Oscar season permeates everything. It starts in September and lasts through the ceremony, which is really just half of an entire year. The other half is devoted to rumors and buzz, but as soon as the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals begin, things start getting serious. This year, the festivals have given us a bevy of early contenders vying for the frontrunner position. The festivals aren’t the only source of possible Oscar fare, though. Some films have yet to be seen, while others skipped festivals entirely and have instead dropped in theaters. The Oscars are still months away. We don’t even have a host yet, but it’s never too early to begin preparing. With all that in mind, here are the films you should watch out for over the coming months.
La La Land
La La Land
seems to be at the top of nearly everyone’s Best Picture list, charming viewers and staying at the front of everyone’s minds. This is the same course that Spotlight took when it won Best Picture last year. The film wasn’t always someone’s pick for winner, but it was always present, and that ended up being enough to propel the film to victory in the category. In addition to Best Picture, look for La La Land to make a major play in the Best Director category, where Whiplash director Damien Chazelle will almost certainly be nominated for his tribute to the movie musical. Emma Stone is also a strong contender for her role in the film, which showcases all the qualities that have made Stone popular since she broke big in 2009. It’s worth noting that being a heavy favorite this early can actually be damaging to some films down the home stretch. Fortunately, it seems like La La Land is also the kind of film that’s very hard to root against.
Denis Villeneuve has crafted several films that have been involved in the Oscar conversation, even if they weren’t major players. Both Sicario and Prisoners were critically acclaimed, and it looks like Arrival may finally be the film that breaks Villeneuve through. The film follows Amy Adams, a linguist who is charged with communicating with aliens after they land on Earth. Arrival will mainly be in contention for Adams’ work as a scientist dealing with the unknown, but Villeneuve could sneak into the directing category for his stylish work on the film. If you’ve even looked at Sicario, you know it’s about time someone gave him some awards.
Jackie debuted at Toronto and managed to dazzle everyone who saw it. Natalie Portman stars as Jackie Onassis, and the film takes a look at her last days in the White House following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Portman surged to the front of everyone’s minds in the Best Actress race following the performance, which was startlingly realistic without crossing the line into mere imitation. Directed by Pablo Larrain, the film also appears to be worth noting for its visual beauty. It could easily land itself in Best Picture alongside the acting nomination that Portman seems sure to receive.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
has never won a Best Picture Oscar, but he’s won Best Director twice. With Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Lee is uses high-frame rates to heighten the reality being presented to the audience. The film follows a troupe of soldiers who are deemed war heroes after a battle in Iraq, and are temporarily brought home for a celebration, which culminates in a halftime show at a Thanksgiving Day football game. As the celebration commences, flashbacks are used to give viewers a sense of what actually happened during the battle. War stories typically resonate quite well with Oscar voters, and Billy Lynn looks to be no exception. With Lee at the helm, the film will certainly into the Best Director and Best Picture races, and may also pick up some acting nominations if the reception is strong enough.
For a long time, no one knew if Silence, Martin Scorsese’s new film about priests in the 17th century, would even be released in time for this year’s Oscars. With the recent confirmation of the film’s release date, it appears as though Silence will be making a major awards play. Starring Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield, the film focuses on Portuguese Priests traveling to Japan to minister to Christians there. Little more is known about the project, but Scorsese’s name alone gives the movie an excellent shot at a Best Picture nomination. If the rumors surrounding the film are true, Scorsese has been trying to get this film made for quite some time. If it lives up to the hype, Silence could wind up being a major player in a race that is already quite crowded.
There are few movies this year as universally beloved as Moonlight. While it may not be typical Oscar fare, the film’s rave reception has led some to believe that it may end up in the conversation. The film follows a young boy who comes of age during the war on drugs and must learn to understand himself and his own sexuality. The film is lovingly crafted by Barry Jenkins, who may receive a directing nomination for his work. Moonlight is also filled with enough wonderful performances to fill several of the categories on its own. If we’re lucky, a few of the film’s performers will sneak into the ceremony, especially in the supporting categories.
Manchester by the Sea
There are always a few films that have legs long enough to carry on after their debuts at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Technically, people were seeing Manchester by the Sea before last year’s Oscars. Still, the film is expected to be a heavy favorite at this year’s ceremony. Casey Affleck is at the heart of the film, a completely withdrawn man who is forced to return to his hometown after his brother dies and his nephew is left without a father. Affleck’s performance has landed him at the front of a relatively uncrowded Best Actor race, and Michelle Williams also has a crucial supporting role in the film. Both of these actors are likely to earn nominations for their roles and may in fact take home the win.
Loving is classic Oscar bait told through the filter of a historical drama. It’s Jeff Nichols’ second film of 2016, and it takes a look at the struggles of an interracial couple who are forced to fight against a Virginia law which keeps them from being married. Starring Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, the story of Richard and Miranda Loving took place in 1967, and is a stark reminder of the racial divide that plagued our country well into the 21st century. Nichols, who wrote the screenplay in addition to directing the film, has been producing critically acclaimed work since Shotgun Stories, but it’s Negga’s work in the film that is really getting the critical attention. She’s not guaranteed a slot in this competitive Best Actress field, but if the world is a just place, she’ll get one.
Lion is the kind of film that you expect to win Oscars. Based on a true story, it follows a young Indian boy played by Dev Patel who is separated from his family and is eventually adopted by an Australian family. Years later, as an adult, the boy uses Google Maps to find his biological parents and reunite with them. As awards-friendly as that premise may sound, Lion seems to be quiet and restrained for Oscar bait of the traditional sense. In many ways, it’s emblematic of what the year as a whole has turned out to be. 2016 has been a strong year for Oscar-worthy fare, but Lion enters the conversation by being quieter, reserved, and better than this kind of movie usually has to be.
Tonys and Oscars aren’t the same, but if they were, Fences would already have picked up several. The film, adapted from August Wilson’s acclaimed play, stars the two actors who won Tonys for their work on Broadway as Troy and Rose Maxson. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis play a married couple in the 1950s. Troy used to be a professional baseball player, and he refuses to allow his son to follow a similar track in pursuit of his own athletic career. That’s where the tension begins, and it only builds after Troy comes home with a baby he had with another woman. Fences is an intimate character portrait about its central figures, but it’s also a powerful statement about race and class, one that the Oscars desperately needs following recent controversies surrounding Oscars so white. Fences hasn’t screened yet, but the theatrical pedigree (and cast) of this powerhouse makes it a good bet this film will be a major player.
20th Century Women
Annette Benning deserves an Oscar, gosh darn it. She’s been nominated for four, and she’s been close to the podium on every occasion. This time, though, it looks like things may change. Benning’s work in 20th Century Women has already been widely praised, and it has put her in contention yet again. In fact, Benning may even be the frontrunner in a category stacked with younger talents like Natalie Portman and Emma Stone. Of course, Best Actress isn’t the only place where 20th Century Women could be a factor. The film, which follows Benning’s character as she recruits two other women in an attempt to raise her adolescent son, has been warmly received, and could ultimately earn nominations in Best Picture and Best Director (Mike Mills), as well. In addition, several other actors give stellar performances, including Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig, who could both earn supporting acting nominations.