With 'Dallas Buyers Club' is Focus Features getting its awards slate in order?

Posted by · 1:28 pm · April 23rd, 2013

When actor Matthew McConaughey was doing the awards circuit press rounds last year for his Independent Spirit Award-winning work in “Magic Mike,” he was strikingly thin. The reason for the physical transformation was his role in Jean-Marc Vallée’s upcoming “Dallas Buyers Club,” which has just found a home at Focus Features.

The film was acquired for domestic release in the second half of 2013, though no firm date has been set yet. McConaughey stars as real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodruff, whose story is fascinating. In 1986 he was blindsided by an HIV diagnosis and given 30 days to live. The government, meanwhile, was gridlocked over medical response to the growing epidemic, leaving Woodruff to seek alternative treatments from around the world, sometimes illegally. Soon enough he set up a “buyers club” that afforded fellow sufferers access to his supplies.

The transformation alone is sure to get McConaughey in the awards discussion, as that kind of dedication to a role almost always does. (Of course, Jared Leto will be right there along with him on that score.) But this being a part of a huge wave for the actor this year — along with Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” — could make for a rich narrative. Of course, we’ve been saying that for a while around these parts.

To that end, blurbed Focus brass James Schamus and Andrew Karpen in the press release: “Matthew McConaughey is an actor at the top of his game, and he incarnates Ron Woodruff by showing how his self-interest was galvanized into something much more. Audiences will want to take this journey with him.”

We all knew Focus would probably have to go shopping as the distributor’s latter-year line-up wasn’t as full from afar as it’s been in the past. April release “The Place Beyond the Pines” is a film with passionate fans and that could help it insinuate itself into some of the discussion in the fall, but that’s about it. Comedies like “Admission” and “The World’s End” won’t cut it for awards. I’m interested in John Crowley’s “Closed Circuit” mainly due to writer Steven Knight and Atom Egoyan’s latest, “Seven Wonders,” is also unknowable at the moment.

Last year Focus came into the season with a handful of possibilities, from “Anna Karenina” to “Hyde Park on Hudson” to the animated “ParaNorman.” Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” ended up being the best bet, but that reality might have dawned a bit late. “Dallas Buyers Club,” though, is a good start this year.

Meanwhile, “Mud,” featuring perhaps McConaughey’s greatest performance (so far), hits theaters this Friday. You should see it.

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