Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Foxcatcher": Where's That Best Picture Nomination?

Now In Theaters

Oscar Nominations

Best Director - Bennett Miller
Best Original Screenplay - E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
Best Lead Actor - Steve Carrell
Best Supporting Actor - Mark Ruffalo
Makeup and Hairstyling

The Academy is taking a lot of flak for some of its nomination choices this year (and rightly so), but one place where they haven’t messed up is in the deserved recognition of Foxcatcher.  As one of the darkest and most lurid pieces of cinema this year, Foxcatcher shows us an astounding amount of range from actors not known for their serious performances, and meanwhile delves into the events leading up to one of the most shocking and bizarre events in U.S. athletic history.  Director Bennett Miller has crafted a slow-burning drama that will captivate you with its understated intensity, and not only does he deserve a spot on the Best Director docket, but this film should have ended up on the Best Picture roster.

For those unfamiliar with the Foxcatcher shooting, this film tells the story of John du Pont, heir apparent to one of the richest families in the U.S. during the 1980’s.  He converted his Foxcatcher ranch into a training ground for world class wrestlers, with his eyes set on taking a team to the Olympics, even though he himself had no experience competing in the sport himself.  The infamous shooting is that of his assistant coach, Dave Schultz, which happened without any apparent cause and has been the subject of inquiry and rationalization ever since.  Du Pont was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and while the film does portray his paranoid tendencies, there are other hinted-at rationales as to what plagued du Pont’s sick mind.

Steve Carrell plays a tragically villainous du Pont, a man struggling to find his place in a world of privilege and cloistered pampering and ultimately becomes destructive because of it.  Though the film is not blatantly symbolic about this point, it is hard to ignore that du Pont lives in a time when capitalist venture is deemed to be stronger than ever and the captains of industry are perpetually patting themselves on the back for their success and affluence.  Du Pont, though, only has the latter, for his fortune was inherited, not earned, and he has no personal success of which to speak.  Combine that with an obsession with wrestling that stems from an impliedly repressed homosexuality, and Carrell becomes the embodiment of the dangers of capitalist excess wrapped in a layer of quiet psychosis.

Channing Tatum makes an incredible performance as Mark Schultz, brother to du Pont’s victim and original focal point of du Pont’s obsession.  Audience perspective initially comes from Mark, as he is lulled into the world of promises and extravagance that du Pont offers, only to be shunned at du Pont’s eccentric whim.  Through his eyes, we see things come to a gradual boil, with only his brother trying to warn him that this situation may not be the path to glory, but instead damnation.  Mark Ruffalo is great as ever playing Dave Schultz, having completely physically transformed himself for the role to the point of near unrecognizability.  He carries the girth and stature of a wrestler with nuance and seeming ease, and his contribution is just as appreciated as Tatum’s or Carrell’s.

Even knowing how Foxcatcher ends from having knowledge of the event that inspired it, the dramatic tension in this film is perhaps the best realized this year.  It is darkly subtle in its build-up, and as far as making you feel a steady unease goes, few films are as effective.  See it for the tension.  See it for the acting.  See it if you love movies.  This is one of the films the Academy was right to honor.

What other films do you think deserve their Academy recognition this year?  What snubs are you most disappointed by?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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