After winning a Golden Globe last year for the gritty TV crime drama "Luther," Idris Elba starred in popcorn pictures like "Thor," "Prometheus" and "Pacific Rim." Now, as Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," he could land a spot in this year's most competitive Oscar category -- Best Actor.
While that race is jam-packed with better-known names, this Hollywood outsider has a chance to contend, especially with those savvy strategists at the Weinstein Co. in his corner. They scheduled the world premiere of the picture in a high-profile slot at the Toronto film festival and it played well with both the public and the press.
Two-time Oscar nominee William Nicholson ("Shadowlands," "Gladiator") adapted Mandela's 1994 autobiography and Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boelyn Girl") -- who reaped an Emmy bid in 2006 for the miniseries "Bleak House" -- handled helming.
The epic film follows the rise of Mandela from activist to political prisoner to leader of South Africa. Four years ago, Morgan Freeman reaped a Best Actor bid for playing the part in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus," which focused on just one year in the life of this extraordinary man.
Sweeping biopics like "Mandela" aren't made much any more but they used to be standard studio fare. Indeed, they were often Oscar contenders but it has been decades since they took the top award -- "Gandhi" (1982) and "The Last Emperor" (1987).
While Elba is the face of the film, Naomie Harris reaped a great deal of critical praise for her portrayal of Winnie Mandela. As the stalwart wife of the imprisoned political leader, she kept his cause in the public eye. While the couple separated soon after his release from captivity after 27 years, she was a key part of his legacy.
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Last year, "Argo" became the 15th Best Picture Oscar winner that told a true story. The others were: "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936), "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937), "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962); "A Man for All Seasons" (1966); "Patton" (1970); "Chariots of Fire" (1981); "Gandhi" (1982), "Amadeus" (1984); "Out of Africa" (1985); "The Last Emperor" (1987); "Schindler's List" (1993); "Braveheart" (1995); "A Beautiful Mind" (2001); and "The King's Speech" (2010).
For the 2013 Oscar race, one of the strongest contenders is "American Hustle." The story is set in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the FBI sting operation known as Abscam. Previous Academy Award nominee David O. Russell directed and co-wrote the film, which stars past Oscar winners Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence plus Oscar nominees Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner.
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