Who knows if there will ever be another Academy Awards like we saw this year. It had everything. There was diversity, a great host, and an ending that was perfect for a Hollywood awards show.
Just when it looked like La La Land had (predictably) won Best Picture, it turned out that a mistake had been made, the tables were turned, and there was a twist at the end. In true Steve Harvey-fashion, the wrong winner was announced and it turned out that Moonlight had actually won.
If you’ve seen La La Land, you will understand why that ending was so perfect. Reality can be so cruel.
Personally, I’m pleased that Moonlight was recognized. It’s not the glorification of already popular movies (like La La Land) that makes the Oscars special. It’s that millions of people are introduced to smaller, but equally as good films that they wouldn’t otherwise hear about if not for the Academy’s grand stage. Despite the finale-flub and more low TV ratings, this year’s show did a great job of celebrating 2016’s best.
As great as last year was for cinema, 2017 could blow it out of the water, judging by the ostensible quality of the films set to be released. Which ones look like true Oscar contenders? Picking Oscar nominees this early is a guessing game. There are, however, a few clues that can help in predicting what movies have the best chance to be honored.
For the most part, films with Oscar ambitions tend to be released from August to December. That’s not always the case, but studios like to release their potential Oscar contenders near the end of the year so that they are fresher in the minds of voters. That doesn’t mean films that are released earlier in the year don’t see any awards love, but it’s harder for them to retain staying power as the months roll along.
Other major clues are the director’s previous work, the actors involved, and the studio behind the movie. Actors gunning for their first Oscar will look to work with directors who have made award-winning films, while actors who have already been recognized tend to land roles in the more prestigious projects. That’s the power you have once you’ve reached the acting mountaintop.
You can also get some Oscars hints from what the studios do at film festivals. A lot of smaller, award-worthy movies debut at festivals like Sundance and are then purchased by major studios which think they have Oscar-potential. For instance, last year, Amazon scooped up Manchester by the Sea at Sundance and gave it that proper Oscar push. In similar fashion, this year Netflix dropped $12.5 million to purchase Sundance hit Mudbound, portending big things for the World War II drama.
Lastly, looking at recent nominees, it’s clear that many Oscar contenders share a certain set of qualities that draw voters in. They’re diverse, original, political, and/or inspiring, in no specific order. If a film checks a couple of those boxes, it’s chances increase. When it comes to subject matter, the Academy has loved films about Hollywood (shocking!), racism, and World War II. We have a lot more of those in 2017.
There are also the technical Oscar categories to think about. Even though a new Star Wars film may not be nominated for Best Picture, the chances of it being nominated for best original score or special effects is highly likely. Especially since every Star Wars film has had at least one nomination.
Below is my take on which 2017 films have the best shot at being nominated for an Academy Award. Most of these have not been released yet. As the year goes along, I’ll update the odds and either add or remove films from the list based on reviews and other external factors.
Lights, camera, action!
Release Date: July 21, 2017
This is your early favorite. It’s a safe bet that director Christopher Nolan will see his World War II passion project get multiple nominations, including nods for Best Picture and Best Director. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Nolan film if it didn’t get some technical noms as well.
Release Date: August 4, 2017
Director Kathryn Bigelow is no stranger to the Oscars. Her 2008 film The Hurt Locker got her a statue for Best Director and 2013’s Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for Best Picture. Though it’s been awhile since this uber-talented woman found herself in an Oscar race, her latest project, which focuses on a 1967 police raid in Detroit that resulted in one of the largest citizen uprisings in the history of the United States, should put her in the mix. It will be racially charged and stars the talented John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
Release Date: October 6, 2017
You can’t dismiss this sequel to the 1982 science-fiction masterpiece. Not when you have Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) at the helm. We shall see if the film has enough to be in the Best Picture race, following in the footsteps of Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins was behind the camera, and we may finally see the master have his Oscar moment (which is well overdue). There is so much going for this film and a fall release date should help its cause.
Release Date: December 15, 2017
The Star Wars movies have a long history of Oscar nominations. Every film in the franchise has been nominated in at least one category. Sure, they may not have won any of the big awards, but this new episode could always pick up something within the tech categories.
So, when we’re putting odds on what will be nominated for a golden statue, we can’t ignore the galaxy, far, far away. J.J. Abrams even thinks that Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker performance could garner him an Oscar nod, similar to Sylvester Stallone and his return as Rocky in the 2015 film Creed.
Release Date: August 25, 2017
About a decade ago, Al Gore showed the world that climate change was real and that we needed to do something about it. Now comes his follow-up, in which Gore travels the world, inspiring people to become earth’s activists. This documentary is funny but poignant as it points out that, while we are still heading down a bad path, we can change that with human ingenuity and passion. The predecessor doc, An Inconvenient Truth, won two Oscars and the follow-up could easily do the same.
