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5 reasons why If Beale Street Could Talk is already a serious Oscars contender

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The festive season may already be upon us with dozens of great films already lined up. But many film fans are also looking ahead to next year's releases that have the potential to snag awards.

One of these Oscar-worthy films that we're incredibly excited about is Moonlight director Barry Jenkins' latest project If Beale Street Could Talk, which lands in Cineworld on 8th February.

Following the struggle of a pregnant young woman from Harlem who desperately tries to prove her fiancé's innocence of rape, Beale Street promises to be a powerful and provocative drama. We think If Beale Street Could Talk is already a serious contender for this year's awards, and here are five reasons why.

1. It's written and directed by Moonlight's Barry Jenkins

Perhaps the biggest reason why Beale Street has garnered so much attention is because it's written and directed by the outstanding Barry Jenkins, who took the world by storm in 2016 with the multi-Oscar-winning Moonlight.

Currently sitting at a whopping 99/100 on reviews aggregator site Metacritic, this moving coming-of-age tale of a young, gay black man growing up amid the backdrop of 1990s Miami has racked up over 200 awards. This includes Oscars for Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, who features in upcoming movies Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Green Book), and Best Original Screenplay for Jenkins.

Moonlight was praised for its overwhelming beauty and thoughtful themes, Jenkins showing us exactly what he was capable of in what was only his second feature film following Medicine for Melancholy (2008). Matching something like Moonlight is a monumental task in itself, but we have every belief Jenkins has created another Oscar-worthy film with Beale Street.




2. It's adapted from the acclaimed novel by James Baldwin

It's not just Jenkins' superb directing we can look forward to, but a rich and poignant story. Beale Street is adapted from the 1974 novel of the same name by acclaimed essayist and author James Baldwin, and the screenplay was written directly after Jenkins finished the script for Moonlight. In fact, it was written in the space of just five weeks before he even acquired the rights.

The author of influential and progressive works including Go Tell it On the Mountain (1953) and Giovanni's Room (1956), Baldwin is a literary figure celebrated for his representations of the African-American community and gay characters (two minority groups he was a member of, which caused him to leave America for France). Baldwin was also the subject of recent, acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro.

It's therefore no surprise that Jenkins was drawn to adapting Beale Street for the big screen. In an interview at TIFF earlier this year, Jenkins told IMDb that his film is a "very pure story about black love, black family, black community that's rooted in reality…[that's] about being black in America" – and we simply can't wait to see it.


3. It features an incredible cast of lesser-known actors

As has been illustrated so many times already, relatively unknown actors are more than capable of storming the Oscars. Take Christoph Waltz in Quentin Tarantino's World War II black comedy Inglourious Basterds – it was his first English-speaking role after years of toiling in obscure Austrian dramas, and proved his mastery in the role of the bilingual, manipulative, charismatic Nazi Hans Landa. He went on to win Best Supporting Actor for the role.

Although Moonlight didn't win Oscars for its performers (Naomie Harris was Oscar-nominated for her powerful turn as a drug-addicted mother), it boosted the profile of actors Ashton Sanders, who had previously only appeared in small roles in Straight Outta Compton and The Retrieval, and Janelle Monáe in what was just her second role following a small part in Rio 2.

In the case of Beale Street, we can expect to see the feature debut of KiKi Layne in the starring role who has already received a Gotham Award nomination for Breakthrough Actor. Could she also take home an Academy Award? Appearing alongside her is Stephan James who is somewhat more established (he played celebrated athlete Jesse Owens in Race), but is hardly a household name.

We can surely expect these two to go places following their breakout roles in Beale Street.


4. A score by Nicholas Britell

Beale Street is the latest collaboration between Jenkins and composer Nicholas Britell, whose thoughtful compositions on Moonlight invested that movie with skin-prickling atmosphere. His efforts won numerous awards and Britell was also nominated for an Oscar. His score for Beale Street has already been nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award, so further Oscar recognition may be incoming.

With other scores to his name including The Big Short and Battle of the Sexes, Britell is showing himself to be one of the biggest rising musical sensations in Hollywood today. And with his more experimental style (Moonlight used "Chopped and Screwed" techniques), no one can create music as beautiful as Britell, who we hope will finally snag the Oscar this year.

(Fun musical fact: the film's title derives from the song "Beale Street Blues" by W.C Handy, so we can hopefully expect some more jazz-inspired pieces to feature.)




5. The critics adore it

Don't just take our word for it. Critics have already adorned Beale Street with praise after its premiere at this year's Toronto International Film festival.

The Playlist praises Jenkins for capturing the complex emotions found within Baldwin's novel. Vanity Fair, IndieWire, and Entertainment Weekly, on the other hand, rave about the film's ability to create profound observations of black life. And The Guardian simply states "[i]t's a film with love at its root…and Jenkins fills so much of it with a radiating warmth".

If these first impressions are anything to go by, then Beale Street stands an excellent chance at this year's Oscars. If Beale Street Could Talk arrives in Cineworld on 8th February, so tweet us @Cineworld with your thoughts on its Oscars chances.

Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.