From 'A Star Is Born' to 'Vox Lux': The Hollywood Reporter's Guide to 2018's Awards Contenders

6:00 AM 11/5/2018

by Gregg Kilday

The race kicks off with a wide-open field — from the arty 'Roma' to hugely popular superhero flick 'Black Panther.'

Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures; Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures; Francois Duhamel/Amazon Studios; : Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight; Jay Maidment/Disney

It's a free-for-all.

The 2018 awards season may now be shifting into high gear, but the race has yet to take shape — which is both good news for all the Oscar hopefuls eager to stake a claim and also a source of anxiety for some films that would like to dominate the conversation.

Certainly, a top tier of contenders emerged from the first wave of fall festivals, which saw Damien Chazelle's First Man open Venice to enthusiastic applause, while Alfonso Cuaron's Roma claimed the top prize, the Golden Lion; Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite scored the runner-up Jury Prize; and Bradley Cooper's A Star Is Born left the Lido with no prize but a lot of buzz — and by far the fest's highest glamour quotient. Individual performers — like Nicole Kidman in Destroyer, Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun — made impressions at Telluride. Then at Toronto, after Star screened to thunderous applause, Peter Farrelly's Green Book, in a seeming surprise, won the audience award, always an auspicious omen. But while pundits are eager to anoint a front-runner, no one can agree which films to anoint.

So, for the moment at least, it's a very open and competitive field with one big irony: In August, the Motion Picture Academy proposed a new "popular" Oscar to make sure commercial movies weren't left out of the mix. A month later, facing a wall of resistance, it tabled the idea. But this year, it's looking like there will be no shortage of box office players like Black Panther, which broke records, and Star, which is doing big business, in the game.

  • 22 July

    Netflix, Oct. 10

    Paul Greengrass — an Oscar directing nominee for 2006's United 93 — turns his attention to another gruesome case of terrorism, the 2011 bombing and near simultaneous massacre of teen campers in Norway and its aftermath.

  • Beautiful Boy

    Amazon, Oct. 12

    Box Office: $1.4 million

    Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) and Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) are each making a second bid for an acting nomination, Carell as a father who tries to intervene as his son wrestles with addiction in Felix Van Groeningen's based-on-a-true-story drama. But while Carell is making a lead actor bid, Chalamet will pursue supporting.

  • Ben is Back

    Roadside/Lionsgate, Dec. 7

    Writer-director Peter Hedges directs his son Lucas Hedges in another of this season's addiction dramas. Julia Roberts plays the boy's desperate mom — in a turn that could lead to her first lead actress nom since her 2001 win for Erin Brockovich — all set against both the Christmas holiday and a ticking clock.

  • Black Panther

    Disney, Feb. 16

    Box Office: $1.35 billion

    A cultural milestone and box office juggernaut — the top-grossing domestic film of 2018 and second-biggest worldwide behind Avengers: Infinity War — Ryan Coogler's film not only established a black superhero in Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa but also opened up the Marvel universe to the world of Wakanda, full of potential crafts noms.

  • BlacKkKlansman

    Focus, Aug. 10

    Box Office: $85.9 million

    Winner of the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee's latest — a look at a black detective (John David Washington) who investigated the Klan in the '70s that's timely with today's Black Lives Matter movement — became the writer-director's biggest hit since 2006's Inside Man ($184.4 million).

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    Fox, Nov. 2

    Director Bryan Singer's name remains on the film, though he was fired from the project, which Dexter Fletcher completed, but the music-filled pic belongs to Rami Malek, the Mr. Robot Emmy winner who struts and stomps as Queen's Freddie Mercury.

  • Boy Erased

    Focus, Nov. 2

    Lucas Hedges, again, plays a young gay man whose parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe) force him to enter a conversion therapy program in another true-life story. Joel Edgerton's second directorial effort positions itself as an outcry against the practice, now banned in 14 states.

  • Can You Ever Forgive Me?

    Fox Searchlight, Oct. 19

    Box Office: $586,504

    Funny lady Melissa McCarthy makes a bid to be taken seriously as Lee Israel, a struggling writer turned literary forger, in Marielle Heller's fact-based drama — for which Richard E. Grant is also winning accolades in his supporting role as Israel's gay accomplice.

  • Cold War

    Amazon, Dec. 21

    Pawel Pawlikowski — whose 2013 Ida was a foreign-language Oscar winner — returns with a moody black-and-white, decadelong love story that earned him best director honors at Cannes. Poland's entry into the foreign-language race could well break into the major categories, too.

  • Colette

    Bleecker Street/30West, Sept. 21

    Box Office: $4.4 million

    Director Wash Westmoreland — whose Still Alice earned Julianne Moore an Oscar in 2015 — puts two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley front and center in this period drama about the French author Colette, who penned Gigi, as she emerges from the shadow of her first husband and establishes her own voice.

