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25 years in the making, Martin Scorsese's 'Silence' will get its Oscar moment

25 years in the making, Martin Scorsese's 'Silence' will get its Oscar moment
A shot from Martin Scorsese's upcoming "Silence." (Paramount Pictures)

Paramount earlier this week announced that Dec. 23 would be the release date for "Silence," Martin Scorsese's long-gestating movie about Portuguese Jesuits on a mission to spread Christianity in Japan.

The studio will put out the film, which Scorsese began developing a quarter-century ago, in limited release right before Christmas and then widen it in January.

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The move should gladden the hearts of the many fans of Scorsese, who has been working in surprising registers lately. While returning to a signature street vibe with "The Departed" a decade ago, he's in recent years also switchbacked to a 3-D family film in "Hugo," a baroque head-trip of a thriller in "Shutter Island" and a cult-of-personality black comedy in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"Silence" pushes him out further — aiming, by all accounts, for a meditative and spiritual vibe in keeping with his Dalai Lama exploration "Kundun" nearly 20 years ago.

Starring a glittery cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson and Adam Driver, the movie is certain to investigate larger questions of loss and religion in keeping with its source material, Shusaku Endo's 1966 novel. (Scorsese began shooting the film in January 2015 and has been deep in post-production in recent months.)

But if the "Silence" release news makes cineastes happy, it also could make those behind competing awards contenders nervous. Scorsese has been on an Oscar streak like few others. Five of his last six films have been nominated for best picture; only "Shutter Island," in 2010, didn't make the list. "The Departed," of course, won picture, director, editing and adapted screenplay.

Whether Scorsese's move to more ruminative territory will fly with voters remains to be seen. ("Kundun" wasn't nominated for best picture.)

But the goodwill for the director, and the mature questions he asks, could help make it a favorite. In a season that is seeing  "La La Land" bring back the musical, Denzel Washington take on August Wilson and Ang Lee tackle patriotism and the military, a spiritual Scorsese is one more potent X-factor.

On Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT

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