Pete Hammond

Paramount and the AFI Festival pulled off a sneak awards season?manuever Tuesday night by throwing a previously unannounced screening of Oscar hopeful, The Fighter.? Billed as a “secret screening” on the ticket but also labeled a “World Premiere”? in a Tuesday morning press release, the studio and fest held back any information until the day of the show which played? Grauman’s Chinese at 9:30 PM to a packed house (a Par spokesperson later emailed me that 100 people were turned away). The film directed by David O. Russell and starring Mark Wahlberg as fighter ‘Irish’ Micky Ward and Christian Bale as his troubled brother Dicky will open on December 10 and until now has been one of the last largely unseen mysteries of the season.?? A plethora of producers and production companies are on the credits for this including Relativity Media, Mandeville Films and Bob and Harvey Weinstein (who have Exec producer credits).? David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Ryan Kavanaugh, Dorothy Aufiero, Paul Tamasy and Wahlberg all share producer credits.

Original strategy for The Fighter was to skip the fall fest circuit and , until today, it was holding firm to that but the AFI coup was probably too irresistible an opportunity for Paramount to make a big splash even though it was largely just a public screening and only Wahlberg from the film’s cast was there to make opening remarks. ?Tickets were free and this felt more like a “people’s premiere” . The press release? even mentioned that “all attendees are invited to walk the red carpet”.

As I was coming from a Tuesday night screening series I host in the valley for KCET I asked Par to hold me a seat since it was gonna be tight and AFI said they would do a lockdown on the venue once the film rolled. I got there exactly at 9:30 but they had already closed the doors and were turning away a long line of hopeful audience members. In the spirit of the movie I fought my way past three checkpoints and security guys into the theatre where I grabbed what seemed like the last remaining seat. Just then Wahlberg came out . “I haven’t seen a crowd like this since I performed with the Funky Bunch,”? he said. “I can’t believe I got this made and I am so proud of it. I would go through cheating, lying and stealing to do it and if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t like it I will come to your house and do hard labor.”? Fortunately for Wahlberg , the crowd ate it up and seemed to be with it – and him - ?all the way. The supporting cast is rich too including choice roles for Melissa Leo as Micky’s mother and manager and especially Amy Adams , as his tough bartender girlfriend. Bale who is terrific will be campaigned in supporting actor while Wahlberg who has spent years on this passion project will go for lead.? All have real shots for this vivid and colorful crowd pleaser. ?

Although it could be classified as a boxing picture, it’s really a character study? of two? very different brothers? and spends much of its time defining that rocky relationship.Actors playing boxers have had a pretty good track record right from the beginning of the Academy Awards? with winners like Wallace Beery in 1931’s The Champ? to? Robert DeNiro as Jake LaMotta in 1980’s Raging Bull. Those nominated for stepping into the ring include Kirk Douglas in Champion (1949), Sylvester Stallone in Rocky(1976), James Earl Jones in The Great White Hope(1970), ?and John Garfield in Body And Soul (1947) to name a few.

With The Fighter now finally unveiled for the masses and press screenings starting this week on both coasts, there are very few mysteries left in the season .? Par’s other holiday entry , the Coen’s? True Grit (Dec 22) is still to be seen and ?just about the last of ‘em? that could provide fresh Oscar meat, at least in the major categories. Otherwise the lineup? is fairly clear with no surprises on the horizon – unless Yogi Bear (Dec 17) is better than anyone dreamed.