35 Movies You Will Be Talking About This Awards Season

Clockwise from bottom left: A24; Paramount Pictures; Fox Searchlight; CBS Films; The Weinstein Company; Amazon Studios; Summit Entertainment; Lionsgate; Focus Features; Paramount; Sony Pictures; TriStar Pictures; AMPAS: Sébastien Bonaimé / Getty Images

We have finally stumbled out of the desert that was this summer’s movie season — a wasteland of ill-conceived sequels — and emerged into an oasis of thoughtful, moving, challenging, joyous, original movies that will stretch right into the end of the year. Yes, at long last, we have entered awards season.

For the second year in a row, there are a bounty of acclaimed films showcasing standout performances by women. And unlike the back-to-back #OscarsSoWhite debacle that marred the 2015 and 2014 awards season, this fall will feature a strong assortment of movies starring and created by people of color.

Some of these live-action feature films have already won over audiences at the Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Telluride, Venice, and Toronto film festivals — not to mention the handful of films that have already opened in theaters. There are also several that have yet to screen publicly anywhere, but remain central to the conversation among awards season punditry largely based on the pedigree of the filmmakers behind them. Some of these movies could turn out to be total duds — we all remember Joy, even if we don’t want to — so take their inclusion in this list as an acknowledgment of potential, not an endorsement of quality. And there could always be a surprise nominee or two that sneaks in at the last minute. So this is simply a celebration of the best filmmaking can offer — because this fall, there will be quite a lot of great films to see.

Movies that have publicly screened:

1. Love & Friendship

Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Kate Beckinsale), Best Adapted Screenplay (Whit Stillman), maybe, like, Costume Design

Writer-director Stillman’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novella Lady Susan is brimming with razor-sharp wit and delightful comic turns, no more so than from Beckinsale, who delivers arguably the most adroit performance of her career. It may feel too slight against the heavyweight films opening later in the year, but that shouldn’t deter audiences — or awards season voters — from enjoying this movie’s many delights.

When it was released: May 13

2. The Lobster

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Colin Farrell), Best Supporting Actress (Rachel Weisz), Best Original Screenplay (Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou)

This eccentric, deadpan story about a dystopia in which humans are turned into animals if they cannot find a suitable mate was, along with Love & Friendship, one of the few indie bright spots of the summer. And like Love & Friendship, The Lobster’s long-term awards chances seem shaky, especially given its early release and its ultimately grim outlook on love and romance. Do not let that stop you from seeing it, though.

When it was released: May 13

3. Captain Fantastic

Bleecker Street

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Best Original Screenplay (Matt Ross)

Captain Fantastic is yet another indie film that won wide acclaim, opened in the summer, and has already been cast aside for newer, fresher movies this fall. Mortensen is heartbreaking as a father who raised his large family in the wilderness and has to retreat back to civilization after his wife’s death; it’s the kind of film awards season voters (and audiences) should circle back to for a second — or first — look.

When it was released: July 8

4. Florence Foster Jenkins

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Grant), Best Original Screenplay (Nicholas Martin), maybe Costume Design or Sound Mixing or something

Some among the Oscar prognoscenti think this movie — about the real-life titular New York City socialite and philanthropist (gamely played by Streep) who became infamous as the worst singer in the world — has a strong shot at Best Picture and Best Director. But these predictions seem…charmingly optimistic. Streep and Grant, who plays Florence’s devoted husband, do have a much stronger chance of acting nods, and middlebrow, low-stakes biographical dramas have enjoyed all kinds of award attention since people started giving awards for movies.

When it was released: Aug. 12

5. Hell or High Water

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (David Mackenzie), Best Actor (Chris Pine), Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster), Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan), maybe Editing or Cinematography

There’s usually at least one independent film that opens during the summer that becomes a word-of-mouth sensation. This year, that honor went to this superlative modern Western, which tracks two brothers (Pine and Foster) who rob a series of local Texas banks to pay off the reverse mortgage on their late mother’s oil-rich ranch. The best chance at an acting nod, however, would be for Bridges as the ornery Texas Ranger who pursues the brothers across the state. Audiences love this movie — in an earlier decade, it would have been treated as a major studio release, and not a niche indie — and that deep affection should carry it through the awards season as a major contender.

