The last major film festival of the fall season announced its highly anticipated opening night film this morning, and it is writer/director J.C. Chandor’s and Participant Media’s  A Most Violent Year. That’s a bit of a surprise for the pete_hammond_300x100AFI Fest 2014 Presented By Audi, as it is going out through upstart distributor A24, a company looking to jump into the Oscar conversation in a big way with this high profile debut on  November 6th at the TLC Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Since the film itself is being held back for an end-of-year eligibility run beginning December 31, the last possible day to enter the race, this will be a valuable showcase and self-starting slot to get noticed amidst all the bigger-name entries into the awards derby.

Chandor won an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay of Margin Call  in 2011, and followed that with a complete change-of-pace with the 2013 Robert Redford one man show All Is Lost — which surprisingly did not land an Oscar nod for Redford  but should have (it did land a Sound Editing nomination). Now he has switched gears again with this tumblr_n2nhdyGyMB1ssfapoo1_250crime Image (1) Participant_Media_logo__130207100507-200x57__130429190829.jpg for post 485868drama set during 1981, one of the most brutal years  in New York City history. It revolves around the lives of a couple, Abel  (Isaac) and Anna Morales (Chastain) as they try to attain what the press release notes as the “American Dream” while everything crumbles around them.

Chandor told me that Javier Bardem was originally going to play the role eventually taken by Isaac, but things turned out differently. Isaac is on a roll following his acclaimed work in last year’s Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis. Chastain continues on a big work streak of late, having also appeared in this fall’s The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby and a supporting role in the much-anticipated November release, Interstellar. Another film of hers, Miss Julie, just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Image (6) A24_logo__131205180530__140507011114.jpg for post 725379AFI Fest director Jacqueline Lyanga praised the film, still in post-production, as “a remarkable crime drama, which is also  an immersive period piece and morality tale that resonates on an emotional level.” David  Oyelowo, who also stars as Martin Luther King in Selma, another late-breaking December entry, co-stars along with Albert Brooks (robbed of a supporting Oscar nod he should  have had for Drive) among a fine cast.

Because of its timing there had been speculation that November 14 release Interstellar might be in line to open the fest, or perhaps The Weinstein Company’s Tim Burton-directed Big Eyes  or even Disney’s Christmas Day musical, Into The Woods, considering the studio chose AFI Fest to unveil Saving Mr. Banks in the prestigious slot last year. Paramount’s December pair of The Gambler  and Selma or Fox’s Exodus: Gods And Kings from director Ridley Scott might also have fit the bill. But AFI went major indie for their opening slot this year. Universal’s highly awaited Angelina Jolie directorial effort, Unbroken, also could have made sense but the Christmas Day opener isn’t expected to be ready in time. Make no mistake, this is a real coup for A24. Of course, other high profile films could turn up during the one week run of the festival other than the usual retreads from other fests from Cannes onward,  but AFI won’t be releasing  the full lineup until an unspecified day in October.  Sophia Loren will be getting the same kind of tribute she received in Cannes as a special event on Wednesday, November 12. Here’s the full release from AFI:

AFI Fest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, LOS ANGELES, CA, September 24, 2014 – The American Film Institute (AFI) announced today that Participant Media’s A MOST VIOLENT YEAR, distributed by A24, will have its World Premiere on Thursday, November 6, as the Opening Night Gala of AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi. The film is written and directed by Academy Award® nominee J.C. Chandor and stars Oscar Isaac, Academy Award® nominees Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks as well as David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel and Catalina Sandino Moreno.

”J.C. Chandor has put together a remarkable crime drama, which is also an immersive period piece and morality tale that resonates on an emotional level. Chandor is a talented director who takes risks with every film that he makes and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is no exception. It is a great film with which to open the festival and begin the audience’s eight-day journey through a landscape of extraordinary contemporary cinema,” said Jacqueline Lyanga, Director, AFI FEST.

To attend the World Premiere and Opening Night Gala of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR with reserved seats, guests must purchase a festival package at the Star Patron or Marquee Patron level. These and other AFI FEST Patron Packages and Express Passes – which can include access to sold-out Galas and other high-demand films and events – are on sale now at AFI.com/AFIFEST. AFI members at the Two-Star level and above receive a 10% discount on all AFI FEST Patron Packages and Express Passes. AFI Members will be given access to regular screenings with a Cinepass for this year’s festival. Information about AFI Membership is available at AFI.com/membership. The American Film Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational and cultural organization, and Patron Packages are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

Free individual tickets to AFI FEST screenings and Galas will be available to the general public online at AFI.com/AFIFEST beginning Friday, October 24.

AFI FEST will take place November 6 through 13 in Hollywood, California, at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. As previously announced, Sophia Loren will be honored with a Tribute on Wednesday, November 12 and her memoir “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life” will be published by Artia Books on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. The full festival lineup will be unveiled in October.

For the 11th year, Audi is the festival’s presenting sponsor. Additional top sponsors include AT&T; Coca-Cola; Vizio; American Airlines, the official airline of AFI; and Stella Artois. The festival’s venue sponsors include the TCL Chinese Theatres, the Hollywood & Highland Center, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the Egyptian Theatre.

About A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

Set in 1981, during one of the most crime-ridden winters in New York City’s history, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR follows the lives of Abel and Anna Morales (Isaac and Chastain) as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream, while the rampant violence, decay, and corruption of the day drag them in and threaten to destroy all they have built.

About the American Film Institute

AFI is America’s promise to preserve the history of the motion picture, to honor the artists and their work and to educate the next generation of storytellers. AFI programs include the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and AFI Archive, which preserve film heritage for future generations; the AFI Life Achievement Award – the highest honor for a career in film – now in its 42nd year; AFI Awards, honoring the most outstanding motion pictures and television programs of the year; AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies television events and movie reference lists, which have introduced and reintroduced classic American movies to millions of film lovers; year-round and special event exhibition through AFI FEST presented by Audi, AFI DOCS and the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center; and educating the next generation of storytellers at the world-renowned AFI Conservatory. For more information about AFI, visit AFI.com or connect with AFI at twitter.com/AmericanFilm, facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute and youtube.com/AFI.

About AFI FEST presented by Audi

A program of the American Film Institute, AFI FEST presented by Audi is a celebration of global cinema and today’s Hollywood – an opportunity for master filmmakers and emerging artists to come together with audiences in the movie capital of the world. AFI FEST is the only festival of its stature that is free to the public. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes AFI FEST as a qualifying festival for both Short Film categories for the annual Academy Awards®. This year’s edition takes place November 6-13, 2014. Additional information about AFI FEST is available at AFI.com/AFIFEST. Connect with AFI FEST at facebook.com/AFIFEST, twitter.com/AFIFEST and youtube.com/AFIFEST.