I, Daniel Blake, the Ken Loach-directed film that won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or in May, is now angling to crack into the Oscar race as well. Sundance Selects, which acquired the film at the fest and will release it on Dec. 23, is debuting its first U.S. trailer Thursday. (See the preview at the top of this post.)
The film revolves around a proud 59-year-old widower (played by British comedian Dave Johns) from northeast England - where English accents are so thick they require subtitles - who, after 40 years of work as a carpenter, suffers a heart attack. On doctor's orders, he stays home from work for an extended period of time, assuming that the British benefits system which he has paid into for his entire life will kick into action for him. Instead, he runs up against a soul-sucking wall of red tape and bureaucracy that frustrates, infuriates and depresses him, and soon jeopardizes his ability to survive. Even in the face of such adversity, he sees that others have it even worse, and shows particular kindness to a young single mother (Hayley Squires) and her two children (Briana Shann and Dylan McKiernan), who are barely scraping by, as they all begin to look out for one another.
As I wrote after I, Daniel Blake's North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month: "It would be hard to argue to Oscar voters that many 2016 movies are more timely than this one, when, on both sides of the Atlantic, there is an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and large numbers of people who once considered themselves securely 'middle-class' are now struggling to stay above water." It seems quite possible that Loach, a legend who never has received an Oscar nomination, could land one for this film, especially in a year in which the Academy added a considerable number of international filmmakers to its directors branch, which solely determines the best director Oscar nominees.