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It Looks Like ‘Beasts of No Nation’ Will Be THE “Black Film” in Awards Season Contention This Year – With 9 Other Potentials

It Looks Like 'Beasts of No Nation' Will Be THE "Black Film" in Awards Season Contention This Year - With 9 Other Potentials

I say that because, in the last 24 hours, we’ve learned that the film will screen at 2 of the world’s most prominent film festivals (the Toronto International Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival), where, on an annual basis, films that will very likely be awards season contenders are typically showcased. It’s especially true for “black films” (or films that tell stories that center primarily on people of African descent). In recent years, think films like “12 Years a Slave,” “Girlhood,” “Belle,” and a few others. It doesn’t mean that they always all go on to win every award they are nominated for. But these tend to be the year’s *top-tier* releases.

And this year probably won’t be any different. 

There are still more announcements to come from Toronto, in terms of films that will screen at the festival this year, so there might be 3 or 4 more “black films” that make the cut, when the complete lineup is revealed. Venice’s program is set, however.

Until we know more, “Beasts of No Nation” should be on your Oscar 2016 predictions lists, if it’s not already. In what categories exactly, I can’t yet say, because the film hasn’t been publicly screened yet. But we can speculate that co-star Idris Elba just may snag a Best Supporting Actor nomination; director Cary Fukunaga may be a shoo-in for Best Director; the screenplay may get some attention; and maybe even the film itself for Best Picture (or Best Foreign Language Film).

Netflix picked up “Beast of No Nation” earlier this year, after a bidding war that ended with the streaming platform paying a reported hefty $12 million for rights to release it. The film will debut Friday, October 16, 2015 worldwide on Netflix, in all territories where the service is available, and on the same day in select USA theaters, in a partnership with distribution company Bleecker Street.

“Beasts of No Nation” is based on the highly acclaimed novel by Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala, bringing to life the gripping tale of Agu, a child soldier torn from his family to fight in the civil war of an unnamed African country. Newcomer Abraham Attah stars as Agu, while Elba plays the role of Commandant, a warlord who takes in Agu and instructs him in the ways of war. 

When the Netflix deal was announced, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said “Beasts of No Nation” is a powerful film that unfolds beautifully in the hands of director Fukunaga, adding that Idris Elba delivers what he called a “career-defining performance.”

As you might recall, following last year’s declaration that they will boycott Netflix’s first feature film – a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which the streaming company plans to release both on its website and in theaters simultaneously – major theater chains, AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Carmike, maybe not surprisingly, announced earlier this year that they will also boycott the theatrical release of “Beasts of No Nation.”

In a statement, a rep for Regal said: “… at Regal we will not participate in an experiment where you can see the same product on screens varying from three stories tall to [three inches] wide on a smart phone. We believe the choice for truly enjoying a magnificent movie is clear.”

But not all are anti-Netflix’s disruption of staid industry practices. IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond has defended the company’s decision to partner with Netflix on a simultaneous video-on-demand and movie release of the “Crouching Tiger” sequel, saying, last year, that he believes the IMAX release will still be successful because of audiences in China, where Netflix is currently unavailable (although the company continues to try to push into that country of billions), and where IMAX theaters are not operated by the American chains AMC, Regal and Cinemark. Gelfond also emphasized that Netflix, with its new movie model, may be on to something.

The same goes for “Beasts of No Nation,” as the Alamo Drafthouse indie chain of theaters with 19 nationwide, although gradually expanding, said it will buck the trend and run the film.

Said Tim League, the company’s CEO and founder, “I’m agnostic about this sort of thing […] I look at films I want to play and I play them regardless of the release strategy […] I don’t look at myself as a competitor to Netflix. I think that argument is a little bit of a red herring. I watch a lot of movies at home, but there comes a time where I want to get out of the house. I look at cinemas as one of those options that compete with restaurants or baseball games or all of those things I can’t do in my living room.”

I think he speaks for millions of Americans, including yours truly.

Adding to the conversation, Amy Kaufman, producer of “Beasts of No Nation” said: “It could be a game changer… This has the potential to change the way people perceive how movies and art are delivered to them.”

Well, yes, it does. In fact, it already has! 

The novel “Beast of No Nation” is a complex tale, explicit, in that it doesn’t shy away from the harsh stuff – a confrontational, immersive first-person narrative. With Fukunaga’s name and pedigree, I’m sure it will continue to attract much press and critical attention. Idris is certainly no slouch either. Little is known at this time about newcomer Abraham Attah, who plays the child soldier (his feature film acting debut), but I’m sure he’ll be someone to watch as well.

