PLEASE READ MY INTRO BEFORE SKIPPING TO THE LIST!
Yes, it’s only May; there’s a lot of cinema left to see in 2017 before anything that resembles a final list of potential Oscar nominees can be called complete; but as I did last year, I’m starting early, with the plan being to continue updating this list throughout the year, as new information is provided that makes edits necessary. For example, release date shifts of films we do know about (maybe a title that’s currently scheduled for release in 2018 is moved up to late 2017, or vice-versa); hype/buzz around unreleased titles that screen at film festivals, etc. Typically, after this list is published, I receive messages informing me about films I should know about that should be on the list.
So this is an evolving list, based on available information as of the time of each update. It’s most certainly going to change over the next 8 months.
As this is a black film blog, for this list, I’m considering only “black films” – films that tell stories that unfold through the lives of black characters; or films in which black characters are central to the narrative, even if not entirely so. It’s certainly early to say how the 2018 Oscars will compare to this year’s event in terms of black nominees, and whether #OscarsSoWhite will trend again; but even this early in the year, I’m pleased that we can identify a small handful of potentials.
I’m using the S&A database as my source of information, as well as Box Office Mojo and IMDB to come up with these titles.
I repeat; this isn’t a final list. It will be updated throughout the year, as I receive new information; films will be added, while others will be removed when/where necessary.
Without further ado, here’s where we are currently, as of May 1, 2017, in no specific order I should emphasize…
1 – Having already played Jackie Robinson and James Brown, Chadwick Boseman is taking on another real-life icon in a courtroom thriller about Thurgood Marshall. Under the direction of Reginald Hudlin, Boseman stars as the legendary attorney in “Marshall,” a film that focuses on a case early in the career of the Supreme Court justice, when a nearly bankrupt NAACP sends Marshall to conservative Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a sexual assault and attempted murder trial. Joining Boseman in front of the camera are Sterling K. Brown as Joseph Spell, the defendant at the center of the above case; Keesha Sharp plays Buster Marshall, Thurgood’s wife; and Josh Gad is Samuel Friedman, the young Jewish lawyer who partners with Marshall on the case. Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens and James Cromwell round out the starring cast. Open Road has set an October 13 release date for “Marshall,” just in time for awards season. “I can’t wait for the world to see this movie,” Hudlin said previously. “It’s a thriller, not a biopic, about an early case of one of the greatest lawyers in American history. In a time when we need heroes who fight for justice, ‘Marshall’ is an inspirational movie that brings people together.” The film is being produced with the full cooperation of the Thurgood Marshall and Samuel Friedman estates. By the way, there’s a second movie featuring Marshall as a young lawyer that’s in the works. Lionsgate is developing an adaptation of Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Devil in the Grove.” No ETA on that, however.
2 – Idris Elba is currently filming the romantic drama “The Mountain Between Us” for Twentieth Century Fox and producer Chernin Entertainment – a project that’s long been in development that was original set to star Charlie Hunnam and Rosamund Pike. Both were eventually replaced by Elba and Kate Winslet. An adaptation of the best-selling novel by Charles Martin, the story centers on a man and woman, survivors of a plane crash in the wilderness, who fall in love. Here’s a summary of the book from the author’s website: “On a stormy winter night, two strangers wait for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport. Ashley Knox is an attractive, successful writer, who is flying East for her much anticipated wedding. Dr. Ben Payne has just wrapped up a medical conference and is also eager to return home to Jacksonville, FL for a slate of surgeries he has scheduled for the following day. When the last outgoing flight is canceled due to a broken de-icer and a forthcoming storm, Ben finds a charter plane that can take him around the storm and drop him in Denver to catch a connection. And when the pilot says the single engine prop plane can fit one more, Ben offers the seat to Ashley, knowing that she needs to get back just as urgently. And then the unthinkable happens. The pilot has a heart attack mid-flight and the plane crashes into the High Uintas Wilderness–one of the largest stretches of harsh and remote land in the United States. Ben, who has broken ribs and Ashley, who suffers a terrible leg fracture, along with the pilot’s dog, are faced with an incredibly harrowing battle to survive. As the days on the freezing mountains become weeks, their survival becomes increasingly perilous. How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever?” Of course Elba plays Dr. Ben Payne and Winslet is Ashley Knox. Dermot Mulroney is also in the film which is being directed by Hany Abu-Assad from a script that was initially adapted by Mills Goodloe and Scott Frank. Chris Weitz was tapped for a rewrite. The film, which reads like it could be a 2-character acting clinic, certainly has an Oscar-friendly storyline, which would obviously put Elba in a potentially prime position, especially after what many saw as an Oscar snub for his performance in “Beasts of No Nation” a year ago. And maybe the fact that Fox has set an October 20th, 2017 release for the film – in the thick of awards season – is a sign of their expectations for it. And certainly Winslet is no stranger to Oscar with 7 Academy Award nominations and 1 win to her credit. So her name on any project should help raise its profile. And while Palestinian director Abu-Assad may not be a mainstream filmmaker, especially on this side of the Atlantic, his work, which dates back to the 1990s, has won him numerous international awards, include festival honors at the premieres like Cannes and Berlin. So this is certainly something to keep an eye on. Chernin Entertainment is producing, with Fox 2000’s Marisa Paiva overseeing it.
