The Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt produced “Selma” received two thunderous standing ovations tonight at its first New York screening. Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary film about Martin Luther King’s history making civil rights March leaps right into the top tier of this year’s Oscar race. David Oyelowo gives the performance of a lifetime as King, defining him on film finally after all these years. Watching “Selma” you really feel like all the plays, movies Tv shows, songs– every theater piece about King– all of it culminates in this film.
I am not kidding when I say they were standing ovations, either. There’s a lump in your throat at the of “Selma,” a movie that wisely takes a a snapshot of King’s life from the moment he wins the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 through the Selma march in 1965. It’s during this time that he successful forces Lyndon Johnson to create and pass the Voters Rights Act. Tom Wilkinson is effortlessly good as a cantankerous LBJ who realizes his legacy could be destroyed by racist Alabama governor George Wallace (a perfectly slimy Tim Roth).
There’s really wonderful supporting work from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Alessandro Nivola as John Doar (who just passed away in real life), both Lorraine Toussaint and Oprah Winfrey, and extended cameos from Martin Sheen and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Cinematographer Bradford Young (who also has “Pawn Sacrifice” and “A Most Violent Year”) gives “Selma” a convincing feel in muted colors that blossom toward the end of the movie. The version we saw last night also featured the theme song, written and recorded by Jay Z and John Legend. It’s a winner.
I met Ava Duvernay about ten years ago. She was Jennifer Hudson’s publicist. But she wanted to be a director. She made a great little indie film called “Middle of Nowhere.” She picked up “Selma” after Lee Daniels post-“The Butler” decided not do it. She’d better thank him in her speeches. Quite an accomplishment. And the movie got the seal of approval from Richard Valeriani, former NBC correspondent, who covered the Selma march. He told me she got it right.
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