Awards Profile: ‘Battle of the Sexes’ From Fox Searchlight

Welcome to the 2017 Awards Profile series, where we talk about high- and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year. We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not, either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next few weeks, we will bring you a film every Monday and Wednesday to talk about their potential. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

FILM: “Battle of the Sexes”
PRODUCERS: Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Robert Graf
DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight Pictures

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
WRITER: Simon Beaufoy

CAST: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Elisabeth Shue, Alan Cumming, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Natalie Morales, Martha MacIsaac, Jessica McNamee, Eric Christian Olsen, Austin Stowell

SYNOPSIS (via iMDB): The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

WHY IT MIGHT SUCCEED: Inspirational sports biopics have been awards bait for years, going back to the early days where boxing tales were all the rage. This one, look at perhaps the most famous tennis match in history, has a ton going in its favor. You have Steve Carell playing the larger than life figure of Bobby Riggs. In addition, there’s Emma Stone playing an idol to young girls everywhere in Billie Jean King. Also throw in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris at the helm, shooting a script from Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy. Those ingredients are top notch, that’s for sure.

With a cast headlined by Carell and newly minted Oscar winner Stone, there should be plenty of attention paid here. They have incredibly juicy roles. Furthermore, there’s an eclectic supporting cast in place. They include Alan Cumming, Martha MacIsaac, Jessica McNamee, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Sarah Silverman, and Austin Stowell. We’ll see if one of those supporters breaks out, but Carell and Stone seem like potential players. Both parts could scream out for awards attention from the Academy. Stone especially has the sort of inspirational role that Oscar may well drool over. Had she not just won for “La La Land” last month, Stone would appear like the early favorite this time around in Best Actress.

Directors Dayton and Faris are filmmakers that have consistently delivered products that are more than initially expected. “Little Miss Sunshine” blew away the Sundance Film Festival on the way to a Best Picture nomination, while “Ruby Sparks” is a criminally underrated genre defier. “Battle of the Sexes” is their highest profile project to date, though one that seems perfectly suited to their skill set. After being passed over with “Little Miss Sunshine” the first time around, they could be in line for attention with this one. Provided they meld the comedy and outrage inherent in the material without an abundance of quirk, they’re going to be in play. With below the line talent including multiple “La La Land” veterans like Linus Sandgren and Mary Zophres, they’ll have plenty of supremely talented help.

Don’t sleep on how the girl power angle of this project might play with the Academy. In some ways, this could carry the torch that “Hidden Figures” picked up last year. Billie Jean King putting Bobby Riggs in his place is the Hillary Clinton smacking down Donald Trump moment that we never truly got in the election. All of a sudden, this movie is timely and could be coming at the perfect moment. If everyone is working at the level that they’re capable of, this could be one a big crowd pleasing contender.

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED: Can you name any tennis movies that have scored major awards attention? Tennis biopics are few and far between, with even fewer taking the likely comedic angle that this one will. The sports angle is one that’s hard to get past at times anyway, but this is a sport that’s especially been ignored. “Battle of the Sexes” will have to fight not to be lumped in as just popcorn entertainment. The players involved should get voters’ attentions, but will more “important” fare end up getting on their ballots instead?

This doesn’t feel like that sort of project, but generally the next films from new Academy Award winners don’t tend to play well. Now, “Battle of the Sexes” hardly seems like “Stealth” or an overt cash grab, but that concern could be bubbling beneath the surface. Hopefully this is a great film, but if it’s only good, or worse, it’ll be dismissed almost immediately. For now, much more is in its favor than not, but there’s no indication this is a safe bet for any awards love here in early March.

Without a firm release date yet, it’s hard to know what Fox Searchlight is planning to do with this one. Assuming it’s not dropped randomly in the summer or delayed until next year, it seems like a film that needs to wow at a film festival. Depending on if that happens and what the reception there would be, that will be when we have a better idea of if “Battle of the Sexes” is a force to be reckoned with. There’s enough evidence to suggest that it will be one, but it’s just educated guesswork right now. Furthermore, a lot remains to be seen. These are early days!

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Motion Picture – Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Robert Graf
    Director – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
    Actor in a Leading Role – Steve Carell
    Actress in a Leading Role – Emma Stone
    Actor in a Supporting Role – Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, and/or Sarah Silverman
    Actress in a Supporting Role – Alan Cumming
    Original Screenplay – Simon Beaufoy
    Production Design – Judy Becker
    Cinematography – Linus Sandgren
    Costume Design – Mary Zophres
    Film Editing – Pamela Martin
    Makeup and Hairstyling
    Achievement in Sound Mixing
    Achievement in Sound Editing
    Original Score – Nicholas Britell

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Year-In-Advance Oscar Predictions

and see where “Battle of the Sexes” ranks!