When it was released: Aug. 12

6. Sully

Warner Bros. Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Clint Eastwood), Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Adapted Screenplay (Todd Komarnicki), maybe Editing

The fall’s first genuine box office hit, and Eastwood’s follow-up to his cultural juggernaut American Sniper, Sully benefits from a sturdy movie star performance by Hanks as the eponymous US Airways pilot Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, who famously landed a plane in the Hudson River after he lost both engines due to a geese strike. The movie’s second half, which focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into incident, has been criticized for unfairly portraying the NTSB as prosecutorial and incompetent. But that is a mere flurry compared to the blizzards of controversy surrounding several other films on this list.

When it was released: Sept. 9

7. Other People

Possible nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Molly Shannon), Best Original Screenplay (Chris Kelly)

Add this poignant film to the depressing pile of indies that made a big splash at a major film festival (Sundance, in this case), only to fizzle completely at the box office. Writer-director Kelly — who recently made history as the first openly gay co-head writer at Saturday Night Live — crafted a moving, complicated story about a struggling New York actor (Jesse Plemons) who comes home to Sacramento to care for his mother (Shannon) as she goes through treatment for cancer. Shannon especially gives the kind of subtle, funny, wrenching performance that should recalibrate what audiences expect from her. Seek this one out.

When it was released: Sept. 9

8. Queen of Katwe

Possible nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o), Best Supporting Actor (David Oyelowo)

Here’s something surprising: The last live-action movie directly produced by Disney to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture was Mary Poppins in 1964. In fact, Disney’s live-action films rarely get any major nods — the only semirecent examples are Richard Farnsworth in 1999’s The Straight Story and Johnny Depp in 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, both for Best Actor.

That’s all to say that while Queen of Katwe has earned strong reviews, and its true story of a young Ugandan chess prodigy seems like it should earn all kinds of awards-y attention, it’s still something of a long shot for big-time nominations. (It’s just-OK limited release last weekend — another rarity for Disney — doesn’t quite help matters either.)

When it was released: Sept. 23

9. American Honey

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Sasha Lane), Best Supporting Actor (Shia LaBeouf), Best Original Screenplay (Andrea Arnold), an outside shot (get it?) for Cinematography

Another long shot, for very different reasons: American Honey traces the wandering life of a magazine sales crew trundling through the heartland and hustling people to sign up for magazine subscriptions. The cast is sprawling, but we experience just about everything through the eyes of their newest recruit, Star (Lane), who joins because her life is a dead end and she’s sweet on their live-wire leader Jake (LaBeouf). Writer-director Arnold shoots the crew with an offhand naturalism without sacrificing a bone-deep sense of beauty; Lane is an arresting screen presence; and LaBeouf gives arguably the best performance of his headline-grabbing career. But at two hours and forty minutes, the film’s epic length and digressive narrative could test the patience of audiences and awards voters alike.

Release date: Sept. 30

10. The Birth of a Nation

Fox Searchlight

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Nate Parker), Best Actor (Nate Parker), Best Supporting Actress (Aja Naomi King), Best Original Screenplay (Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin)

The Birth of a Nation has already been through the full hype-and-crisis awards season PR cycle months before it even opened in theaters. The film’s subject — the historic slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831, and the human and spiritual cost of the systematic dehumanization of black Africans in the American South — could scarcely be more timely. But it remains an open question how much audiences can set aside the 1999 rape allegation against the film’s writer, director, and star Parker — let alone the way Parker’s handled his end of the public discussion about that allegation over the last two months. (Indeed, the scrutiny he’s received could also end up resurrecting the skeletons in the closets of several other far more famous awards contenders this year.) It’s a struggle to think of another movie that has faced anything like this particular set of circumstances before its opening weekend — but at the very least, audiences will soon be able to talk about the film itself, and not just the man who made it.

