The Hunger Games director Gary Ross already has one of the highest-grossing franchises of all time under his belt, but with his next movie it looks like Ross is looking to win awards rather than make bank at the box office. The first images have come out of the Matthew McConaughey-starring Civil War epic The Free State of Jones, which sees McConaughey playing the Southern farmer Newt Knight in the big-budget film based on a true story that sounds like something straight out of Faulkner. Given how successful Civil War-based stories often are come awards time, this could be a movie to land McConaughey his second Oscar, after Dallas Buyers Club.
Indiewire has posted the first photos from currently filming movie. The Free State of Jones will tell the true story of the Knight’s little-known rebellion against the Confederate Army. Knight led a band of farmers and freed slaves in Jones County, Miss., to secede from the Confederacy and create its own free state, called the Free State of Jones. He was married to a former slave woman and went on to create a unique mixed-race community in the county that lasted into Reconstruction. Knight was a controversial figure of the pre- and post-antebellum South who represented defiance and the continued fight for racial equality.
The story has a pedigree that should appeal to Oscar voters. Civil War movies like Lincoln and 12 Years a Slave have taken home Academy Awards in recent years, and “untold true stories” almost always appeal to Academy voters. This year’s candidate in that category would probably be The Imitation Game, which brought attention to the story of British WWII codebreaker and math genius Alan Turing. That movie was nominated for eight Oscars and took home the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay.
If you add McConaughey’s appeal for his recent transformation from romantic comedy eye candy to one of the most respected serious actors in Hollywood, plus the movie’s $20 million budget that will hopefully be used to ensure accuracy to the period, then it definitely seems like Ross has an awards contender on his hands.
While he’s most recently been known for directing The Hunger Games, Ross has been nominated for four Oscars in the past. Two were for the 2003 biopic Seabiscuit, and the others were for writing the screenplays for Big in 1988 and Dave in 1993, per IMDb.
Since revamping his career, McConaughey has been careful to choose only the best projects. He recently finished filming the Gus Van Sant-directed drama The Sea of Trees, in which he plays a suicidal American man lost in the forest (a wooded area nicknamed Suicide Forest) near Mt. Fuji. There, he befriends a Japanese man and together they search for a way out of the woods.
That movie co-stars Ken Watanabe and Naomi Watts, and has a lot of positive buzz around it, but it is definitely more of an independent venture that doesn’t have the same surefire Oscar pedigree that The Free State of Jones does. The Sea of Trees will probably get great reviews, but The Free State of Jones is likely what will win McConaughey his next Oscar.
The film is set to be released in March of next year, but Indiewire said it wouldn’t be surprising if The Free State of Jones pops up in festival lineups this fall.
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