I know I'm about a day behind here (it's been one of those weeks), but on Tuesday night, the AFI Fest went from an interesting film festival, to one of the most important of this Oscar season. On the same night (damn what I would have given to be there), AFI Fest premiered two huge Oscar contenders to incredibly enthusiastic responses: Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, and Ava DuVernay's Selma.
Of the two, it is, no surprise, Ava DuVernay's Selma that has quickly skyrocketed to the top of many people's Oscar predictions with an incredibly enthusiastic response. The response has been fantastic, proving that Middle of Nowhere was not a critical fluke, and its Oscar chances are now rosy to the say the least. At its center are two particular contenders, both of whom will probably make it into my November Oscar predictions. The first is DuVernay, who is getting a lot of praise for managing to find a refreshing and effective angle on a well-worn topic, and proves that she can play in the big leagues. The other is David Oyelowo. When Lee Daniel's The Butler hit theaters, Oyelowo was the unsung hero of the big-name cast, as he has been many times before. This time he really gets a chance to shine, playing Martin Luther King Jr., and early word is that he is fantastic, and could manage to fight his way into the incredibly tight Best Actor race. There is some word that Oscar has just rewarded its first "black" movie last year with 12 Years a Slave, and it may not be ready to reward another one so soon. First of all, if that is the case, then Academy voters should be ashamed of themselves. Most importantly, there is another way to look at this. Now that the race barrier has been broken, this could finally open up the door for future films that tackle race issues. Selma might actually benefit. I just hope that if the film turns out as successful as it looks like it deserves, that it gets the proper reward, no matter its subject matter, or its comparisons to previous projects.
The other film to land was Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. This one has earned some great reviews, and after this summer's Jersey Boys, it is nice to see that he hasn't completely lost his touch. There are some that are comparing it to last year's Lone Survivor or Eastwood's own Flags of Our Fathers. Decent films with good reviews, that managed to make a mark on the tech guilds, but not break into the top categories. Others are comparing it to Clint's Letters from Iwo Jima or even The Hurt Locker. Either way, I think that American Sniper, and its two performances (particularly Bradley Cooper, who has worked tirelessly to get this film made) are in play, and while it may not be a slam dunk, it is certain to play well, and I think that has more critics get a look at it, and the fact that is has more time to play with a campaign that Lone Survivor did, it could appeal to the Academy's more conservative block.
Big Eyes premieres tonight, so we are still waiting on Into the Woods and Unbroken, and then I am pretty sure that we can finally start looking at the race as a whole. Of course, we'll have to wait and see...