  • Crazy Rich Asians

    Warner Bros., Aug. 15

    Box Office: $233.9 million

    Jon M. Chu's adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel proved to be another cultural milestone, illustrating that an all-Asian cast could attract a worldwide audience to a glitzy rom-com — starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh — that could make a bid for ensemble honors as well as costume and production design kudos.

  • Creed II

    MGM/Annapurna, Nov. 21

    2015's Creed earned one nomination — for Sylvester Stallone — but with his star wattage growing ever brighter post-Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan, in the title role, may be harder to ignore in this sequel directed by Steven Caple Jr.

  • The Death of Stalin

    IFC Films, March 9

    Box Office: $24.6 million

    Writer-director Armando Iannucci, who skewered military leaders in 2009's In the Loop (earning an adapted screenplay Oscar nom) and American politicians in TV's Veep, this time out turns his acerbic eye on a bungling Russian politburo.

  • Destroyer

    Annapurna, Dec. 25

    Putting vanity aside — which always gets awards voters' attention — Oscar winner Nicole Kidman looks weathered and worn as a damaged L.A. detective on the trail of her longtime nemesis in this grittier-than-gritty drama directed by Karyn Kusama, who first made her name with 2000's Girlfight.

  • Eighth Grade

    A24, July 13

    Box Office: $13.5 million

    Stand-up turned director Bo Burnham (helming his first feature) and the movie's 15-year-old lead, Elsie Fisher, won plenty of applause at Sundance, where this feature about the trials and tribulations of middle school debuted before going on to win audience awards at the Chicago and San Francisco film festivals.

  • At Eternity's Gate

    CBS Films, Nov. 16

    Artist Julian Schnabel, who segued into directing with a portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat in 2000's Basquiat, explores the life of another painter, Vincent Van Gogh, with Willem Dafoe, a three-time Oscar nominee (most recently for The Florida Project), playing the haunted genius, winning acting honors in Venice.

  • The Favourite

    Fox Searchlight, Nov. 23

    Already earmarked for a special jury prize for its ensemble at the upcoming Gothams, Yorgos Lanthimos' costume pic in which courtiers, played by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, spar for the attention of Olivia Colman's Queen Anne has begun building momentum as an awards-season force to be reckoned with.

  • First Man

    Universal, Oct. 12

    Box Office: $75.2 million

    For his follow-up to La La Land, Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle aims for the moon — literally — as he re-creates, in a cinema verite tour de force, the Apollo 11 lunar landing, with Ryan Gosling playing the taciturn Neil Armstrong.

  • First Reformed

    A24, May 18

    Box Office: $3.5 million

    Writer-director Paul Schrader — a two-time Oscar screenplay nominee for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull — has received his best reviews in years for this austere tale, which has picked up three Gotham noms, about a tortured Protestant minister, embodied by an ascetic-looking Ethan Hawke.

  • The Front Runner

    Sony, Nov. 6

    Opening, fittingly enough, on Election Day, Jason Reitman's latest film traces the beginnings of today's debased political scene to the 1988 presidential campaign of Sen. Gary Hart, played by Hugh Jackman, when a media spotlight on personal scandal was enough to doom a candidate.

  • Green Book

    Universal, Nov. 21

    Making an unexpected awards bid at the Toronto International Film Festival, the drama triumphed, winning the People's Choice audience award. Director Peter Farrelly, setting aside his usual slapstick, offers up a crowd-pleasing 1962-set road movie about the friendship that develops between a black pianist (Mahershala Ali) and his Italian-American driver (Viggo Mortensen).

  • Hereditary

    A24, June 8

    Box Office: $79.3 million

    The indie distributor's biggest hit — just slightly eclipsing 2017's Lady Bird — writer-director Ari Aster's original horror tale allows Toni Collette, another Gotham nominee, the opportunity to pull out all the stops as she struggles with the psychic toll of her mother's death.

  • If Beale Street Could Talk

    Annapurna, Dec. 14

    Paying tribute to novelist James Baldwin, Moonlight writer-director Barry Jenkins returns with a passion project, an adaptation of the writer's novel about a young Harlem couple torn apart when the man is wrongly accused of a crime. With three-time Emmy winner Regina King lending support, young performer KiKi Layne emerges as Jenkins' latest discovery.

  • Leave No Trace

    Bleecker Street, June 29

    Box Office: $6 million

    Director Debra Granik — whose 2010 Winter's Bone helped launch Jennifer Lawrence into stardom — guides Ben Foster and young New Zealand actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie through the tale of a father and daughter living off the grid.

  • Mary Poppins Returns

    Disney, Dec. 19

    Rob Marshall, an Oscar directing nominee for 2003's Chicago, has fashioned an original musical — albeit one that hews closely to the template of the beloved 1964 classic — with Emily Blunt inheriting Julie Andrews' aerodynamic umbrella and Lin-Manuel Miranda following in Dick Van Dyke's footsteps as a cockney song-and-dance man.

