It’s that time of year when potential award contenders start to get pushed into the spotlight.
We’ve had the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, which means a great number of potential winners have had their first opportunities to measure audience and critical reactions. And yeah, it’s shaping up to be a great awards season. We’ve lined up 15 films that look to be on a path towards some sort of Oscar recognition – whether it be wins or nominations. From actors turned directors, to racially charged drama, to an acclaimed Marvel entry, it looks like we’re going to have many great films competing in the 91st Academy Awards. We’ve also included their trailers.
Before we get started, some potential nominees/winners that didn’t quite make our 15 but certainly deserve a mention: coming-of-age film Mid90s, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut; Beautiful Boy, a heartbreaking story of addiction starring Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet; Ben is Back, a drama starring Julia Roberts and Lucas ‘I’m in Oscar-loving films all the time now’ Hedges; and The Wife, featuring an acclaimed performance by Glenn Close.
Without further ado…
Alfonso Cuarón, the acclaimed filmmaker behind Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, tackles a much more personal story with Roma. Drawing on real events and people from his childhood, Cuarón here tells of a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s. He’s been wanting to take this story to the screen for a while now, and it looks absolutely fantastic. Reviews from the festival circuit have been almost unanimously praise-filled; at the time of writing, the film holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%. Netflix has distribution rights, although they’re ensuring it will get a theatrical run in the US to make it eligible for Oscar recognition. Unsurprisingly, this is Mexico’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ last few films have enjoyed a solid bit of attention on the arthouse circuit and at the Oscars. The provocative Greek filmmaker saw his film Dogtooth earn a Best Foreign Film nom and he was nominated for co-writing his 2015 film The Lobster. Last year’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer wasn’t pushed for Oscar love, but his effort this year looks to be ticking a number of boxes. Darkly comedic period piece The Favourite has been earning rave reviews and is making a number of Oscar prediction lists. Perhaps a Best Director nom for Lanthimos, or best screenplay, or cinematography, or, most likely, acting nominations for one or more of the film’s actresses: The Night Manager‘s Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Colman seems a shoe in for a Best Actress nod.
Topics relating to racial injustice often pull in Oscar voters, and this list finds a few films dealing with race and discrimination. Standout actors Mahershala Ali (who took home a Best Supporting win for his role in last year’s Best Picture winner, Moonlight) and Viggo Mortensen play two men who end up in an unlikely friendship in this ‘based on a true story’ picture. It’s a safe-looking, amiable film that the Academy could easily gravitate towards for a few categories. It would be nice to see Mortensen earn a win one day; he has been Oscar nominated twice, for Eastern Promises and Captain Fantastic.
If Beale Street Could Talk
It’s no surprise that Oscar buzz is surrounding If Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight took home three Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and he didn’t waste any time tackling his follow-up. Based on the 1974 book of the same name by James Baldwin, the film follows a young woman (KiKi Layne) in Harlem as she desperately scrambles to prove her fiancé (Stephan James) innocent of a crime while carrying their first child. Highly positive reviews flew out from the film’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere.
Yes, the massive Marvel hit that is Black Panther could end up receiving nominations come Oscars 2019. There has been plenty of pressure over the years for the Academy to pay a little more attention to mainstream, box office-winning fare, particularly as more blockbusters earn that widespread critical love. Black Panther, with its huge reception, audience and critic acclaim, and attention garnered as a cultural milestone in cinema, seems poised for some Academy recognition. Perhaps the attention will arrive in “smaller” categories, such as costume and sound, but there will certainly be a bit of pressure to push it higher – even for Best Picture. The Academy earlier this year announced that they were considering a Best Popular Film category, but they have since scrapped it.
A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut A Star is Born will be one of the films to beat at next year’s Academy Awards. That’s the buzz that has followed the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere and screening at TIFF. Reviews have been raving for this one, commending Cooper’s direction and performance (he also co-wrote the script), and applauding the performance given by Lady Gaga. Cooper plays a musician who helps a young singer and actress (Gaga) find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral. And if it matters to you, the film currently has an impressive 96% Rotten Tomatoes score with over 70 critical reviews counted. This is the third remake of the story that first came to the screen in 1937, although that one focused on the acting game instead of the singing one.
