It’s going to be a weird Oscar season. Every year since “The Departed” won eight years ago, we’d already seen the eventual Best Picture winner by now, sometimes at Cannes (“No Country For Old Men,” “The Artist”), but usually at one of the early-fall festivals. But in 2015, Venice, Telluride and Toronto have all unveiled their biggest ticket items, and we’re still without an obvious frontrunner.
There have been some hits, and some have pointed to one film or another as a strong potential (Vulture have tipped “Spotlight” already), but no one’s been throwing out the kind of “Best Picture Race Is Over’ headline that we’ve become used to in recent years, in part because of three big last-minute heavyweights that are unlikely to screen before early December: David O. Russell’s “Joy,” Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “The Revenant.”
Nevertheless, the Oscar-contending ducks are starting to line up in a row, and to mark the start of the season proper now that the early festivals have drawn to a close and a big bulk of the movies have been screened, we’ve put together an A-Z of the 2015 Oscar Season, letting you know all the movies and performers that’ll be hoping to pick up nominations or trophies over the next few months. Take a look below, and let us know what your money’s on right now.
A is for Alicia Vikander
The Swedish actress is this year’s Jessica Chastain, with seven movies released in the course of the year. The question was more whether she’d end up overcrowding herself in the marketplace, but with “The Light Between Oceans” and “Tulip Fever” almost certainly pushed to 2016, and her stellar performance in “Testament Of Youth” unlikely to make much headway, that makes things easier. She’ll be a strong contender for Best Actress for “The Danish Girl,” unless Focus decide she has a better chance in a less populous category and category-frauds her to Supporting. Even if she ends up in the lead for Tom Hooper’s film, she could still figure in the Supporting Race: A24 will reportedly push her for “Ex Machina.”
B is for “Black Mass,” “Brooklyn” and “Bridge Of Spies.”
Like a number of films this fall festival season, “Black Mass” picked up solid notices at Venice and Telluride, without having much in the way of raves. That rather puts it on the bubble in most categories, with Johnny Depp’s ‘comeback’ turn as Whitey Bulger its best bet. That said, its classical gangster movie stylings could appeal to the Academy, and put it in the Picture race and beyond (and Joel Edgerton’s one to watch in Supporting too). “Brooklyn,” however, feels like a solid in all kinds of categories: it’s picked up raves since Sundance, is firmly in the Academy’s wheelhouse, and looks like the big hope of Fox Searchlight, who owned last year. Whether it can win is another matter, but a Picture nod seems all but certain, with Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, writer Nick Hornby and maybe director John Crowley following. It’s too early to say about “Bridge Of Spies” — Spielberg should never be counted out, even if this looks a touch uninspiring on the surface. It’ll screen at NYFF in a few weeks.
C is for “Crimson Peak,” “Creed,” “Concussion” and “Carol”
First things first: “Crimson Peak” is likely only a player in technical categories, most notably Production Design. “Concussion” also feels like a stretch unless it’s unexpectedly superb, or unless Will Smith is phenomenal in it (the narrative that it kow-towed to the NFL is already in place). “Creed” is an unknown quantity — it is, after all, a “Rocky” spin-off. But coming from “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler, this could be a surprise return to the Oscar ways of the original movie, with nods for Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone not unfeasible if the film works (and the trailers suggest it does). The bigger dog here is “Carol,” which has been winning fans since Cannes. “Hateful Eight” and “Suffragette” aside, this is the Weinstein Company’s big hope this year, and if the warm reception continues, could break Todd Haynes into the mainstream awards race. Word is that Cannes Best Actress Rooney Mara will be campaigning as lead, with Cate Blanchett in Supporting (at her request, so she can campaign for lead in “Truth”), but that could yet change. Those are definitely the film’s best chances, but we think this could definitely go the distance .
D is for “The Danish Girl”
“The Danish Girl” didn’t need great reviews to get into the Oscar race — neither of Tom Hooper’s big awards movies before now were critical darlings as such, but were solidly popular with the Academy demographic. That said, this feels more “Les Miserables” than “The King’s Speech” right now — it doesn’t have the same feeling of a genuine crowdpleaser, and likely not a winner. Its two leads should have an easy path to a nomination, but can this surf the Caitlyn Jenner zeitgeist enough to ensure nods elsewhere?
