“Why is everyone so high on The Fighter?,” Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson asked In Contention‘s Kris Tapley during their latest Oscar Talk discussion. More to the point, why is Thompson so skeptical about this film sight unseen? Her first explanation: “Mark Wahlberg?” But her second comment gets down to the nub of it.
“I’d like to bring up the topic of [Fighter director] David O. Russell ,” she begins. “Right, no shortage of enemies,” Tapley replies. “That is an understatement,” Thompson said. “There is no single entity who is more widely loathed in Hollywood, perhaps. He’s really not liked. Put him in the Mel Gibson category.
The Fighter (Paramount, 12.10) “will have to be really good [to become an Oscar contender] — that’s all I want to say. I mean, this is the guy who has tapes all over the internet of him berating his cast…even George Clooney, whom everyone loves, called him on it [about bad behavior] during production of Three Kings. I’m not saying it can’t be neutralized, but I’m saying it’s a big hurdle to get over.
“[Russell] is talented, extremely talented,” she notes. But that ain’t enough. “People don’t necessarily coddle up to Sean Penn, but he’s respected [for his talent] and admired for his humanitarian efforts, for wearing his convictions on his sleeve. I don’t know that David O. Russell has earned that kind of gravitas. His films have always lacked heart and humanity. Three Kings, I would submit, is an idea movie. I would argue that his films are cold as ice.
“What are the great films that Russell has directed?,” Thompson asks. Tapley mentions Three Kings. He also speaks fondly of I Heart Huckabees. My own view is that Flirting with Disaster is a near-great film, certainly one of the funniest and most originally written adult comedies of the last 20 years.
“I want to see The Fighter, and when I do I will judge it objectively…I really will. I’m trying to explain what some of the negatives might be.”
Later in the conversation Thompson belittles the notion, primarily floated by Deadline‘s Pete Hammond (and seconded by Nikki Finke), that Mel Gibson could have a Best Actor shot if Summit decides to release The Beaver at year’s end.
“It doesn’t matter how good Mel Gibson is in the movie….there’s no way,” Thompson says. “Even if it does well commercially, even if it gets good reviews….the Academy will never give Mel Gibson an Oscar nomination, ever. It’ll never happen. The Academy is very liberal and accepts the sexual piccadilloes of Roman Polanski or Charlie Chaplin or Woody Allen, but racism and anti-Semitism they do not forgive.”