxcatcher after the delays.

Of course, one of the biggest differences between those films and Foxcatcher is that none of them necessarily have the benefit of premiering at Cannes and then winning a Best Director award along the way as well as a nomination for the Palme d'Or. There's already plenty of steam building for the film, especially with the additional reports that this is likely to get Steve Carell into the Oscar race. Of course, that isn't a far fetched scenario for a Miller film. Consider his previous film Moneyball, which saw Jonah Hill receive his first nomination for Best Supporting Actor. While Hill has long been considered a comedic actor, it appears that Miller's pedigree brings out something that the Academy likes. If the pattern holds up, Carell is likely to join these ranks.

For those who haven't seen the trailer, or simply need an update, here it is:

It gets all of the points across. It plays like a teaser trailer for a David Fincher film: loud, obnoxious guitars over mysterious images. Along with that innocuous and creepy voice that Carell is doing, the wrestling is the least unnerving thing about this trailer. It encapsulates paranoia and excitement without giving away the ending, though people familiar with the real life event likely know how things play out. While it is evident in the trailer, here is the film's plot according to IMDb:
"Based on the true story of Mark Schultz, an Olympic wrestler whose relationship with mentor John du Pont and brother Dave Schultz would lead to unlikely circumstances."
The trailer plays like an espionage thriller and while Carell looks like he is doing something different, the trailer doesn't entirely highlight its positives. Of course, what makes the film overall a must see beyond its Cannes awards and pedigree is Miller himself. While the director is no stranger to the Oscars, having both of his feature narratives (Capote and Moneyball) present in the Best Picture category, he has made a niche for himself finding ways to embrace contemporary American culture in exciting ways. Capote remains a triumph that many recognize as one of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's best films. Even if I didn't care for Moneyball, there is also an audience who still talks about it. To say the least, Miller's films feel important not just in that given year, but for the duration of cinema. He plays like a more psychological Alexander Payne in some ways. 

So what are the film's chances? It is too early to really tell, but if the news coming out of Cannes is hyping Carell's performance, I am willing to hold it to a higher regard. The trailer persuades me to believe that this could be the case, with the most applicable comparison being Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs (which he won Best Actor for). He is diabolical yet peaceful. I am not entirely sure if we should count out Channing Tatum just yet, even if there hasn't been considerable buzz around him. He is in a field similar to that of Jennifer Lawrence: likable young star who makes accessible films. This may be the "turn" that he needs to get nominated. 

Is the subject matter going to be too much? Likely not. The film looks to be at its core about sports, which may turn some voters off. However, it is also about the Olympics, which is one of the rarified subject matters to win in the Best Picture race. Chariots of Fire (or my least favorite Best Picture winner to date) covered the track and field story while inspiring hope. It does seem unlikely that due to the film's dark subject matter that Foxcatcher will win Best Picture. However, I don't see it being ignored given the category's 5-10 sliding scale. Unless the Academy is recognizing 12 Years a Slave's win as a chance to award films with more challenging subject matter, I doubt that this could win without something more intense.

Also, it is too early to really tell what the competition is. Yes, we have Jersey Boys coming out soon that MAY prove a threat. We also can presume that Interstellar's Fall release will impact its reputation in the race. However, what other films are looking to be applicable competitors at this point? Not too many have shown themselves. Even then, Foxcatcher does have the threat of being in a similar camp to that of last year's Rush, which was a sports film that got completely ignored at Oscar season despite the director being the highly respected Ron Howard. There's a lot of variables that I am likely to revisit as the release date gets close. As for now, I am taking the Cannes win as a sign of great things to come for Miller and Carell, and I wouldn't be surprised if Tatum joined those ranks soon enough.

Is Foxcatcher capable of getting Bennett Miller a Best Director statue? Is the film's subject matter too creepy for potential wins? Will Channing Tatum prove to be a surprise nominee?

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