E is for “Everest” and “End Of The Tour”
The Venice opening slot paid off nicely for “Gravity” and “Birdman,” and “Everest” is another technical showcase in those molds. That said, despite mostly warm reviews, this still feels largely like a commercial play — people like it, but few seem to really love it. But good box office could turn things around. Meanwhile, A24 have decided to campaign Jason Segel in Best Supporting Actor for “The End Of The Tour” — category fraud, to be sure, but it makes it significantly more likely than a fine performance in a fine film is in the hunt.
F is for “Freeheld” and “Far From The Madding Crowd”
“Freeheld” couldn’t have looked Oscar bait-ier if it tried, with defending champion Julianne Moore playing both gay and terminally ill. It might have been a contender, at least for acting nods, if the film worked, but the consensus is that it really, really doesn’t. Don’t expect much from “Far From The Madding Crowd” — like “Belle” last year, which also opened in early May, Fox Searchlight aren’t likely to push it much, especially with Carey Mulligan’s other lead in “Suffragette” looking likely for a nod.
G is for “Grandma”
Lily Tomlin only has a single Oscar nomination, but buzz has been building on her turn in “Grandma” ever since SXSW. Sony Pictures Classics certainly have hopes for Tomlin’s performance as an acerbic, foul-mouthed pensioner, but with the film not quite setting fire on limited release, it might be an uphill battle unless it takes off more.
H is for “The Hateful Eight”
Unlikely as it might seem, Quentin Tarantino’s become a real Oscar force in recent years; “Inglourious Basterds” won eight nods, “Django Unchained” five. As such, there’s every reason to think that “The Hateful Eight,” which comes across as a sort of Tarantino greatest hits, will do the same. Whether it’s the one to finally bring him Best Picture and Best Director remains to be seen (it could be too much of a chamber piece), but unless it’s a “Death Proof”-sized misfire, expect it to figure in somewhere. The ensemble cast also gives the opportunity for someone other than Christoph Waltz to get nominated: Samuel L Jackson apparently has the meatiest role, and could campaign as lead, though Jennifer Jason Leigh could be the one to watch.
I is for “I Saw The Light,” “I’ll See You In My Dreams” and “In The Heart Of The Sea”
With reviews falling into the ‘standard musical biopic’ category, Hank Williams movie “I Saw The Light” doesn’t seem like it’ll have a ton of Oscar mileage, but even the most tepid reviews praise stars Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen, so they could still figure in somewhere. They’ll need some of the favorites to lose heat (Olsen would also benefit from campaigning in support, which is less competitive), but they’re definitely in the race. Meanwhile, “I’ll See You In My Dreams” has been one of the more unlikely indie sleepers of the year, and momentum’s been building behind a first-ever nod for Blythe Danner for a while. She probably has the advantage over Lily Tomlin right now, but with the tough category, newly established distributors Bleeker Street will have to fight hard for her. Meanwhile, Ron Howard’s Moby Dick-ish “In The Heart Of The Sea” remains a question mark. Howard’s last few Oscar movies didn’t work out, but this was moved from March to December, presumably out of a bullishness over its awards prospects. Potentially one to keep an eye on, though something like an AFI Fest premiere would help get the buzz out early.
J is for “Joy”
David O Russell’s been a positive Oscar factory the last few years without ever taking Best Picture, Director or Screenplay, so the building sense is that he’s due. Jennifer Lawrence stars again, and the film’s reportedly darker and more ambitious than his last few. It doesn’t arrive til the last minute, but this could end up hitting at the exact right time and become a phenomenon, especially with Tarantino and Inarritu’s Westerns targeting similar voters and arriving simultaneously.
