Forget winter. Awards season is here. Holiday lights and festive firs might have previously been decorating your homes, but such holiday tidings have now been put away. And for those entrenched in the glamour and pretensions of “film culture,” it’s been that time of year where the screeners pile up in the mail and every conversation is about what are your 10 favorite movies of the year that was… as well as which do you think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will best respond to. For while awards lists and accolades are nice, including the like the New York Film Critics Circle putting a feather in Roma’s cap (which was followed by many other organizations getting behind the film like the Online Film Critics Society), and the Golden Globes awarding Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book their Best Picture prizes, at the end of the day everyone’s eyes are always on Oscar and where his peculiar tastes might next lean.
In that vein, we have assembled a list, freshly updated after the weekend’s most presicent Oscar tea leaf, the PGA awards, comprised of all the major contenders for above the line awards. The below list is arranged in the order of the momentum I believe each film has to nab the top prize of Best Picture at the Oscars, but if you read deeper into our analysis, we also breakdown why some might be further off from Best Picture, and yet are a shoo-in to dominate in other categories. So join us and raise a glass to Oscar. It ‘tis the season.
The film is a formulaic star vehicle the likes of which were commonplace in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and indeed comparisons to Driving Miss Daisy are unavoidable. In the movie, Mortensen plays an Italian-American bruiser with a smart mouth, fittingly nicknamed Tony Lip, who reluctantly agrees to spend the holiday season of 1962 driving classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) around the American South as an unofficial bodyguard. It plays to all the contours one might expect with its Planes, Trains & Automobiles setup, but does so with enough intelligence and self-awareness to concede it is a film told from a perspective of white privilege.
AWARDS CHANCES: This is a safe down-the-middle film and was once the obvious frontrunner–and is again. When this article was first published in December, it seemed like the obvious frontrunner to take Best Picture due to its crowdpleasing affability while still (ostensibly) being an “important” movie on the subject of racism. After picking up the Toronto International Film Festival’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award (something previously held by early frontrunners like La La Land, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and eventual Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave), it was a clear frontrunner all the way through the holidays. But then political winds began to shift. Despite being a feel-good movie, the narrative surrounding its creation doesn’t feel that good at all, especially after Shadow and Act‘s scathing exposé about how the family members of Dr. Don Shirley were not ever contacted before this film had already finished production, and how horrified they were of the depiction of the classical and jazz pianist. The critique that this is a movie about racism told strictly from a point of white privilege has become potentially damning, as has the suggestion that Don Shirley might not have given his blessing to the film (something co-screenwriter Nick Vallelonga insists). Additionally, Mahershala Ali has personally apologized to Shirley’s family for any offense. Hence, this once seemingly perfect consensus picture is now surrounded by controversy and acrimony.
And yet… it still appears that the industry is ready to laud it as the year’s Best Picture. I remained skeptical after the Golden Globes awards, and had even moved it further down on this list, but despite the continued controversy (and that around Nick Vallelonga’s now deleted Twitter account), the movie is perservring with the people who matter most: those who make and put up the money in Hollywood. The Producers Guild of America is the best Oscars forecaster, having picked eight of the last 10 Best Picture winners, and they awarded Green Book the Best Picture prize. Granted La La Land also won the PGA only to lose the Oscar after a much less credible argument of it dealing naively with race, but La La Land also was the frontrunner for a clean five months; Green Book‘s stumbles gives those around it the desire to rally. This is the one to beat. Also, I expect Ali to not only be nominated for Best Supporting Actor but to also win. He might’ve won the category two years ago, but that didn’t stop Cristoph Waltz from winning Best Supporting Actor several year apart in different Quentin Tarantino movies.
A Star is Born
As the latest version of Hollywood’s favorite creation myth, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born remake might prove that the fourth time is the charm. It’s an unplugged, acoustic cover of a traditionally gaudy pop ballad, with Cooper’s directorial debut presenting the story of a fading star helping birth a new supernova via torrid romancing in a new light. Less a fable of a Tinstletown Svengali and more a modern Austin Music Tragedy, A Star is Born nevertheless remains an old school melodrama given a modern and naturalistic sheen. And the raw authenticity, as well as a movie star-making performance by Lady Gaga has already turned it into a genuine crowdpleaser (it’s currently grossed $190-plus million). It likewise benefits from industry navel-gazing.
