‘The Fighter’ Wins Raves, Oscar Talk at ShowEast

Exhibitors’ convention in Florida gives first look at David O. Russell's boxing film, other upcoming contenders

They weren’t exactly playing to an audience of Academy members or avid Oscar watchers, but a handful of upcoming films got their first widespread exposure last week at the National Association of Theater Owners’ ShowEast conference in Orlando, Florida.

And judging from conversations with exhibition executives who attended the four-day conference, the news is good for “The Fighter,” “Tangled” and “Morning Glory,” but not so much for “Due Date” and “Fair Game.”

Understand, the people who attend ShowEast work on the exhibition and distribution side of the industry, where films are often as not judged for their boxoffice potential rather than their awards-worthiness. And many of the 10 films screened at the conference were never expected to be in the awards picture. 

Christian Bale and Mark WahlbergBut “The Fighter” certainly is, and its ShowEast unveiling marked one of the first times anyone outside of Paramount Pictures had seen the film.

The verdict: It’s a likely Best Picture nominee, with a pair of performances that will definitely figure into the Supporting Actor and Actress races.

“Christian Bale is incredibly great,” said one viewer of the actor who plays the meth-addicted brother of boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg). “It’s a sickening and sad and disturbing performance.”

The other standout, viewers say, is Melissa Leo as the mother of Bale and Walhberg. As for Amy Adams and Walhberg himself, one sales agent felt they were hampered by a script that simply doesn’t give them enough to work with.

And while the consensus was that the film would be nominated for Best Picture, the more awards-savvy viewers I spoke to did not think that it’d be one of the top contenders, particularly given David O. Russell’s prickly reputation.

Another across-the-board hit was Disney’s animated “Tangled,” which played on the convention’s first day and won widespread, enthusiastic praise. 

Among the other films that played ShowEast, in order of preference, with viewers’ comments:

“Morning Glory,” with Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams: “I was surprised I liked it as much as I did, and most people seemed to feel the same way” … “it’s close to James L. Brooks territory, or to the border between Brooks and Nancy Meyers” … “very commercial, and the best use of Harrison Ford in a very long time” … “solid entertainment that in November will appeal to the over-30 audience in a way that nothing else will” … “not really an awards movie, although Harrison Ford has an outside chance.”

 “Next Three Days,” directed by Paul Haggis, with Russell Crowe and Olivia Wilde: “competent filmmaking” … “solid adult entertainment, but with big plot holes” … “no awards potential” … “Brian Dennehy is very good as Crowe’s father, but the general chatter afterwards is that it was disappointing.”

“Unstoppable,” directed by Tony Scott, with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine: “exactly what you see in the trailer: a totally routine action film.”

 “Due Date,” directed by Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”), with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis: “the disappointment of the convention” … “the expectations were too high. People were looking for ‘The Hangover,’ and it’s not that” …  “it’s just a road-trip movie – the thought is that if you had Robert Downey Jr. you’d get a little more than a routine fill-in-the-blanks road movie, but you don’t.”

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach GalifianakisOh, and it has a scene in which Downey’s character spits on a dog – a moment, according to those in attendance, that bothered a lot of people.

The convention also showed films that have already screened at festivals and for the press, including Doug Liman’s political drama “Fair Game” (“it played flat”), and three indies that all played to positive response: Nigel Cole’s “Made in Dagenham,” the documentary “Cool It” and the Latina twist on Jane Austen, “From Prada to Nada.”

Plus the conventioneers saw a bit of the “Tron” sequel and the 2011 release “The Green Hornet,” which drew comparisons to the critical hits (and commercial flops) “Kick-Ass” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” plus two songs from “Burlesque,” one from Cher and one from Christina Aguilera.

The songs were described as “okay,” with a look and feel that viewers compared to Sam Mendes’ acclaimed late-‘90s theatrical revival of “Cabaret,” and to acts like the Pussycat Dolls.