Oscars 2018: Focus Features 4 frontrunners – ‘The Beguiled,’ ‘Darkest Hour,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘Victoria and Abdul’

Focus Features, the arthouse division of Universal Studios, may be only 15 years old but it is an Oscar powerhouse, with such titles as “The Pianist” (2002), “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Milk” (2008), “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013). “The Danish Girl” (2015) and “Loving” (2016).

This year, it has four very different films, each of which is a strong contender: Sofia Coppola‘s gothic Western “The Beguiled”; Stephen Frears‘ “Victoria and Abdul,” in which Judi Dench reprises her Oscar-nominated role as Queen Victoria; Joe Wright‘s Winston Churchill biopic “Darkest Hour” and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Phantom Thread,” which will be the farewell to film for three-time Oscar champ Daniel Day-Lewis.

The Beguiled” is a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic Western and was written and directed by this Hollywood scion. After a much-buzzed about screening at Cannes, Coppola became only the second woman to win Best Director from that filmfest. She took home the Original Screenplay Oscar in 2003 for “Lost in Translation,” and became one of only four women ever to contend for Best Director.

Twenty years ago, Dench reaped her first Oscar bid for playing Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown,” which told the moving story of the widowed Queen’s friendship with Scotsman John Brown (Billy Connolly) soon after her beloved Prince Albert died in 1861. This new film, set in 1887, chronicles the relationship between the monarch, who is celebrating her golden jubilee, and her new Indian servant Abdul  Karim (Ali Fazal). Over the ensuing years, he becomes one of Victoria’s most trusted confidantes, which is a cause for concern among the royal courtiers.

Gary Oldman is virtually unrecognizable as Britain’s prime minister who must decide between a negotiated peace with Nazi Germany or war. This transformation could well win the veteran actor an Oscar. Six of the last 10 Best Actor champs have played real people, including Colin Firth, who won as another British leader during World War II: King George VI in “The King’s Speech.”

Day-Lewis has said he won’t be making any more movies, with the upcoming “Phantom Thread” set to be his swan song. This period picture, in which he plays a fictionalized version of 1950s royal designer Hardy Amies, marks his second collaboration with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Their first, “There Will Be Blood,” won Day-Lewis the second of his record three Best Actor Oscars in 2008.

Below, detailed listings of each of these Oscar contenders, including release dates, creative types, cast lists, running times, plot summaries, and receptions both critical and commercial.

“The Beguiled” (Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures) – June 23
Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola (based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan)
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell
Running Time: 94 minutes

Summary: Sofia Coppola’s reimagining of Don Siegel’s 1971 classic thriller stars Colin Farrell as a wounded Union soldier taken in by girl’s school in Virginia, where the young women have been sheltered from the outside world.

Reception: Rotten Tomatoes – 78; MetaCritic – 77
Box Office: US – $9.8 million; Rest of World – TBD (as of July 20, 2017)

“Darkest Hour” (Focus Features/Working Title Films) – Nov. 24
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Ben Mendelsohn, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane

Summary: Directed by Joe Wright, this period drama stars Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, who leads the charge against Adolph Hitler’s arm in the early days of WWII.

“Phantom Thread” (Annapurna Pictures/Focus Features) – Dec. 25
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leslie Manville, Vicky Krieps, Sarah Lamesch

Summary: Set in the fashion world of 1950s London, this Paul Thomas Anderson helmed film centers on a dressmaker who is commissioned to design for members of high society and the royal family.

“Victoria and Abdul” (Focus Features) – Sept. 22
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Lee Hall (based on the book by Shrabani Basu)
Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Olivia Williams, Michael Gambon, Eddie Izzard, Simon Callow

Summary: Stephen Frears’ period drama centers on an unlikely friendship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).

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