Release date: Oct. 7

11. Moonlight

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Barry Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Naomie Harris), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, André Holland), Best Adapted Screenplay (Barry Jenkins), and a slew of other categories (Cinematography, Editing, Score, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing)

After experiencing Jenkins’ singular portrait of Chiron, a gay black man as he travels through pivotal moments in his life as child (Hibbert), teenager (Sanders), and young man (Rhodes), there is an impulse one has to implore every waking soul on the planet to see it. But that risks overhyping the film’s delicate, finely wrought balance of stunning visual storytelling, haunting aural soundscapes, and impeccable performances by the film’s cast members, every one of whom deserves the accolades that are already streaming their way. It is a shame that Hibbert, Sanders, and Rhodes can’t be nominated together for their performance as Chiron, but this is also the kind of movie that should make a lasting impact far beyond its ability to pull in Oscar hardware.

Release date: Oct. 21

12. Hacksaw Ridge

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Mel Gibson), Best Actor (Andrew Garfield), Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan), some technical categories (Editing, Sound)

Brace yourselves: This WWII movie may be based on the true story of a US Army medic (Garfield) who won the Medal of Honor without firing a single bullet, but it is also a storm-the-beaches fusillade at a major Hollywood comeback by Gibson. Hacksaw Ridge earned strong reviews out of its Venice Film Festival premiere — for Garfield’s affecting performance as Desmond T. Doss, a pacifist whose sense of duty outweighs his abhorrence of violence, and for how Gibson captures the hellscape Doss endures during the Battle of Okinawa. There are small corners of the industry that still quietly admire Gibson, in spite of his perceived anti-Semitism and the revelation in 2010 of his misogynist and racist rants hurled at his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. Whether this film will be enough to bring Gibson back into the good graces of the rest of Hollywood remains to be seen.

Release date: Nov. 4

13. Loving

Focus Features

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Jeff Nichols), Best Actor (Joel Edgerton), Best Actress (Ruth Negga), Best Original Screenplay (Jeff Nichols)

Like Moonlight, the pleasures of Loving defy the typical awards bait clichés of bold emotions and stirring uplift, despite its highly awards-bait-y subject: the Supreme Court battle spurred by the arrest of Mildred Jeter (Negga), a black woman, and Richard Loving (Edgerton), a white man, after they were married in Virginia in 1958. Rather than follow the case, writer-director Nichols (Midnight Special, Mud) focuses on Mildred and Richard, and how the arrest and its consequences affected their day-to-day lives. Loving unfolds with such gentle care that it risks getting overwhelmed by the bigger movies surrounding it, especially given the competitive Best Actress race this year. But it should not!

Release date: Nov. 4

14. Arrival

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Denis Villeneuve), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Jeremy Renner), Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Heisserer), some technical and craft categories (Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Visual Effects)

Ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the Best Picture category to as many as 10 nominees, sci-fi films have started piercing through the Academy’s historic neglect of the genre — from District 9 and Gravity to Inception and The Martian. Arrival, about a linguist (Adams) who must learn how to communicate with an alien species that has landed on Earth, looks like it could be this year’s best chance for a major sci-fi awards contender, between its heady subject, the artful approach by Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners), and Adams’ subtle, smart performance.

Release date: Nov. 11

15. Elle

Sony Pictures Classics

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)

The Academy has had a soft spot recently for acclaimed French actresses, and Huppert (The Piano Teacher, 8 Women, I Heart Huckabees) actually has two showcase films coming out this year. In December, she’ll star in Things to Come, about an academic trying to piece together her life after her husband abruptly leaves her for another woman. But the eyebrow-raising premise for Elle — the head of a video game company (Huppert) has a surprising and complicated reaction after she’s brutally sexually assaulted — is certain to garner much more attention, especially considering it’s France’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s directed by the savvy provocateur Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers).

Release date: Nov. 11

16. Manchester by the Sea

Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Kenneth Lonergan), Best Actor (Casey Affleck), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams), Best Supporting Actor (Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler), Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan), maybe Editing

The other movie that made a major impact at Sundance this year is also only the third film by Lonergan after 2000’s You Can Count On Me and 2011’s Margaret. Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a down-and-out super in Boston who returns to his hometown of the title after his older brother Joe (Chandler) dies, and leaves Lee as the guardian for Joe’s teenage son (Hedges). Lonergan slowly unfolds the devastating reasons why this is an almost impossible burden for Lee — they involve Lee’s ex-wife (Williams) — so by the film’s wrenching end, we feel like we know these characters like they’re our friends, and love them despite their many barbed edges. Manchester by the Sea packs such an indelible emotional wallop that audiences and awards voters may overlook a spike in coverage of the 2010 sexual harassment lawsuits against Affleck, which were settled out of court.

