Though Spring brought us some memorable moviess (Zootopia, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Deadpool), and Summer was your typical mixed bag of great (Captain America: Civil War, Pete’s Dragon) and disappointing (Independence Day: Resurgence, Warcraft), we have arrived at the “Fall” Movie Season, and that means Oscars. With the Telluride Film Festival happening over Labor Day weekend, the awards race will officially begin. There will be other festivals, world premieres, the various critics’ awards, the Golden Globes, and various guild awards all leading up to the announcement of nominations (January 16) and then the eventful Oscar night itself (February 28, 2017).
Though it is normal for the majority of “Oscar movies” to be released during the Fall (producers want them to be fresh on the voters’ minds), normally there is an outlier that was released earlier in the year. Last year there was Mad Max: Fury Road (an outlier in MANY ways) and in 2014 Boyhood was able to keep up its buzz starting in July all the way through Oscar Season. As of right now, there aren’t too many films from Spring or Summer that pundits are looking to as Oscar hopefuls.
Midnight Special is championed by many and from an awards friendly director (Jeff Nichols, Mud, Take Shelter). Unfortunately, if there is going to be a Nichols production pushed for awards this year, it will be his other release Loving (see below). The only other films from earlier in the year that pundits are looking at would maybe be The Lobster, Florence Foster Jenkins, or Hell or High Water. All of these are extreme long shots, their only hope would be if the critics championed them in the earlier awards (not to mention a hefty Oscar campaign directly from the studios).
With all eyes looking to the last four months of the year, let us take a look at some of the Oscar hopefuls that will be released. These are ten movies that are either very likely to be involved in awards season, or they (i.e. studios) are hoping they will be players in the Oscar game. They will be ranked in order of likelihood of being nominated (10 = less likely. 1 = more likely). Though more predictions and betting odds are sure to be made, consider this the starting line for the Oscar race.
The Birth of A Nation (October 7)
The Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Birth of a Nation was met with a standing ovation before it was even screened. Nate Parker wrote, directed, and stars as Nat Turner and tells the story of Turner’s famous slave rebellion. The Birth of a Nation looks to be a truly thrilling piece of dramatic storytelling, both in its historical significance and (from the sound of the critical response) a true delight when it comes filmmaking.
A real example of the independent spirit (Parker raised the majority of the budget himself by partnering with various financiers), it’s Oscar chances are high as we all know the Academy is looking to distance themselves from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy they have faced the past two years. So why is The Birth of a Nation number 10 on this list? After its stellar debut at Sundance, the film was deemed the frontrunner in the Oscar race, but earlier this Summer the “narrative” became Nate Parker’s 1999 rape charges. Simply put, many are thinking it might be totally excluded from the awards season due to bad press.
Though that is a bigger issue that we have time to get into here, this writer feels as though you can enjoy a piece of art without validating the mistakes of the artist (alleged or not). Watch the trailer above, and you will see what looks to be a truly powerful experience.
If Silence had a confirmed release date it would be at the top of this list. Silence will tell the story of two Jesuit Catholic priests who experience violent persecution during a journey to Japan. The film stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in the two main roles, with Liam Neeson and some of the very best Japanese actors filling out the cast.
Apart from the very Oscar-friendly story, the reason we should all be excited is due to the great Martin Scorsese’s involvement. His first theatrical release since 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence looks to be something totally different than anything we have seen from him before. Whether it be Hugo or Shutter Island or the Best Picture/Director winning The Departed, we know that when Scorsese directs, we all ought to pay attention.
Passengers (December 21)
Of all the efforts included on this list, this is the one that may be the most wishful thinking on my part. The movie has a very late release date (hard to build up Oscar buzz), and with a budget of $120 Million, Columbia Pictures is hoping for more of a blockbuster than Oscar-winner. It may just reach its goals of being a blockbuster, what with it starring possibly the two biggest movie stars working today (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence).
Even with it’s blockbuster hopes, most years the Academy picks a blockbuster to favorite, and Passengers may fill that void. Telling the story of two space travelers who wake early from their 120-year voyage, Passengers has long been pitched as “Gravity with a love story.” The film’s Oscar chances really went up when it was announced that Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) would be directing.
Snowden (September 16)
Oliver Stone’s early career is filled with Oscar nominations and major wins. Nixon, JFK, Wall Street, and Salvador were nominated for various Oscars, while Born on the Fourth of July earned Stone a Best Director Oscar and Platoon went all the way for the big prize. With that in mind, Stone’s modern career has not been as high profile with regard to awards season. While there are fans of Savages, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, World Trade Center, and W., none of these garnered the the critical acclaim as his early career.
