Paramount has announced that Ava Duvernay‘s currently shooting Selma, a ’60s period drama about the historic efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) and the Civil Rights movements to secure voting rights for African-Americans, will open limited on Christmas Day. This almost automatically means that Selma is now a likely Best Picture contender as (a) it will probably deliver socially poignant uplift with a sweeping historic brush and a top-notch ensemble cast, and (b) it will mostly excite the same emotionality and allegiances that led to Precious and The Butler attracting Best Picture talk.
Selma has been shooting in Georgia (Atlanta) and is now looking at Alabama (Montgomery and Selma). I don’t know when Duvernay is going to finish principal but probably not until….what, sometime in mid-to-late July? August? (Selma shooting is beginning on or about 6.23.) After the limited Christmas Day opening Selma will open wide on 1.9.15.
Paramount wouldn’t have made this decision if they didn’t think the Best Picture field looks weak or at the very least hazy. Selma is now the only end-of-the-year movie that says “big social-historical statement” a la Gandhi or (this is a dispiriting example, I realize) Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. It will probably emerge as the default choice of those who like to vote for big-emotional-sweep movies about arduous struggles. In this light Selma‘s entrance is not great news for Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken, which is basically a WWII survival saga by way of an indominitable spirit.
Jean Marc Vallee‘s Wild, the Reese Witherspoon hiking drama, also fits in this realm.
Having Selma open on 12.25.14 is a pretty fast turnaround by today’s standards, although not by the big-studio system of yore. Films routinely opened within three or four months of completing principal photography in the old days, and sometimes even faster.
Selma‘s costars include Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Baines Johnson, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Andre Holland as Andrew Young, Omar J. Dorsey as James Orange, Alessandro Nivola as John Doar, Dylan Baker as J. Edgar Hoover, Giovanni Ribisi as Lee White, Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash, Colman Domingo as Ralph Abernathy, Stephen Root as Al Lingo, Jeremy Strong as James Reeb, Tim Roth as George Wallace, and Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper.
Did you hear that, guys? Oprah the billionaire is in it! Oprah! Oprah! Get ready for another Best Supporting Actress campaign with the underlying message, “She didn’t make it with her Butler performance, but you have to give it to her this time.”