3 – Denzel Washington stars in Dan Gilroy’s legal drama “Inner City,” the writer/director’s follow-up to his critically-acclaimed indie thriller, “Nightcrawler.” With comparisons being made to Sidney Lumet’s 1982 classic “The Verdict,” in which Paul Newman plays a lawyer who attempts to save his own career by taking on a medical malpractice case, Washington leads as an attorney dealing with a major change at his firm when he finds out some unfavorable things about his late partner, and decides to right his wrongs. That’s all we know about the project at this time, as casting on the project continues. Colin Farrell is the only other actor who’s been announced as attached at this time. Apparently the project, which isn’t set up at any studio yet, generated early buzz at the Toronto film market last fall, where it was formally shopped to buyers. Jennifer Fox, who produced Gilroy’s brother Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” and Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (both strong, critically-acclaimed dramas) will also produce “Inner City.” So there’s talent here both in front of and behind the camera. Among its producers and backers are Charles D. King’s MACRO, which also backed Denzel Washington’s multiple Oscar nominated “Fences.” “Inner City” doesn’t have a release date set yet, but the film is scheduled to film this year, and may be done in time for a late fall release.
4 – Another MACRO-backed film, Netflix acquired Dee Rees’ latest directorial effort, “Mudbound,” for $12.5 million, after its successful Sundance Film Festival premiere in January, where it was met with heavy praise from critics and audiences alike, with some already considering it as a potential Oscar contender for 2018 before the festival ended. A big-screen adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s 2009 novel of the same name, which is set in 1946 in the wake of World War II, the story follows the fates of two very different families that collide while struggling to make their dreams come true in the Mississippi Delta. When two celebrated soldiers return home, their unlikely friendship complicates the already fraught relationship between the families. The official Sundance synopsis reads: Set in the post–World War II South, the story follows two families who are pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. This epic pioneer story is about friendship, heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land. The film stars Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks. Netflix has yet to set a release date for it, but I expect it will be later this year, and will include both a theatrical and streaming release, simultaneously, as Netflix has done with other feature film acquisitions it’s made in recent years. “Mudbound” is co-financed by Charles D. King’s MACRO and Zeal Media.
5 – Kathryn Bigelow’s still mostly secretive “Untitled Detroit Project” is no longer a secret, as a first trailer premiered a couple of weeks ago and a release date was set. With “Detroit” as its official title, the film boasts a cast that includes John Boyega, John Krasinski, Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter, Jacob Latimore, Joseph David-Jones, Algee Smith, Ben O’Toole, Jack Reynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Hannah Murray, Jeremy Strong, Chris Chalk, Austin Hébert, Ephraim Sykes, Laz Alonso, Nathan Davis Jr., Malcolm David Kelley, Peyton Alex Smith and Leon Thomas III. Bigelow is directing the crime drama from an original screenplay by Mark Boal. Although details about the Detroit project are being kept underwraps, we know that it is a crime drama set against the backdrop of Detroit’s devastating riots that took place over five haunting summer days in 1967. The film explores systemic racism in urban Detroit. The feature, Oscar-winning director Bigelow’s tenth as a director, is now set for August 4, 2017, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the riots. The film is being financed, produced and released by Annapurna Pictures. Bigelow, Boal and Annapurna’s previous collaboration, “Zero Dark Thirty,” received five Oscar nominations including best picture and best screenplay.
6 – “Knock” (original French title, “Knock ou le Triomphe de la médecine”) is a French satirical play written in 1923 by Jules Romains. It follows the ambitious Dr. Knock who arrives in the rural village of Saint-Maurice to succeed Dr. Parpalaid, an honorable man, but with very few patients, because the people of the district are all in excellent health. Realizing that he was duped by his predecessor before taking the job, Dr. Knock is able to convince the people of Saint-Maurice that they actually are not in good health, and are in fact in need of medical care, but don’t realize it. So Dr. Knock begins offering free consultations to the townsfolk and diagnoses them with exotic illnesses in order to prescribe treatment. His practice thrives as the townspeople turn into hypochondriacs. Naturally, it doesn’t end well. The play has been adapted for the screen a few times since its debut on the Paris stage, including a British television version for the BBC in 1966. Now French superstar Omar Sy, who continues to split his time between Hollywood and Paris, is starring in a new film adaptation of “Knock.” This version won’t deviate much from the original story, as Monsieur Sy stars as Dr. Knock, a doctor who convinces the healthy inhabitants of a small French village that they are suffering from previously undiagnosed illnesses, in an effort to make more money for himself. French screenwriter, film and stage director, and playwright, Lorraine Lévy is directing the film, which was shopped to international distributors at the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin earlier this year, where it closed several pre-sales to key territories (according to Variety, who described the film as an “upbeat,” “feel-good” crowd-pleaser). Although no USA pick-up at this time, which isn’t a surprise. But the night is still young, so to speak. “Knock” is slated for release in France this year.