AWARDS CHANCES: Best Original Song is a done deal. Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” is bonafide radio hit and terrific to boot. Further Lady Gaga is the frontrunner to beat in the Best Actress category, an award that Judy Garland notoriously lost for the 1954 version, much to her fans’ continued anger. (Although Olivia Colman is beginning to make a rightful rally, more below.) While I have a few preferences in this category, Gaga is phenomenal in the film, which plays to her strengths and obscures her weaknesses, and a Gaga-dominated awards season is sure to make everyone happy (and attentive). I further suspect Bradley Cooper is still highly competitive for the Best Actor prize, even though he failed to capture a Golden Globe or the Critics Choice award. He’s “paid his dues” in the past with nominations for Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper. He also proved himself to be a promising director and will surely be nominated in that category. But as a first-timer there, it’ll be easier to award him for his fourth acting nod. Also look out for Sam Elliot likely getting a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
As for Best Picture, this still looks like a shiny consenus picture without the baggage of the frontrunner. It’s a hit, it’s about presenting the entertainment industry in a favorable, if bittersweet, light, and it’s not on Netflix. As the other non-Netflix contenders have varying degrees of baggage, this could just hit the perfect high-note at the perfect time.
Undeniably Spike Lee’s best joint in years, BlacKkKlansman is a rollicking film that is exciting, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately infuriating in the most galvanizing (and thereby uplifting) way. Lee mixes styles between police procedural, essayist experimentation, and buddy comedy as Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) share the same identity while infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan. Ron, an African American, BS’s the Klan over the phone, including former Grand Wizard and current Donald Trump enthusiast, David Duke (Topher Grace), while Flip is the white (and secretly Jewish) man who shows up for the meetings. It’s tense and feel-good… until it is not during a bitter and audience-shaking denouement.
AWARDS CHANCES: Spike has had a checkered history with the Academy, who have notoriously snubbed his best films, including when they didn’t nominate Do the Right Thing for anything more than writing and Danny Aiello for Best Supporting Actor. BlacKkKlansman is a chance for a more diverse Academy to make amends in troubled times with nods for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. And maybe given recent developments with other films on this list, the fact that BlacKkKlansman is a sharp, enlightened film from a black filmmaker–but also generally more feel-good than many of Spike’s earlier joints–could allow this to climb all the way to the top of the Best Picture heap. And Lee is no stranger to the peculiarities of Hollywood institutions.
The definition of a dark comedy, and a movie whose sense of humor would be as comfortable at the gallows as in the throne room, The Favourite is a pitch perfect subversion of period piece melodrama, as well as a covert tragedy. It can also be accused of being Yorgos Lanthimos’ most commercial movie to date, but that doesn’t change the fact it is also his best (as well as first truly Academy-friendly effort). With shades of classic Best Picture winner All About Eve in its DNA, The Favourite offers an acerbic vision of women vying for power and prestige in Queen Anne’s court. It is there that Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) has been a best friend to Anne (Olivia Colman) since childhood, but Sarah’s fallen cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) is able to talk her way into the queen’s service as a maid… and then something more.
AWARDS CHANCES: If someone is going to beat Lady Gaga for Best Actress, it will probably be Olivia Colman—who should win it too. A fearless and happily decadent performance, Colman eschews vanities despite playing a queen and instead embraces a sense of cruel debauchery usually reserved for Henry VIII or Caligula. It’s a triumph that will put her in the Best Actress category, even if she has less screentime than Stone or Weisz. We’ve previously written about the arbitrary nature of dividing three leading performances by the reductive parameters of Oscar categories. But if we have to go there now, Stone should be a major competitor in Best Supporting Actress and the most likely the only spoiler who could upset Regina King (more below). Stone recently won for La La Land, but that was in a leading category, and as the vindictive and ambitious instigator of the film, a la Anne Baxter in All About Eve, it is flashy enough to standout. Although since Weisz is also going to be nominated in Supporting Actress, she and Stone will probably cancel each other out.
