'Nebraska,' 'Furnace' and 'Walter Mitty' set to screen as AFI Fest centerpieces

Posted by · 11:31 am · September 30th, 2013

It’s nice to see more and more of the year’s awards season players being evenly spread throughout the fall festival circuit. Venice got “Gravity” and “Philomena.” Telluride got “12 Years a Slave” and “Prisoners.” Toronto landed films like “August: Osage County,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” New York, meanwhile, landed the trio of “Captain Phillips,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Her.” Even the London film fest got a nice first look at “Saving Mr. Banks” this year.

AFI Fest, as always, is utilized smartly by studios every year. In the middle of Oscar season, it’s a great opportunity to make a big splash with a cheap Los Angeles premiere, and films like “Saving Mr. Banks” has already been announced for a US premiere there, though a scheduled world premiere of “Foxcatcher” was nixed last week when that film was moved off its Dec. 20 release date and scheduled for 2014.

Three more films have been set as centerpiece screenings for this year’s AFI Fest. The first is a world premiere: Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace,” which has mostly avoided the fall festival circuit save for a Dec. 6 Rome Film Festival berth (the day it releases domestically). The second is Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which will segue to the festival for its Los Angeles premiere after world premiering at NYFF on Oct. 5. And the third is Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” which will bring with it a tribute to actor Bruce Dern.

Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” follow-up features a stellar ensemble including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Sam Shepard. So that promises some nice red carpet glitz, even if the film is anything but a glitzy affair. Relativity Media (with Paramount Pictures) also premiered “The Fighter” at AFI Fest in 2010.

It’ll be interesting to see how the studio can insinuate this one into the awards conversation with its keep-it-a-mystery strategy. The early December wide release will be right in the middle of a prestige glut, but I think we could see Christian Bale turn up in the lead actor conversation and a lot made of two completely different performances in this and David O. Russell’s “American Hustle,” while Casey Affleck and particularly Woody Harrelson could register in the supporting ranks. But we’ll see how it pans out.

“Walter Mitty,” meanwhile, will receive its big coming out next weekend in New York. Fox has played this one akin to its “Life of Pi” strategy last year, moving from CinemaCon to NYFF. Ben Stiller will likely find trouble breaking through in a tight Best Actor category, if the film ends up being an awards play at all (the studio also has “The Book Thief” on deck, though it may be too soft even for the Academy). Kristin Wiig is a supporting actress possibility and the film’s unique vision could bring it notice for film editing and visual effects, among other things.

“Nebraska,” well, I’m on the record.

The 2013 AFI Fest runs Nov. 7-14.

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