Oscar 2015 is officially behind us, but the conversation about the lack of, shall we say, color, amongst this year’s nominees (and diversity within the filmmaking industry as a whole) continues, and will most certainly continue throughout the year, until next year’s Academy Awards celebration. The release of UCLA Ralph J Bunche’s “Hollywood Diversity Report” just last week, will certainly fuel some of the chatter, and rightfully so.

I’m contributing to that ongoing conversation with this early look at “black films” and “black talent” (in addition to “Beasts of No Nation”) that just might be in contention for trophies at the 2016 Oscars – a list that will be updated as new data is introduced that must be considered. So this is certainly not a final, exhaustive list, as we’re only 7 months into the new year, and there is still so much we don’t yet know with certainty. 

The first 4 films listed on this page below are those that have definite theatrical release dates set for 2015. On the next page, you’ll find another 5 films, although those don’t have 2015 release dates set yet, but could debut this year, if they can find distributors soon enough.

1 – Will Smith will probably make another run at Oscar with “Concussion,” a drama on based on a GQ article titled “Game Brain,” written by Jeanne Marie Laskas, which follows Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist, who single-handedly made the first discovery of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in a pro football player, raising public awareness for the degenerative disease. It’s kind of a whistle-blower tale, humanizing the price paid by professional athletes in impact sports, and the political, cultural and corporate interests that fuel the business of professional sports. I imagine it could be something in the mold of Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” which received numerous Academy Award nominations, and in key categories; although it won non of them. Gugu Mbatha-Raw co-stars, playing Will Smith’s wife in the movie which is directed by Peter Landesman (only his second feature directorial effort; although he has screenwriting credits that won a few awards, as did his first film, “Parkland”). But Will and Gugu may act their way into awards season chatter. “Oscar” has eluded Will Smith, despite 2 previous nominations. Playing what will likely be a meaty role in Dr Omalu, in what will also probably be a weighty, dramatic, hopefully finely-crafted project, tackling a very topical subject, just might mean a 3rd. The film is set for a December release.
2 – Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan re-team for boxing drama “Creed,” after a winning much acclaim for their first pairing, “Fruitvale Station” in 2013. The “Rocky” spin-off also co-stars Tessa Thompson and Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone. The film will see Rocky Balboa acting as a trainer and mentor to the son of one of his previous opponents, Apollo Creed. All eyes will probably be very interested in seeing what Coogler does next, so I anticipate that this won’t be a project lacking in press and critical attention when it’s released in November. The month of its release (typically when studios unload their Oscar-worthy material) is also noteworthy. And the Academy seems to love a good boxing drama (see “Rocky,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Fighter” to start). At the very least, I expect that it’ll be a crowd-pleaser.
3 –  Chiwetel Ejiofor could see another Best Actor nomination for his performance in the American remake of the Argentine crime thriller, “The Secret in Their Eyes.” It was a role that Denzel Washington was reportedly offered initially, but it eventually went to Ejiofor, who’ll be surrounded by actresses who’ve also been lauded for their work in the past – Nicole Kidman (nominated for Oscar thrice, won once) and Julia Roberts (nominated 4 times, also won once). Billy Ray, known more for his writing of scripts for critically-acclaimed movies like “Captain Phillip,” “The Hunger Games,” “State of Play,” “Shattered Glass” and others, is directing the American remake of “The Secret in Their Eyes.” The original, a Best Screenplay winner and Best Picture nominee at the Argentine equivalent of the Oscars, and the American Oscars winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010, was directed by Juan José Campanella. The original story (which was actually based on a novel by Argentine author Eduardo Sacheri, titled “The Question in Their Eyes”) unearths the buried romance between a retired judiciary employee and a judge who worked together a quarter century ago. They recount their efforts on an unsolved 1974 rape and murder that is an obsession not only for them, but for the victim’s husband and the killer. The American remake will be set in the USA, of course, with a different take on the original story: a legal counselor (Ejiofor) writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases, and for his unreciprocated love for his superior – both of which still haunt him decades later. A Best Actor nomination for Ejiofor is possible. I should mention that he’s actually appearing in 2 movies this year that could be in contention when the time comes: the other being the post-apocalyptic drama “Z for Zachariah.”
4 – Samuel L. Jackson may get some Oscar attention for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight,” depending on how juicy his role is. The film might do for Samuel what “Django Unchained” and “Inglourious Basterds” (both also Tarantino movies) did for Christoph Waltz. This certainly isn’t the first time Jackson and Tarantino have worked together, but Oscar’s fortune just hasn’t struck Jackson (who was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his work in “Pulp Fiction”) the way it has for Waltz, seemingly another Tarantino actor favorite. But Jackson may have lots of competition because this is an ensemble work, so, until we actually see the film, we won’t know how involved each actor’s role is, in the story, and how much screen time each will get to chew up. The story: in post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard, but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Who will make it out alive? Find out when the film opens in November. Samuel could find himself in contention for Best Supporting Actor.
On the next page, you’ll find the remaining 5 films, although none of them has a release date set (they don’t even have distributors), but will probably premiere some time in 2015 (even if it’s at a film festival). If they are commercially released this year, I think they could contend for Oscar in various categories as noted next to each, in 2016. So click over for page 2.

