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“Miles Ahead” closes out the New York Film Festival

Don Cheadle miles ahead
Over the weekend, the 53rd annual New York Film Festival came to a close with the World Premiere screening of Don Cheadle’s long brewing passion project Miles Ahead. This biopic of jazz musician Miles Davis has been in the works forever (with Cheadle as the star, co-writer, and director), so expectations were quite high for this one, which NYFF debuted as their 2015 Closing Night selection. A potential Academy Award player, either this year or next (more on that below), this was one of the bigger debuts in a while. Is it an Oscar contender or a pretender? Something in between, perhaps? Well, why don’t we find out below right now?

Here’s a quick primer on the film itself, which of course is a look at a moment in time for legend Miles Davis. Cheadle plays Davis mostly during a period in which he had receded from public life and wasn’t creating music. There’s flashes back to his more productive days and his time with love and muse Francis Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), but most of the movie is spent with Davis as he stays home, bemoaning what he’s lost. There’s also time spent with journalist Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), who attempts to get him out of his funk. In addition to Cheadle, Corinealdi, and McGregor, the cast includes Keith Stanfield, Michael Stuhlbarg, and more. Cheadle obviously co-writes and directs, in addition to starring, so it goes without saying that this was a passion project for him.

I didn’t find the flick to be fully successful, but Miles Ahead has a few things definitely going for it, mostly in regard to Cheadle. While I thought the screenplay he wrote with Steven Baigelman, Stephen J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson was all over the place and the weakest link in the chain by far (their decision to involve a car chase and shootout just didn’t work for me), his acting and direction are far better. It’s one of his best performances, while his choices behind the camera impressed me. This is a flawed work, but Cheadle is going to make a great film one day. He’s employed strong cinematography from Roberto Schaefer, solid music from Robert Glasper and Herbie Hancock (besides what Davis contributes or Cheadle does himself), and especially the creative editing on the part of John Axelrad and Kayla Emter. They both help Cheadle to come up with some inventive ways to incorporate flashbacks. It’s really quite impressive what they wind up putting forward in terms of that technical aspect. It stood out, even in a festival environment, and that’s saying something.

Awards wise, I think this will have a rather uphill battle to score much, though a lot will depend on if it gets a 2015 qualifying run or waits until 2016. Ideally, Sony Pictures Classics would like to see Miles Ahead compete for Oscar nominations in Best Picture, Best Director (for Cheadle), Best Supporting Actor (for McGregor), Best Supporting Actress (for Corinealdi), Best Original Screenplay (for Baigelman, Cheadle, Rivele, and Wilkinson), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Realistically, their only strong bets are in Actor and Film Editing to me, but the Golden Globes could be kinder. Considering their Musical/Comedy category, Best Picture and Actor nods could happen in those categories at the Globes. We shall see about those noms, but first a decision on a release date will have to be made.

For now, what we have with Miles Ahead is an interesting little calling card by an actor turned filmmaker who could have a great career as a multi hyphenate ahead of him. I have my doubts that this movie will be a big contender, but anything is possible. At the moment, I have a feeling that the flick doesn’t come out until next year, starting up on the festival circuit again in advance of a fall 2016 date, but a last minute release this year is a possibility as well. 2015 might not be the best place for it, but that’s not my decision. Whenever it does come out though, this is definitely an intriguing film that’s worth checking out and I was glad to see at NYFF…

Stay tuned for much more on Miles Ahead!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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