With summer drawing to a close and the blockbuster season over for another year, it’s time to start digging out your autumn coats and looking forward to the upcoming big-screen awards season.
But while the likes of the Golden Globes, the Baftas and the SAG awards have raised their profiles among industry folk and movie fans alike in recent years, there’s still one Hollywood awards ceremony that towers above all others: the Oscars.
The 92nd Academy Awards will take place on 9 February 2020, with the nominations being announced on 13 January. And while those dates might seem a long way off, the awards season machine has already started – with the major players staking their claims at the recent Venice and Toronto film festivals and early frontrunners for the major trophies starting to emerge.
So, without further ado, we present a rundown of the early Oscar contenders that are making waves on the festival circuit, as well as those already released movies that are troubling bookies’ lists of potential Best Picture winners.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino is getting some of the best reviews of his career for this sun-drenched sort-of fairytale set in 1969 Los Angeles, which sees old-school actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) navigating a transforming Tinseltown and unwittingly taking on the Manson Family. So, could QT’s ninth feature repeat that success come awards season? Three of his previous films have been nominated for Best Picture (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained) but didn’t win, while Tarantino himself has two writing Oscars (Pulp Fiction, Django) but none for directing. The Academy loves films about Hollywood, though (see La La Land, The Artist and The Player, to name a few), so this could be his time to shine.
UK release date: out now
Hands up who expected DC’s supervillain origin story to take the top prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival? This grown-up Batman spin-off, which sees director Todd Phillips going all Martin Scorsese, was probably the unlikeliest winner of the 2019 Golden Lion, but its success bodes well for awards season glory. Joaquin Phoenix is drawing heaps of praise for his performance as Arthur Fleck – a tortured comedian who descends to the dark side and becomes Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime. Described by the filmmakers as an “exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale,” this standalone story is a very different direction for DC and Warner Bros, and one that has a very real chance of becoming the first-ever comic-book movie to actually win a Best Picture Oscar.
UK release date: 4 October
Avengers: Endgame is officially the biggest movie of all time, after its stonking theatrical run (nearly $2.8 billion) saw it finally dethrone Avatar as the worldwide box-office champion. But could it follow in Avatar’s footsteps and pick up a Best Picture nomination – or even go one better and win? Stranger things have happened. Picking up after the devastating finale of Infinity War – in which mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) successfully wiped out 50 per cent of all living creatures – Endgame sees our surviving heroes unite to execute a “time heist” to retrieve the six Infinity Stones and reverse the Snap. It’s a hugely impressive and satisfying conclusion to 11 years and 22 movies worth of shared universe storytelling, and could be honoured as such. Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy closer The Return Of The King was showered with praise by Oscar, in part as a reward for the series as a whole, so there is a precedent for this sort of thing.
UK release date: out now (Blu-ray/digital)
A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
This drama premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to almost universal acclaim, and many bookies and industry insiders are already talking about it taking home the top prize at the Oscars next February. Based on a true story, the film follows cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who grudgingly accepts an assignment to write an Esquire magazine profile of beloved children’s TV icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) – an encounter that changes Vogel’s perspective on life. The script has been knocking about for a while, after popping up on the 2013 Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays, and the life-affirming, two-hander nature of the film – as well as the casting of two-time Best Actor Hanks – is sure to draw the Academy’s attention. It’s directed by Marielle Heller, whose Can You Ever Forgive Me? secured acting and script nominations at last year’s awards.
UK release date: 6 December
Netflix will be hoping to repeat the success of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma with its big ticket for the 2020 awards season – Martin Scorsese’s mega-budget, three-and-a-half-hour-long crime saga, The Irishman. Its tried-and-tested release strategy – a limited, Oscars-qualifying cinema run followed by a worldwide streaming release – certainly suggests so. Spanning several decades and employing innovative deaging VFX, the film is an epic tale of post-war mob shenanigans told through the eyes of titular ‘Irishman’ Frank Sheeran – a WW2 vet turned notorious hitman. With this being a reunion for the dream team of Scorsese and stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci – with added Al Pacino for good measure – we could see the Academy wanting to make up for Goodfellas‘ disappointment at the 1991 awards, where Scorsese’s film lost out to Dances With Wolves.
UK release date: 27 November (Netflix)
Le Mans ’66
James Mangold’s based-on-a-true-story racing drama (known as Ford V Ferrari in the US) is looking like another early contender for Oscar recognition. In it, Matt Damon and Christian Bale star as American car designer Carroll Shelby and daredevil British racing driver Ken Miles. Together, they form a formidable pairing, hired by the Ford Motor Company to design a state-of-the-art vehicle capable of beating Enzo Ferrari’s cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966. On their road to beating the Goliath of the race-car world, though, the maverick duo are forced to contend with corporate interference, their own demons and the explosive dangers of track racing in the 60s. Ron Howard’s excellent, similarly themed Rush was snubbed by the Academy a few years back, but Mangold’s movie could make the final grid; some favourable early reviews from the Toronto Film Festival, where the movie premiered, should help.
