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These Top Auteurs May Contend for Oscars in 2020: Insanely Early Director Picks

We've collected a list of films from top directors likely to contend in next year's Oscar race. Is it too early? Yes.

Quentin Tarantino'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' film presentation, Arrivals, CinemaCon, Las Vegas, USA - 23 Apr 2018Sony Pictures Entertainment presentation

Quentin Tarantino

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

Yes, it’s way too early to do this. Blame my editorial overlords. But, believe it or not, awards planning for Oscars 2020 has already begun. The first salvo was Sundance, which yielded slim Oscar pickings, mostly on the documentary side. The first week of April, studio presentations at CinemaCon will throw out some tentative Oscar bait. May brings Cannes, which is unlikely to show Netflix’s best stuff in Competition due to French theaters’ archaic three-year exclusive theatrical window.

Depending on what new Oscar rules emerge in April, Amazon and Netflix are in the Oscar hunt. On the acting side, Meryl Streep is back, along with Timothée Chalamet, Antonio Banderas, and Adam Driver, in multiple movies.

Here’s a list of 17 potential 2020 awards auteurs, in alphabetical order.

Pedro Almodóvar, “Pain & Glory”

In the semi-autobiographical “Pain & Glory” (fall, Sony Pictures Classics), Antonio Banderas portrays Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker in declining health looking back on his life, from his ’60s childhood through his ’80s coming of age and discovery of cinema. Almodóvar broke out Banderas in his 20s in Spain with “Labyrinth of Passion” (1982) and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (1989). “Pain & Glory” marks Banderas’ first Almodóvar feature since 2011’s “The Skin I Live In.” Portraying Mallo’s mother is another Almodóvar veteran, Penelope Cruz, who last worked with the director on “Broken Embraces” in 2009. In 2006, her work in “Volver” brought her the Best Actress award at Cannes and an Oscar nomination. Both stars appeared in the 2013 film “I’m So Excited.” “Pain & Glory” opens in Spain in March, and will screen in Cannes competition in May, followed by other European countries and stateside play at the fall festivals.

Director Noah Baumbach, left, and actor Adam Driver attend the "While We're Young" premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival, in Toronto2014 TIFF - "While We're Young" Premiere, Toronto, Canada - 6 Sep 2014

Noah Baumbach and Adam Driver

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Noah Baumbach, Untitled

Still untitled and undated by Netflix, the New York writer-director’s latest relationship comedy boasts lead performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as a couple going through a divorce, with a supporting turn from Laura Dern.

Emma Watson, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanland, and Timothee Chalamet

Emma Watson, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlan, and Timothee Chalamet

Little Women/Instagram

Greta Gerwig, “Little Women”

Gerwig’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird” is her adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott children’s classic “Little Women” (December 25, Sony). Gerwig reunites with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet as Jo and Laurie, and also stars Laura Dern as Marmee and Meryl Streep as mighty Aunt March, as well as Emma Watson as Meg, Florence Pugh (“Lady Macbeth”) as Amy, Eliza Scanlen (“Sharp Objects”) as Beth, and Louis Garrel as Professor Bhaer.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

Sony Pictures

Marielle Heller, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (November 22, Sony), the director’s follow-up to Oscar-nominated “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” stars Tom Hanks as iconic-sweatered children’s show host Fred Rogers, who hit a nerve in Morgan Neville’s hit documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda holds the Palme d'Or for the film 'Shoplifters' following the awards ceremony at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France2018 Awards Photo Call, Cannes, France - 19 May 2018

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda

Arthur Mola/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Kore-eda Hirokazu, “The Truth”

After winning the Palme d’Or for “Shoplifters” at Cannes, the Japanese auteur lined up an all-star cast for his first English-language film, “The Truth.” Based on an unproduced stage play that Kore-eda wrote 15 years ago, Ethan Hawke stars opposite Juliette Binoche as a woman who returns to France when her famous actress mother (Catherine Deneuve) publishes a controversial autobiography. Look for “The Truth” to bring Kore-eda back to the fall festivals.

Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson

Rob Latour/BEI/Shutterstock

Rian Johnson, “Knives Out”

Stepping away from “Star Wars,” Johnson wrote and directed original Agatha Christie riff “Knives Out” (November 27, Lionsgate) starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer.

Will Smith

Will Smith


Ang Lee, “Gemini Man”

Never underestimate the Oscar-winning Taiwanese-born filmmaker of “Life of Pi,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Yes, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” crashed on the digital frontier, but Lee used what he learned on that movie on another high-frame-rate picture, sci-fi thriller “Gemini Man” (October 11, Paramount), which will either revive Will Smith’s shuddering career or continue its decline. Written by a murderer’s row of A-list writers (David Benioff, Andrew Niccol, Jonathan Hensleigh, Christopher Wilkinson, Stephen J. Rivele, Billy Ray), the movie follows a 50-year-old high-end assassin (Smith) who runs afoul of another operative who seems to know his every move. That’s because, thanks to Weta Digital’s de-aging technology, Smith also plays his 23-year-old younger clone in the movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Benedict Wong and Clive Owen costar.