Acting nominations could arise from Boy Erased, a gay conversion drama written and directed by Aussie Joel Edgerton. Based on a true story, the film tells the story of Jared (played by Oscar-nominated Manchester by the Sea actor Lucas Hedges), the son of a Baptist preacher (played by Oscar winner Russell Crowe) who is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents. Nicole Kidman plays his mother. The reviews have been mostly solid, with acclaim primarily directed at the three performances. Kidman has another film – which we don’t have on this list – that she may get some recognition for: she’s been earning praise for her turn as a tormented detective in the crime-thriller Destroyer, from director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Jennifer’s Body).
Fantastic director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) follows up his Best Picture-winning drama 12 Years a Slave with more of a genre piece with Widows, a crime-thriller boasting one hell of an ensemble. Oscar winner Viola Davis leads a cast that includes Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, and Liam Neeson (see what we’re saying?) in a story of four women who are left a debt by their dead criminal husbands. The decide to take fate into their own hands. The trailers have shown of a cracking, character-driven thriller with a master director doing his thing, and the reactions out of TIFF are saying just that. Perhaps expect acting and writing noms here.
Arguably Spike Lee’s most accessible film since 2006’s Inside Man, BlacKkKlansman finds the filmmaker delivering his passionate, unsubtle fury with humour and high energy. Critics and audiences have responded positively, and with a racially-charged – and timely – true story of an African-American police officer (John David Washington) who managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white surrogate (Adam Driver), the film has the recipe for a few nominations. Lee has been nominated for two Oscars in his career: Best Screenplay in 1990 for Do the Right Thing and Best Documentary in 1998 for 4 Little Girls. He was handed an Honorary Oscar in 2016.
Whiplash and La La Land director Damien Chazelle looks to continue his streak with First Man, a biopic on the first individual to step foot on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong. Chazelle directs Ryan Gosling in the lead role, with the rapidly rising Claire Foy playing his wife, Janet Armstrong. Reviews coming out of Venice, Telluride and Toronto film fests have been very, very strong, putting this one up there with A Star is Born as one of the more safer bets when it comes to award recognition.
Natalie Portman could find herself in contention for her second Academy Award with Vox Lux, an epic melodrama about the rise of a troubled popstar. Jude Law and Willem Dafoe also star in this, the second film from actor turned filmmaker Brady Corbet. The film was met with rave responses at both Venice and Toronto, where reviewers gave high praise to Portman’s all-in turn and Corbet’s operatic direction. The film also features original songs by Sia, so don’t be surprised to see a nomination for Best Song among the possible nods.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy gets a little more serious with Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a drama with comedic elements telling the true story of an author who turns to deception after her career takes a dive. Judging by the reviews that have come from Telluride and Torontos film fests, McCarthy could be bestowed with her second Oscar nom here (her first was a Best Supporting nod for Bridesmaids) and co-star Richard E. Grant may also be in contention. This is the sophomore feature effort for Marielle Heller, whose gutsy coming-of-age film The Diary of a Teenage Girl earned critical acclaim but flew by mostly under the radar in 2015.
The Hate U Give
A teen movie with an ambitious message of unity and hope during these Black Lives Matter times, The Hate U Give could be one of the more “mainstream” entries to receive some Oscar nominations in 2019. Tackling police brutality and racial injustice, this adaptation of Angie Thomas’ acclaimed book of the same name was met very positively at its TIFF premiere. Perhaps noms for director George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honour, Notorious) and screenwriter Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun, A Dog’s Purpose) will be in order.
The Old Man & the Gun
The Old Man and the Gun is Robert Redford’s final screen performance before retirement. That’s enough to raise voter eyebrows off the bat, but it certainly helps if the film is considered to be very good. Another true story pic here, with Redford playing a man who, at age 70, escaped from San Quentin and pulled off an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Reviews out of Telluride and Toronto have been calling it a highly enjoyable, lightweight film that is anchored by a charming, effortless Redford. The legendary actor could be up for a second gong for his swansong, as could co-star Sissy Spacek and writer-director David Lowery. The latter is again tackling very different fare, following Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story.
Bradley Cooper may not be the only actor turned filmmaker earning a possible Best Director nomination in 2019. Paul Dano is receiving a lot of love for his family drama Wildlife, following the disintegration of a married couple played by Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal. Mulligan is apparently very likely to receive her second Best Actress nom (An Education was her first), with Gyllenhaal in with a chance for a Supporting nod. It’s another safe choice for Oscar voters.