UK release date: 15 November
Netflix’s second Oscar hopeful is this emotional divorce drama from writer-director Noah Baumbach (The Squid And The Whale, Mistress America), which got people talking after its debut at the Venice Film Festival. It tells the story of stage director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), who are struggling through a gruelling uncoupling that “pushes them to their personal and creative extremes”. Baumbach wrote the film following his own divorce, telling Deadline: “”I have a real connection to the material, [but] I was also at a time in my life where many of my friends were getting divorced. I saw it as an opportunity to do something more expansive.” The film reportedly features career-best performances from Driver and Johansson, and given the personal subject matter, early signs point to this hoovering up noms in all the major categories; just like The Irishman, Netflix is affording this a limited, awards-qualifying theatrical run before its worldwide streaming debut.
UK release date: 6 December (Netflix)
James Gray’s ambitious, thoughtful sci-fi movie – which sees Brad Pitt’s stoic astronaut undertaking a deep-space mission to find his long-lost father and stop a series of cosmic ‘surges’ that are threatening to destroy the solar system – premiered to plaudits at the Venice Film Festival, and has already invited comparisons to everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris to Apocalypse Now. Genre bias could potentially discourage Academy voters, but many are already pegging Pitt’s singular performance as a dead-cert for a Best Actor nomination – potentially a one-two punch alongside a Supporting Actor nod for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Don’t call it a comeback…
UK release date: 20 September
Sam Mendes’ first movie since 2015’s Spectre, this World War 1 drama was apparently inspired by a story told to the writer-director by his grandfather, and looks set to be a major player this awards season. It focuses on young soldiers Schofield and Blake – played by Pride’s George MacKay and Game Of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman – who are tasked with a dangerous mission to cross enemy territory and warn an unknowing British battalion (which includes Blake’s brother) of a planned ambush by German forces. The wider cast, meanwhile, is stuffed full of familiar A-list faces, such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Richard Madden. There are definite shades of Saving Private Ryan to this one, and while war epics don’t often win the top prizes at the Academy Awards, Mendes does have form: his first film, American Beauty, won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.
UK release date: 10 January 2020
Toy Story 4
Before its release, many people were skeptical about a fourth Toy Story installment – especially after Toy Story 3 was widely considered to be a perfect ending to a perfect trilogy. But Josh Cooley’s directorial debut soon proved its own worth (to the tune of over $1 billion at the box office). A funny and emotional catch-up with Pixar’s original gang of child’s playthings, Toy Story 4 followed in the series tradition of tackling big topics with warmth and wit, all expertly crafted and stunningly rendered by Pixar’s skilled animators. The memorable new characters were a blast, too – from Forky, a recently birthed craft project in the midst of an existential crisis, to the tortured, Keanu Reeves-voiced daredevil Duke Caboom. Toy Story 3 was one of the few animated movies to make it to the Best Picture Oscar shortlist, so Disney will be hoping this fourquel can repeat its predecessor’s success.
UK release date: 8 October (digital), 21 October (Blu-ray)
Bohemian Rhapsody was the surprise darling of the 2019 Oscars, netting a Best Picture nomination and a Best Actor award for Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury. Why was it a surprise? Because, box-office triumphs aside, it didn’t exactly receive rave reviews, and came under fire for its sanitised portrayal of the Queen frontman’s life. Was it a sign that Oscar is finally prepared to embrace popular movies? It’ll be interesting to see if Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman – a much more fantastical biopic of Elton John, starring Taron Egerton as the famously fiery singer/songwriter – can repeat that success. Weirder, cleverer and carrying much more emotional heft, Rocketman is a better film than BoRap, if not anywhere near as much of a global phenomenon. Will it inspire Academy voters, though? The fact that the film was released so far ahead of awards season suggests this is more of an outlier, but it’s definitely worth considering.
UK release date: 30 September (Blu-ray/digital)
Greta Gerwig’s upcoming big-screen version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel is the actor turned writer-director’s latest outing behind the camera, following her Oscar-nominated comedy-drama Lady Bird. Set in post-Civil War New England and drawing on both the 1868 book and Alcott’s other writings, the film follows the author’s alter ego, Jo March (played by Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan), as she reflects back and forth on her fictional life. A snappy, literate, modern take on one of the definitive coming-of-age stories, boasting a starry cast (Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep), this looks set to be a shoo-in for an Oscar nod – and it could be a case of second-time lucky for Gerwig.
UK release date: 27 December
One of the buzziest films to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Lulu Wang’s poignant, semi-autobiographical comedy-drama went on to break box-office records in the US for the best per-cinema opening of the year – beating even Avengers: Endgame. Rising star Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight, Jumanji: The Next Level) plays Chinese-born, US-raised Billi, who reluctantly travels back to Changchun to find that, although all of her family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. A flurry of five-star reviews (it’s currently 99% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) coupled with the popular vote means that this is definitely on Academy voters’ radar, with many industry insiders already pegging it as one to watch this awards season.
UK release date: 20 September
Based on pre-Me Too real-life events, this drama revisits the fall of Fox News’ former CEO Roger Ailes, who was forced to step down from the right-wing news network after more than 20 women – led by journalists Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly – accused him of sexual harassment. Scripted by Charles Randolph (The Big Short) and directed by Jay Roach (Meet The Parents, Trumbo), this timely tale boasts some major onscreen prestige in the form of previous Oscar winners Nicole Kidman (playing Carlson) and Charlize Theron (Kelly), with former nominee Margot Robbie co-starring as a fictional character inspired by several women. Considering the fact that the teaser trailer managed to catch people’s attention simply by showing the three leads standing in a lift exchanging tense, nervous looks, we’re expecting this to make an impact this awards season.
UK release date: TBC