It’s that time of year again. With Sundance and Cannes behind us, Telluride and Venice already well underway, and the rest of the festivals right around the corner, the race to the Oscars has officially begun. Although it’s still quite a few months until the ceremony honors its best film of the year, now is the perfect time to start debating which film it might be, as a group of frontrunners is already being established based on early critical praise and the considerable talent present both onscreen and off.
Here are the films which have high possibilities of garnering a nomination for Best Picture at next year’s Academy Awards. These are ranked in descending order, and will be updated regularly until the ceremony in February of next year.
Silence (Paramount, Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Mark my words: if Martin Scorsese’s Silence gets released by the end of this year, it will sweep the Oscars, including its top prize. The film – Scorsese’s long-gestating passion project – is the absolute epitome of an Oscar contender. A legendary director who has been nominated multiple times before, but hasn’t won in years? Check. A terrific cast including past nominees as well as well-liked newer faces? Check. An epic runtime? A marvel of technical achievement? An extremely emotional story wrapped in a period setting? Check, check, and check. Paramount has still not scheduled a release date, but Scorsese claims that the film is ready to be released at any time. Fingers crossed.
La La Land (Lionsgate, Dir. Damien Chazelle)
Damien Chazelle burst into the spotlight with the one of the best sophomore directorial efforts of recent memory – and the best film of 2014, depending on whom you ask – with the intense and memorable Whiplash. Although the film received five nominations – including Best Picture – and three wins, its director was notably and regretfully absent from the Best Director list. Hopefully that will be remedied this time around, as Chazelle has returned to the director’s chair with a La La Land, a bold, ambitious, and completely original musical that has already emerged from Telluride with unanimously rave reviews. If Silence gets pushed to next year, then La La Land is the indisputable frontrunner for Best Picture.
Fences (Paramount, Dir. Denzel Washington)
Based on the beloved, Tony-winning play of the same name, Fences looks to return Denzel Washington to the Best Actor race, but this time, he has his sights on Best Director and Best Picture as well, as it is also his return to directing following a nine year absence. With a screenplay by the play’s original writer and most of the Broadway cast returning, the prestige is certainly all there on paper, and the film could greatly benefit from the “Oscars so white” controversy which has plagued the Academy recently, as the film revolves around African-American characters and their struggles in the white-dominated society of 1950’s America.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Sony, Dir. Ang Lee)
Ang Lee has won Best Director twice, but none of his films have ever won Best Picture – Billy Lynn has a good chance at changing that. Although it will not be screened until the New York Film Festival on October 14, early word on the film is that it is a game-changing technical marvel, as it boasts an impressive 120 frame rate (most films have somewhere between 24-48) and provides a viscerally real and immersive look at war as it has never been seen before. Everyone knows the Oscars love war films, and there’s no reason to believe that Billy Lynn is any exception.
American Pastoral (Lionsgate, Dir. Ewan McGregor)
No list of “best actors who have never been nominated for an Oscar” is complete without Ewan McGregor. Although he’s starred in popular blockbusters, Oscar nominees, and future classics, he has never once been nominated, despite two Golden Globe nominations. This year could be his best chance yet at finally getting a nomination – or even two, as American Pastoral is also his directorial debut. The film is based off of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Philip Roth, and by the looks of the beautiful trailer, McGregor appears to have captured the somber tone and dark themes of the novel perfectly, which could resonate very well with the Academy.
Loving (Focus Features, Dir. Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols is quietly emerging as one of this generation’s great filmmakers, with a collection of consistently lauded films already in his oeuvre. However, none of them have really been Oscar films until Loving, which is based on the historic Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia. Word from Cannes was fantastic and in high praise toward the film and its cast, with many calling it a genuine and heartfelt love story with real stakes and near-perfect pacing.
The Birth of a Nation (Fox Searchlight, Dir. Nate Parker)
Although the rape controversy surrounding its director and star Nate Parker will undoubtedly hurt its chances, the sheer quality of The Birth of a Nation could very well make it unstoppable. When it premiered at Sundance, it received a lengthy standing ovation and started a fierce bidding war for its distribution rights, eventually being sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17.5 million. The Academy may decide not to honor another slave film so soon after 12 Years a Slave, but despite this and Parker’s legal issues, the film’s high praise is difficult to ignore.
Moonlight (A24, Dir. Barry Jenkins)
Much like Room last year, Moonlight has become the unexpected indie contender of the year. In fact, the similarities between the two are quite interesting: both premiered at Telluride to astonishing reviews (Moonlight currently holds a perfect 100 on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic), both were/are being released by A24, and both contain heartbreaking and intimately human stories which place characters above plot. Although it would be difficult to win Best Picture due to the massive publicity surrounding the other contenders, expect Moonlight to be very-well represented at the Oscars nonetheless.
Manchester By the Sea (Roadside Attractions, Dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Anchored by fantastic and emotive performances from its leads, Manchester By the Sea acts as a welcome return to form from director Kenneth Lonergan. Another Sundance hit, the film received widespread praise for its realistic portrayal of family and the tragedy of loss which can divide it. Although a nomination is already in the bag for its star Casey Affleck, the film itself could very well receive a Best Picture nomination as well.
Lion (Weinstein Company, Dir. Garth Davis)
Whenever Harvey Weinstein’s name is attached to a film, a Best Picture nomination would be an extremely safe bet. The film’s story – which revolves around an orphan attempting to seek out his family – certainly seems right up the Academy’s alley, but the trailer did not impress much, and both its director and writer are largely unknown. However, many Oscar-winning films found success despite unproven creators, and trailers can be very misleading. So, let’s hope the film’s reviews out of Toronto prove its worth.
Arrival (Paramount, Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Sully (Warner Bros., Dir. Clint Eastwood)
20th Century Women (A24, Dir. Mike Mills)
Live By Night (Warner Bros., Dir. Ben Affleck)*
Allied (Paramount, Dir. Robert Zemeckis)
Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features, Dir. Tom Ford)
Passengers (Sony, Dir. Morten Tyldum)
The Founder (Weinstein Co., Dir. John Lee Hancock)
Rules Don’t Apply (New Regency, Dir. Warren Beatty)
*Live By Night is currently slated for release in January of 2017, but it is extremely possible that it receives a limited December release to qualify for the Oscars, which is an identical release pattern to The Revenant and American Sniper, both to great success. If a limited release is indeed announced, then the film will be ranked much higher on this list.
The Promise (Babieka, Dir. Terry George)
Hacksaw Ridge (Summit Entertainment, Dir. Mel Gibson)
Snowden (Open Road, Dir. Oliver Stone)
A United Kingdom (Pathé, Dir. Amma Asante)
The Girl on the Train (Dreamworks, Dir. Tate Taylor)
Denial (Bleecker Street, Dir. Mick Jackson)
Café Society (Lionsgate, Dir. Woody Allen)
The Lobster (Element Pictures, Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Jungle Book (Disney, Dir. Jon Favreau)
Love & Friendship (Roadside Attractions, Dir. Whit Stillman)
Hell or High Water (Lionsgate, Dir. David Mackenzie)
Patriot’s Day (Lionsgate, Dir. Peter Berg)
Bleed for This (Open Road, Dir. Ben Younger)
Collateral Beauty (New Line, Dir. David Frankel)
Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox, Dir. Theodore Melfi)
Stay tuned for updates as the Oscar race continues, and for further predictions for the other major categories.