Likewise keep an eye out for The Favourite as a dark horse candidate for Best Picture, especially with awards campaign veterans Fox Searchlight putting their chips on this. It might be too cynical and twisted for some Academy voters—commercial Lanthimos is still Lanthimos—but it could wind up doing very well on the tier-voting system as a defter alternative to the above. It’s also a much more artful (and better) movie than A Star is Born or Green Book. Lanthimos’ striking direction, full of fisheye lenses and Dutch angles, also puts him in major contention for Best Director (and Robbie Ryan for cinematography). It should also dominate in costumes and production design categories, while Tony McNamara’s script is a clear frontrunner in Best Original Screenplay.
Here is the movie that has cleaned up at nearly every critic group award ceremony throughout the holidays and New Year (full disclosure: this author is a member of the Online Film Critics Society). As Alfonso Cuarón’s follow-up to Gravity, for which he won a Best Director Oscar, the Mexican filmmaker crafts an intensely personal film about his childhood. Yet its greatest brilliance is his younger avatar is not the main character. Instead that would be Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, a housekeeper and unofficial parent in an upper-middle class home of early 1970s Mexico City. While the parents go through the slow-motion wreck of separation and divorce, and the world outside collapses to political chaos and violence, Cleo is the unsung hero of a young family. Narrow in focus, yet breathtaking in scope, the ambition of the film is contrasted in its Truffaut-like intimacy and David Lean-inspired cinematography with 70mm-sweep (Cuarón was also his own cinematographer).
AWARDS CHANCES: It’s dominated with critics, but I imagine it will come up high and dry from most of the big prizes when industry voters in Hollywood’s guilds and, eventually, the Academy have their say. It’s already started since first publication with the PGA going with Green Book. Simply put, a foreign language film (Roma is almost entirely in Spanish) is always a hard sell to the Academy outside the Best Foreign Film category, and the fact that it is a Netflix movie will make it a nonstarter for many voters. Some have already indicated they refuse to watch it simply on the basis that they view Netflix as the enemy of the box office. While Roma is too good to go ignored in major categories, it is hard to see the Academy denying its anti-streaming bias when voices as powerful as Steven Spielberg dismiss Netflix films as “television movies.” Still, expect Roma to be highly competitive in Best Director and Cinematography categories, as well as Aparicio being a long-shot candidate for Best Actress…
If Beale Street Could Talk
Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight, a Best Picture winner, makes If Beale Street Could Talk an instant contender. The fact that it is masterfully made and heartbreakingly told only amplifies its awards potential. As the first major Hollywood adaptation of a novel by James Baldwin, the legendary African American writer who was previously shut out by the industry, Beale Street is a lyrical and emotionally devastating portrait of a young black couple in love in 1970s America. They do not, in fact, live on Beale Street in Memphis. Rather they’re from Harlem, yet the black American experience is universal, as explored when Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) is falsely accused of rape by the police while his fiancée Tish (KiKi Layne) is pregnant.
AWARDS CHANCES: I personally prefer Beale Street to Moonlight, but whereas that latter film benefitted from a sense of stunning discovery, Beale Street is a sophomore effort that will leave some impressed but perhaps disappointed they weren’t knocked out. That includes an Academy that is notoriously recalcitrant toward rewarding the same filmmakers consecutive Best Picture trophies. It is also a much more challenging movie than Green Book. That would likewise be true of Moonlight, but there is a chance awards voters may prefer to be coddled in these grimmer times than depressed.
Either way, Jenkins didn’t win Best Director in 2017 and should definitely get the nod there. While he also has an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay from Moonlight, it is not hard to imagine he could take home a second one for Beale Street. However, the true frontrunner from this film will be Regina King as Tish’s mother Sharon, a woman who gets one powerhouse moment after another when her daughter and unborn grandchild’s happiness come under threat. The sequence where she confronts unkind accusations against her daughter’s morality is the stuff awards-reel dreams are made of.