K is for Keaton, Michael
Could last year’s Oscar runner-up be this year’s Oscar winner? His tour-de-force in “Birdman” lost out to Eddie Redmayne, but Michael Keaton will likely have another shot this time thanks to his turn in “Spotlight.” It’s a big ensemble cast, and word is that Open Road will campaign Mark Ruffalo for lead, with everyone else in supporting, but Keaton’s part is seemingly the one that’ll get the most attention, especially given the slight sense that he’s owed. Could he actually end up taking that speech out of his pocket this time?
L is for “The Lady In The Van,” “Legend” and “Love & Mercy”
Three films here that look like acting nod-only prospects, and even then to varying degrees. “The Lady In The Van” is the latest in the Maggie-Smith-gives-withering-putdowns sub-genre that’s proved so popular over the last few years, and might give the veteran actress her best chance at a nomination since “Gosford Park.” Meanwhile, Tom Hardy’s in search of his first nod here, and gives two performances for one in “Legend,” but with mixed reviews for the performance, and underwhelmed ones for the film, he might be waiting a little longer. Finally, Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy” proved a sleeper hit in the summer: it’ll need a push from Roadside Attractions, but both Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks could be in the running.
M is for “Macbeth,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Maggie’s Plan,” “The Martian,” “Me, Earl & The Dying Girl,” “Mistress America” and “Mr. Holmes.”
Quite a few to get through here, so let’s rattle through them. First up, the Weinstein Company appear to be Immigrant-ing “Macbeth,” so don’t expect much of a push, though as with last year, Marion Cotillard could figure in if the competition is weak (it’s less so this year, though), and if she gets critic’s group support. “Me, Earl & The Dying Girl” had any Sundance buzz dissipate when it underperformed at the box office, and though it’s better liked, “Mistress America” is at best a remote shot for screenplay or Best Actress for Greta Gerwig. She could have better luck with “Maggie’s Plan,” which is probably the best bet at any movie getting “Still Alice”-d — Sony Pictures Classics have picked the film up, and given the strong TIFF buzz, could be tempted to drop it in the release schedule at the last minute, unless they go for another popular TIFF hit, “The Meddler,” which could provide Susan Sarandon with a nod. As far as “Mr. Holmes” goes, the film proved a big hit with the Academy demographic, and Ian McKellen is a very real player for Best Actor, though the film’s hopes beyond him probably rest with a Screenplay nod. And finally, there’s two big blockbuster prospects. “The Martian” looks like it could be this year’s “Gravity” — reviews are very good, and multiple pundits are predicting nods for the film, for Matt Damon and perhaps for Ridley Scott. Some may find it too comic to be rewarded here (interestingly, it’s being submitted as a comedy to the Golden Globes), but if box office is good enough, it could surf that in. Finally, there’s the “Mad Max: Fury Road” question. Among the best reviewed films of the year, and undoubtedly a technical marvel, it deserves multiple nominations, up to and including Picture, George Miller and Charlize Theron. But can the Academy get behind a pure action movie like this? It’ll need smart campaigning from Warner Bros, and some year-end critical love to get past the technical categories, but it’s feasible.
N is for Netflix
The streaming giants make their big Oscar play this year with Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts Of No Nation.” The film picked up great reviews at Venice and Telluride, but it has a few marks against its name — it’s getting a day-and-date release, which could turn voters off, and it’s incredibly, brutally tough. The same, of course, was true of “12 Years A Slave,” but this may not make the same kind of impact on the culture (and doesn’t have the same star power). Audiences could yet take to it, and Idris Elba’s performance could make the cut even if the rest of the film doesn’t, but it’s going to be a battle.
O is for “Our Brand Is Crisis”
The hopes had been that Warner Bros had an “Argo” or a “Good Night And Good Luck” with this politically-tinged comedy-drama produced by George Clooney, but though verdicts vary a little, it doesn’t particularly seem like “Our Brand Is Crisis” is going to go the distance. Still, even the most negative takes agree that Sandra Bullock is terrific, and so we could end up seeing the actress back in the acting race, two years after “Gravity.”
