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‘Silence’ timed for Oscar surprise

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Ciaran Hinds, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in

Ciaran Hinds, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in "Silence." (Cappa Defina Productions)

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Ciaran Hinds, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in "Silence." (Cappa Defina Productions)

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By Libby Hill

Los Angeles Times

(TNS)

A film 26 years in the making, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” may be settling in to play spoiler at the Oscars.

Scorsese’s passion project had been in development since 1990 before premiering on Tuesday at the Vatican.

An adaptation of a 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, “Silence” is set in 17th century Japan and centers on the journey of two Jesuit priests seeking to recover their mentor after he is accused of apostasy.

Early buzz on the film is good, if sparse, and its late, holiday-adjacent release date puts it in a prime position to upend an Oscar race season that previously looked largely settled.

Strategic release dates have been a part of Oscar season since its inception, even used by “Gone With the Wind” in 1939. But often the power of the late release doesn’t come as much from timing as it does from expectations.

In 2004, it appeared to be smooth sailing for Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” set for wide release on Christmas Day. But “The Aviator” was ultimately upended at the Oscars by Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

For Scorsese, in particular, Oscar success is often coupled with decreased expectations. While “The Aviator” took awards for five of its 11 nominations, Scorsese was similarly successful with 2011’s “Hugo.” The latter boasted the same win/loss record as the former thanks to the lowered expectations of “Hugo” being “just” a kids movie.

“The Departed” eschewed the December release date entirely, instead embracing its commercial appeal and premiering in early October 2006 and finally scoring Scorsese the Oscar for directing.

So where does that leave “Silence”?

Much of the substance of “Silence” has been kept under wraps, leaving room for speculation but not much for prognostication.

“Manchester by the Sea,” “Fences,” “Moonlight,” and “La La Land” are all intimate stories, so subject and scope alone differentiate “Silence” from those current Oscar front-runners.

When the National Board of Review announced its awards Tuesday, Scorsese’s latest was included in its top 10 films of the year, in addition to winning adapted screenplay.

If critical praise continues apace, “Silence” may prove golden after all.

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©2016 Los Angeles Times

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‘Silence’ timed for Oscar surprise