Queen music + Rami Malek in a pitch perfect performance as Freddie Mercury has turned out to be so winsome that everyone–awards season voters who aren’t critics and moviegoers who vote with their wallets–has been able to overlook this is a pretty pedestrian musical biopic that leans on cliché heavier than Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
AWARDS CHANCES: To be completely honest, I overlooked this one in the Best Picture category. When this article was first published, it was not included on this list, because while Rami Malek always seemed like a solid contender to get a Best Actor nod, the movie itself was unrelentingly mediocre, and I let that distract me from the fact is a HUGE box office hit (highest grossing musical biopic in history) and that everyone loves Queen almost as much as Hollywood loves box office. Yes, it rather incredulously won the Best Motion Picture – Drama category at the Golden Globes (even though it should’ve been competing under the musical section), but a far bigger signifier of its Oscars clout is the Producers Guild–the best weather vane of Academy tastes–nominated it for their equivalent to Best Picture. For an Academy desperate to apepase “Popular Film” tastes, this now appears to be a shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination, quality be damned. Rami Malek, meanwhile, is also thus locked in for a Best Actor nomination. And after his gracious speech at the Globes, he very well could steal what once appeared to be Bradley Cooper’s award… although I still might put money on the thrice-nominated Cooper if I were a betting man.
Damien Chazelle, the Oscar winning director of La La Land and Whiplash, makes a biopic about Neil Armstrong. Even better, it stars his La La Land lead, Ryan Gosling, as the American hero who landed on the moon in a sequence recreated with breathtaking 70mm. It should be a slam dunk, right? Well…
AWARDS CHANCES: Despite looking like a frontrunner on paper, with the burgeoning new auteur who almost got Best Picture two years ago stepping back into the arena, First Man turned out to be a little too cold and distant like its out-of-this-world subject matter for some. Gosling is good as Neil, and Claire Foy is great as his wife Janet, which in lesser hands might’ve seemed like a thankless role. Plus it is a film gorgeously designed in terms of all technical aspects. But it is not nearly as emotionally engrossing as Whiplash or La La Land. Additionally dinged by a phony controversy about the American flag (it’s in the movie) and disappointing box office, and Universal will likely focus its efforts on wooing Academy voters for Green Book. Still, Gosling will probably get nominated, Foy definitely will, and I genuinely hope Justin Hurwitz is a serious competitor for his magnificent score.
A24 has made major waves in its early years with a Best Picture win for Moonlight and major nominations for films like Room, Lady Bird, and The Disaster Artist. Its best chance this year, however, is on the unlikely breakout indie darling that is Eighth Grade. As Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, he delivers a raw and unexpectedly poignant look at what it feels like to be an awkward tween girl at the beginning of puberty in the age of social media. This is all the more impressive considering Burnham is a 28-year-old man.
AWARDS CHANCES: Bo Burnham will definitely be able to call himself “Oscar nominated” after he picks up a Best Original Screenplay nod. Whether he can beat Tony McNamara for The Favourite is another story. The film also should very well sneak into a Best Picture slot, although I don’t expect it to be a major contender for the award. Burnham getting a Best Director nod seems less likely, however.
Arguably the best movie Marvel Studios has ever made, Black Panther is certainly the first one from the driver of Hollywood box office to be about something real and messy, which in this case is the anxiety felt by African Americans about their place next to distant African relations. It’s thorny and told with epic sweep… as well as the usual superhero trappings, which in recent times has come to mean an excess of CGI.
AWARDS CHANCES: Fans want it to happen so badly, but I didn’t think it was likely when this article was published in December 2018. While I still think it is a long shot after the Academy’s history of snubbing movies like The Dark Knight and Logan (although the latter picked up a Best Adapted Screenplay nod last year)… a path is starting to really open up. After the top six or so movies above, 2018’s lineup feels a lot more chaotic and loose, and Black Panther might be the Academy’s only hope of reluctantly acknowledging one of those seemingly dreaded “popular films.” I previously thought that picture would be Mary Poppins Returns, but the latter’s soft box office might be a big win for Disney’s other franchised hope.