This leads us to Snowden. There is no doubt that the film will be as politically charged as the others discussed above, telling the story of Edward Snowden and his revelations about our government and The Patriot Act (whether you are familiar with the issue or not, you really owe it to yourself to watch John Oliver’s excellent interview with Snowden). Joseph Gordon Levitt is one of the best actors working today, and the subject matter is prime for a 2016 release, but itmay be a little too political, even for the Academy. Watch the Rotten Tomatoes score for this one, I imagine if critics and audiences alike champion the movie, we could see it continue on through to January’s nomination announcement.
Arrival (November 11)
Arrival is the type of story that wouldn’t normally garner Oscar attention. Yes, the cast is stellar, featuring Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker, and Jeremy Renner, but it is the direction of Denis Villeneuve that has Oscar pundits’ attention. After making his name with Enemy and Prisoner, it was 2015’s Sicario that came closest to Oscar glory (nominated for Editing, Cinematography, and Original Score, while also being nominated by the Producer’s Guild as one of the best films of the year).
Like Passengers’ inclusion on the list, Arrival may benefit due to the Academy’s affection for sci-fi. Though the Oscars have a troubled relationship with genre movies (looking at you, The Dark Knight snub), if they do go for genre, it will most likely be science fiction. Look to Arrival to fill that District 9 type of slot.
Read more about Arrival’s Oscar chance here.
La La Land (December 2)
Many of us were excited at the prospect of any production that continues the relationship between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (we were all hoping it would be more Crazy. Stupid. Love and less Gangster Squad). Knowing it would be directed by Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle solidified the excitement. Whiplash is one of the best films of 2014, and Chazelle broke on to the scene with one of the most intense and powerful experiences in recent memory.
The first teaser was released a few weeks ago, and though we were excited before, now it is apparent that La La Land will be something truly special. Working in the space that Oscar-favorites Midnight In Paris and The Artist lived in, La La Land looks to combine a dramedy with a more whimsy musical. Parts of the trailer seem outright fantastical, but it works. If the Academy decides to forgo the hardcore drama, La La Land could be the lighter fare it loves to reward sometimes.
Sully (September 9)
As we’ve seen on this list, sometimes an “Oscar Movie” needs to have the perfect message that captures the zeitgeist of the year it is released. Sometimes the fact that is a well-made movie that is based on an important historical event garners its inclusion. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes the film is made by a certain director, and nothing else need be said. Enter Clint Eastwood, and enter Sully.
Staring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and how he miraculously landed his damaged airliner in the Hudson River, oh yeah, there were 155 passengers on the plane as well. The trailer gives a glimpse of what looks to be a stronger Eastwood film. The man is 86 years old and he is still cranking out these powerhouse dramas. Whether it was American Sniper in 2014 or Sully this year, Eastwood is pretty much guaranteed a spot at the Oscar table.
Loving (November 4)
Described as a “haunting portrait of discrimination,” Loving tells the story of an interracial couple living in 1960’s Virginia. Though the couple’s struggle lead to a Constitutional Amendment, that does not take away from the pain and anguish they went through simply for loving each other. It’s not exactly bold to predict that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga will be at the top of the acting categories this year, these look to be parts that actors can really show their range, and both of them look to shine in Loving.
As mentioned in the introduction, Midnight Special’s Oscar chances were decimated the moment Loving received a 2016 release date as well. In any other year, that film could stand a chance, but Jeff Nichols looks to have put out two stellar dramas in the same year.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (November 11)
After winning Best Director for Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s next release looks to be completely different from his last with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Telling the story of Iraq War soldiers’ experience at a football game halftime show (they are there to boost morales as heroes of the war), Billy Lynn looks to be an exploration of war and how we interact with our modern veterans.
Though Lee almost won Best Picture in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, his filmography tends to be on the more fantastical side (Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, 2003’s misguided Hulk). Though it may not be obvious from the trailer, Billy Lynn will be just as technology-pushing as Life of Pi was. The movie was shot 120 frames per second, which just so happens to be the highest frame rate of any film ever. We can expect that Lee will use this technology to help tell the story, giving us some of the most realistic battle scenes ever, while also using the intense frame rate to communicate the hard reality these veterans go through.
Manchester By The Sea (November 18)
The second Sundance sensation to be included on this list, Manchester By The Sea is, for all intents and purposes, our current frontrunner for Best Picture this year. A quick glance at the critical reception the film is currently receiving, and one can see that the critics are enjoying this one. Though the trailer shows us we will be dealing with some real tragedy, this looks to be the type of drama that brings some real heart with it.
Both Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges are said to give career-best performances (look to both of them for acting nominations). After some screenwriting credits that range from Analyze This to Gangs of New York, Kenneth Lonergan is fully breaking on to the scene for writing and directing Manchester By The Sea. I can imagine this one may be a little rough in some spots, but the film looks to show the power of family (estranged as it may be) to push through tragedy and the many storms of life.
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