David Oyelowo and “Selma” launch to the top of the Oscar race

David Oyelowo Selma March 600x341

Last night, I was in attendance for the first New York screening of Ava DuVernay’s film Selma. This on the heels of it having a World Premiere last week at AFI Fest, which shot it directly into the heart of the awards season. Always thought to be a potential Oscar contender, particularly for David Oyelowo’s lead performance as Martin Luther King Jr., the movie has instead had a rapturous reception so far that has pundits like myself amending Academy Award predictions left and right. Yes, Oyelowo is not just getting into Best Actor, but is almost assuredly winning it too. Furthermore, I now believe that Selma is one of the three most likely Best Picture winners as well.

In case the title itself doesn’t let you in on what the film is about, this is a look at the civil rights marches that took place in Selma, Alabama. The focus is on the folks on the ground who helped make change happen, along with Martin Luther King’s talks with President Lyndon Johnson about reforming the Voting Rights Act and eliminating the barriers to black citizens in America being able to vote. Oyelowo plays MLK, Tom Wilkinson plays LBJ, and the supporting cast is huge, including the likes of Carmen Ejogo, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alessandro Nivola, Common, Lorraine Toussaint, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Sheen, and many more.

Technically, the version we were shown isn’t finished, so I can’t actually review it (though I’m hardly an outlier in terms of thoughts on its quality), but I can say that this is definitely going to be a bigger Oscar contender than I thought. Not only is it basically a lock for a Best Picture and Best Actor (Oyelowo) nomination, wins there are hardly out of the question. In the case of the former, I think the race is now down to Boyhood, The Imitation Game, and this one, as you’ll see in my new predictions on Friday. With the latter category, unless The Imitation Game goes on some sort of a sweep, I think Oyelowo has this one in the bag. Further nominations for Best Director (DuVernay), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Wilkinson), Best Supporting Actress (Carmen Ejogo), Best Original Screenplay (Paul Webb), Best Cinematography (Bradford Young), and Best Film Editing are all a possibility. Yes, this can score over a half dozen citations if things break the right way.

On the flip side, there’s a distinct possibility that only Picture and Actor wind up happening for Selma, with neither winning. In terms of those nods, it’ll come down to where the passion lies. For the other noms, there are potential roadblocks. DuVernay has history sadly against her (along with Angelina Jolie) on the road to a Director citation, while Wilkinson and Ejogo aren’t going to be nearly as widely praised, putting their candidacies at risk. Original Screenplay is loaded this year, as is Cinematography, where up and coming DP Young could see his visuals in A Most Violent Year cited instead of is work here, or just snubbed entirely.

Obviously the race is still going to evolve a lot between now and the nominations being announced. Hell, between now and this movie’s Christmas Day release, plenty can and still will happen. Selma’s launch into the heart of the awards race season should be proof of that. A few months ago, this was a big question mark. Even a few weeks ago, I had my doubts that this would be a formidable player. Now, not only have I reassessed, but I’m basically ready to give it an Oscar for Best Actor. When you see the work, you’ll understand why.

Selma comes out at the end of the December, as mentioned above, so there’s still some time before we can truly see if it can sustain all the love it’s picked up this month. I’m inclined to bet that it will for the most part, but anything is possible. The film isn’t going to vanish completely though, I can assure you of that much. Selma is here to stay in Oscar season. It’s going to be nominated in a few places by the Academy, it’s just a question of where and if it can pull off the wins…

Stay tuned to see how Selma does!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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