P is for Pixar
For the first time ever, we’ve had two Pixar movies in the same year, which is great (assuming “The Good Dinosaur” is anywhere close to the quality of the summer’s “Inside Out”), but raises some interesting questions. Right now, it’s easy enough to see “Inside Out” being the first Pixar movie since “Toy Story 3” to pick up a Best Picture nod — it’s the best reviewed movie of the year, and a colossal hit. But with “The Good Dinosaur” landing in the midst of awards season, could that end up superseding it if it’s as good (or better)? Or, if it’s a disappointment, could it re-taint the Pixar brand? Or if it’s nearly as good, could it end up splitting the vote? We still think “Inside Out” has a damn good shot, but “The Good Dinosaur” could throw a potential spanner in the works.
Q is for Q, from “Spectre”
Sorry, bit strained this one. A few years back, “Skyfall” managed to pick up Oscar buzz, almost unheard of for a Bond movie, but while it picked up five nods (and a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film, plus two acting nominations there), it failed to crack the higher Oscar categories. With the shock of the (sort of) new gone, we’d be surprised if its follow-up could do the same (sequels have to be exceptional to perform with the Academy, on the whole), but stranger things have happened. And they do love giving awards to Christoph Waltz…
R is for “The Revenant” and “Room.”
Only one filmmaker has ever won back-to-back Best Director trophies (John Ford). No filmmakers have had two of their movies win in successive years. Could Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu manage both of these feats? His Western survival tale “The Revenant” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, has had a rough production history, but bar any last-minute issues, is still on course to open at Christmas, and the trailer’s already creating a huge amount of buzz. The film seems to be different enough from “Birdman” than it won’t feel like he’s repeating himself, and the film’s late arrival will give it a boost. But it’s likely to be the very last thing seen, which damaged “Selma” last year, those records are hefty things to overcome, and furthermore, it could end up letting us all down. Meanwhile, “Room” is a touch less likely to be in the Best Picture race: it’s perhaps too modest a film to get there, though reviews have been strong, especially at TIFF. But both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay should be considered serious threats in their respective categories, if A24 can keep the momentum up, and if Oscar voters don’t avoid the film due to the tough subject matter.
S is for “Son Of Saul,” “Southpaw,” “Spotlight,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Steve Jobs,” “Stonewall,” “Straight Outta Compton” and “Suffragette.”
Gosh, there are a lot of Oscar movies beginning with S this year. To rush through quickly: “Southpaw” was touted as Jake Gyllenhaal’s return to the Oscars, but it’s unlikely to happen at this point given tepid reviews for the film, and a summer release. “Stonewall” is, sight unseen, a long shot too, while despite the mini-phenomenon of “Straight Outta Compton” and Universal pledging to push the movie, it’s hard to imagine Academy members voting for a NWA biopic even if it was perfect, and the film wasn’t. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an open question at this point: the film’ll certainly do huge box office, and will be fresh in the memory, but it’ll have to be really, really good on its own merits to break past technical categories (the Academy are mostly franchise-averse, even if they nominated the original film up the wazoo back in ’78). “Suffragette” got mixed notices at Telluride, and few seem to have flipped for it, but it’s up the Academy’s street, and has the zeitgeist on its side, so expect it to get a big push from Harvey Weinstein, one likely to pay off in Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress (Helena Bonham Carter) and potentially other categories too. Sony Pictures Classics aren’t just going to be satisfied with Foreign Language nods for “Son Of Saul” and are mounting a full campaign for the movie — given their success with “Amour,” it’s entirely feasible to see it paying off. Everybody loves “Spotlight,” it seems, with the film picking up fans everywhere it goes. Open Road are relative newcomers to the Oscar game, but they got close with “Nightcrawler” last year, and people are so enamored of the movie that we’re fully expecting a swathe of nods. Finally in the longest capsule ever, there’s “Steve Jobs.” Expectations were obviously sky-high, but Danny Boyle’s film seems to have exceeded most of them — the film got glowing notices, Michael Fassbender is the frontrunner for Best Actor, and the movie, Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen all seem like they’re in for the long haul. Can it do what “The Social Network” couldn’t and win, though?
