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No ‘Silence,’ But Paramount Still Boasts Prestige Power at CinemaCon

New films from Robert Zemeckis, Stephen Frears and Denis Villeneuve could navigate the circuit later this year.

Florence Foster Jenkins
Courtesy of Paramount

LAS VEGAS — The oddest note in Paramount PicturesCinemaCon presentation Monday night, kicking off four days of footage reveals and seminars at the annual motion picture exhibitors trade show, was the exclusion of Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.” The Oscar-winning director’s latest film, expected to hit theaters this fall, is a presumed awards hopeful on paper. But it didn’t even warrant a mention. Nevertheless, the studio had plenty of prestige potential to show off.

Beginning with a bit of a surprise, Robert Zemeckis’ “Allied” was previewed with a solid assemblage of polished footage featuring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. The World War II drama was directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) from a script by Oscar-nominated writer Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”). It’s also producer Graham King’s first real play along these lines since his last collaboration with Scorsese, 2011’s “Hugo.” He won the best picture Oscar for “The Departed” in 2007.

Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore was careful to mention that the film is “barely into production,” but the footage was nevertheless slick and wide-ranging. Pitt stars as an intelligence officer in 1942 North Africa who encounters Cotillard’s French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. It sure sports the usual trappings of a latter year circuit push, and Paramount — still looking for an Oscar home run after strong showings from films like “The Fighter,” “True Grit,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Big Short” in recent years — planted its flag with gusto: the studio announced a Nov. 23 release date, right in the thick of awards season. A New York Film Festival bow could make a lot of sense; Zemeckis’ last two films, “Flight” and “The Walk,” premiered there.

Also on offer was a look at Stephen Frears’ “Florence Foster Jenkins.” The film boasts a handsome aesthetic typical of Frears’ work and appears to be a strong play for actress Meryl Streep, who sets a new record every time she nabs an Academy Award nomination. She stars as the eponymous Jenkins, an amateur early-20th Century opera singer famous (or perhaps infamous) for her poor singing skills, and Streep looks like she’s having an absolute ball in the role. Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg also star in what could be, if not an Oscar player, perhaps something for comedy/musical Golden Globe consideration. The film hits theaters Aug. 12.

Finally, and perhaps a taller Academy order given its genre trappings, there was Denis Villeneuve’s “Story of Your Life.” A science-fiction yarn about an alien invasion and the team assembled to make first contact, it has a moody and controlled look, typical of the French-Canadian filmmaker. “Incendies,” “Prisoners” and “Sicario” all managed a little Oscar love, so who knows?

Obviously other fun offerings like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and “Baywatch” won’t find themselves scooping up awards that aren’t made out of golden popcorn, but Timur Bekmambetov’s “Ben-Hur” should at least be mentioned. The 1959 iteration of the beloved Lew Wallace book still shares the record for most Oscar wins in history (11, with “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”). But Bekmambetov’s vision — an action-packed adventure aimed at modern audiences — won’t likely be treading those waters. The riveting chariot race sequence, for instance, has been turned up to 11, far more brutal and visceral.

Also previewed were a set of stills from Denzel Washington’s forthcoming adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences.” Washington stars alongside Viola Davis. As a director, Washington has flirted with the season before with 2007’s “The Great Debaters” and his 2002 debut “Antwone Fisher,” but with Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning source material like this, he could really score.

Other prestige pics expected to show their wares this week include Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation,” “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” from two-time best director Oscar winner Ang Lee, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter” spin-off “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and Tate Taylor’s “The Girl on the Train,” based on the bestseller.