5 – Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis film, we now know, will make its world premiere at the New York Film Festival in the fall (it was announced last week). It doesn’t have a distributor yet, but it could very well land one between now and its NYFF premiere. The NYFF is considered one of the country’s most prestigious film festivals, so to have this film close the festival is certainly noteworthy, and assuming press and general buzz for it is solid after it’s been seen, it should find a home somewhere soon thereafter, for a likely very late 2015 Oscar-qualifying run, followed by a nationwide release in 2016. Cheadle, no stranger to Oscar, is both directing and starring in “Miles Ahead,” as the film is titled. What Cheadle has said is that it will be an unconventional biopic (in fact, it won’t be a biopic at all). There just may be a Best Actor nomination for him in this. And, who knows, depending on how strong the film is, a Best Director nomination as well. Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi and Keith Stanfield join Cheadle in front of the camera. Any of them may earn their way into awards season conversations, even if it’s not the Oscars specifically.
6 – It feels like it’s been a long time since we last saw Eddie Murphy on the big screen doesn’t it? I’m sure he’s comfortable financially, and isn’t exactly pressed to make new money by taking on almost every project that’s offered to him. So when Murphy does attach himself to a project, it immediately gets my attention. The last time we saw him on the big screen was in “Tower Heist” in 2011, 4 years ago. Although there was that terrible “A Thousand Words” which sat in limbo for years after it was made, until DreamWorks finally released it in early 2012 (but it was made years before “Tower heist”) to overwhelmingly negative reviews and weak box office. The actor/comedian/musician took over for Samuel L. Jackson in a dramedy that was previously titled “Cook,” and is now officially called “Henry Joseph Church,” which tells the story of the friendship between a young white girl and her dying mother, and their African American cook, in New Orleans. Here’s a full synopsis: “Charlotte “Charlie” Brody is not pleased when Henry Joseph Church arrives at their modest home, at the request of Marie Brody’s deceased lover, to serve as their cook. Mr Church made a solemn promise to Marie’s former lover that he would take care of Marie for 6 months because Marie is dying of cancer. Young Charlotte has no idea that her mother is sick and refuses to warm up to the man who is suddenly an ever-present figure in her life. However, Mr Church’s presence becomes far more important than Charlotte could ever imagine. Marie’s mother lives another 6 years, and Mr Church stays on to nurse Marie through her illness. Mr Church becomes a loving role model and life long friend to Charlotte, and to Charlotte’s child, long after Marie dies.” Murphy is of course playing Henry Joseph Church. Bruce Beresford (who directed previous Oscar winner, “Driving Miss Daisy”), is directing the film, from a script penned by Susan McMartin. The film is based on McMartin’s own real-life story. You can read the shortened story which inspired the film here. Might Oscar be calling on Eddie for this performance? It sounds like it has all the trappings of an Oscar bait film. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but the Warner Bros. picture is currently in post-production and could see a late 2015 premiere. 
7 – She may have emerged as the most popular character, and best-known actress from Netflix’s hit “Orange Is the New Black” drama series – momentum and talent that led to Emmy and SAG award wins for her, the highest TV acting honors in the land. Of course I’m talking about actress Uzo Aduba who plays “Crazy Eyes” in the immensely popular, award-winning series. The actress stars, alongside Maggie Grace, in an indie drama feature titled “Showing Roots,” which tells the seemingly intriguing tale of what happens to a racially segregated small Southern town in 1977, when the seminal slavery TV miniseries saga “Roots” premiered. Aduba and Grace play two residents of the town, who are inspired by the miniseries, and join forces to integrate their community. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done, as the town’s mostly ignored ugly racial history comes to the fore, disrupting their progress. Michael Wilson (“The Trip to Bountiful”) is directing the film, from a script penned by “One Life to Live” actress Susan Batten, with principal photography kicking off in January, in Baton Rouge, LA. It’s not clear if this will be heading to television directly, as a TV movie, or if it will be released in theaters. I say that because Wilson’s last film, “The Trip to Bountiful,” which was an adaptation of the Broadway play, starring Cicely Tyson, was a telepic. There’s no distributor attached yet. By the way, Tyson also co-stars in “Showing Roots” (as you’ll know, she co-starred in the TV miniseries “Roots”). Assuming this is headed to theaters, and not TV, there’s enough strong acting talent here to take notice of.   
