'Twelve Years a Slave' set for a December release, but likely to skip Cannes

Posted by · 12:58 pm · April 2nd, 2013

Last week, I listed Steve McQueen’s much-anticipated third feature “Twelve Years a Slave” among the films I was most hoping would appear in the Cannes Film Festival lineup, which will be announced later this month. But it seems we Croisette-bound journos will have to wait until the fall to see the star-studded slavery drama: according to the Hollywood Reporter’s Pamela McClintock, the film simply won’t be finished in time for the May fest.

That means we should expect “Twelve Years a Slave” to make its world premiere in September at the Venice Film Festival — where McQueen’s last film, “Shame,” also bowed two years ago. Regular cinemagoers, however, will have to wait all the way until the year’s end to see it: early today, distributor Fox Searchlight announced a US release date of December 27 — placing it firmly in the Oscar spotlight.

That’s no surprise, considering the film’s prestige credentials. While British artist-turned-director McQueen’s first two features were a little too left-of-center for Academy consumption, this adaptation of Solomon Northup’s classic slavery memoir — which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender among many, many others — promises to be rather more in their wheelhouse, offering an alternative perspective on a subject matter that “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained” recently returned to the cultural conversation. And even if it’s been over eight years since a December release won the Academy’s top prize, the month remains fertile ground for studios’ baitiest properties.

December 27, however, is an unusually late date for Fox Searchlight to choose. The indie outfit has recently enjoyed its greatest Oscar success with summer releases (“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “The Tree of Life,” “Little Miss Sunshine”) and films in the November-to-early-December window (“The Descendants,” “Black Swan,” “127 Hours,” “Slumdog Millionaire”). You have to go back to “Notes on a Scandal” in 2006 to find a Searchlight awards hopeful that opened on or after Christmas Day — the British melodrama received four nominations, though Best Picture wasn’t among them.

Last week, following the announcement that Searchlight had acquired Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with the possibility of a 2013 release, I wondered how the company’s currently lean awards slate for the year would pan out. If its reviews match its on-paper potential, it seems likely that “Slave” will be on it.

Other major titles, meanwhile, that McClintock says we should not expect to see at Cannes this year include Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” (despite three of his last five efforts premiering at Cannes), Spike Jonze’s “Her,” Atom Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot,” Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” John Wells’ “August: Osage County” and another late December release, Olivier Dahan’s “Grace of Monaco” — not that those last four ever seemed likely inclusions. (She also mentions Pedro Almodovar’s “I’m So Excited,” though everyone knew that already — the film’s already out in France.)

On the other hand, widely expected films like James Gray’s “Lowlife,” Asghar Farhadi’s “The Past,” the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” are still on course for a Cannes premiere, while festival director Thierry Fremaux is said to be “courting” Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” and J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost.” All will be revealed soon enough. 

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