Focus Features is going all in at the AFI FEST, launching two year-end movies.
Hollywood’s AFI FEST comes in November, at the end of the fall festival season, and offers an opportunity to launch late-breaking films right where the most Academy voters live, from Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” to Ava DuVernay’s “Selma.” Last year, the AFI gave the opening-night stage to Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” on its way to earning four Oscar nominations.
Focus Features, after debuting Joel Edgerton’s conversion therapy drama “Boy Erased” at Telluride and Toronto, now world premieres two of its late-year openings at AFI FEST. On November 8, “On the Basis of Sex” (December 25, Participant Media), Mimi Leder’s biopic starring Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, will open the festival. (It’s getting good scores at early research previews, per Participant.)
Closing the festival on November 15 will be Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots” (December 7, Working Title), starring Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) and Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) as squabbling royal cousins.
Both could be factors in this year’s Oscar race. In “House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon’s adaptation of John Guy’s “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” the Scottish royal (Ronan) fights to take over as Queen of England — and faces execution when Queen Elizabeth (Robbie) claps her in prison. The supporting cast includes Guy Pearce, David Tennant and Gemma Chan.
Other films aiming for late-year openings include Bob Zemeckis’s “Welcome to Marwen” (December 21, Universal) starring Steve Carell, and Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” (Warner Bros.) which may or may not be completed for 2018 release. In what could be the director’s last acting role, Eastwood stars as a 90-year-old Michigan horticulturist/World War II veteran who transports cocaine for a Mexican drug cartel. If the movie is done in time, Eastwood could go up against another retiring octogenarian in the Best Actor race: Robert Redford, who plays an unrepentant bank robber in “The Old Man & the Gun.”