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25 Awards Contenders to See This Season, From ‘Roma’ to ‘The Favourite’ to ‘First Man’ and More

As the summer gives way to another slammed festival season that will breed yet another nutty awards season, IndieWire tries to suss out the most likely contenders.

“Peterloo” (November 9)

“Peterloo”

Amazon Studios

Mike Leigh’s historical epics are gorgeous in their specific period details (see “Topsy Turvy” and “Mr. Turner,” both of which landed multiple craft Oscar nominations), which makes his return to the genre with “Peterloo” especially exciting. Lee winds the clock back to August 1819 to tell the true story of the Peterloo massacre, in which 15 people were killed and 700 wounded during a voting reform rally in St Peter’s Fields. Leigh has a gift of bringing an emotional character focus to the most expansive stories, which means he should do wonders with a historical event as ambitions as Peterloo. —ZS

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” (November 16)

'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs"

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

A new film by the Coen Brothers, especially a western – “True Grit” and “No Country for Old Men” received a combined 18 Oscar nominations – wouldn’t be a surprise awards contender, except this one was. The concept behind “Buster Scruggs,” so we were told, was it would be a collection of different stories that would be turned into an anthology series for Netflix. Weeks ago, it was announced as a surprise competition entry as a feature film at the Venice Film Festival. What we do know about the film is that it stars Tim Blake Nelson (as Scruggs himself) along with Coen newcomers like Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, and James Franco, and the Coens are once again working alongside many of their regular (and often awards-nominated) collaborators like cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, production designer Jess Gonchor, composer Carter Burwell, costumer Mary Zophres, and casting director Ellen Chenoweth. So what we should probably expect is well, a new Coen Brothers movie. -CO

“Green Book” (November 21)

L to R: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in GREEN BOOK

“Green Book”

Universal Pictures

Peter Farrelly brings his comedy chops to this true story about a black concert pianist (“Moonlight” Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali) who hires a mug (a beefed-up Viggo Mortensen) to protect him on the road. Ali plays the more sophisticated man of culture man who tries to bring some rigor — and Cyrano de Bergerac writing chops — into his bodyguard’s sloppy life; Mortensen’s rougher-hewn street thug learns to appreciate how much he takes his white privilege for granted. The title comes from the book that touring black entertainers took with them in the south, a road map to where it was okay for them to sleep and eat. Will this be too broad for Oscar contention? It depends on where the tear ducts fall. -AT

“The Favourite” (November 23)

“The Favourite”

Yorgos Lanthimos has become an indie mainstay over the last two years thanks to “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” but the director is about to breakthrough even bigger with the release of “The Favourite.” His most star-studded film to date, “The Favourite” casts Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz as rivals who compete to be Queen Anne’s advisor at the height of the War of the Spanish Succession. While Stone and Weisz are the big draws, Olivia Colman’s larger-than-life Queen Anne and Lanthimos’ blunt approach to the historical drama prove to make “The Favourite” an unforgettable fall title. -ZS

“If Beale Street Could Talk” (November 30)

“If Beale Street Could Talk”

Annapurna

Barry Jenkins was writing his adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 Harlem romance long before he made Oscar winner “Moonlight.” Reuniting with Plan B Entertainment (“12 Years a Slave”) and with backing from Annapurna, Jenkins cast his romantic leads with discovery Kiki Layne and “Selma” alum Stephan James. 25-year-old Layne beat out hundreds of rivals to play pregnant Tish, whose fiancé Fonny (James) is imprisoned for a rape he did not commit. Industry insiders were surprised to see Jenkins take his anticipated period drama to TIFF as an opening weekend World Premiere, rather than Telluride, which helped to launch “Moonlight.” With all the Oscar pundits assembled at Telluride, many consider Toronto to be the cuddlier venue. Jenkins is reuniting with several of his Oscar-nominated “Moonlight” collaborators, including producers Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Adele Romanski, editors Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, cinematographer James Laxton, and composer Nicholas Britell. The supporting cast includes Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and Brian Tyree Henry. —AT

“Mary, Queen of Scots” (December 7)

“Mary, Queen of Scots”

The feature directorial debut of Josie Rourke, artistic director of The Donmar Warehouse, this starry royal drama follows this year’s Oscar contenders Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie in a face-off as two of history’s most compelling queens. The period drama explores the turbulent life of Ronan’s Mary Stuart, who became Queen of France at age 16 and widowed at 18. Robbie plays Mary’s biggest rival, Elizabeth I. Each young Queen is fearful and fascinated by the other, but their loyalty to their countries is threatened when Mary asserts her claim to the English throne. You already know who is going to win, but the path there should be a dazzling one. -KE

“Welcome to Marwen” (December 21)