8 – Omar Sy stars in the French-Language film, “Chocolat,” which is a biopic of Rafael Padilla – a former Cuban-born slave, who became a performer in France during the Belle Epoque era. In short, nicknamed Chocolat (or Chocolate in English), Padilla was born in Cuba in 1868 and was sold into slavery at the age of 9, to a Portuguese merchant. After escaping slavery, he traveled to Paris and launched a career in the circus, captivating the French with his talents as a singer and dancer, and as a clown, working under the stage name of “Chocolat” (hence the title of the film), a term that, because of the roles he played, became slang for “ridiculed or abused.” When his parents died, the woman charged with looking after him sent him to Europe, where Rafael hoped to find his freedom. He did odd jobs in Spain, and eventually arrived in Paris in 1887, at the age of 18, where he was discovered by Footit, a British clown who needed a partner. Rafael joined the circus, where he was habitually cast in denigrating roles – like king of the monkeys, slave to Cleopatra, King of the jungle, etc.And it was there that he began to find himself. He died in Bordeaux on November 4, 1917. French-Moroccan actor/director Roschdy Zem, is helming “Chocolat,” which is currently filming in France, with no American production company or distributor involved. But given that it’s Omar Sy, and his relationship with The Weinstein Company, who released 2 of his last French films, in the USA, I’d assume that it’s a film that will be eventually be released in the USA. And given the subject matter, it feels like Oscar material. Of course, we won’t know until the film is eventually screened for the public. Omar Sy made history when he became the first black actor to win the César Award for Best Actor (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in 2012, for his work in “Intouchables.” He since has been making himself familiar to American audiences, after moving with his family to Los Angeles, and booking roles in Hollywood fare, like the last X-Men movie. A Best Actor Oscar nomination could be in his future, with “Chocolat,” following fellow French actor, Jean Dujardin, who won the award in 2012 for his work in “The Artist.”
9 – And finally, Barkhad Abdi, a 2014 Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actor, co-stars in the thriller “Eye in The Sky,” which is set in the morally murky world of military drones, which is being directed by Oscar winning South African director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”). Abdi joins a cast that is lead by the acting talents of Dame Helen Mirren, who stars as a London-based military intelligence officer charged with remotely commanding a top-secret drone operation to capture a group of terrorists from their safe-house in Nairobi, Kenya. No word on what role exactly Abdi has signed up to play; I’d assume one of the terror suspects, who may actually be less a terror than his would-be executors believe he is? Or an ally to London military intelligence perhaps? Their “eyes on the ground,” or something like that. We’ll find out soon enough. The script is written by BAFTA award-winner Guy Hibbert, and it’s described as a tense action thriller and profoundly moving morality tale. Depending on his contributions to the film, might Abdi be in contention for Oscar again next year? The film doesn’t have a release date yet, although it’s listed as being currently in post-production. So I anticipate a 2015 premiere somewhere. And with Helen Mirren involved (Aaron Paul is also a cast member), I don’t think it’s a film that will go unnoticed. 

That’s it for now! Like I said, I’ll update this list as the year progresses, and we learn more about what’s coming this year.

Names you might expect to see on this list, like Denzel Washington, Lupita Nyong’o, Morgan Freeman, and others, either don’t have any films set for release this year, or whatever they are attached to likely won’t be Oscar-worthy material. Lupita, for example, has 2 projects in the works (“Queen of Katwe” directed by Mira Nair, and an adaptation of “Americanah”), and both will likely be awards contenders whenever they are are eventually made and released (2016 and beyond). But neither will be complete this year; “Americanah” hasn’t even been adapted to a screenplay yet. Look for them in 2016/2017.

Unless “Star Wars: Episode 7,” which will be out this December, is a critical surprise, which could then mean awards chatter for some of the cast members, like Nyong’o and John Boyega.

But, as of this posting, it looks like “Beast of No Nation” (which would round out the list to 10) is our front-runner. It’s already getting the *right* kind of attention.

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