An Oscar movie could hit theaters at any time during the year -- as far as the rules are concerned, it only needs to be released between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 to be eligible -- but everyone knows that all of the true contenders arrive in the last quarter of the year.
I suppose some Academy-worthy movies have already been released: Dunkirk, right? The Big Sick and Get Out less likely, but perhaps! I guess some people believe Wonder Woman could really get a Best Picture nomination.... So, instead of considering this our first round of Oscar predictions, think of it as a Ones to Watch list to prepare you as studios start showing off their films that could earn noms at next year's Academy Awards. (Which are still five months away, FYI, on March 4, 2018.)
The Contenders: The surest things at this point appear to be The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro's already beloved sea creature love story, and Call Me By Your Name, a critically lauded romance that is captivating at festivals. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is also high on the list based in large part on its powerhouse performances, and Molly's Game, Aaron Sorkin's buzzy directorial debut, could win him more than just a guaranteed screenplay nod. Then there's Lady Bird, a smaller indie that might have Juno-like staying power, and Battle of the Sexes, which has proven particularly timely right now and, if it wins over audiences, could drive a campaign well into Oscar season. Lastly, there's Mudbound, widely considered one of the best films of the year -- but will the Academy be able to look past the fact that it's a Netflix movie?
Don't Count 'Em Out: That leaves room in a 10-nominee field for biopics like the Winston Churchill flick Darkest Hour and the Thomas Edison-George Westinghouse-centric The Current War, as well as Stronger, about Boston bombing hero Jeff Bauman. Steven Spielberg's Pentagon Papers movie, The Post, and The Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film might be ones to beat, but little is known about them at this point. Same goes for the Getty biopic All the Money in the World and Last Flag Flying, which has strong leads and Richard Linklater behind the camera. Then there are the polarizing Downsizing, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and mother!, none of which are not off to stellar starts, but may still surprise. And is it crazy to think niche comedy The Disaster Artist could score a Best Picture nomination? Or crazy enough that it just might?
The Contenders: She won the Oscar last year, and Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes) may compete again for her winning, captivating transformation into tennis star Billie Jean King. Twice nominated previously, Jessica Chastain (Molly's Game) might have her best shot yet, tearing through Sorkin monologues as the unsinkable Molly Bloom, while Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) delivers a deeply moving, accolades-worthy performance without speaking a single word. Meanwhile, Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) could, for once, justify use of the phrase "tour de force performance" and will likely be a shoo-in. Lastly, we've not yet glimpsed Meryl Streep in The Post, but...it's Meryl Streep. You'd be unwise not to already count her stiff competition.
Don't Count 'Em Out:Jennifer Lawrence (mother!) is beloved by Oscar voters -- and her committed turn as an allegorical Mother Earth is great, no matter how off-putting they may find the film as a whole. Then there are Annette Bening (Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool) as Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame; Carey Mulligan (Mudbound) as a reluctant farm wife relocated to Mississippi in the 1940s; Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul) as Queen Victoria, a role she played in 1998's Mrs. Brown, for which she was Oscar nominated; Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding; and Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) as Christine McPherson, self-nicknamed "Lady Bird," who is coming of age in 2002 Sacramento.
The Contenders: Currently considered the frontrunner of the pack, the venerable Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) is nearly unrecognizable in his rousing, fully embodied turn as Winston Churchill. Oldman's stiffest competition is two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) as the titular civil rights lawyer. Still, Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name) delivers a thoughtful and mature performance as a 17-year-old coming into himself and his sexuality in an unexpected summer romance, and Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger) plays Jeff Bauman, as he recovers from a national tragedy, with gravitas and some much-needed humor. Then there is Daniel Day-Lewis (Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Film) in a role that's yet to be confirmed -- though speculation has it he plays fashion designer Charles James. It's the three-time Oscar winner's final film, and I find it hard to believe the Academy would miss the chance to honor him one last time.
Don't Count 'Em Out: Like Streep, Tom Hanks (The Post) seems primed for awards season recognition playing The Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee in Spielberg's timely, based-on-a-true-story period piece. Then there are Andrew Garfield (Breathe) as advocate Robin Cavendish, one of the longest-living polio survivors in Britain; Benedict Cumberbatch (The Current War) as electricity titan Thomas Edison; Jason Clarke (Mudbound) as Henry McAllan, a city worker who relocates his family to a rural farm post-World War II; Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman) as P.T. Barnum; and, less likely, James Franco (The Disaster Artist), completely losing himself in a Method turn as failed filmmaker-turned-cult icon Tommy Wiseau.
Best Supporting Actress
The Contenders: Though most celebrated for her TV work -- she is a seven-time Emmy winner, after all -- Allison Janney (I, Tonya) absolutely devours the scenery as Tonya Harding's abusive stage mother, LaVona Golden, a role guaranteed to catch the Academy's eye. Likewise for Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), a three-time Emmy winner who should be considered for her turn as the strict but loving mother of a rebellious teen. Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), meanwhile, makes a strong case for herself as a serious actress playing the burdened matriarch of a family living in the racist South, and Hong Chau (Downsizing) is the breakout star of her film, commanding attention as a disabled and dissident Vietnamese refugee. Lastly, Michelle Pfeiffer (mother!) should not be overlooked for her sensual, antagonistic performance as the film's Eve stand-in, though I wish she'd been given more screen time.
Don't Count 'Em Out: Tatiana Maslany is wonderful in Stronger, but I'm going to give that film's edge to two-time Oscar nominee Miranda Richardson, who gives a heartbreaking and beautiful performance as Jeff Bauman's overbearing but big-hearted mother. Then there are Andrea Riseborough (Battle of the Sexes) as the hairdresser who catches Billie Jean King's eye -- and for good reason; Julianne Moore (Wonderstruck) in dual roles that traverse decades; Melissa Leo (Novitiate) as a Reverend Mother in crisis as the Catholic church attempts reform; Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World) as Gail Harris, once married to a Getty and now unable to pay her son's kidnapping ransom; and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) playing Zelda, a chatty co-worker and close confidant to Sally Hawkins' mute protagonist at a top-secret U.S. government facility.
Best Supporting Actor
The Contenders: Each outstanding leading lady this year, it seems, has been accompanied by a stellar supporting actor: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) provides McDormand her foil in his portrayal of the racist, hotheaded Deputy Dixon; Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water) gives Hawkins a friend as her lonely, longing and ultimately understanding next-door neighbor; and Idris Elba (Molly's Game) offers Chastain a much-needed ally as her admittedly reluctant defense attorney. Armie Hammer, meanwhile, serves as the other half of the love story at the heart of Call Me By Your Name, a grad student whose wit and tenderness captivates Elio. Finally, Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) finds one of the best roles of his illustrious career in Bobby, the gruff but sympathetic manager of Orlando's Magic Castle Motel, acting as a surrogate father or benevolent protector to all who stay under his roof.
Don't Count 'Em Out: Both Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water offer tight races as to which supporting actor will get the nomination -- or, perhaps, for double nominations from one film: Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name) as Elio's father, an academic who invites Hammer's character to stay with the family, and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water), as a nefarious government agent tasked with containing the "asset." Then there are Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour), as King George VI; either -- or again, both! -- Garrett Hedlund or Jason Mitchell (Mudbound) as WWII soldiers returning to a home they don't quite belong to; and the wild cards: two-time Oscar winners Christoph Waltz (Downsizing), playing a shrunken resident of Leisureland, and Kevin Spacey (All the Money in the World) as Jean Paul Getty, who will either shine in the role or be a hot mess in prosthetics.