Release date: Nov. 18

17. Nocturnal Animals

Focus Features

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Tom Ford), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Actor (Jake Gyllenhaal), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Shannon), Best Supporting Actress (Laura Linney), Best Adapted Screenplay (Tom Ford), the craft categories we now expect from a Tom Ford movie (Cinematography, Costume Design, Score, Makeup and Hairstyling)

After a strong feature directing debut with 2009’s A Single Man, Ford really swings for the fences with Nocturnal Animals, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Adapted loosely by Ford from the 1993 Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan, the movie features two parallel stories: The first follows Susan (Adams), a Los Angeles art gallery owner stuck in a monied malaise; and the second tracks the lurid revenge saga of Tony (Gyllenhaal), the main character in the novel written by Susan’s ex-husband (also played by Gyllenhaal). Ford brings the impeccable high-gloss polish you would expect from a renown fashion designer, but he also embraces the grit in Tony’s story, especially via the indelibly grizzled lawman played by Shannon. The real standouts, however, are the trio of cameos by Andrea Riseborough (as Susan’s friend), Jena Malone (as Susan’s colleague), and especially Linney, who plays Susan’s pearl-flaunting, bouffant-sporting mother in a scene destined to be recreated by drag queens for decades to come. It’s almost certainly too short for the Academy to take seriously for a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but that won’t stop us from giving her the award in our hearts.

Release date: Nov. 18

18. Lion

The Weinstein Company

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Garth Davis), Best Supporting Actor (Dev Patel), Best Supporting Actress (Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara), Best Supporting Actor (Sunny Pawer), Best Adapted Screenplay (Luke Davies)

Lion, one of the nice surprises of the fall festival season, is based on the true story of Saroo, an Indian boy (Pawer) who gets separated from his parents at 5, adopted by a white couple in Australia (Kidman and David Wenham), and returns to India 25 years later as an adult (Patel) to retrace his steps and find his biological family. Although Patel carries the film, the first third follows Saroo as a child, which is apparently why the Weinstein Company felt it could campaign Patel in the supporting category — but, like, come on. There is no question, at least, that the movie’s sweeping emotional journey captivated audiences in Toronto, and could do the same through the holiday season.

Release date: Nov. 25

19. Jackie

Fox Searchlight

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Pablo Larraín), Best Actress (Natalie Portman), Best Supporting Actor (Peter Sarsgaard), Best Original Screenplay (Noah Oppenheim), several craft and technical categories (Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling)

Another big festival discovery this fall, Jackie may seem like a standard biopic of Jacqueline Kennedy (Portman), the world’s most famous first lady, in the aftermath of the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Instead, acclaimed Chilean director Larraín (No, Neruda) and screenwriter Oppenheim (The Maze Runner, The Divergent Series: Allegiant) deconstruct their title character through a fractured narrative structure and Portman offers no less than a tour-de-force performance as she captures the various personas Jackie had to adopt, in public and private, in the hours and days following her husband’s death. The unconventional nature of the filmmaking here could turn off some traditionalists, but the superlative work by all involved should likely excite many more.

Release date: Dec. 2

20. La La Land

Summit Entertainment

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Damien Chazelle), Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Original Screenplay (Damien Chazelle), a crap-ton of other categories (Editing, Score, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Original Song, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and, like, Catering, probably)

It is pretty well impossible to resist this movie musical, and who would want to? As we watch Stone (as an aspiring actress) and Gosling (as a struggling jazz musician) unabashedly sing, dance, and fall for each other, Chazelle (Whiplash) crafts a wondrous showcase for their talents, and a dazzling love letter to the sublime struggle and bittersweet wonder of show-business success. There have been some small quibbles about the film’s more prosaic middle section, but small quibbles are pretty much all the criticism one could level this film. La La Land has already won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, and Stone won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival — expect a lot more accolades headed this movie’s way.