7 – Ernest Dickerson’s “Double Play” is an adaptation of Frank Martinus Arion’s internationally acclaimed novel of the same name, considered his magnum opus features a strong cast that includes Lennie James, Colin Salmon, Alexander Karim, Isaach De Bankolé, Mustafa Shakir, Louis Gossett Jr., Melanie Liburd, Saycon Sengbloh, Bronson Pinchot and newcomer Dani Dare. Produced by Lisa Cortes, “Double Play” is set in 1973 and 2010, on the Caribbean island of Curacao, and tells the story of Ostrik (Salmon) who returns to his childhood home, and the memory of a fateful day more than 25 years prior. Over the course of that day, and a long-standing game of dominoes, the fates of four men (James, Karim, De Bankolé, and Shakir) are revealed through a journey of love, loss and deadly betrayal. Dickerson is directing from a script adaptation by Evan Jones and Alaric Alexander Smeets. It’s Dickerson’s first theater-bound feature film directing effort since “Never Die Alone” in 2004, so it’s been quite a while, and we’re all glad to see him back at that level. Since then, he’s been directing TV shows (and at least one TV movie). We haven’t seen anything of the film yet, but there’s a lot of talent here both in front of and behind the camera, that one has to take notice and. “Double Play” made its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) earlier this year. No USA distributor is attached at this time, but I’d expect it to hit theaters this year.
8 – French-Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis’ “Félicité,” which made its world premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, won the Silver Bear – Grand Jury Prize at the event. The Golden Bear is the highest prize awarded to the best film at the festival (it went to Hungarian drama “On Body and Soul” directed by Ildikó Enyed). The Silver Bear is essentially a second place/runner-up award after the Golden Bear, but still notable, given the internationally recognized prestige that goes with the festival itself. The France/Senegal/Belgium/Germany/Lebanon co-production was shot in Kinshasa (DRC) and Senegal, and stars Véronique Beya Mputu, Gaetan Claudia and Mpaka Longi, in a story written by Gomis, Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg, that centers around a single mother, the titular Félicité, a singer in Kinshasa living with Samo, her 16-year-old son, who is at risk of losing his leg from an accident, unless she can come up with the money to pay for the operation. His leg will be amputated otherwise, sending Félicité on a city-wide quest to raise the necessary funds. It’s Gomis’ 4th feature film in about 15 years; “Tey,” his last film, also premiered in competition at Berlin in 2012, so he seems to have found a welcoming environment there to present his work. “Félicité” doesn’t have any USA playdates announced at this time, but, like his last film, and with this kind of prestigious recognition on the international film stage, it should get some Stateside interest via film festivals, and (hopefully) an eventual distributor pick-up. But it’s off to a wonderful start; reviews by those who saw the film at Berlin have been strong. It’s the kind of film that could compete in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
9 – Steve McQueen’s “Widows” which stars Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo, and Andre Holland; the talent here (both in front of and behind the camera) should make this one hard to ignore whenever it’s out. With casting seemingly on its tale-end, this is a project that could very well be filming very soon, with a late 2017 release possible, even if only for an Oscar-qualifying run in a limited number of theaters before a nationwide release in early 2018. An adaptation of the British TV series “Widows,” which aired in 1983, the story follows the widows of 3 crime bosses killed during a robbery attempt, who are being pressured by the police, as well as a rival group of thieves intent on taking over their husbands’ crime business. The widows then team up to eliminate both problems, as they bring on a 4th woman to pull off a heist of their own. It may also be a different kind of McQueen film; something lighter and fun that may not necessarily be an Oscar contender; but with this cast, I had to add it to this list. Also Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) is scripting the film, and Iain Canning and Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films (“Shame,” “The Kings Speech”) are producing. So there’s some Oscar power behind the camera as well.