Adam McKay’s follow-up to his Oscar winning The Big Short (McKay won for Best Adapted Screenplay), Vice is the biting biopic of Vice President Dick Cheney that saw Christian Bale transform his body seemingly overnight. Bale literally disappears in the role, and Amy Adams is also superb as Lynne Cheney. The film is the definition of a hatchet job, but one that challenges viewers to disprove any of its assertions.
AWARDS CHANCES: As a movie that is honestly angrier than it is funny, McKay’s desire to destroy Cheney’s legacy (even more) on the biggest platform he can find might obscure the film’s humor and sophistication for some. Lacking the finesse and deft-hand of The Big Short, it may disappoint some Academy voters who nominated the latter for Best Picture. For that same reason, Bale might not be as obvious a frontrunner as he should be for a performance that is quite stunning. A better performance than Cooper? Yes. In a better movie? Debatable. Bale will be nominated and hopefully so will Adams be for Best Supporting Actress and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor (I’m also quite fond of Steve Carell’s delicious Donald Rumsfeld). Yet the Academy has unfairly snubbed Adams more than once, and this one is more vulnerable to such slights than Arrival…
As Steve McQueen’s first film in the five years since winning Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave, Widows is a genuinely thrilling crime movie with sociopolitical overtones that leave critics and awards-watchers happy for indulging in what could otherwise be considered pulp. When a band of thieves led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) die in police pursuit, it’s left to their widows to pick up the pieces… and the debt. Owing millions to the smalltime gangster Harry ripped off, Veronica (Viola Davis) must recruit the other widows of Harry’s crew, including Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), plus babysitter Belle (Cynthia Erivo), to settle the score while in the backdrop of a broken justice system and a corrupt political machine led by a cynic’s vision of the Kennedys–played here by Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall.
AWARDS CHANCES: Packed with enough meaty and even chilling political subtexts, Widows is the kind of high-minded crime drama that gets nominated for big awards… but doesn’t necessarily win them. It could benefit from the Academy’s expansion to nine or 10 nominees for Best Picture and get a nod there, and Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki have solid chances at Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nods, respectively. Particularly Davis. McQueen’s prospects for Best Director, however, appear to be fading, same goes for Gillian Flynn in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. And the Academy was cold to her when they ignored her for adapting her own work in the superior Gone Girl. Also given some of her pulpier twists are this film’s weakest elements, she could be on the bubble of getting snubbed.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Then again this true story about deception and fraud in the gilded world of literary worship could make for a surprise ninth/tenth nomination that pushes First Man, Poppins, BlacKkKlansman, Eighth Grade, or Widows out. It is also a terrific work of art in its own right about Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) forging the letters of beloved authors and celebrities from the early 20th century to make ends meet. It is also slyly heartwarming in how this malcontent finds an unlikely friend (and partner in crime) in Richard E. Grant’s would-be bon vivant, Jack Hock. Never has crime seemed quite so small yet endearing.
AWARDS CHANCES: It is what I would dub one of the “alternate jurors” for the lower-tier Best Picture nominations. However, it is more worthy than some of the frontrunners, and it will certainly be competitive in other categories. Look for Melissa McCarthy to be not only nominated for Best Actress and also be a contender for the award. While I suspect Olivia Colman is the biggest threat to Gaga, McCarthy is a movie star who proves here she is also a genuinely great dramatic actress. She is also better than Gaga, for however much that matters.
More competitive still is Richard E. Grant for Best Supporting Actor. Ali will probably be the one to beat, but if anyone can do it, it will be Grant, who is sublime in the film in a role that should appeal to Academy voters’ politics, as he plays a gay man afflicted with AIDS but is not defined by it (as we discussed with him here). Grant has been turning in strong work for decades, beginning with Withnail & I back in 1987. It’d be nice to see his talent finally noticed by the Academy.
