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2016 Fall Movie Preview: 23 Awards Contenders To See This Season

Get to know some of the big contenders before awards season really hits its stride.

All this week, IndieWire will be rolling out our annual Fall Preview, including offerings that span genres, a close examination of some of the year’s biggest breakouts, all the awards contenders you need to know about now and special attention to all the new movies you need to get through a jam-packed fall movie-going season. Check back every day for a new look at the best the season has to offer, and clear your schedule, because we’re going to fill it right up.

“The Light Between Oceans,” September 2

The Light Between Oceans

“The Light Between Oceans”

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Entertainment One

Fresh off her Oscar win for her supporting role in “The Danish Girl,” Alicia Vikander might want to prepare herself to get back into the wilds of awards campaigning thanks to a very strong showing in Derek Cianfrance’s adaptation of “The Light Between Oceans.” Michael Fassbender stars alongside Vikander in the feature as a haunted lighthouse keeper who falls in love with an effervescent young lady (Vikander, obviously) and promptly hauls her off to the private island where he lives and works. As the pair fall deeper into love, they also struggle to conceive a baby, and when a dead man and a live infant wash up on-shore one day, who’s to say the baby isn’t really a gift from God they should just keep? As the film moves towards a series of crushing climaxes, Vikander holds steady and strong. -KE

“Sully,” September 9

"Sully" Tom Hanks

“Sully”

Considering how reflexively his films are looped into the awards conversation, it’s easy to forget that Clint Eastwood hasn’t released a legitimate contender since “Letters From Iwo Jima” in 2006 (yes, “American Sniper” picked up a handful of nominations, but that film was always more of a populist favorite than anything else). “Sully,” despite its not-so-confident early September release date, has a decent shot at turning things around. For one thing, the film has one of America’s sweethearts (Tom Hanks) playing another (Captain “Sully” Sullenberger). For another, it tells a story that virtually every American is at least somewhat familiar with. “Flight” never took off with the Academy, but if Eastwood can find a way for this seemingly similar drama to go beyond the headlines and grasp on to something that resonates with the world today, he might be able to land a few more pieces of hardware for his mantel. -DE

“Cameraperson,” September 9

cameraperson

“Cameraperson”

One trend that has developed in the Best Picture category is the Academy’s tendency to celebrate stories about people working in the film industry: “The Artist,” “Birdman” and “Argo” being three recent, big winning examples. It’ll be interesting to see if the non-fiction professionals responsible for creating the 15 film short list for Best Documentary will have the same affinity for “Cameraperson.” It’s a fantastic film in of itself, but it is also a fascinating window into the process of making a nonfiction film. It’s both a meditation on the art form and a poignant memoir of what it means to dedicate one’s life to traveling the globe to capture important stories — a combination that could resonate with the early Academy nonfiction decision makers. -CO

“Snowden,” September 16

"Snowden"

“Snowden”

It’s been awhile since Oliver Stone has made a film that has been well received by critics. Yet “Snowden” might be the perfect material for the director’s comeback. The director often accused of being a lefty conspiracist might be uniquely qualified to tell the story of the young man who opened the world’s’ eyes to America’s massive spying operation, which included its own citizens and was aided by large telecommunication and social media companies. Snowden’s backstory — a pro-military professional, who becomes disillusioned by what he sees — also follows the arc of many of Stone’s most celebrated protagonists. The ability to pick up where Laura Poitras’ “Citizenfour” left off and tell the backstory of how Snowden came to make the choices he did could be interesting. Which is why the real Oscar contender coming out Snowden maybe star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose talents and charms seem ripe for some “for your consideration” attention. Yet underlying any potential awards consideration will the larger question: Does Hollywood want to embrace a heroic portrait of someone who is still extremely controversial. -CO

“Queen of Katwe,” September 23

"Queen of Katwe"

“Queen of Katwe”

Disney

Chess is one of those time-tested storytelling metaphors that represent any kind of clash. This true life story, directed by Mira Nair, follows young Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), whose aptitude led her from poverty in Uganda up through the global chess ranks. Perennial awards players Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo star as Phiona’s mother and mentor, making for a trio of performers that are sure to receive attention after the film’s upcoming TIFF premiere. Awards voters sure love biopics, so this might have screenplay potential as well. Regardless, this looks to be another solid Disney entry into the “sports movies for people who don’t like sports” canon. -SG

“Deepwater Horizon,” September 30

"Deepwater Horizon"

“Deepwater Horizon”

Peter Berg specializes in stories about groups of ordinary Americans trapped in difficult situations. Based on films like “Lone Survivor” it’s easy to imagine how Berg will capture the life and death suspense of the men working the BP oil rig when it exploded and burst into flames. This film is told from the point of view of the “everyday heroes” whose lives are put at risk by the  powers that be, with real life hero Mike Williams’ (Mark Wahlberg) family (Kate Hudson) and a cost-cutting BP exec (John Malkovich) being used to emphasize the depth of these men’s needless sacrifice. Certainly a story that addresses the oil spill that devastated the Gulf Coast and revealed callous corporate greed has Oscar potential, but it’s hard to tell if the film will have that big picture/big message most often associated with “based on true events ” Oscar films. -CO

“American Honey,” September 30

"American Honey"

“American Honey”

A24

Andrea Arnold is finally back on the big screen, and with a long-promised and much-anticipated passion project that only illuminates just how much we need the director’s keen eye and unique attitude in today’s cinema. “American Honey” follows a ragtag group of magazine sellers — “a mag crew” — as they crisscross the Midwest selling their wares and getting lit, all told through the eyes and heart of their newest member, Star (revelatory newbie Sasha Lane). Arnold has always excelled at depicting the inner lives of young women, and “American Honey” is no exception. Star’s experiences are various and specific — from her fraught romantic relationship with co-star Shia LaBeouf to her incendiary rivalry with Riley Keough — but also wonderfully relatable and gorgeously depicted. Brimming with music and hormonal energy, “American Honey” is infectious, and after a strong showing at Cannes, just might thrust Arnold into the awards spotlight. -KE

“Denial,” September 30

"Denial"

“Denial”

Rachel Weisz is poised to have a very big — and very emotional — September, thanks to turns in both the wrenching “The Light Between Oceans” and the infuriating “Denial.” From lauded director Mick Jackson — back behind the camera for the first time since 2010’s TV movie “Temple Grandin” — comes the story of writer and historian Deborah E. Lipstadt (Weisz plays her in the film, and David Hare’s screenplay is based on her book) after she is sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). The film boasts an absolutely stacked cast (any film that has Tom Wilkinson in a supporting role has got something good going on), and early looks at the project show a focused and fiery Weisz taking hold of every frame. Pairing her with Spall will likely lead to some major actorly fireworks, but Hare’s screenplay seems like a solid bet for some awards love. -KE

Check out October’s awards contenders on the next page. 

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