Release date: Dec. 9

21. A Monster Calls

Focus Features

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (J.A. Bayona), Best Supporting Actress (Felicity Jones), Best Adapted Screenplay (Patrick Ness), several craft and technical categories (Cinematography, Production Design, Sound, Visual Effects)

The story is a simple fable: Conor (Lewis MacDougall), an outcast at school, is struggling to come to terms with the downward spiraling health of his mother (Jones), the benign neglect of his distant father (Toby Kebbell), and the restrictive rules of his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). One night, a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) springs forth from the massive yew tree in a church cemetery near his home, and begins to teach Conor unexpected lessons about the world, and himself. Bayona (The Impossible, The Orphanage), working from Ness’s adaptation of his beloved novel, fills the screen with sumptuous visuals and a touching appreciation for the emotionally contradictory inner-life of his main character. A Monster Calls is also, however, an unabashed tearjerker, which can cut both ways, and the film could get lost amid a particularly crowded Christmas weekend.

Release date: Dec. 23

22. Toni Erdmann

Sony Pictures Classics

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Peter Simonischek), Best Original Screenplay (Maren Ade)

A business woman (Sandra Hüller) sees her life upended after her puckish father (Simonischek) tries to mend their fraying relationship by taking on the freewheeling persona of Toni Erdmann, a self-made business consultant and life coach. This 162-minute German comedy of manners, from writer-director Maren Ade (Everyone Else), beguiled audiences at Cannes, in spite of — or perhaps because of — its epic runtime.

Release date: Dec. 25

Movies that have not yet publicly screened:

23. The Girl on the Train

Universal Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Actress (Emily Blunt)

Two years ago, Gone Girl arrived in theaters with much fanfare and awards buzz, and while the film proved wildly successful, it ended up earning only a single Oscar nomination, for Rosamund Pike for Best Actress. This year, another movie adapted from a best-selling thriller about a mysterious, deeply flawed woman (Blunt) is opening on roughly the same weekend, and if The Girl on the Train has any Oscar chances, they will likely be for Blunt.

Release date: Oct. 7

24. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

TriStar Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Actor (Joe Alwyn), Best Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart), Best Supporting Actor (Steve Martin, Garett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Chris Tucker), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jean-Christophe Castelli), possibly some technical categories (Editing, Cinematography, Sound)

Based on Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel of the same name, the film’s story is already intense: A 19-year-old soldier (Alwyn, a total newcomer) thinks back on his harrowing tour in the Iraq War as he’s celebrated at an NFL football game. But Lee — who won Best Director for the technological feats he pulled off in his last film, 2012’s Life of Pi — is also doubling down on pushing cinema technology to tell that story, shooting the movie in native 3D (instead of converting to 3D in post-production), at 4K resolution, and at 120 frames per second instead of the traditional 24. All these changes boil down to a crisp, fluid visual experience that may remind many audiences — and more tradition-bound awards voters — of television, although an early screening of select footage from the film in April drew raves. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk will first premiere at the New York Film Festival in October, at which point we’ll learn whether Lee’s gambit was an ill-advised folly, or a transformational moment for the art of cinema.

Release date: Nov. 11

25. Allied

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor (Brad Pitt), Best Actress (Marion Cotillard), Best Original Screenplay (Steven Knight), and maybe the standard period movie categories (Production Design and Costume Design)

Let’s pretend, just for a second, that one of this movie’s leads isn’t going through the most high-profile Hollywood divorce in decades, and the other didn’t have to post a statement to Instagram refuting rumors they’d had an affair and she was pregnant with his baby. Doesn’t the prospect of Pitt and Cotillard looking ravishing playing a married couple embroiled in espionage and intrigue during the height of WWII seem totally fascinating and irresistible? The challenge is whether Allied will prove more fascinating and irresistible than the tabloid frenzy surrounding it.

