The Dish: Apple Eyes 2023 Cannes Launch For Oscar-Bait Scorsese-DiCaprio-De Niro Film ‘Killers Of The Flower Moon’; Don’t Count Out ‘Emancipation’ For 2022

Editor’s note: This will start a regular column for Deadline journos to plant their flag in deals, hires and firings and industry developments before they’re fully baked. 

(L-R) Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro Arnold Turner/Netflix

EXCLUSIVE: As the fall festivals lock in final choices that will drive the upcoming awards season, there is big intrigue on two films from reigning Best Picture winner Apple that might fill in some blind spots on the race. The Dish hears that Killers of the Flower Moon, the Martin Scorsese-directed adaptation of the David Grann book that figured to be a strong contender for all the top Oscar categories, it will skip this Oscar race. The alternative plan discussed: the film that teams Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro will get a global showcase premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival next May. And in a development that could be a future template for streamers look to recoup some of the mega-budgets of the event films they’ve been making, Killers of the Flower Moon would roll out with a full-blown theatrical release through Paramount, a studio that was always part of the deal.

A Cannes-to-theater rollout would be reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which became a big box office hit and still factored in the Oscar race a half-year later, landing 10 noms including Best Picture, with Brad Pitt winning Best Supporting Actor. The makers of Killers of the Flower Moon have similar awards aspirations and the film will certainly have high awareness when it lands on Apple TV+, because of a proper P&A-fueled wide release. The Eric Roth-scripted fact-based drama follows a series of mysterious murders of wealthy Osage Native Americans, this after deposits of oil were discovered under their land. The subsequent investigation led to the foundation of the FBI. DiCaprio and De Niro have been Scorsese’s go-to stars for years, since De Niro raved about the young actor when they starred together in This Boy’s Life.

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(L-R) Will Smith and Antoine Fuqua GI

Another epic Apple title, Emancipation, has in numerous reports been scratched from the upcoming awards-season race because of last year’s Best Actor winner Will Smith’s moment of Oscarcast infamy. But the film was never dated by Apple, and we hear Emancipation might very well make its debut on Apple TV+ later this year or early next year after all. The picture is complete, and sources said it has been tested numerous times and gotten very high scores. In the Antoine Fuqua-directed William N. Collage-scripted drama, Smith plays Peter. He is an enslaved man and the film is an Apocalypto-style thriller about his harrowing escapes to freedom through the swamps of Louisiana. When Peter reaches the North, he joined the Union Army. During his physical, doctors were shocked when he removed his shirt and bore the scars from a near fatal beating on his back. They took photographs and those ran in newspapers across the world. They provided a gruesome testament to the barbarity and cruelty of slavery in the antebellum South. So indelible that those images could be considered a forerunner to the publication of photos of Emmett Till and video of the murder of George Floyd.

While Smith was banned a decade by the Academy, The Dish has heard that Emancipation is the best film director Antoine Fuqua has made since Training Day. The film could factor in awards season in that fashion. Smith turns in a bravura performance, but the question is whether he might take himself out of contention as actor and producer. It has long been expected that Smith would do a high profile mea culpa with Oprah Winfrey or someone else, but nothing has been firmed.

Stay tuned on both fronts. Apple would not comment.