Oscar Beat: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ Launches Christian Bale, Matt Damon into the Race

     September 13, 2019

A crowdpleasing racing drama with big movie stars and an established director is poised to make a big impression on the coming Oscar season. Ford v Ferrari made its debut at the Telluride Film Festival before getting a splashy premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this week, and the Oscar buzz for this one is significant in the wake of positive reviews (read mine here).

Ford v Ferrari is directed by James Mangold, who picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Logan and whose consistent resume ranges from Walk the Line to 3:10 to Yuma to Kate & Leopold. With this new film, he charts the true story of how Ford Motor Company wished to compete with Ferrari in the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans race. To do so, they enlist 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to help design and build the car, and he himself brings on arrogant yet extremely talented driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Together the two travel into uncharted territory to try and deliver a win.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

The film itself is formulaic, predictable, and incredible. It’s one of the best films of the year, precisely because Mangold takes a familiar formula and executes it with an expert level of precision, anchored by a pair of phenomenal performances. Damon is likely going lead here as the film opens with Shelby, and he’s absolutely a contender in the Best Actor race for his strong, emotional performance. Then there’s Bale, who’s really playing the co-lead here (his character is the only one whose family plays a major role) but could potentially be submitted in Best Supporting Actor. If 20th Century Fox goes that route, Bale is automatically a very serious contender to actually win. But you can probably bet on a nomination regardless of which category he’s submitted to.

What Bale does in Ford v Ferrari is yet another reminder that he’s one of the most talented actors working today, and he absolutely delivers one of the best performances of his career. Miles is driven, charismatic, and surprisingly elegant given his penchant for barking back at those who try to give him orders.

The consistency and skill of the performances all around is terrific (perhaps Tracy Letts could make a Supporting Actor play for his turn as Henry Ford II), and it’s yet another extension of Mangold’s brilliant vision. Mangold is definitely a contender for the Best Director race, and the film itself feels like a bit of a slam dunk for a Best Picture nomination. It’s the kind of expensive, character-centric studio movie that was prevalent before superhero movies took over the multiplexes, and it’s genuinely great. So not only is there a bit of nostalgia there, this isn’t just a case of recognizing a movie aside from its merits—Ford v Ferrari has the goods to back it up.

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Image via 20th Century Fox

Below the line recognition also seems extremely likely. Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is stirring and visceral, putting you right in the middle of the many, many races. The score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders is similarly impressive, and ditto the costume design and production design. As for the sound? Look out, cause I can’t see anything coming close to what Donald Sylvester achieves here. The script by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller is fairly formulaic yet still energetic and compelling, so that one’s a bit less of a sure thing.

All of this obviously depends on how the film is received by the Academy and by audiences at large (it hits theaters November 15th), but this truly is a crowdpleaser executed with a master level of filmmaking acumen, bolstered by a pair of movie star performances that are all at once flashy and nuanced. This feels like an old-fashioned kind of Oscar contender in the best way, and while we’ve got a lot of road yet to travel, I’m feeling pretty confident about its major nomination chances at this early stage.

If you missed any of my previous Oscar dispatches from TIFF 2019, peruse the links below. For all of Collider’s TIFF 2019 coverage, click here.

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