Glenn Close gives the performance of her career as a woman who could’ve been a literary giant in her lifetime, but instead settled for simply being “the wife” of an alleged genius, her husband played by a superbly passive aggressive Jonathan Pryce.
AWARDS CHANCES: It will only compete in the Best Actress category, but it will make a real rally. Many critics’ groups nominated it over the past few months, but I previously assumed that it was too obscure and little-seen for Academy voters’ tastes. However, after Close’s surprise win at the Golden Globes and her heartfelt and genuinely shocked acceptance speech, Close is definitely getting nominated, even if the race will probably remain between the more high-profile performances of Lady Gaga and Olivia Colman.
A film about faith and doubt, it might just be the movie Paul Schrader was always intended to make. And starring Ethan Hawke in a career-best performance as a minister suffering from a crisis of conscience? It will at least be heavily competitive in a few categories…
AWARDS CHANCES: Ethan Hawke will almost certainly get a Best Actor Oscar nomination. I also think Paul Schrader is a lock for Best Original Screenplay. I think it is a bit too downbeat and somber for a Best Picture nomination, but stranger things have happened…
Mary Poppins Returns
Disney’s glamorous sequel to their 1964 classic has had a yearlong build-up of hype that includes Oscar buzz. And why not? Julie Andrews won the Oscar for playing Mary Poppins in ’65, and Emily Blunt does a pretty miraculous job of making the role her own. Complete with new original songs and a sumptuous production design spearheaded by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods), and Mary Poppins Returns becomes a visceral throwback to old-fashioned musical epics that impressively recaptures some of, if not all, that original Walt Disney magic.
AWARDS CHANCES: This is the type of film where it will be an honor just to be nominated. But after a soft box office opening, those chances are dimming. Given it is still a luscious musical, I wouldn’t bet against an upset ninth or tenth slot nod, but the deck is suddenly stacked against it, and the daydream of Emily Blunt or Lin-Manuel Miranda getting Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor nods seems completely over. Still expect several of the songs to compete for Best Original Song, including “The Place Where Lost Things Go” and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.” Also don’t count out Mary Poppins in categories for costumes, production design, visual effects, and other technical marvels.
As one of the best horror movies of a decade filled with great horror movies, Hereditary goes back to the old school type of slow-boil Satanism (or whatever it is bedeviling the family here) found in Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. With fantastic catch-and-release delayed tension by writer-director Ari Aster, and a captivating performance by Toni Collette as a mother driven mad, or something worse, by an inexplicable doom written in her blood, Hereditary is an immense achievement.
AWARDS CHANCES: It also poses no risk of being nominated for Best Picture. It is included here because Toni Collette has a real shot at earning the fifth spot for Best Actress. I hope she does, as she too is better than the frontrunner and will quite legitimately haunt your memory. Aster also might have a dark horse shot at a Best Original Screenplay nomination.
With that said, Nicole Kidman’s transformative performance as Det. Erin Bell in Karyn Kusama’s Destoryer could nab that fifth Best Actress spot. Nicole Kidman is worthy of consideration with her unnerving transformation into a woman who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in 15 years, and whose sense of guilt has clearly rotted away her soul until its left physical scars too.
AWARDS CHANCES: Nicole Kidman is reliably great and is in a physical transformation that requires her to mar her movie star complexion with prosthetics, which is another surefire way into Academy voters’ hearts. She therefore might squeeze out Colette, and it wouldn’t be undeserved. The rest of the movie though is pretty boilerplate noir and will likely go ignored.
Nicole Kidman also did fine supporting work in Boy Erased, Joel Edgerton’s finely crafted, if familiar, gay conversion therapy movie that rightfully treats the subject matter like a prison film.
AWARDS CHANCES: Nicole Kidman has a shot in Best Supporting Actress, but it’ll be tough with Regina King, Emma Stone, and Claire Foy seemingly locked in, and Rachel Weisz, Amy Adams, Elizabeth Debicki, and more also competing with worthy work for those other two spots. The only other possible nomination for Boy Erased would be Russell Crowe for Best Supporting Actor, but that seems even more remote.
