Boxing flicks have heavyweight status at the Oscars. Two slugfests have won best picture: "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) and "Rocky" (1976). And several pugilist performances were declared champs in the acting rings: Hilary Swank ("Million Dollar Baby"), Robert De Niro ("Raging Bull," best pic nominee of 1980) and Wallace Beery ("The Champ," best pic nominee of 1931-32).
"Cinderella Man" (2005) could've been a contender except for two problems: a too-early release date (May) and Russell Crowe knocking himself out of the lead-actor bout by hurling a phone at a Manhattan hotel clerk.
Now "The Fighter" comes out swinging this December. Directed by David O. Russell ("I Heart Huckabees," "Three Kings," "Flirting with Disaster"), it tells the real-life tale of "Irish" Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) struggling for the world junior welterweight title while being coached by his half-brother (Christian Bale), a boxer-turned-trainer who rebounded in life after nearly being KOd by drugs and crime. Wahlberg scored a surprise Oscar nom in the supporting slot for "The Departed" (2006) and now will compete in the lead race. Bale is overdue to reap a bid from academy voters.
Photo: Mark Wahlberg in "The Fighter" (Paramount)