Toronto: 'Black and White' Could Propel Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer Into Oscar Race

Mike Binder's drama, which features the Oscar winners on opposite sides of a custody dispute over a mixed-race child, is still seeking a U.S. distributor
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

One of the best movies that has already screened at the Toronto Film Festival but hasn't yet found a U.S. distributor is Mike Binder's Black and White. The drama, which was inspired by a true story, stars Oscar winners Kevin Costner (also a producer) and Octavia Spencer as a grandfather and grandmother on opposite sides of a dispute over the custody of a mixed-race child (the excellent 10-year-old newcomer Jillian Estell) to whom they both lay claim. Following its world premiere at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday, it received a lengthy standing ovation, and it's hard to imagine that it will remain on the market — or outside of the 2014 Oscar discussion — for much longer.

Black and White comes nine years after the one prior collaboration between Binder and Costner, the excellent drama The Upside of Anger, which also dealt with family strife of a grave nature, while finding room for a few laughs. (Binder, who also wrote both films, is a former stand-up comic and occasional actor.) In-between these two low-budget indies, Binder also wrote and directed two disappointing films, the straight-to-DVD Man About Town (2006) and and the big-studio disappointment Reign Over Me (2007), while Costner more or less faded from quality projects before making an acclaimed "comeback," of sorts, in the TV miniseries Hatfields and McCoys (2012), for which he won an Emmy and a Golden Globe. It's good to see them back together again and in top form.

This film deals with some uncomfortable subject matter, which may explain why a major distributor hasn't yet swooped it up. But if and when one does, they should, with a competent awards campaign, be able to generate some Oscar buzz for its two biggest stars. Costner has an array of impressive scenes (including and especially a showstopping one from the witness box) — but, even so, that category is jam-packed and will be tough to crack. The castmember who would, in fact, stand the best shot of landing a nom would be Spencer, the best supporting actress Oscar winner from three years ago for The Help, another film about race in America, who has several great dramatic and comedic moments of her own and would immediately become a top contender in that same category, which is lacking in other great options so far (excepting Boyhood's Patricia Arquette).

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg