The coming of Ava DuVernay‘s “Selma” has offered a needed shake up in the Best Picture race. With Paramount Pictures likely initially feeling that “Interstellar” would offer an opportunity to capture the attention of the Academy, if I were them, my attention would shift towards the Martin Luther King story full throttle. After getting rapturous applause at the AFI Film Festival, and then again in a press/industry screening on Monday evening in New York, the film is gearing up to take on the awards season head on.
Everything in “Selma” has the makings of a Best Picture winner. From the stunning direction by DuVernay, who just launched herself into the same categories as some of the best A-list directors today, we may be looking at the early stages of a history making reception. We’ve only had one woman win Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker”) and never had an African-American woman be nominated, let alone be in serious contention for an Academy Award. We may be getting the latter this year. And then there’s David Oyelowo. I kept coming back to Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln” as a performance to compare. Now, I wasn’t as receptive to the grandiose but well-executed work of Day-Lewis, which won him his third Academy Award in Best Actor. I saw the appeal though. Oyelowo delivers, and trying to reserve the hyperbolic comparison, probably one of the best performances seen in modern cinema. It’s out of this world and I’m not sure we get to see such flawless embodiment executed beyond gimmicky makeup and “talking like the person.” He channels King’s anger, rage, charisma, and even allows us to see the flaws in a figure so beloved by so many. That’s also thanks to the brilliant work of Carmen Ejogo, channeling a more fleshed out and compelling version of Sophie Okonedo in “Hotel Rwanda.”
What’s unique about this season, without any critics awards being handed out yet, is there’s no obvious frontrunner. There are pundits and fans who believe that Richard Linklater‘s “Boyhood” is undoubtedly the one to beat. “The Imitation Game” from Morten Tyldum is traditional Oscar-bait with a sensitive and well-executed performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. “Birdman” has the admirers of film fans everywhere, and will have the Michael Keaton story to ride on, as well as technical love from the branches. James Marsh‘s “The Theory of Everything” is picking up steam in this early stages, launching a very hefty and detailed campaign for its leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. And then there’s Angelina Jolie‘s “Unbroken,” which premiered in Sydney, Australia on Monday. The reception seems like it went over well based on the social media reaction but with Jolie in attendance, it’s hard to gauge the level of love there. Same could be said for DuVernay’s screening in NYC, where she introduced the film and participated in a Q & A following.
Rob Marshall‘s “Into the Woods” is up next this weekend. There are some who have seen it already, and are under strict embargo. Those who will see it this weekend, will have the same “tape-on-mouth” tactic exercised but all the major contenders will be seen by that point. Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, and the team behind “A Most Violent Year” is gearing up to be the first awards representation for A24 Films this year. All are feasible but it will need to be fought for in the race. They’re the “little guy” in the race this year but think back to Demian Bichir and “Winter’s Bone” being overlooked early but then emerge victorious. I think it can be done.
Now, just ahead of us, the Thanksgiving holiday, where the Academy will get to attend screenings of “Selma,” and many more films that their friends are telling them they should see. The official Oscar Predictions have been updated down to Supporting Actress (but you can see where I’ll be going based on the list on the sidebar). One year after “12 Years a Slave,” it’ll be interesting to see how “Selma” will be perceived. Not as heavy handed or dour as McQueen’s epic, DuVernay’s film inspires and moves. I think Academy members, as well as other guilds, will feel compelled to vote for it in several categories but we have to see.
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