Everyone wants an Oscar.
And certain actors know there are certain roles in certain movies that greatly increase their chances of getting recognized by the Academy. We are now entering prime Oscar-bait season, when studios will roll out their prestige projects -- at least, until Dec. 31. Them’s the rules.
Now, none of these nominations are guaranteed -- maybe Tina Fey will get a Best Actress nomination for Sisters, à la Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids! It could happen! -- but they're your best bets. If you want to get a jump-start on your Oscar-viewing homework, start with these.
Black Mass (Out Now)
What It’s About: “The true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), the brother of a senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.”
What It Could Win: Before Black Mass premiered to so-so reviews, Johnny Depp seemed like a shoo-in for another Best Actor nomination. Now, who knows? There are also whispers about Best Supporting Actor for Joel Edgerton and, obviously, it’s a contender for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling nod.
Sicario (Out Now)
What It’s About: “In the lawless border area between the U.S. and Mexico, an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) is enlisted by an elite government task force official to aid in the escalating war against drugs.”
What It Could Win: Sicario has been drumming up excellent reviews for Emily Blunt since it premiered at Cannes, where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or, and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, including buzz about a Best Actress nomination.
The Martian (Oct. 2)
What It’s About: “During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.”
What It Could Win: The Martian has been nearly unanimously adored coming out of festival screenings, which could make it a strong contender for Best Picture. Matt Damon’s movie star turn will surely score him a spot in the Best Actor field, while Ridley Scott might earn a Best Director nom and Drew Goddard a Best Adapted Screenplay. A longer shot is Jessica Chastain, whose deeply emotional work could get her Best Supporting Actress -- it helps that, like us, the Academy looooves Jessica Chastain. Oh, and Best Visual Effects. Duh.
Freeheld (Oct. 2)
What It’s About: “New Jersey police lieutenant, Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore), and her domestic partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), battle to secure Hester's pension benefits when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.”
What It Could Win: With a cast of Academy Award winners and nominees, the obvious choices are Julianne Moore for Best Actress, Elle Page for Best (Supporting?) Actress, and, especially, standout Michael Shannon for Best Supporting Actor. While the Academy loves “Inspired by a True Story” movies -- especially one so timely -- early reviews focus on the parts more than the whole.
Steve Jobs (Oct. 9)
What It’s About: "The true story of the life of visionary Apple CEO Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender).”
What It Could Win: Take your pick: Michael Fassbender for Best Actor and Kate Winslet as Best Supporting Actress seem all but guaranteed. Seth Rogen or Jeff Daniels could steal a spot in the Best Supporting Actor category. And, unless they terribly bungle this, Danny Boyle will get Best Director, while Aaron Sorkin gets Best Adapted Screenplay. They’re Academy favorites.
Bridge of Spies (Oct. 16)
What It’s About: “An American lawyer (Tom Hanks) is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union.”
What It Could Win: Tom Hanks in a period piece? That’s Best Actor material, if we’ve ever seen it. Steven Spielberg is basically nominated for everything he does, so expect to see his name in the Best Director race, and Ethan and Joel Coen, with Matt Charman, wouldn’t be a surprise for Best Original Screenplay. Best Costume Design too, because period piece.
Beasts of No Nation (Oct. 16)
What It’s About: “When civil war tears his family apart, a young West African boy (Abraham Attah) is forced to join a unit of mercenary fighters and transform into a child soldier.”
What It Could Win: Netflix is entering the Oscar race! Positive press around Beasts of No Nation indicates it could even get a Best Picture nomination, while Idris Elba will surely compete for Best Supporting Actor. Cary Joji Fukunaga, an Emmy winner for True Detective, will now angle for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. And 14-year-old newcomer Abraham Attah’s name has been tossed around as a dark horse contender for Best Actor.
Room (Oct. 16)
What It’s About: “Escaping from the captivity in which they have been held for half a decade, a young woman (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) struggle to adjust to the strange, terrifying and wondrous world outside their one-room prison.”
What It Could Win: If you went off buzz alone, you’d think there was only one movie that screened at TIFF: Room. Brie Larson is guaranteed a nomination (if not a win -- it’s the year of Brie Larson!) and, if both Jacob Tremblay and Attah (Beasts of No Nation) get nominated for Best Actor, it could break records for multiple youngest nominees. There’s also Lenny Abrahamson for Best Director and Emma Donoghue for Best Adapted Screenplay, working off her own novel. All that considered, a Best Picture nomination seems likely too.
Truth (Oct. 16)
What It’s About: “A newsroom drama detailing the 60 Minutes report investigating then-President George W. Bush's military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) their careers.”