10 – A film adaptation of “The Personal History of Rachel Dupree,” written by Ann Weisgarber, a period piece set in the American midwest that also stars Viola Davis, with Mahershala Ali and Quvenzhané Wallis joining her in front of the camera. Claire McCarthy, an Australian filmmaker, screenwriter, producer and visual artist, is adapting the novel and will direct as well. Davis is also executive producing (with partner Julius Tennon) via their JuVee Productions shingle. Production was set to begin some time this year, but with Davis also filming Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” as well as next season of “How to Get Away With Murder,” and Mahershala Ali picking up a couple of projects after his acclaimed performance in “Moonlight” for which he won an Oscar, “Dupree” may be pushed to 2018, or beyond. It’s a project that’s been in development for about 6 years now since Viola Davis optioned the novel. I’m sure she’d like to finally get it done. “The Personal History of Rachel DuPree” opens a window on the little-known history of African American homesteaders and gives voice to an unexpected heroine. It’s a sad, heavy, tragic tale about a family. It’s a well-written, well-researched, detailed, sometimes engrossing piece of award-winning literature that puts the reader right in the place (the badlands of South Dakota) and time (early 1900s); but I wonder if it’s one that might instead be best appreciated in book form only. It does have Oscar material written all over it, especially with 2 of its stars winning Oscars this year (Davis and Ali).
11 – A third MACRO-backed project (Charles D. King is on a roll!), promising an “epic and sweeping” film that “will show what an incredible bad-ass Harriet Tubman was,” Cynthia Erivo has been cast to play Tubman in the Macro/New Balloon feature film, which Seith Mann is directing. It doesn’t have a release date at this time, although its IMDBPro page lists 2017 as the potential year of its release. I’m not expecting it to be done in time for a 2017 premiere, given that casting is still underway, with production that was expected to begin during the first half of 2017, and the kind of film King and Mann want to make (“epic and sweeping”). But I’ll let IMDBPro be my guide for now until I hear otherwise. Debra Martin Chase, Gregory Allen Howard are also producers on the film, along with Daniela Taplin Lundberg. Mann is directing from a script penned by Howard. MACRO and New Balloon will co-finance and Executive Produce the very timely project, along with Bill Benenson. But this is the kind of project that typically would scream Oscar, given the subject and the talent involved. But Mann and King may be going for something that’s more of an action-adventure along the lines of “Underground,” than your typical Oscar bait drama. Hers was an amazing, active life and I like reading Charles King’s plans for the film as “epic and sweeping,” emphasizing Tubman’s “badass-ness.” Of course! So I would expect something thrilling here; uplifting; energizing, with urgency.
12 – Premiering on ABC on April 28, John Ridley’s “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992” also received a theatrical release a week earlier, Friday April 21, opening in New York and Los Angeles. This marked the first theatrical release for ABC News. It’s a bit early in the year for consideration, but one wonders whether ABC and Ridley have their sites on a potential Oscar nomination for the film, hence what would essentially count as an Oscar-qualifying run, one week before the film premiered on television. Oscar contenders are typically released during the last quarter of the year, but, as you’ll recall, this year’s Best Documentary Oscar winner (“O.J.: Made in America”) received a similar limited theatrical run in May 2016. Pegged to the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles uprising, the feature documentary takes a unique and in-depth look at the years and events leading up to the city-wide violence that began April 29, 1992, when the verdict was announced in the Rodney King case. Produced in partnership with ABC News’ Lincoln Square Productions, “Let It Fall” delves beyond the conflicts between law enforcement and the black community to look at tensions across the city as a whole; it traces the roots of the civil unrest to a decade before the uprising. The documentary features exclusive interviews with eyewitnesses and people directly involved in the events from diverse neighborhoods across the city, including black, white, Hispanic, Korean, and Japanese Americans. A team of veteran ABC News journalists join Ridley in the production of “Let It Fall,” led by producer Jeanmarie Condon, who has been honored for her work on documentaries and in-depth coverage of current events with multiple DuPont, Peabody, Murrow, and Emmy Awards. “Let It Fall” is written and directed by John Ridley.
And there are a few others in early stages of development, but I have no reason to include them here without some information on where each one stands.
I’ll end by repeating what I said at the start: it’s only February, so there’s a lot of cinema left to see this year; there will always be those titles that we know nothing about that are suddenly announced; there are top film festivals where Oscar-caliber films typically premiere, so I expect there’ll be a few this year at festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival, Venice and Telluride. Although, typically, before those festivals arrive, we already have some idea of what’s coming. By August of last year, my list was pretty much complete and I didn’t have to make any adjustments for the rest of the year. So between now and August, expect updates. There will be additions and subtractions as the year progresses and I’ll continue to update the list as I receive new information that leads to necessary edits. I’m looking forward to seeing what this list looks like by the end of summer of this year, when we know a lot more than we do today.
Feel free to chime in if you think there’s a film that should be on this list, but isn’t – likely because I just didn’t think of it.