Another year, another opportunity to prematurely talk shit about the Oscars six months before they’ve even happened. This has been sort of a ritual for me over the past few years. In 2014 I lazily posted a list of movies I thought might have a shot at Hollywood’s biggest prize. In 2015 I upped the stakes and wrote a commentary about the contenders. Now in 2016 I’ve created a list-commentary*! (*That’s so long I’ve had to split into two parts and kinda wish I’d gone with one or the other). You’re welcome.
20) A Monster Calls
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona | Studio: Focus
If there’s one thing the Academy voters & I have most in common, it’s our love of sentimental storytelling. Providing he hasn’t overdone it, JA Bayona’s fantasy tale may yet prove to be the people’s champion of this year’s race. His last feature, The Impossible, ventured into similarly emotionally powerful territory, yet only came away with a single nomination for Naomi Watts. An acting nod is probably the most realistic expectation for this film as well – with Felicity Jones being teed up as the most likely recipient.
Key Categories: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Felicity Jones), Technical Categories
19) Bleed For This
Director: Ben Younger | Studio: Open Road
Rocky. The Fighter. Ali. Raging Bull. It’s remarkable how well suited boxing and filmmaking are for one another. Still, last year’s Southpaw has dampened my expectations for the latest in a long line of fighter features. If anyone can carry this film to awards success, it’ll be Miles Teller, who you could argue was very unlucky not to get a nod two years ago for Whiplash. Aaron Eckhart’s involvement is cause for more excitement, even if he has had a rough few years as an actor. Don’t rule out a nod for either of them.
Key Categories: Best Actor (Miles Teller), Best Supporting Actor (Aaron Eckhart)
18) The Founder
Director: John Lee Hancock | Studio: The Weinstein Company
In the space of 2 years, Michael Keaton’s gone from Hollywood outcast to one of the most awards-friendly actors on the planet. Given he’s headlined the last two Best Picture winners, you’d be a fool to totally dismiss The Founder‘s chances – but The Blind Side‘s John Lee Hancock isn’t in the same league as a Tom McCarthy or an Iñárritu. For a while there it seemed like The Weinstein’s were going to leave this to flounder in August. Something tells me Keaton won’t be three-peating with this particular film.
Key Categories: Best Actor (Michael Keaton)
Director: Clint Eastwood | Studio: Warner Bros
A decade ago, the Academy couldn’t get enough of Clint Eastwood. In the space of just four years he helmed three Best Picture nominees (including one winner in Million Dollar Baby). His last few attempts have been a little less kind to the grizzled veteran filmmaker, but he did (controversially) get back in the Academy’s good graces with American Sniper. By all accounts Sully is his strongest work in some time – and may just net former Academy fave Tom Hanks his first nomination in fifteen (!) years.
Key Categories: Best Actor (Tom Hanks)
16) Live By Night
Director: Ben Affleck | Studio: Warner Bros
It feels wrong to rank Ben Affleck’s latest so low, but the truth is it doesn’t feel like a film voters would go for. The prohibition-era-set crime drama’s first trailer leant more towards The Town than Affleck’s Best Picture-winning Argo – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the eyes of most moviegoers. Clearly Warner Bros are more than a little concerned about the film’s Oscar potential though, as they’re yet to even give it an awards qualifying release. Between you and me, I just want it to be great.
Key Categories: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography
Director: Mortem Tyldum | Studio: Columbia
A year ago this looked like a dead-cert for at least a BP nod on paper, but, thanks to Sony’s marketing department, it’s now one of the awards season’s biggest mysteries. Like Live By Night, the first trailer for this didn’t exactly scream Oscars, but sci-fi has fared pretty well with the Academy lately (see: The Martian). Star Jennifer Lawrence & director Mortem Tyldum certainly have the pedigree to replicate Damon/Scott’s awards success. Whether or not they’ve done enough to deserve it remains to be seen…
Key Categories: Best Picture, Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Technical Categories
14) The Birth Of A Nation
Director: Nate Parker | Studio: Fox Searchlight
Bought by Searchlight for a record breaking fee and featuring black talent both in front & behind the camera, this looked set to sweep the Oscars barely 3 months ago. I can’t see anyone giving Nate Parker & Jean Celestin any individual awards now, but assuming the film is as good as Sundance critics indicated, you gotta hope it’ll at least be considered in the BP conversation (if it deserves to) – if only for the hundreds of others who worked so hard on it (and the African American film community as a whole).
Key Categories: Best Picture, maybe
Director: Garth Davis | Studio: The Weinstein Company
This movie has built up plenty of buzz over the last month and now looks to be Harvey Weinstein’s one genuine shot at the big prize. The only reason why it sits so low here is that it’s from a first time director. Not that that rules Garth Davis out (Sam Mendes won for American Beauty back in 1999), but it does make the film’s fate harder to predict. Still, the Academy always has room for a heartwarming family tale, and with a cast lead by Dev Patel, Rooney Mara & Nicole Kidman, you should ignore this at your peril.
Key Categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supp. Actress (Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara)
12) 20th Century Women
Director: Mike Mills | Studio: A24/Annapurna
20th Century Women unites the two most prolific arthouse distributors on the block in Megan Ellison’s Annapurna & the ever-impressive A24. While both have flirted with Oscar glory frequently over the past few years, neither has produced that elusive first BP winner yet. Mike Mills’ upcoming dramedy may not be the obvious answer to their prayers, but after that fantastic first teaser I wouldn’t rule it out. Set to headline NYFF next month, this film’s brilliant ensemble could rake in those acting nominations.
Key Categories: Best Actress (Annette Bening), Best Supporting Actress (Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning), Best Supporting Actor (Billy Crudup), Best Original Screenplay
11) Hacksaw Ridge
Director: Mel Gibson | Studio: Summit
I wonder how Mel Gibson feels, knowing he’s not the most controversial director involved in this year’s Oscar race? Still, that hasn’t stopped Summit from withholding his name from their marketing materials. Reputation aside, Gibson’s a talented director, and looks to have made a movie good enough to force Hollywood to decide whether or not they want to forgive him. Featuring an ensemble full of actors more talented than their recent work suggests, this could end up being the big comeback story of the year.
Key Categories: Best Picture, Best Actor (Andrew Garfield), Technical Categories,… Best Director?
I know what you’re all thinking. Where the hell is Ride Along 2? To find out, tune in tomorrow when I promise* I’ll post the second instalment… at some time during the day… or night.
*I’m known to break promises because The Amazing Spider-Man taught me those are the best kind.