The Old Man & the Gun
Robert Redford plays a man who loves robbing banks. We’ve seen this before, but now it’s also his swan song, providing a nice bookend to what began in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
AWARDS CHANCES: Other than a possible token nomination for Redford, recognizing him for a glorious career, there isn’t much here that will have end-of-year celebrations. (Fun fact: If he does sneak in, it will only be his second Oscar nomination for acting after 1973’s The Sting, though he’s won once as Best Director for Ordinary People,* as well as lifetime achievement statuette.)
It’s a standard issue, but well-acted and emotionally effective, addiction movie. Steve Carell plays real-life journalist David Sheff, a father who slowly must resign himself to the fact his son Nic (Timothée Chalamet) is abandoning his bright future due to a seemingly unstoppable drug addiction.
AWARDS CHANCES: While Steve Carell is the stronger performance of the two, giving a new dimension to this well-worn genre as a despairing father reaching the limits of unconditional love, Chalamet is more likely to pull out a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category. The movie might be too unremarkable for Carell to get a Best Actor nod though, which is a shame.
Ben is Back
The other standard issue addiction movie, Ben is Back compresses the familiar narrative beats to a single day and night on Christmas Eve when Ben (Lucas Hedges) skips out of his rehab center to spend some quality time with the family. While his stepfather and siblings have their doubts, his mother Holly (Julia Roberts) is ecstatic… and maybe in denial as the problems start again.
AWARDS CHANCES: A less showy (and honestly less good) movie about addicts and the parents they disappoint than Beautiful Boy, Ben is Back is a solid film that will probably go ignored by awards voters. I could be wrong, and Julia Roberts has her fans, but a Best Actress nomination seems distant, and Hedges will have to compete against his Lady Bird co-star, Timothée Chalamet, in Best Supporting Actor. And Chalamet’s flashier version of an addict (although not necessarily better) could steal the spotlight.
A movie that is gleefully nihlistic, Vox Lux is the anti-A Star is Born. Imagining pop music as a vapid reflection of our increasingly oblivious society that is laughing on its way to hell, the film follows a music superstar (first Raffey Cassidy and then Natalie Portman) who becomes famous only due to surviving a school shooting. Things become more twisted from there as she grows into the ultimate narcissist who is going to play in her hometown on the anniversary of the shooting.
AWARDS CHANCES: I personally loved this movie, but it is an acquired taste that I’m not convinced fits in the Academy’s purview. The distributor NEON boldly purchased the film rights for this out of TIFF with the aim of competing Natalie Portman’s vicious portrayal of a self-obsessed outer-borough diva in the Best Supporting Actress category. She is definitely good enough to be nominated, and it’s one of the Oscar winner’s most humorous roles. Whether she will be is a different matter.
On the Basis of Sex
The compelling true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early career and how she changed American law by setting a precedent that banned discrimination in the work place on the basis of gender.
AWARDS CHANCES: It’s a straightforward biopic from which your mileage will vary. But it will likely be too pedestrian to land in major categories, especially as the much more gripping Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, RBG, will be competing in its own category. Likewise goes for pleasant performances by Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer.
Mary Queen of Scots
A more traditional period piece, Mary Queen of Scots attempts to be the Heat of costumed drama since it’s built around two powerhouse performances by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as dueling queens. However, other than their performances, there is not much else there, there.
AWARDS CHANCES: Marginal at best. Margot Robbie is fresh off her Oscar nomination for the cunning I, Tonya biopic, but here is relegated to simply be another great actor portraying Elizabeth I. She does it well, and the queen is popular enough with Academy voters to possibly sneak into the fifth Best Supporting Actress slot, but given how bland the movie is (especially compared to the similar themed The Favourite), that seems unlikely. Saoirse Ronan is facing an even steeper uphill battle to get in for Best Actress.
*An earlier version of this article stated Robert Redford won a Best Director Oscar for Quiz Show when it was for Ordinary People.