  • Mary Queen of Scots

    Focus, Dec. 7

    Having both earned Oscar noms last season — for Lady Bird and I, Tonya, respectively — Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie face off as dueling queens in Josie Rourke's costume drama for which House of Cards creator Beau Willimon wrote the screenplay.

  • The Mule

    Warner Bros., Dec. 14

    Back in front of the camera for the first time since 2012's Trouble With the Curve, Clint Eastwood, who also directs, stars in the true story of a 90-year-old who became a drug runner for a Mexican cartel. His film enters the race late (as did his 2014 best pic nominee American Sniper), but Eastwood can't be counted out.

  • The Old Man & The Gun

    Fox Searchlight, Sept. 28

    Box Office: $7.2 million

    Screen veteran Robert Redford returns in another true-life tale about a septuagenarian bank robber, which David Lowery wrote and directed. At first, Redford suggested the film might be his onscreen valedictory — but then said never say never.

  • On the Basis of Sex

    Focus, Dec. 25

    Earlier this year, the documentary RBG, which grossed $14 million, proved moviegoers are eager to know more about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and so Mimi Leder's feature, which delivers Felicity Jones staking out the legal territory that made Ginsburg a women's rights champion, should find a receptive audience.

  • Private Life

    Netflix, Oct. 5

    Writer-director Tamara Jenkins earned good reviews for her look at a married couple — Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti — attempting to conceive, but it may still have to overcome the fact that most viewers will watch it on Netflix rather than in theaters.

  • A Quiet Place

    Paramount, April 6

    Box Office: $338.6 million

    John Krasinski (who directed), Emily Blunt and the actors who play their children — positioning themselves as an ensemble —have opted for supporting acting consideration for this aurally attuned horror-thriller, which certainly also deserves a listen by the Academy's sound branch.

  • The Rider

    Sony Pictures Classics, April 13

    Box Office: $2.4 million

    Since debuting in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes in 2017, Chloe Zhao's closely observed story of a rodeo rider (the nonprofessional Brady Jandreau) facing a limited future has picked up an ardent critical following during its year on the fest circuit.

  • Roma

    Netflix, Dec. 14

    Alfonso Cuaron's memory piece, with its neo-realist, black-and-white palette and unhurried account of a middle-class Mexico City family during the early 1970s, has been drawing raves since its Venice debut, setting up a challenge for Netflix, which is hoping this one is, finally, its pass to the best picture competition.

  • The Sisters Brothers

    Annapurna, Sept. 21

    Box Office: $2.7 million

    French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), with his first English-language film, serves up a take on the American Western, with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as brothers who are hired guns.

  • Sorry to Bother You

    Annapurna, July 6

    Box office: $17.5 million

    Writer-director Boots Riley's first feature, starring Atlanta's Lakeith Stanfield, explodes into satirical territory as it tracks a telemarketer's rise up the corporate ladder, making it a prime best original screenplay contender.

  • Stan & Ollie

    Sony Pictures Classics, Dec. 28

    Under Jon S. Baird's direction, John C. Reilly disappears into the corpulent frame of legendary funnyman Oliver Hardy, who with his comic partner Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) tries to reignite their fading careers with a 1950s-set tour of Britain.

  • A Star is Born

    Warners, Oct. 5

    Box Office: $254.6 million

    The romantic remake, which has both critics and audiences swooning, threatens to be an awards-season juggernaut with multiple awards possibilities for actor-writer-producer-director Bradley Cooper and actress-songwriter Lady Gaga.

  • Vice

    Annapurna, Dec. 25

    Oscar winner Christian Bale transforms into the persona of Dick Cheney in writer-director Adam McKay's (The Big Short) caustic take on the manipulative veep.

  • Vox Lux

    Neon, Dec. 7

    Another "star is born" saga: Natalie Portman, an Oscar winner for her frenzied performance in Black Swan, delivers another fierce onscreen turn as a pop diva with a traumatic past in actor turned writer-director Brady Corbet's second feature.

  • Widows

    Fox, Nov. 15

    For his follow-up to the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen directs a distaff ensemble headed by Viola Davis in this Chicago-set heist thriller that explores social, political and gender issues amid its genre trappings.

  • The Wife

    Sony Pictures Classics, Aug. 17

    Box Office: $7.6 million

    After six Oscar nominations, Glenn Close could finally get her due for her heralded performance in Bjorn Runge's film, where she plays a woman who's sublimated her life to her novelist husband.

  • Wildlife

    IFC Films, Oct. 19

    Box Office: $320,972

    Actor Paul Dano makes his directorial debut, helming this adaptation of a Richard Ford novel about a boy (Ed Oxenbould) who bears witness to the troubled 1960s marriage of his parents, played by Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal.

    This story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.