‘Selma’ intensifies its march on Oscars: Can it go all the way?

Just one week ago “Selma” had very little support among the 25 noted Oscarologists at Gold Derby. Then, on Nov. 10, it broke into the Top 10 for Best Picture. Now it’s zoomed up to fifth place with two experts actually predicting it to win: Michael Hogan (Vanity Fair) and Christopher Rosen (HuffPo).

Meantime, a few days ago David Oyelowo landed on our Experts’ list of projected nominees for Best Actor (he’s in fourth place with 15/2 odds) and today Ava DuVernay burst into our top five for Best Director (she’s also in fourth with 12/1 odds).

Yes, “Selma” is on the march and the only question left is: can it go all the way?

‘Selma’ and star David Oyelowo soar into Oscars race, say experts

Oscar voters do love biopics, including recent Best Picture winners “The King’s Speech” and “A Beautiful Mind.” Just last year one with a theme similar to “Selma” – the African-American struggle for freedom – prevailed: “12 Years a Slave.” Curiously, it was produced by the same sexy superstar, Brad Pitt, plus one more Hollywood A-Lister, Oprah Winfrey, who also appears on screen in “Selma” in a heart-tugging cameo as a downcast Alabama resident denied the right to vote.

But the most captivating performance on screen is given by David Oyelowo, who infuses the persona of Martin Luther King Jr. with a fragile humanity and haunted soul that chip away at our marble image of the civil rights icon. Here he is more than just a modern-day Moses leading his people to the steps of the Montgomery statehouse from the embattled city of Selma. He is at times far less heroic: a philandering husband and an indecisive leader frozen by fear and doubt. All that makes this movie a more powerful and honest look at a fascinating man.

Director Ava DuVernay went to extraordinary lengths to resurrect the real Reverend King in an important film. Her enthusiasm is almost evangelical. “It’s outrageous that no feature film has ever been made primarily focused on the life of King,” she roared to the audience gathered Monday night at a Times Square theater to see “Selma’s” first screening in Manhattan. “There have been TV films, but never a Hollywood movie. The pressure was on us to do this right.”

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DuVernay has done so right by this film that it was cheered seven times as it unspooled and she received standing ovations before and afterward. She’s a superstar being born before our eyes. She has such an electric personality that her cheery, buoyant spirit is contagious. Her own personal story is compelling, too: she was raised in Selma and her family still lives there. Oscar watchers must wonder: Is all of this enough to carry her to Oscar wins for Best Picture and Director?

Yes. That’s possible. Voters often choose a Best Picture based upon who directs it. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what the film is – like when Marty Scorsese prevailed for “The Departed” simply because Hollywood was hellbent to give him an overdue chunk of academy gold.

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Hollywood could easily fall madly in love with DuVernay this year and thus “Selma” could go along for the ride. Yes, it’s nice that a woman finally won Best Director a few years ago (Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”), but wouldn’t it be grand if another one triumphed now? Even better: she’s African-American.

But let’s not forget that another woman is a likely nominee with a real shot to win Best Director, too: the wife of “Selma” producer Brad PittAngelina Jolie (“Unbroken”).

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