Last year was an interesting one at the movies. The summer season felt like a bust, and there weren’t too many movies that completely wowed audiences. That’s not to say there weren’t great movies, however—critics found plenty of films upon which to heap their praise, and many of those are finally seeing wide releases this month after their Oscar-qualifying limited runs in December.
Awards season has kicked into high gear this month, and the real contenders are beginning to make themselves known in the Best Picture race. This year’s crop of films feature some obvious frontrunners. Will the Academy surprise us with some dark horse candidates when the nominations are announced tomorrow, January 23? Let’s take a look at the ten films with the best shot at Oscar gold.
Call Me By Your Name
The most utterly ravishing film of the year. Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet are brilliant, and Michael Stuhlbarg brings a supporting performance you won’t soon forget. The story of a teenager falling for his father’s new student over one summer in Italy. A Bigger Splash director Luca Guadagnino has crafted an impeccable ’80s fantasy. A gay romance that much like Moonlight last year, one that actually leaves the audience with a feeling of hope and a recognition of the beauty in love. Plus, it was written by former Oscars stalwart James Ivory, so it’s got the pedigree.
Two movies about the Dunkirk evacuation in one year, but this is the more obviously Oscar-bait. It’s got a literally giant performance from Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in his first days as Prime Minister, and a relentless pace despite its ornery parliamentary setting. Whether or not you go in for this kind of film, it’s sure to get a lot of love from Academy voters, including a Best Actor award for Oldman. A Best Picture nomination is practically a guarantee, appealing to all the same voters who fell hard for The King’s Speech, and who love it when director Joe Wright brings his kinetic and visual flourish to potentially stodgy period pieces.
Christopher Nolan has been vying for Oscar for years now, and finally he has a film that may seal the deal. Dunkirk is a filmmakers film if there ever was one. The sort of movie practically everyone in the Academy can’t help but admire for its sheer scale and scope. Add to that the fact that it’s a genuinely thrilling, intense film, and has already been called by many one of the very best films of the year and we’re looking at a surefire Best Picture nomination—and Best Director to go along with it. The question will be whether Nolan’s latest epic will once again stick to winning only in the technical categories or if he can finally claim a win for one of the top awards of the night.
The Florida Project
In this writer’s eye, it’s the best film of the year. Since coming out in limited release, and slowly expanding across the country, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, about kids living in a low-cost motel on the strip leading up to Disney World, has garnered massive acclaim. It’s an incredibly emotional journey, but often a fun one, too. The child stars in the film deliver incredible performances, and the film’s attention to an overlooked kind of poverty is balanced out by genuine empathy for its subjects. In that way it recalls last year’s Moonlight—and considering that film won Best Picture, The Florida Project is following in the right footsteps for possible award season glory.
It’s not often that a film released in February sticks around right through to Oscar season, but Get Out is practically guaranteed to be a part of the conversation. A win may be unlikely, but a nomination for Best Picture is almost a lock. The racially inflected horror film is one of the year’s biggest hits, and one of the most admired films of the year. It marks Jordan Peele as a great new directing talent, and for an Academy that’s letting a wide range of new voices into its voting body, Get Out is exactly the sort of film we’re likely to see more of getting Oscar attention in the coming years.
Greta Gerwig’s coming of age comedy starring Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird, a precocious teenager going through her last year of high school, has quickly become one of Oscar season’s top contenders. Not only funny, but raw and emotional, the film had plenty of buzz well before it was released, but once it hit theaters it became clear what a chord it had struck. Prizes from critics circles have cemented the film as one to beat. And it’s not just in the Best Picture race, either. Golden Globe winner Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, who plays her mother, are sure to be in the acting prize conversation, with Gerwig herself looking at Best Original Screenplay and even Best Director attention.
Mudbound may be one of Oscar’s bg surprises this year. The reviews have been great, but the reception has been somewhat muted by the fact that it’s a Netflix film. Like all Netflix films, Dee Rees’s period drama will be released to stream on its platform without much of a theatrical release. Do a Twitter search and you’ll see people are watching and loving the film, but it’s been hard to get a sense of that in the wider media. But look for Netflix to try hard to counteract that trend. Rees and the film stars will be out there promoting the film as much as possible, and given that Academy voters can watch the film very easily, it might just get in their heads enough to get it a Best Picture nomination when the time comes.
The Post is the real deal this Oscar season: It’s Steven Spielberg directing Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in a legal drama about The Washington Post defending its publication of the Pentagon Papers. Early word places it squarely in contention. Spielberg is loved by the Academy, as are Hanks and Streep. And more importantly, there’s the political relevance. The Washington Post, given its reporting on the Trump administration, has rarely been more relevant or more popular among the liberal elite. And a story about the freedom of the press couldn’t be more timely given the current political situation. While another film in Spielberg’s grandpa phase may not be everyone’s cup of tea, look for it to get major support in unexpected quarters.
The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro has had an odd run of things in the years since Pan’s Labyrinth. Hellboy 2 didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and Pacific Rim made money, but it wasn’t exactly Oscar stuff. And does anyone remember Crimson Peak? But now he may be back with something Oscar voters can get behind. The Shape of Water is an adult sci-fi fairytale about a mute woman who falls in love with a tall fish-man. Merman? Either way, it’s got a stellar cast including Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Shannon, plus reviews from film festivals have been mostly adoring. It’s a stranger film than Oscar usually goes for, but it’s also a simple story with a pure, romantic heart, and it’s one Academy voters may well fall for.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival immediately put Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri on the inside track for Oscar gold, or at least a Best Picture nomination. And as with La La Land and Slumdog Millionaire before it, there’s a reason winning People’s Choice is a good indicator of Oscar success: It means the people, real people, actually enjoy the heck out of the movie. And what’s not to enjoy? Martin McDonagh’s film features Frances McDormand in an excellent, at times hilarious and heartbreaking turn as a mother whose daughter was brutally murdered. She takes out three billboard ads to call out the local police for not solving the crime, which send the entire town into a madcap fury. Woody Harrelson also brings his A-game here, as do Caleb Landry Jones and Peter Dinklage. But along with McDormand, the other star of the show is Sam Rockwell, who perhaps has never been given a role more suited to his talents. Both McDormand and Rockwell took home Golden Globes earlier this month for their performances, and the film earned the top prize, too. All that makes this one a clear frontrunner.
Out of the Running:
The Big Sick
Comedies don’t always get Oscar love, but The Big Sick is no ordinary comedy. The hit from earlier this summer stuck around longer than anyone predicted, making almost everyone’s best-of-the-year-so-far lists. The reason is clear: Not only is it one of the year’s funniest films, it’s also one of its more beautifully heartfelt. The only problem is Oscar usually only has room for one heartfelt indie comedy, and a newer film, Lady Bird, has come out swinging with major awards attention.
Blade Runner 2049
Early word on Blade Runner pegged it as a new sci-fi classic. A masterpiece from a director who has caught the eye of Oscar before. But then the movie came out, and it crashed and burned at the box office, likely because only a bunch of nerdy guys over the age of 30 went to see it. It was also overlong, and for all its impressive visuals, offered little else that was truly compelling. Goodbye, Oscar chances.
More films to keep an eye on: I, Tonya, Phantom Thread