Release date: Nov. 23

26. Rules Don’t Apply

20th Century Fox

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Warren Beatty), Best Actor (Alden Ehrenreich), Best Actress (Lily Collins), Best Supporting Actor (Warren Beatty), Best Original Screenplay (Warren Beatty and Bo Goldman), once again, the period movie special (Production Design and Costume Design)

Beatty has spent decades of his storied Hollywood career trying to make a movie about the infamous billionaire Howard Hughes, and now, 18 years since his last film as a director (the political satire Bulworth) and 15 years after his last film as an actor (the unmitigated disaster Town & Country), he’s finally done it. Rather than a sweeping biopic, however, Beatty’s made a work of historical fiction, set in 1958, that places Hughes (Beatty) as a supporting character to two much younger stars: Collins (Mirror, Mirror) plays an aspiring actress on contract to Hughes, and Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) plays her official driver. Their deeply held religious beliefs come in conflict with both their budding love, and with Hughes’ rules about his employees fraternizing with the talent. If this sounds like the plot of a movie made in 1958, consider that half of Hollywood is starring in Rules Don’t Apply — including Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Steve Coogan, Ed Harris, Megan Hilty, Oliver Platt, and Martin Sheen — and there are few things the movie business likes more than movies about itself.

Release date: Nov. 23

27. Miss Sloane


Possible nominations: Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay (Jonathan Perera)

Chastain plays the titular hard-charging lobbyist who takes on the firearms industry to pass a gun control bill. It leads one to wonder why this movie isn’t opening before the election, but, hey, Chastain in a power suit bringing down the patriarchy is worth watching any time. To get a sense of how the awards season works now, however, consider that without a premiere at a film festival to buoy its buzz, Miss Sloane will have a difficult road to any nominations beyond Best Actress.

Release date: Dec. 9

28. Passengers

Sony Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Morten Tyldum), Best Actor (Chris Pratt), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Original Screenplay (Jon Spaihts), craft and technical categories (Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Visual Effects, Sound)

Spaihts’ screenplay has bounced around Hollywood ever since it appeared on the Black List in 2007 as one of the best unproduced scripts in town, but it took Lawrence and Pratt’s combined star power to finally get it made. They play passengers on a deep-space flight to a distant planet who are awakened from their hibernation 90 years before they’re due to arrive. There’s actually a lot more to the story than that, but the first trailer hid a crucial plot turn early in the film. Suffice it to say, Passengers will call upon Pratt’s acting chops more than any film he’s made, and one should never underestimate Lawrence’s appeal to awards voters, or, really, to anyone.

Release date: Dec. 21

29. Patriots Day

Gretchen Ertl / Reuters

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Peter Berg), Best Actor (Mark Wahlberg), Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons), Best Original Screenplay (Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson)

One of the more peculiar quirks of this year’s awards season is that there are actually two movies based on recent calamitous events starring Wahlberg and directed by Berg. The first, September’s Deepwater Horizon, plays more like a visceral thriller, whereas this film about the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon is expected to be more of a procedural docudrama, with Wahlberg playing a composite character of several police officers, and Simmons, Bacon, and Goodman playing real-life figures from that horrifying week. If it’s good, Patriots Day could be a late addition to the awards race — but it will have to be very, very good.

Release date: Dec. 21

30. Silence

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Actor (Andrew Garfield), Best Supporting Actor (Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Ciarán Hinds), Best Adapted Screenplay (Jay Cocks), a bunch of craft categories (Editing, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design)

Speaking of late additions, this historical epic only landed an official 2016 release date in late September. It’s been a passion project of Scorsese’s for more than 20 years, adapted from the 1966 novel by Shūsaku Endō that’s based on the lives of real Jesuit missionaries who were persecuted and tortured in 17th century Japan. Garfield and Driver play two such priests who enter Japan looking for their mentor (Neeson), who has reputedly recanted his Christianity. If Silence remains faithful to Endō’s novel, audiences are in for a brutal experience — and, Scorsese certainly hopes, an enlightening one. (One wrinkle: Garfield will be competing for Best Actor against himself in Hacksaw Ridge, a film that also calls for him to suffer onscreen.)