What It Could Win: The only real contender that seems to have come out of Truth is Cate Blanchett as Best Actress. And if she also gets nominated for Carol (see below), she would end up competing against herself. Then again, don’t count Robert Redford out of the Best Actor race entirely.
Burnt (Oct. 23)
What It’s About: “Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva behavior. He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a top restaurant that can gain three Michelin stars."
What It Could Win: This one is a bit of an odd ball. Burnt has a lot going for it: It’s directed by John Wells, the man behind August: Osage County, and The Weinstein Company backing it. Still, likely the only one to watch for is Bradley Cooper, who has been nominated the past three consecutive years, and could feasibly pull out another Best Actor nomination.
Rock the Kasbah (Oct. 23)
What It’s About: “A down-on-his-luck music manager (Bill Murray) discovers a teen girl with an extraordinary voice while on a music tour in Afghanistan and takes her to Kabul to compete on the popular television show, Afghan Star.”
What It Could Win: Here’s a shame of a fact: Billy Murray has only ever been nominated for an Oscar once. The Academy doesn’t tend to be hot on comedy, but Murray may charm his way into the Best Actor race -- it would make up for passing him over for St. Vincent. If there’s original music in this, which we suspect there is, it also has a chance at Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (aka Best Original Song).
Suffragette (Oct. 23)
What It’s About: “The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State.”
What It Could Win: Meryl Streep is in this! That’s an automatic nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She’ll likely edge out less lauded Helena Bonham Cater, who also has a shot at Best Supporting Actress, while Carey Mulligan might be able to squeeze into a spot in the already-crowded Best Actress pool. At the very least, there will probably be some love sent Suffragette’s way for Best Costume Design.
Our Brand Is Crisis (Oct. 30)
What It’s About: “The true story of rival American political strategists, ‘Calamity’ Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) and Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), working to fix a Bolivian presidential election.”
What It Could Win: Our Brand Is Crisis has earned rave reviews for Sandra Bullock’s performance out of TIFF. And if she can win an Academy Award for The Blind Side, she certainly could get nominated for this. Billy Bob Thornton, on the other hand, might have had a better shot any other year, but the Best Supporting Actor race is rather crowded this year.
Brooklyn (Nov. 6)
What It’s About: “Lured by the promise of America, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young Irish immigrant, departs Ireland for New York, where a fresh romance sweeps Eilis into the intoxicating charm of love. Soon, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.”
What It Could Win: Brooklyn is a star-making performance for Saoirse Ronan and could potentially earn her a spot in the Best Actress pool for the first time. (She was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress.) And after strong showings at both Sundance and TIFF, there might be more awards for the film, all the way up to the Best Picture category.
Trumbo (Nov. 6)
What It’s About: “The successful career of Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), comes to an end when he is blacklisted in the 1940s for being a Communist.”
What It Could Win: Trumbo is the kind of insider Hollywood story that the Academy has a not-so-secret weakness for. Plus, the performances seem so dizzyingly over the top, that we would not be surprised if Bryan Cranston locked down a Best Actor nomination, or Helen Mirren, standout as ever, a Best Supporting Actress nod.
Spotlight (Nov. 6)
What It’s About: “The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.”
What It Could Win: Anything and everything. Spotlight came blazing out of TIFF as an early frontrunner for Best Picture. Tom McCarthy also has a good shot in the Best Director race, and any number of Best Supporting Actor/Actress nominations could be awarded to Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and, particularly, Michael Keaton, returning after his close-but-ultimately-futile race for Birdman last year.
By the Sea (Nov. 13)
What It’s About: “With their marriage in apparent crisis, an American writer, Roland (Brad Pitt), and his wife, Vanessa (Angelina Jolie), travel to a tranquil and picturesque seaside resort in 1970s France.”
What It Could Win: The Academy has yet to recognize Angelina Jolie, the director, for her work, but she is always discussed as a contender when one of her movies comes out. By the Sea could be the ticket to her first Best Director nomination, if not Best Original Screenplay. There’s also a possibility of a Best Actress nod for Jolie, and never count Brad Pitt out of the Best Actor race. At the very least, it’s a strong contender for Best Cinematography. So pretty!
Carol (Nov. 20)
What It’s About: “A married woman (Cate Blanchett) risks everything when she embarks on a romance with a younger department store worker (Rooney Mara) in 1950s New York.”
What It Could Win: Rooney Mara won Best Actress at Cannes for Carol, but we have a feeling she’ll be relegated to Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, so as not to compete directly against Cate Blanchett, who is already a frontrunner for Best Actress. Todd Haynes will surely compete for Best Director, and the movie has a chance at Best Picture. It should clean up in categories like Best Hair and Makeup and Best Costume Design too.
The Danish Girl (Nov. 27)
What It’s About: “The love story of artists Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander), whose marriage and work evolved as they navigated Lili's journey as a transgender pioneer.”
