The Fighter is a major contender for bringing home some of those gorgeous and buff Oscar statues, with six nominations in major categories: Best Supporting Actor category for Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actress for Melissa Leo and for Amy Adams, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director for David O. Russell, as well as the heavyweight belt of Best Picture.
Each of those nominations is well deserved, and all of them, especially Best Picture, are coups for Mark Walhberg, who in addition to starring in the film was on deck as a producer and by all accounts willed the project into being. But I can’t help but feel pangs for him, because the absence of a Best Actor nod for his incredible performance as boxer “Irish” Mickey Ward is glaring and a bit shocking. It seems as though all of the other nominations are dependent on his work.
Image: Paramount Pictures
It also seems like Walhberg perpetually comes close to greatness but hovers at the 98% downloaded mark.
Mark Walhberg is a Hollywood powerhouse who doesn’t need anyone to cluck over his few-degrees-shy-of-perfection status in a highly successful career, so why do I feel a little protective of him? Somehow watching him evolve from the Marky Mark of the past into the Mark Walhberg of today has made me feel somewhat invested in the story of him, or at least in the myth of him. Somehow Mark has made himself feel like my long lost brother.
Watching Mark Walhberg's career has been one helluva ride:
1971: Mark Robert Michael Walhberg is born, the baby of nine children to struggling parents in Boston.
1981: His parents divorce.
1983: Mark is already in big trouble. Gangs, violence, addicted to cocaine at 13. Rough stuff.
1984: But then this is crazy: He's recruited by his brother Donnie as one of the original members of New Kids on the Block, but though he gets close to epic success, he drops out before the first album is cut. The group's too bubblegum and squeaky clean for him. Um, that's a red flag right there.
1987: Mark beats two Vietnamese men in a hate crime, blinding one of them. Tragic. He’s charged with attempted murder, pleads to assault and serves 45 days of a two-year sentence. Graduate from high school? Nope. He says the sentence woke him up, though, and started him on the path to turning his life around.
1991: Forget NKOTB. Mark wants to rap and starts his own game. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch releases Music for the People, which goes platinum thanks to “Good Vibrations” and “Wildside.” The music video for "Good Vibrations" is sizzling hot thanks to Mark’s supafine bod -- interestingly, boxer Irish Mickey Ward is credited for training him in preparation for the boxing moves. (C’mon c’mon c’mon! feel it feel it!)
1992: Big year for our bro. He’s 21, and those crazy crotch-grabbing Calvin Klein ads are plastered everywhere from Times Square to high school lockers. But still with the anger management problems, Marky breaks his neighbor’s jaw, losing his freedom again. After release, he seeks help from his parish priest and starts to toe the line. That unfortunate incarceration doesn’t slow him down: Mark gets nominated for an MTV Music Award and an AMA Award in ‘92.
1993: He's nominated for a Grammy just as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch is fizzling. But he parlays his notoriety into a role on a TV movie, and a screen star is born.
1994: The big screen loves Mark. His first film is the Penny Marshall-directed Renaissance Man, followed by Basketball Diaries and a string of incredibly successful roles throughout the next decade and a half, including:
1997: Boogie Nights. Dirk Diggler. Wow. You've seen this, haven't you?
1999: Three Kings
2000: The Perfect Storm
2001: Mark starts dating Rhea Durman, who eventually becomes his bride and mother of his children. (Awwww. And, please, please tell me he has mastered that anger management problem.) He also starts a the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation. Has Marky Mark grown up?
2003: Italian Job races through theaters and Marky Mark becomes a daddy dad.
2004: I Heart Huckabees. Mark steals the show (as the petro-hating mid-breakdown fire fighter Tommy Corn) while also playing off an incredible ensemble in this existential wallop of a comedy. He reportedly loved working with director David O. Russell, whom he later brought in to direct The Fighter. Entourage premieres on HBO this year, too. Loosely based on Walhberg’s life as a city kid morphing from homie to Hollywood, Entourage amplifies Mark’s mythic story while setting him firmly on the path of becoming an influential HBO kingpin, creative project developer and powerful producer. He is 33 years old.
2005: Four Brothers
2006: Mark’s second child is born during another big year for him. Scorsese's The Departed is huge. Walhberg’s fierce portrayal of Staff Sgt. Sean Dignam is recognized with many Best Supporting award nominations, which might have made Walhberg feel a little better about turning down a role in the much-acclaimed Brokeback Mountain -- the sex scenes had made him uncomfortable, so no Brokeback Oscar for him.
2007: And no Departed Oscar for Walhberg, either. Though it's nice to be nominated.
2008: Producer, In Treatment. Daddy: third child.
2009: The Other Guys, The Lovely Bones and Date Night releases make for a busy year on press junkets. The Other Guys scores laughs and bank and Date Night tanks, but overall it’s clear Mark owns with comedy as well as with dramatic roles. He marries Rhea. He appears on Saturday Night Live parodying himself as a way of apologizing for talking smack on Jimmy Kimmel about wanting to break Andy Samberg’s nose. It’s all good in the hood. Say hi to your mother for me.
2010: The Fighter soars -- apparently the world does need another boxing movie. Boardwalk Empire is a win on HBO, guided by Walhberg as producer, and his other HBO baby How to Make It in America is renewed. His fourth baby-baby with Rhea is born. It’s good to be Marky Mark. Very very good.
2011: So far in award season news, Boardwalk Empire wins the Golden Globe for Best Television Drama Series. But for The Fighter, as we know, no Best Actor Oscar nomination for Wahlberg.
There’s more, of course. Many more movies -- the ones I listed are just my favorites. Somewhere along the way he got four tattoos, including one of Sylvester eating Tweety and another of a rosary around his neck. Really. He released a Marky Mark fitness video back in the VHS days, but didn’t everyone? Listing his girlfriends would have eaten all of your bandwidth, so I skipped that category entirely. He’s been busy, this Walhberg dude, too busy for one timeline.
But looking at his career does show me why I kinda like this thug made good. The myth he spins works for me. He's the personification of every grant written to help violent kids break the cycle of poverty and jail by finding creative expression through the arts. He's the American Hollywood Dream -- and of course we want to be his siblings, because that means we are in his Entourage. He's accomplished, and he's still striving. Just like most of his audience, he hasn't won the big awards yet, but he's working hard, damn hard.
That creative fire seems to be burning strong -- he’s been around forever but he’s only 39 -- so I’m staying tuned. And on Oscar night, I’ll be watching his face as he celebrates all of the The Fighter’s successes, but I’ll have a little older-sisterly pang for the omission of recognition for his acting. He seems to have earned it.
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