For those who love Jeff Malmberg’s incredible 2010 documentary “Marwencol,” there is a natural skepticism about Robert Zemeckis bringing his “Polar Express” cartoon-like magic to the story of an artist recovering from PTSD and extreme memory loss. After being beaten nearly to death by neo-Nazi thugs, Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carrell), robbed of 38 years of memories, created – with remarkable realistic detail in 1:6th scale – an imaginary village, set in World War II Belgium, which served as his way of processing what happened to him and to use his art as therapy. Based on the most recent trailer, Zemeckis is leaning into his cartoon fantasy aesthetic, rather than making a faithful adaptation, by animating Hogancamp’s backyard world as a way of entering the damaged character’s subjectivity. It’s possible this approach of creating a second parallel story within the larger narrative could be an effective reinvention and adaptation of Hogancamp’s story. It certainly has the potential for some awards-friendly roles, as Carrell has proved he can bring tremendous empathy to his suffering characters, while Janelle Monáe looks inspiring as Mark’s real-life physical trainer-turned-animated protector in his fictional world. -CO

Untitled Dick Cheney Film (December 21)

Chiseled actor Christian Bale and Will Ferrell’s producing and directing partner Adam McKay might not seem like the obvious duo to bring to life a biopic about the rise of Vice President Dick Cheney. But McKay, first with “The Big Short” and now HBO’s “Succession,” has found a way to transition his broad comedic chops to satirical, entertaining and sharp-eyed political commentaries about corruptive power. Bale, having been seen publicly with his added Cheney girth, is an actor who can fully commit to the type of physical transformations that brings Oscar attention and can create a below-the-surface intensity a Cheney portrayal will likely need. Like with Brad Pitt and Steve Carrell in “The Big Short,” McKay has also proved adept at casting against type, which makes the unexpected casting of “Backseat” — including Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush, Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld, and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney — especially intriguing. -CO

“Cold War” (December 21)

“Cold War”

The promise of another gorgeous black and white period film from “Ida” director Paweł Pawlikowski is reason enough to be excited, but the reviews out of Cannes point to this film being something special. The post-WWII story of a search for talented young singers to showcase the best of Polish folk traditions starts in the rural countryside before elliptically transitioning to decadent realities of Berlin and Paris. As with “Ida,” the heart of Pawlikowski’s human drama is the conflict of Poland’s broken citizens in the wake of Hitler and the war, now living under the shadow of Stalin’s iron curtain. In the case of “Cold War,” this particularly bleak story is told through a love affair that starts under false pretenses when a music conductor (Tomasz Kot) “discovers” a beautiful young singer (Joanna Kulig) and then skips ahead to moments of the dysfunctional pair through years of living under the intense pressure to perform and the enticement to defect. The film features stunning musical ensembles, evocative cinematography and a dark portrayal of damaged humanity that, according to IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, makes the director’s previous Oscar-winner (“Ida”) “feel like a frivolous comedy.” —CO

“Ad Astra” (December 21)

James Gray gets more ambitious with every project he takes on (his last release was “The Lost City of Z”), and that trend most certainly continues with “Ad Astra.” The science fiction movie stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut traveling to Neptune to uncover the answers behind his father’s disappearance on the same trip twenty years prior. Working on a studio budget and collaborating with “Inception” cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, Gray should easily deliver a heady sci-fi trip that leaves minds blown and boggled. -ZS

“On the Basis of Sex” (December 25)

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has already had a big year at the box office, thanks to the success of Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s lauded documentary “RBG,” but for moviegoers eager to get a (lightly dramatized) exploration of her early years, Mimi Leder’s biopic seems like the perfect judgement call. West and Cohen’s doc did touch on one of the first cases that then-lawyer Ginsburg pioneered, making a big name for herself in the process, but the Felicity Jones-starring feature promises to go more deeply into Ginsburg’s life as she attempts to bring a case before the U.S. Court of Appeals that will overturn a century of gender discrimination. Her personal life will also get a close examination, as Ginsburg’s partner on the proceedings was her own husband Marty (Armie Hammer). No objections here. -KE

“Roma” (December TBD)

“Roma”

Courtesy of Carlos Somonte / Netflix

Alfonso Cuarón, returning to the big screen four years after “Gravity” made him the first Mexican filmmaker to win the best director Oscar, is calling “Roma” the most essenital movie of his career. The black-and-white Spanish-language drama brought the director back to Mexico City for the first time since “Y Tu Mamá También.” The story centers around a year in the life of a domestic worker for a middle class family in the early 1970s. With Cuarón serving as his own cinematographer and telling a story born out of his own childhood, “Roma” should be at the top of everyone’s must-see fall movies list. -ZS

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