A couple of weeks ago, as I was wondering out loud if "Black Swan" and "The Fighter" were too weird for Oscar, I said that a moment of truth for both movies was coming on Saturday, December 4, when the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater would be the site of AMPAS members screenings of both films.
Now those screenings have taken place, with "Black Swan" showing at four o'clock in the afternoon and "The Fighter" screening that evening. And the reactions, from what I hear, only do a little to clear up the awards picture for those two films.
"The Fighter" played extremely well by most reports, and every member I spoke to who saw it immediately declared it a likely Best Picture nominee and Christian Bale a sure Supporting Actor contender. But the crowd was reportedly sparse, with estimates ranging from a low of 200 people to a high of 400 to 500 in the 1,000-seat Goldwyn. ("127 Hours" had a similarly small turnout a few weeks earlier.)
Pete Hammond said that one of his "spies" reported "virtually no applause at the end," although one member I spoke to attributed that to the fact that movie ends with loud music (muffling the applause from a small, scattered crowd), and then shows footage of the real people played by Bale and Mark Wahlberg. Viewers who wanted to understand what the real Dickie Edlund was saying had no choice but to stop clapping and listen closely.
"Black Swan" played to a bigger audience (twice as many viewers as "The Fighter," according to one voter who was at both screenings), but by most reports got a more lukewarm reaction, with strong applause for Natalie Portman but very little for director Darren Aronofsky.
While the reception for "The Fighter" is reason to think that the Academy at large may well embrace the movie, it's worth noting that the biggest fans for both films are likely to be the (comparatively) younger Academy members who likely don’t frequent the Goldwyn's weekend screenings.
And in the first round of voting, a passionate core of fans is more important in gaining a nomination than a broad consensus. (You need that later, in the final vote.)
NOTE: Estimates of the audience size for "The Fighter" were adjusted from the first version of this story to reflect additional reports.