Release date: Dec. 23

31. 20th Century Women

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Mike Mills) Best Actress (Annette Bening), Best Supporting Actress (Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning), Best Supporting Actor (Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann), Best Original Screenplay (Mike Mills), possibly Costume Design

Mills’ follow-up to his exquisite 2010 film Beginners is set in 1979, as a single mother (Bening) tries to sort out how best to raise her young teenage son (Zumann), while two other young women (Gerwig and Fanning) weave through their lives. Bening has been nominated four times for an Academy Award and never won — the same number as Leonardo DiCaprio before he finally won last year, and yet you don’t see the internet losing its mind over Bening’s lack of Oscar gold. After 20th Century Women debuts at the New York Film Festival in October, perhaps Bening’s awards season drought will end at long last.

Release date: Dec. 25

32. Fences

Paramount Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Denzel Washington), Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Actress (Viola Davis), Best Supporting Actor (Stephen McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo), Best Adapted Screenplay (August Wilson), some craft and technical categories (Editing, Production Design, Costume Design)

For over 20 years, Denzel Washington has quietly established himself as Hollywood’s most reliable box office movie star — most recently with the racially diverse remake of The Magnificent Seven. But as a director, his track record is spottier: Both 2002’s Antwone Fisher and 2007’s The Great Debaters earned strong reviews, but neither made a major impact at the box office or with awards voters. That could all change with Fences — based on Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play and adapted for the screen by the late playwright himself — about a former Negro League baseball player (Washington) who supports his family as a garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh. Washington and Davis won Tony Awards for the 2010 Broadway revival, and Washington has brought back most of that production’s cast for the film. Like all the films opening at the very end of the year, handicapping Fences’ awards chances is impossibly tricky, but the trickiest element may be whether Davis elects to campaign for lead, or for supporting. This gets a little weird: When Mary Alice originated the role on Broadway in 1987, she won the Tony for Best Featured Actress (the Tony’s version of supporting); Davis, however, won the Tony for Best Actress for the 2010 revival.

Release date: Dec. 25

33. Gold

The Weinstein Company

Possible nominations: Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Edgar Ramírez), Best Supporting Actress (Bryce Dallas Howard), Best Original Screenplay (Patrick Massett and John Zinman)

An eccentric, sad-sack loser (McConaughey) throws everything he has at a cockamamie idea — mining for gold in Indonesia — and finds sudden and enormous success in doing so, only to watch everything crumble around him. Gold sounds like gilded remake of 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, not to mention a half dozen other rags-to-riches-to-rags movies loosely based on true events. But McConaughey gained weight and sacrificed his hairline for the role, and awards voters rarely like anything more than when actors shed their impossible beauty for their craft.

Release date: Dec. 25

34. Hidden Figures

20th Century Fox

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Theodore Melfi), Best Actress (Taraji P. Henson), Best Supporting Actress (Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer), Best Adapted Screenplay (Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder)

Now this is something we never get to see: a biopic about three black women (Henson, Monáe, and Spencer) who were instrumental in NASA’s earliest efforts to put a man in space. Hidden Figures wasn’t ready in time to make any of the fall festivals, but a special screening of select footage in Toronto impressed many — and Henson and Spencer were brought to tears at the sight of their characters getting to demonstrate their intellect, something black female actors rarely if ever get to do onscreen. Hopefully, the the entire film will prove to be just as cathartic.

Release date: Dec. 25

35. Live by Night

Warner Bros. Pictures

Possible nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Ben Affleck), Best Actor (Ben Affleck), Best Supporting Actress (Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ben Affleck), a bunch of craft categories (Editing, Cinematography, Costume Design)

Affleck’s fourth directorial effort, based on Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel about the rise of a Prohibition-era gangster (Affleck), does not yet officially have a release date in 2016. But Warner Bros. recently pushed the film’s debut way up from Oct. 20, 2017, to Jan. 13, 2017. That either indicates enormous faith in the film’s Oscar potential, with a soon-to-be-announced Oscar-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles in December, or a realization that the film actually has zero Oscar potential and needed to open as far from the Nov. 17, 2017 debut of Justice League as possible. Assuming it is the former, Live by Night could finally earn Affleck the Best Director nomination he was denied for Argo, which went on to win Best Picture. If it’s the latter, well, it sure does look pretty.

Release date: Jan. 13 — supposedly


This post has been updated with the newest release date for Jackie.

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