Winning an Oscar is not just a sprint you know. It takes months, arguably years of preparation, from the concept through to the marketing strategy. Therefore winning an Oscar may not be as random as it seems.
From slaves to founders and Silence to a musical, these are the ten films that have stood above the parapet as this year’s early Oscar contenders.
Comment below and tell us what your predictions are.
1The Birth of a Nation
It made headlines in January for being the most expensive distribution deal ever made at Sundance, and many suspect Fox Searchlight’s $17 million gamble could pay off. The Birth of a Nation is Nate Parker’s middle finger to the 1915propaganda documentary of the same name, and one that will carry significant poignancy with voters following last year’s diversity scandal.
Following in the footsteps of 12 Years a Slave, which Searchlight also picked up and guided to Best Picture in 2014, The Birth of a Nation is the story of a preacher who leads a slave uprising in the antebellum south. The trailer is powerful and the Academy love an auteur, so perhaps Parker – its director, writer, producer and star – could do a quadruplet in the nominations? It would not be unthinkable.
However, it could be that the predominantly white voters, though eager to prove their tolerance of all things non-white, just don’t connect to this film enough. At the moment all we have are some rave reviews and a clear intent from Fox that this will be their biggest candidate, which makes it a clear early favourite.
Martin Scorsese is back, and there’s no De Niro in sight with his latest film. What he does have in Silence is a cast led by a former nominee (Liam Neeson) and flanked by two rising stars (Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield) which gives this all the potential to scoop nominations in at least lead and supporting actor.
Silence is the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to Japan to spread the word of Christianity and faces a gauntlet of adversity. On the one hand this is another film about religion and, fresh off Spotlight, might not have the appeal. However, this is a film that turns a Western understanding of religion on its head and could offer a powerful commentary on multiculturalism and inclusion in a way that many Oscar voters could relate to.
With a lot of hype behind it you can expect Silence to be among the best picture nominees, though Scorsese has a poor track record for converting these into wins. But if he can do it with The Departed…
3La La Land
Rarely does a film come along with that potent mix of cultural now-ness and critical credibility, which is why we have been really championing Damien Chazelle’s La La Land as one of the films that could sneak up on everyone this year. Featuring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and J.K. Simmon (whom Chazelle directed to a supporting actor Oscar in Whiplash), this is a cool, colourful musical that could sweep voters off their feet.
The major setback to La La Land is the lack of consistency for musical over recent years. Though many have reached the Oscars – Moulin Rouge, Once, Chicago, Les Miserables – it’s there is no sure fire way of getting there. However, with something a little less traditional but flooded with nods to the classics, this could find itself among the original song, editing, sound, production design, cinematography, directing, acting and even best picture nominees.
Unfortunately, La La Land does not yet have the buzz of many other films, but don’t rule it out yet. It’s still early days and the release can change everything.
4Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
With two directing Oscars this millennium, Ang Lee is one of the most understated directors at the box office. Brokeback Mountain and The Life of Pi were huge cinematic accomplishments, which he now aims to follow up with something oozing patriotism and potential awards.
Billy Lynn suffers from post-traumatic stress, but far from being all about him it is Kristen Stewart who gets top billing on IMDB. With a busy and versatile couple of years, it could be time for her first nomination, though this doesn’t seem like a film that will dominate the acting categories.
However, if Lee’s Filmography is anything to go by this will be a reliable, sharp and expertly executed film that has all the potential to dominate the nominations, more so than The Birth of a Nation. Could this be third time lucky? What’s Inarritu doing this year?
This may not be one of the major best picture contenders this year but it’s safe to say, unless there is a major shock, that Disney’s Moana will be among the animated feature nominees. Who knows, maybe it’ll find itself among the original song contenders too.
Moana is the latest in a new breed of Disney princesses. Continuing their embracement of non-traditional heroines, the studio has opted for a Polynesian star. This will go down very well with critics, so combined with their trademark style and narrative they have a winning formula that begs for Oscars.
Disney have recently revived their animation studio, having found themselves heavily distracted with Pixar projects for the best part of 15 years. Frozen and Big Hero 6 are signs that they can still win Oscars with their ‘classics’ canon.
Everyone remembers the story of the plane that famously pulled off an emergency landing on the Hudson River? The Academy sure does, because the Academy love a true story almost as much as they love themselves, particularly a true story about America, which makes Sully a huge contender.
Director and Producer Clint Eastwood emerged back on the Oscar scene with breakout drama American Sniper in 2015, but with something a little more restrained and little less openly drenched in republican ideologies he could have something really strong on his hands. Sully is just that, with enough appeal to comfortably earn nods in the major categories and all the potential to convert too.
Throw in veteran Tom Hanks, who has been without a nomination since 2001, and this has all the makings of a film giving the old guard of the Oscars one more big hoorah.
If the Academy want to reward something that is quite typical fodder for them, then The Founder is just the ticket. A biographical drama about the guy who bought McDonalds and turned it into a global billion dollar empire, it also stars Michael Keaton who seems to be a best picture midas right now (Birdman, Spotlight).
Whether or not this breaks in front of the pack to secure a BP nom is still quite uncertain, but it could certainly be Keaton’s year, who has failed to pick up his leading actor prize in his previous two attempts. The Founder also has an experience director behind it in John Lee Hancock, though his failed attempts to get Saving Mr. Banks into the major categories may not be the most reassuring sign.
This will certainly be seen as more of an outsider at the moment, but keep an eye on this one, you will hear more about it.
The Weinsteins may have lost some of their influence at the Oscars in the past five years, but they could be about to come back in style with Lion. A film that will obviously draw comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire as Dev Patel travels India in search of his family, Lion also stars Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara, making it instantly on the radar of all awards watchers.
However, Lion’s director Garth Davis has never directed a feature film before, so it would be a huge ask to think he could break through the notoriously fussy director category and secure a nomination, but if Room can do it there is hope for other breakout indie films. This certainly has all the qualities of a Best Picture nominee, but hype is all we have, though it has been enough to send its awards buzz through the roof.
Lion will be a huge priority for Harvey Weinstein at Christmas, so expect the advertising dollars to be thrown around for this.
If the Academy are keen to collectively recognise films that celebrate America’s diversity and inclusiveness, but just aren’t comfortable enough with a film as direct as The Birth of a Nation, then maybe Loving can fill the void.
Focussed on an interracial couple imprisoned for getting married in the 1950s, Loving will be your typical tale of coping through adversity and defying the odds to inspire social justice. Many will say Michael Shannon is also deserving of a nomination, while co-star Ruth Negga could be propelled to a nomination, partly supported by the impending skew towards diversity among next year’s list.
With the reliable Jeff Nichols at the helm and a lot of critical backing so early in the year, Loving is guaranteed to deliver calls for awards recognition.
If the Academy want to reward auteurs, then look out Nate Parker because the master is back. Woody Allen’s latest offering is a glitzy reunion of Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart as a loved up writer and secretary trying to make it in La La Land.
With his trademark quips and dialogue heavy narrative, Cafe Society looks like standard Woody Allen fare, but done well all but guarantees a screenplay nomination. Done really well and he could find himself among the Best Picture nominees too.
Another underdog, but always a possibility.