Release Date: December 22, 2017
Think Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but with Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, and Christoph Waltz starring. This is what you call a social satire in which a man realizes he would have a much better life if he was able to shrink himself.
I know it sounds dumb, but there is something great about seeing Damon in these science-fiction comedies. Don’t sleep on this one like most people did with The Martian. Especially since it’s directed by Alexander Payne, who’s seen his last six films receive nominations and scored wins with The Descendants and Sideways. Payne has a way of bringing out the best in actors. There is nothing small about this film’s Oscar aspirations.
Release Date: December 8, 2017 (limited)
The Hollywood Reporter and many other critics are raving about this film, which was a favorite at Sundance. The Sundance-love almost guarantees that this will get a lot of awards buzz as it continues on the festival circuit in 2017. There might even be some gold in the future for Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in the acting categories.
Release Date: November 3, 2017
Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan) is no stranger to the Oscars. His latest film stars two Oscar winners in Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem who play a happy couple whose tranquil existence is turned upside down when they are visited by some unexpected guests. Although not much is known about this film, the quality of the director and the actors lands it on the early Oscar radar.
Release Date: TBA 2017 (Netflix)
This checks a lot of Oscar nomination boxes. It takes place during World War II, it’s about racism, and it carries a diverse cast. It was a big hit at Sundance, resulting in Netflix dropping a cool $12.5 million to acquire the rights. Expect it to be well positioned for awards season. The question is: will the film’s unflinching violence hurt its chances?
Release Date: March 16, 2017
Back in 1991, Disney finally received a Best Picture nomination for one of its animated features, Beauty and the Beast. The House of Mickey has been on a roll when it comes to giving some of their treasured animated classics the live action treatment and now it’s time for a reimagining of Belle’s story.
Cinderella (2015) was nominated for an Oscar for costume design and, just this year, The Jungle Book won a golden statue for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The previous quality of Disney’s live-action remakes, coupled with the money behind them, makes it hard to ignore Beauty and the Beast. Director Bill Condon is also no slouch and has a way with musicals, having garnered eight nominations and two wins for 2006’s Dreamgirls. Will the early March release date hurt its chances?
Release Date: November 22, 2017 (Limited)
Pixar’s latest is a magical story about a 12-year-old named Miguel and Dia de los Muertos (Mexico’s Day of the Dead). This film will score diversity points and the animation will once again blow us away. Like previous Pixar films, this should get a nod for Best Animated Feature.
Release Date: TBA 2017 (Netflix)
This is a powerful documentary that will show the world why the ocean’s coral reefs are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. It got rave reviews at this year’s Sundance and was picked up by Netflix, who will bring far more eyes to the message about saving our reefs. This has Oscar nominee for Best Documentary written all over it.
Release Date: TBA 2017
Hey, it’s Emma Stone, who just picked up a trophy for Best Actress (La La Land). Stone will take that momentum and put it into her one-handed backhand as she portrays tennis legend Billie Jean King. This 1973 biopic also stars Steve Carell as Wimbledon champ Bobby Riggs who challenged King to a history-making match. It is also directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, director of the Oscar-nominated Little Miss Sunshine. This has all the makings of movie that will get some awards love.
Release Date: TBA 2017
This biblical drama about Mary and her relationship with Jesus will probably turn some heads. It stars Joaquin Phoenix, who usually turns his performances into fine wine. Add Rooney Mara (Phoenix’s co-star in the critically acclaimed Her) to the mix, and this could get baptized in Oscar glory. Director Garth Davis saw his film Lion receive six Oscar nominations in 2017, so there is some real potential with his new holy project.
Release Date: January 5, 2018
Get used to seeing musicals on screen this year. This time, La La Land songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul provide original material for a story about P.T. Barnum, founder of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The casting of Hugh Jackman as Barnum is brilliant; that is a man who knows how to do a musical. The screenplay was written by Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine and was also nominated for Toy Story 3.
Release Date: TBA 2017
A film about Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse competing to create a sustainable system for the power of electricity might not be something that creates a spark now, but with a cast that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, Nicholas Hoult, and Tom Holland, you might be shocked by the outcome. These type of biopics usually do well and, with the Weinstein company being high on it, you can fully expect it to be in the Oscar conversation.
Release Date: May 5, 2017
This movie centers on a zoo in Warsaw, Poland, during WWII, where proprietors Antonina and Jan Zabinski saved both animals and people during the German invasion. It stars Jessica Chastain and looks to be a powerful film that’s based on the international best-selling book of the same name. It’s also directed by Niki Caro who is no stranger to making great films.
As mentioned, the Academy loves WWII movies. But are there too many this year?
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