Oscar Beat TIFF 2014: FOXCATCHER Enters Awards Race with Tremendous Performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo

     September 8, 2014

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The terrific, immensely unsettling drama Foxcatcher is finally on the verge of release on November 14th, and the film comes with incredibly high expectations.  Not only does it carry a fascinating, true story premise (eccentric millionaire John du Pont’s quest to coach an Olympic wrestling team) but the movie hails from filmmaker Bennett Miller, who is two-for-two when it comes to directing Best Picture nominees and even landed a Best Director Oscar nomination for his narrative feature debut Capote.  Having finally gotten a chance to see Foxcatcher at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, I can confirm that it is indeed a major contender in the upcoming awards race, especially when it comes to the film’s jaw-dropping trio of performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo.

In this TIFF 2014 edition of Oscar Beat, I run down Foxcatcher’s chances in the upcoming Oscar race, including a very tricky quandary when it comes to category placement for the performances.  Read on after the jump.

foxcatcher-channing-tatum-mark-ruffaloFoxcatcher is a surprising film in many ways.  It’s intense, but not overtly so.  It’s a very quiet film that slowly builds to a climax that doesn’t announce itself too loudly—it just happens.  Instead of a psychological thriller or a traumatic event film, at its heart Foxcatcher is really an intense, patient psychological character study of its three leading characters: the strange John du Pont (Carell), and Olympic wrestling champion brothers Mark (Tatum) and Dave (Ruffalo) Schultz.

Straight away, Carell is phenomenal as du Pont.  The former Office star is nearly unrecognizable in the role, and not just because of the incredible makeup effects on his head and face.  Carrell wholly immerses himself into the character, embodying the eccentricity, elusiveness, and tremendous sadness of John du Pont.  But if there’s a main lead in the film, it’s Tatum’s Mark Schultz.  The actor delivers his best performance to date as a pretty good wrestler who always seems to be living in his brother’s shadow.  Tatum brings the naïve Schultz to life with a quiet intensity that rarely explodes, giving him the difficult challenge of portraying Mark’s inner turmoil without screaming in fits of anger or breaking down into tears.  It’s a wonderfully subtle performance, and Tatum absolutely nails it.

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Nominations for Carrell and Tatum are extremely likely, and Ruffalo deserves attention as well for a true supporting performance as the elder Schultz brother.  The question, however, is in which category Sony Pictures Classics will decide to submit the actors.  Carrell is essentially a co-lead in the film akin to Christoph Waltz’s role in Django Unchained, so I could maybe see him qualifying for Best Supporting Actor if SPC decided to go that route, but Tatum’s role is undoubtedly a lead—if Sony Pictures Classics tries to say Tatum’s performance qualifies for Best Supporting Actor, I’d have to cry foul.  The problem then, of course, is you would have Carell and Tatum going head-to-head in the same category, but Best Actor is really where they belong.  But Mark Ruffalo is absolutely worthy of consideration in the Best Supporting Actor race, and I would not be shocked to see him land on the list.

Foxcatcher also has a serious shot at landing a Best Picture nomination and Miller is definitely worthy of Best Director consideration, but the film might be too dark and moody to come away the victor in the main category.  Critics have fallen for it, but it’s too early to tell if Academy members will embrace the film as passionately—we all remember what happened with Inside Llewyn Davis last year.  I have to say, though, that the Press and Industry screening of Foxcatcher on Monday morning at TIFF was only one of two such screenings I’ve attended in which there was significant applause at the film’s conclusion—attendees of P&I screenings almost always abstain from applause.

foxcatcher-channing-tatum-steve-carell-1I’d also pencil Foxcatcher in for a Best Makeup Effects nod, as the transformative work on the three leads is extremely effective and convincing without distracting from the performances.  The screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman could also land a nomination, as could the minimal but haunting score by Rob Simonsen.

It’s way to early to start talking about the film’s chances of winning anything, but as of right now Foxcatcher is a bona fide awards contender in many of the big categories.  The Best Actor race is certainly starting to look formidable, but make no mistake, the triumvirate of Carrell, Tatum, and Ruffalo in Foxcatcher is nothing short of astounding.

Look for more Oscar Beat updates as the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival progresses, and if you missed my Oscar Beat article covering the first few days of films, click here.

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