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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

February 16, 2011 at 10:19 AM

Oscar countdown: “The Fighter”

So, who would have thought that David O. Russell, who hasn’t made a feature film in six years (and whose last feature was the very weird — though not in a bad way — “I Heart Huckabees”), would make a movie that got seven Oscar nominations? “The Fighter,” a wonderfully acted sports movie/family drama, snuck up on audiences late in the year, and I’ve heard more than one person accidentally refer to it as “The Wrestler” (Darren Aronofsky’s pre-“Black Swan” effort, also Oscar-friendly). Clearly it’s resonating with Oscar voters, perhaps in the same way that “The Blind Side” did last year; though “The Fighter” is a far grittier film, it still ultimately celebrates family and athletic achievement. (Interesting, though, that “The Fighter” almost seems to change movies midstream; it’s a quirky, harsh, fascinating character drama three-quarters of the way through, then suddenly becomes a far more conventional sports movie than you’d ever think Russell might make.) Like “The Blind Side,” it’s more likely to win an acting Oscar (or maybe two) than the big prize.
Total U.S. box office: A healthy $86 million
Total Oscar nominations: Seven, including best picture, director, supporting actor (Christian Bale), supporting actress (Melissa Leo and Amy Adams), screenplay and editing.
Best chances for a win: Christian Bale’s looking like a lock for best supporting actor, and I wouldn’t argue; as a former boxer turned crack addict, he gives a jittery, mesmerizing performance from which I couldn’t look away. (Note, also, the effortless accent work; it’s easy to forget, until you hear Bale give an acceptance speech as he did at the Golden Globes, that he’s a Brit — born in Wales, raised in England.) Melissa Leo was likewise the front-runner in supporting actress, until she launched a self-financed promotional campaign that raised a few eyebrows and which might have thrown momentum to her colleague Adams (whose role is less showy, but is a nice departure for Adams), or more likely Hailee Steinfeld of “True Grit.” The other awards are far less likely.
Odds of this movie creating any fabulous Oscar-night weirdness: Should “The Fighter” stage an upset and win best picture, you’ll see a familiar face on the podium: Mark Wahlberg, who wasn’t nominated for best actor but, as one of three producers of the film, would accept the top award. And I’m hoping for a lively contingent from the real-life Ward/Eklund family, on whom the film is based. (Alice Ward, the matriarch played by Leo, is reportedly in ill health, but perhaps some of her seven daughters, who so memorably served as a tough-girl Greek chorus in the movie, might represent her.)
Where I’d rank this movie among the ten Best Picture contenders: 9 (keeping in mind that I like every movie on this list, but somebody’s got to be near the bottom)

Christian Bale in the background, Mark Wahlberg in the foreground — troubled half-brothers in “The Fighter” (photo credit: Jojo Whilden, copyright Paramount Pictures)

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