Oscar comes early to H-Town

Julia Roberts' Best Actress bid among Oscar hopefuls at Houston Cinema Arts Festival

Julia Roberts' Oscar bid among films at Houston Cinema Arts Festival

August Osage County with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts
Meryl Streep, left, and Julia Roberts already are being talked up by Academy Awards handicappers as Best Actress possibilities, especially after August: Osage County was greeted with an extended standing ovation last month when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
Julia Roberts at August Osage County premier at 2013 Toronto
“We worked our asses off,” says Roberts, pictured here at the Toronto International Film Festival, adding later, "And it was the best acting experience of my life." HawtCelebs.com
One Chance with James Corden as Paul Potts, the mobil phone salesman and amateur opera singer
In One Chance, James Corden portrays Paul Potts, a real-life person who grew up as an insecure fellow and then wills himself to risk humiliation by singing before a TV audience of millions. Photo by Liam Daniel/The Weinstein Co.
Philomena with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan
Judi Dench stars in Philomena, in which she later sets out in search of her son’s whereabouts, following a trail that leads to the United States with the aid of a cynical journalist played by co-screenwriter Steve Coogan. The Weinstein Co.
An Unreal Dream The Michael Morton Story
The official closing-night film of HCAF '13 will be An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, Al Reinert’s award-winning documentary about an outrageous miscarriage of Texas justice focusing on the legal battles of an innocent man. Photo courtesy of the Williamson County Sun
August Osage County with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts at August Osage County premier at 2013 Toronto
One Chance with James Corden as Paul Potts, the mobil phone salesman and amateur opera singer
Philomena with Judi Dench and Steve Coogan
An Unreal Dream The Michael Morton Story

This just in: While the movers and shakers at the 2013 Houston Cinema Arts Festival don’t plan to announce the full lineup for their Nov. 6-10 event until Tuesday, fest officials have confirmed their programming of three major Oscar-buzzing features – August: Osage County, One Chance and Philomena – distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Arguably the most high-profile (and definitely the most heavily hyped) of the trio, August: Osage County is the star-studded adaptation of Tracy Letts’ acclaimed dramedy about family life and strife in a colorful corner of the playwright’s native Oklahoma.

Letts already has picked up a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for his play, which was memorably staged at H-Town’s Alley Theatre in 2011. Now it looks like his script for the film version, directed by John Wells (The Company Men), could earn him another award or two, with a little help from a stellar cast that includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper and Sam Shepard.

 “We worked our asses off,” Roberts said. “Because there was no other way to do it. I've never worked so hard in my life — and I've given birth to three children." 

But wait, there’s more: Streep and Roberts already are being talked up by Academy Awards handicappers as Best Actress possibilities, especially after August: Osage County was greeted with an extended standing ovation last month when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Streep – who plays a cancer-stricken but indefatigably overbearing mother who reunites with her adult daughters following her husband’s suicide – unfortunately was unable to attend the press conference following the Toronto Festival. But Roberts (cast as Streep’s eldest and feistiest daughter) was on hand to colorfully describe the daunting challenges and bountiful rewards of making the movie.

“We worked our asses off,” said Roberts, who previous won the Best Actress statue for her starring role in Erin Brockovich in 2000. “Because there was no other way to do it. I've never worked so hard in my life — and I've given birth to three children. It was like a mountain to climb every single day and the only way to climb it, we discovered, was holding hands -- whether we liked it or not.

“We would work all day and go home and shower, and then all run to Meryl's house and start practicing for the next day. Because you had to have that momentum going really about 19 or 20 hours of the day or else it would just leave you.

“And it was the best acting experience of my life."

One Chance

One Chance, directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), is the inspiring true-life tale of Paul Potts, the mobile-phone salesman and amateur opera singer who improbably achieved overnight stardom after his triumphant 2007 performance on the UK television variety show Britain’s Got Talent. James Corden – whose credits include, no kidding, a 2009 SXSW Film Festival offering titled Lesbian Vampire Killers – plays Potts, who’s portrayed here as an insecure fellow still bearing the scars of ruthless bullying during his childhood until he fortuitously connects with a soul mate (Alexandra Roach) on  the Internet, and then wills himself to risk humiliation by singing before a TV audience of millions.

Philomena

Philomena, another fact-based drama, comes to us from veteran filmmaker Stephen Frears, director of such diverse movies as High Fidelity, The Queen, The Grifters and the recent, HBO-produced Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight. Dame Judi Dench stars in the title role as Philomena Lee, one of all too many unwed mothers who, in 1950s Ireland, were shamed by Catholic authorities into giving up their children for adoption. Decades later, Philomena sets out in search of her son’s whereabouts, following a trail that leads to the United States with the aid of a cynical journalist played by co-screenwriter Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People).

Among other offerings

Among the films previously confirmed for the 2013 Houston Cinema Arts Festival: My Father and The Man in Black, Jonathan Holiff’s docu-portrait of his Jewish-Canadian dad, Saul Holiff, long-time manager for the legendary Johnny Cash; Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, Sophie Huber’s tribute to the great character actor; and Chasing Shakespeare, Dallas-based filmmaker Norry Niven’s indie drama about love and loss starring Danny Glover, Graham Greene (of Dances With Wolves fame) and Tantoo Cardinal (Black Robe, Smoke Signals).

The official closing-night film of HCAF 13 will be An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, Al Reinert’s award-winning documentary about an outrageous miscarriage of Texas justice, focusing on the legal battles of an innocent man who spent a quarter-century behind bars thanks largely to a prosecutor who, all these years later, may be facing punishment for allegedly unethical behavior.

Most screenings will take place at the Sundance Cinemas and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The HCAF will publish a full schedule of offerings with show dates and locations on Wednesday.

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