After reaping bids with the Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA, the BFCA, and the Indie Spirit Awards, a Best Actor nod from the Oscars seemed like a sure thing for "Nightcrawler" star Jake Gyllenhaal. However, his creepy performance didn’t make the cut. Now Gyllenhaal’s back for round two with "Southpaw," a boxing drama that sees the actor bulking up and taking the punches in classic awards-bait fashion.
The film opened this weekend to a $16 million box-office haul, and with an "A" Cinemascore rating from audiences, it’s sure to continue making money, thus helping his chances.
Gyllenhaal’s only Oscar nomination to date was for Best Supporting Actor in "Brokeback Mountain" (2005); he lost to George Clooney ("Syriana"). Since then, he’s been working his way towards a bid in the lead category, coming close yet not quite succeeding in films such as "Love and Other Drugs" (2008, for which he did receive a Globes nod), "End of Watch" (2012), and most notably, “Nightcrawler.”
Now comes "Southpaw." Directed by Antoine Fuqua — who guided Denzel Washington to a 2001 Best Actor win in “Training Day” — Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, a heavyweight prize-fighter seeking salvation after a tragic turn of events leaves his wife dead and his child in protective services. It’s the kind of comeback-kid tale that has appealed to academy voters from the very beginning, going all the way back to "The Champ" (1931) with Wallace Berry, who won the Oscar in a tie with Frederic March in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Yet "Southpaw" has divided critics, who gave it a 58% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a score of 57 on MetaCritic. However, should the actors branch respond to Gyllenhaal’s performance, reviews might not make much of an impact on his chances. As well, there may be voters who are still enraged over his snub for "Nightcrawler," and you can certainly expect executive producer Harvey Weinstein to remind them of that as they’re filling out their ballots.
Whether or not "Southpaw" will prove to be a successful awards vehicle for Gyllenhaal is yet to be determined, and besides, making it into what is sure to be a competitive field may be a more difficult fight than Billy Hope could have ever imagined. But if the actor can last twelve rounds in the ring, he just might have a shot at the gold-plated belt.