T is for “Trumbo” and “Truth”
Two more movies that seem likely to be showcases for lead performances beyond anything else. “Truth,” unexpectedly, turns out to be a better vehicle for Cate Blanchett than Robert Redford, and given that the latter was reluctant to campaign for “All Is Lost,” a nod for him seems like a long shot. As we said above, Blanchett wants to go supporting for “Carol” to facilitate a lead push for “Truth.” As ever, she’s got the review, and if anyone can do the double again (2007 was the first time, for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “I’m Not There”), it’s her, but whether the film has the heat to get her there remains to be seen: “Spotlight” might have taken some of its lustre. Reviews for “Trumbo” are pleasant but not exactly raves, with many dismissing it as a TV movie in big-screen garb. But Bryan Cranston will certainly be in the conversation, and we shouldn’t underestimate its potential as a movie about movies, even if it feels closer to “Hitchcock” than “The Artist” from here.
U is for Useless Indicator Of Oscar Prospects, AKA The Golden Globes
If you’ve been following awards coverage here at all, you know that we’re not massively into the merits of the Golden Globes as awards predictors. Nevertheless, they are still a thing that exist, and this is going to be an interesting year — the major Oscar nominees are a somber lot, even more so than usual, leaving not much for the Comedy/Musical categories at the Globes. “The Martian” has already said that it’s going to be campaigning as comedy, which could well end up paying off with a win. Unless “The Hateful Eight” or “Joy” or “Steve Jobs” end up going as Comedy for more attention, look for outsiders like “Grandma,” “I Saw The Light,” “Lady in The Van,” “Me & Earl & The Dying Girl,” “Mistress America,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Trainwreck,” “Spy” and maybe even “Youth” to make inroads here.
V is for Villeneuve, Denis
The French-Canadian director is behind “Sicario” this year, and while “Prisoners” didn’t make much impact a couple of years ago, this could be different. Reviews were mixed at Cannes, but U.S. critics at TIFF have been much warmer to the movie, with comparisons to “Silence Of The Lambs” and “Traffic” abounding, two movies that anyone pushing a thriller to the Oscars would love to hear. As one of the first movies opening, it’ll need good box office to get it there, but Lionsgate don’t have much else in the game this year, and with a potential Best Actress turn from Emily Blunt, and a meaty supporting one from Benicio Del Toro, this shouldn’t be underestimated.
W is for “The Walk”
The next big awards movie to be unveiled as it opens NYFF, we have to confess we’re skeptical if Robert Zemeckis’ film will find a reason to exist only seven years after “Man On Wire” won the Documentary Oscar. But we hear good things from those that have seen it, and a return to form for the director would be welcome: if it pays off (and we can get past Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s accent and make-up), this has the 3D extravaganza-vibe that’s paid off so well in recent years for films like “Hugo” and “Gravity,” and could well be a technical juggernaut as well.
X is for “(e)X-Machina”
As we said above, A24 are planning a proper push for Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina,” apparently. Vikander aside, we can see a little potential for Oscar Isaac in Supporting Actor, depending on how the category shakes out, but the best bet for the film could be in Best Original Screenplay, which is a very thin category this year. The film was a major indie hit earlier in the year, and the smart writing could surely win some fans in the Academy.
Y is for “Youth”
None of our Cannes-goers this year were big fans of Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” but that doesn’t mean that it won’t connect with the Academy. “The Great Beauty” won the Oscar a couple of years back, and as a movie about artists looking back on their lives, it could certainly connect. Best Picture is far from certain (especially with “Brooklyn” looking like a better bet for Fox Searchlight), but it might happen if the film lands U.S. critical support, but acting nods are the strongest possibility here. Michael Caine will get a big push (though it’s a subtler turn than some out there), but Harvey Keitel and a fiery cameo from Jane Fonda also need watching too.
Z is for “Z For Zachariah”
This is a good movie. It isn’t getting Oscar nominations. It is very convenient for an A-Z list. And hopefully, at least Margot Robbie’s performance could end up recognized by the Spirit Awards, if nowhere else.