What It Could Win: Before the first trailer even came out, Eddie Redmanye was already cemented as a frontrunner in the Best Actor race. Now, coming out of TIFF, the actor, who won the Oscar last year, is likely to still get nominated, but his costar, Alicia Vikander, is the one everyone is talking about. We suspect she’ll compete as a Best Supporting Actress, though she should be running as lead. Tom Hooper, of The King’s Speech and Les Mis fame, continues to be a heavyweight in the Best Director category, and obvious choices like Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling will be recognized. The question is: Will it make the cut for Best Picture? It could go either way.
Macbeth (Dec. 4)
What It’s About: “Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife (Marion Cotillard), Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.”
What It Could Win: It’s Shakespeare. So while Michael Fassbender will much more likely get a Best Actor nomination for Steve Jobs, there’s a slim chance some might opt for this one instead. The real contender out of Macbeth is Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, who has a shot at Best Supporting Actress in an otherwise light year. Plus: Cinematography! You should never forget about cinematography.
In the Heart of the Sea (Dec. 11)
What It’s About: “In the winter of 1820, a whaling ship was assaulted by something no one could believe: a whale of mammoth size and will, and an almost human sense of vengeance. The ship’s surviving crew is pushed to their limits and forced to do the unthinkable to stay alive.”
What It Could Win: This is another outlier that probably won’t get nominated, but has the Academy pedigree to pull out a surprise nomination. It’s directed by Academy darling Ron Howard, so maybe -- maybe? -- there is the possibility for Best Director. But without any other strong possibilities -- Chris Hemsworth for Best Actor? Probably not. -- that seems less and less likely. (P.S. If you didn’t figure it out, this movie is Moby Dick!)
The Big Short (Dec. 11)
What It’s About: “Four outsiders in the world of high-finance who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000's decide to take on the big banks for their lack of foresight and greed.”
What It Could Win: The Big Short has a bit of a Wolf of Wall Street meets American Hustle vibe, which could bode well come voting time. Our top pick is actually Steve Carell in the Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor race -- whichever category Christian Bale, the more reliable option, or Brad Pitt, if he runs for this, don’t pick. We’d also consider Melissa Leo for a Best Supporting Actress nod and Adam McKay for his first Best Director nom.
Concussion (Dec. 25)
What It’s About: “The true story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, and fought the NFL for the truth to be known.”
What It Could Win: A long shot, but...Will Smith for Best Actor? He does an accent.
Joy (Dec. 25)
What It’s About: “The story of a family across four generations and the woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.”
What It Could Win: Seeing as Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell’s last two movies together both did gangbusters at the Oscars, we predict a Best Actress nod for her and Best Director nod for him. Robert De Niro may have another shot at Best Supporting Actor, after being nominated in the same category for Silver Linings Playbook, while Virginia Madsen could compete for Supporting Actress. On top of all that, there are the technical awards, the hair, makeup, and costume slots, and it all has to culminate in a Best Picture nomination, right?
Snowden (Dec. 25)
What It’s About: “Based on the books The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man and Time of the Octopus, this true story follows CIA employee Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he leaks thousands of classified documents to the press.”
What It Could Win: Following Citizenfour’s win in the Best Documentary category last year, Snowden could pick up a nomination for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Best Actor and Oliver Stone, who has been out of fashion with the Academy since the ‘90s, for Director.
The Hateful Eight (Dec. 25)
What It’s About: “In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?”
What It Could Win: Tarantino movies are like cocaine to the Academy in recent years. They just can’t get enough. So Hateful Eight will likely clean up at nomination time, with Quentin Tarantino, first and foremost, competing for Best Director (which he has yet to win) and Best Original Screenplay. From what we’ve seen so far, Jennifer Jason Leigh is seriously deserving of Best Supporting Actress accolades, while Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell have the best chances, of the men, in either Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor.
The Revenant (Dec. 25)
What It’s About: “Deep in the unchartered wilderness, hunter Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is severely injured and left for dead by a traitorous member of his team, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Glass must navigate a hostile environment and warring tribes to exact his revenge on Fitzgerald.”
What It Could Win: Won’t someone give Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar already? The five-time nominee will probably have another shot at Best Actor this time around, while Tom Hardy could rise in the Best Supporting Actor category. With The Revenant, DiCaprio has Academy favorite Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won for Birdman last year, on his side. Iñárritu will also likely compete for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, with Mark L. Smith, again.
- Tom Hanks
- Sandra Bullock
- Matt Damon
- Leonardo Dicaprio
- Kate Winslet
- Julianne Moore
- Johnny Depp
- Jessica Chastain
- Jennifer Lawrence
- Idris Elba
- Cate Blanchett
- Bradley Cooper
- Brad Pitt
- Angelina Jolie