I caught Cinderella Man last night in the tiniest theater in I’ve ever seen in a megaplex: four rows of stadium seating. Ron Howard and co. paint on a big canvas, and the boxing scenes can’t be anything but visceral when you’ve got no choice but to sit right up next to the screen.

So is the movie anything more than a human Seabiscuit?

Read more…After reading this review by one of my friends, Sam’s Myth, I was pumped to see the movie:

In the past few years it’s become quite popular to accuse certain movies of having been made solely for the purpose to win Academy Awards: Certain types of inspirational stories and prestigious talent marquees have sounded suspicious in sum, and were written off as manipulative and safe. In many minds, the Oscars lost a good deal of the little credibility they had left by naming the Ron Howard-Russell Crowe collaboration A BEAUTIFUL MIND the Best Picture of 2001, cementing the Academy’s reputation as a group of old men who always go for the most old-fashioned, tear-jerking tale. Its bound to happen to some degree at this year’s ceremony, where CINDERELLA MAN’s Oscar Index will feel nearly unrivaled: Past winners Crowe and Howard, and Renee Zellweger are like the most popular students of Oscar High, then there’s the Oscar-winning composer, that historic nostalgia, that triumphant storyline, and supporting actor Paul Giamatti, who’s so on-deck that you could bet your life today on his nomination in January.

So when that time rolls around, it may feel formulaic. But for Howard and Crowe, things have changed. A BEAUTIFUL MIND included, the whole of Ron Howard’s prior filmography seems to have been leading to the plateau on which he now stands with Crowe and this gorgeous, inspiring picture. The subject of CINDERELLA MAN is Jim Braddock, a real-life boxer who was forced into poverty during the Great Depression despite already having become a celebrity. Through the love of his wife (Zellweger) and the friendship of his manager (Giamatti), Braddock finds the courage to fight through and beyond a second chance. These are not your average performances; Zellweger morphs the supportive-wife cliche into something more complex, and Giamatti’s energy in the ring comes across like a direct attack against his oft-typecast self. But the star is still Crowe; riding a long wave of outstanding performances, he gives his character such an authentic sense of humanity. It’s becoming clear that we could be watching one of the great screen legends.

Wow. We must’ve seen two different movies. I thought the movie failed to rise above its formula, as A Beautiful Mind so beautifully did. It’s a rousing story, and Myth is right that you’re in suspense in that final fight. But, I’d have to pick Seabiscuit, as clunky as it is, as the better film, because horseracing is somehow more fresh, less obvious. Cinderella Man doesn’t break any ground as a boxing movie, a David v. Goliath sports movie (I just watched Hoosiers the other day), an A-list actor emote-a-thon, nor a rousing tale of triumph amidst the Great Depression. That’s one man’s opinion of course. Others obviously disagree.

RELATED: Within two months of Cinderella Man‘s release, four books have been published about boxer Jim Braddock