Focus Features used CinemaCon to celebrate its 15th anniversary with a celebratory luncheon. Judging by its show reel, Focus plans to spend the year doing what it knows best: Making movies designed for awards-season release.
Dame Judi Dench, who earned two of her seven Oscar nominations in Stephen Frears movies, reunites with her “Philomena” and “Mrs. Henderson Presents” filmmaker on lush period drama “Victoria and Abdul” (from Oscar factory Working Title), a true story about the elderly Queen Victoria, who, bored being the world’s longest-serving monarch, formed an unlikely friendship with Abdul Karim (Ali Fasal), who she makes her Indian Secretary. It’s written by the Oscar-nominated Lee Hall (“Billy Elliott”).
Dench introduced the first-look footage via video. Clearly the movie falls inside the same Academy sweet spot as Frears’ Meryl Streep Oscar vehicle “Florence Foster Jenkins” and Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning “The Queen.”
Also in the awards zone is Gary Oldman, who wowed CinemaCon in person, promoting his starring role as Prime Minister Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” set during the first five weeks after taking power in 1941, when Adolf Hitler went to war with Britain.
“You needed someone who could face up to him,” said Oldman, who spent 3 1/2 hours every day loading himself into makeup and a fat suit. “I put that man in that place at that time. I think for the audience it is a love letter to the resilience of the British people. But we see how very close we came to surrendering and capitulating to Nazi tyranny. Had it not been for Winston, our world would be very different. To come in and play those themes is a wonderful gift for an actor.”
Also filming for Focus and partner Annapurna is Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled reunion with Daniel Day-Lewis, who won three Oscars for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” PTA’s “There Will Be Blood,” and Jim Sheridan’s “My Left Foot.”
Not everything will be released this fall. On June 16, director Colin Trevorrow leaves the “Jurassic World” for a taut family drama, “The Book of Henry,” which stars Naomi Watts as the mother of gifted kid Henry (Jaden Lieberher of “Midnight Special”)/ They embark together on a mission to right something that is very wrong. “We have to make it better” is their mantra. Trevorrow said the movie is “dangerous and dark and emotional and leaves you on the edge of your seat.”
“The Beguiled” is a dark Gothic tale from writer-director Sofia Coppola, who won the Original Screenplay Oscar for Focus’s “Lost in Translation.” Here, she’s remade a favorite 1971 Clint Eastwood classic starring her “Virgin Suicides” star Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, who joined her at the Focus lunch. They presented the first full-length trailer for “The Beguiled,” which is the story of a Yankee soldier (Farrell) recovering from his Civil War wounds in a school run by southern women and headed by Nicole Kidman. Slated for release June 23, it played very well.
Focus also made an effort to remind CinemaCon exhibitors of where they’ve been, which includes Oscar-winners “Milk,” “Atonement,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Theory of Everything,” “Beginners,” “Coraline,” and “Dallas Buyers Club.” This year, Focus chairman Peter Kujawski brought three movies to Oscar contention (“Loving,” “Nocturnal Animals,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings”) and promised that “2017 will be the best year we’ve ever had.”
However, the new management team is still finding its way, having peeled off key personnel during the Peter Schlessel era; they also recently lost veteran publicity exec Adriene Bowles to Annapurna.
But they’ve lined up some fall movies with strong Oscar potential.