King Lear Anthony Hopkins

“King Lear”

Amazon Studios

Fernando Meirelles, “The Pope”

The Oscar-nominated Brazilian director of “City of God” and “The Constant Gardener” returns to the award zone with “The Pope” (Netflix), written by Oscar biopic perennial Anthony McCarten (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Darkest Hour,” “Theory of Everything”). Set in 2013, Jonathan Pryce plays Pope Francis, the reluctant leader of the Roman Catholic Church, while Hopkins is his predecessor Pope Benedict, who resigned the papacy.

Timothee Chalamet


David Michôd, “The King”

The Australian writer-director cast Chalamet in his take on Shakespeare’s Henry V, “The King” (Plan B, Netflix) which also stars “The Rover” star Robert Pattinson, Thomasin McKenzie, and “Animal Kingdom” breakouts Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script.

Dee Rees at Netflix

Anne Thompson

Dee Rees, “The Last Thing He Wanted”

Writer-director Dee Rees follows up Oscar-nominated “Mudbound,” which was picked up at Sundance 2017 by Netflix, with a bigger-budget political thriller for the streamer adapted by Rees and Marco Villalobos from Joan Didion’s terse 1996 novel, “The Last Thing He Wanted.” In the movie, Washington Post reporter Elena McMahon (a de-glammed Anne Hathaway), who is covering the 1984 presidential primaries when her mother dies, goes home to look after her dying father (Willem Dafoe). When she takes over his role as an arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America, she suddenly finds herself dealing with spies and the American military complex and flying to a remote island off the coast of Costa Rica. Ben Affleck and Toby Jones costar.

Charlize Theron24th Annual Critics' Choice Awards, Arrivals, Barker Hanger, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Jan 2019

Charlize Theron


Jay Roach, “Fair and Balanced”

Tackling another ripped-from-the-headlines true story, the director of “Recount,” “Game Change” and  Oscar-nominated “Trumbo” moved forward to shoot “Fair and Balanced” (December 20, Lionsgate) even after financier Annapurna dropped out. Written by “The Big Short” Oscar-winner Charles Randolph, the movie stars John Lithgow as the late Fox News kingpin Roger Ailes, Malcolm McDowell as media overlord Rupert Murdoch, Margot Robbie as Kayla Pospisil, Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Connie Britton as Beth Ailes, Allison Janney as Susan Estrich, Mark Duplass as Douglas Brunt, and Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carls.

Joe Pesci and Martin Scorsese on the set of "The Irishman"

Joe Pesci and Martin Scorsese on the set of “The Irishman

Philip Vaughan/ACE Pictures/REX/Shutterstock

Martin Scorsese,”The Irishman”

“The Irishman” (Netflix), adapted by Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) from Charles Brandt’s gangster saga “I Heard You Paint Houses,” stars an ensemble of Scorsese veterans –Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale, Harvey Keitel– plus Anna Paquin, Jesse Plemons, and Ray Romano.  Netflix acquired the big-budget movie, which makes extensive use of de-aging VFX for its decades-long story of a mob-friendly labor leader who is accused of involvement in Jimmy Hoffa’s murder. How Netflix will release it is the $175-million question.

Adam Driver appears in The Report by Scott Z. Burns, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Atsushi Nishijima.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“The Report”

Atsushi Nishijima

Steven Soderbergh, “The Laundromat”

Written by the Oscar-winning “Traffic” director’s long-time collaborator Scott Z. Burns, “The Laundromat” (Netflix) stars Oscar-winners Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman in a story inspired by the Panama Papers; we follow a group of journalists who discover and reveal 11.5 million files linking the world’s power elite to hidden bank accounts to skip taxes. Antonio Banderas, Alex Pettyfer, David Schwimmer, Will Forte, Matthias Schoenaerts and Jeffrey Wright costar.

Also on the awards docket is Soderbergh’s production of writer-turned-director Burns’ post-9/11 political thriller “The Report” (fall, Amazon Studios) which is a feat of dramatic writing for smart audiences that imparts reams of info about CIA interrogation techniques, along the lines of post-Watergate journalism drama “All the President’s Men.” Expect Soderbergh to play with Amazon’s recently announced flexible release strategy.

Brad Pitt Leonardo DiCaprio filming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio filming “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

The director’s ninth feature film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (August 9, Sony), stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a television western star trying to break into movies in 1969 Los Angeles; Brad Pitt plays his stunt double and roommate. The director’s starry ensemble also includes Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, James Marsden, Emile Hirsch, Michael Madsen, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning and the late Luke Perry. How much will we see of the Charles Manson murders? We may find out in Cannes.

Benh Zeitlin, “Wendy”

Eight years after the New Orleans filmmaker broke out at Sundance with Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Zeitlin took his time working on his follow-up. Finally, 2019 brings the release of “Wendy” (Fox Searchlight), the story of a young girl kidnapped and taken to a destructive ecosystem where mystical pollen breaks the relationship between aging and time. Will he finish it in time for Cannes?

–With reporting by David Ehrlich and Eric Kohn. 

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