After successful screenings at Telluride and Toronto and a Cannes Best Director award for Bennett Miller, this much is certain: “Foxcatcher” is a bona fide Oscar contender. With its three strong performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, economical direction from Miller, and tightly written script from E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, this true-crime saga about eccentric billionaire-turned-murderer John du Pont’s (Carell) obsession with an Olympic gold-medalist wrestler (Tatum) and his brother (Ruffalo) should receive multiple nominations, including Picture, Director, and Screenplay.
Both of Millers previous films – “Capote” (2005) and “Moneyball” (2011) – contended for Best Picture, and “Capote” won a Best Actor prize for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Brad Pitt received a nod for “Moneyball” as well, so if there’s one thing Miller’s good at, it’s getting his leading men nominated, so you can bet the farm on that as well.
Yet the real question isn’t whether or not “Foxcatcher” will receive a Best Actor nod, but whether or not it can receive two?
A nod for Carell is almost a done deal – as of now, he’s ranked 3rd among our Experts with odds of 4/1. Yet Tatum isn’t even in our top 10! How could that be? After all, the film is more or less told from his perspective, and he undergoes as dramatic a character arc as Carell.
Only 12 films have received more than one bid in the Best Actor category:
“Mutiny on the Bounty”: Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone (1935)
“Going My Way”: Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald (1944)
“From Here to Eternity”: Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift (1953)
“Giant”: James Dean, Rock Hudson (1956)
“The Defiant Ones”: Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier (1958)
“Judgment at Nuremberg”: Maximilian Schell, Spencer Tracy (1961)
“Becket”: Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole (1964)
“Midnight Cowboy”: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight (1969)
“Sleuth”: Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier (1972)
“Network”: Peter Finch, William Holden (1976)
“The Dresser”: Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney (1983); and
“Amadeus”: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce (1984).
That’s only 12 times in the 86 years of the Oscars. Why so few?
Simply put, the Best Actor race is just too crowded every year. It’s especially difficult nowadays with so many films competing for so few spaces. Part of the reason these films were able to gain more than one lead nomination was their overall popularity with the Academy: 11 of the 12 – the exception being “Sleuth” – were Best Picture nominees with five – “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Going My Way,” “From Here to Eternity,” “Midnight Cowboy,” and “Amadeus” – winning that top prize.
So “Foxcatcher” has got to prove extremely popular with the voters if it wants to secure two of those coveted spots. Add to that the fact that Carell really has the showier role, with a prosthetic nose that could rival the Oscar-winning one employed by Nicole Kidman in 2002’s “The Hours” (look for that nose to gain some traction in the Hair and Makeup category). Voters love it when an actor steps outside his comfort zone the way Carell has done, and they go giddy if he undergoes a dramatic physical transformation. By comparison, he makes what Tatum does look easy.
Tatum could drop down to Supporting, but there he’d be competing with Ruffalo, who’s currently ranked 3rd with odds of 7/2, and whose character has the most tragic trajectory of any in the film.
Speaking of supporting players, look out for Vanessa Redgrave, who has a small yet pivotal role as du Pont’s mother. Right now she’s just outside the top 5 with odds of 25/1, yet that could change as buzz continues to build for the movie.
However, there is one voting body Tatum’s sure to impress, and that’s the Golden Globes. Time and again the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has proven itself suckers for handsome leading men in dramatic roles (think Tobey Maguire in “Brothers” back in 2009), so don’t be surprised to see Tatum go head-to-head with his costar in at least one precursor. But he’s got to find more love than that if he’s going to make it to the big one.
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