When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in August 2018 that the 92nd Oscars would take place on Feb. 9, 2020, it marked the earliest date ever for the awards. The move also set Hollywood abuzz with talk of a truncated campaign season: three weeks shorter than in recent years. It remains to be seen how this shorter race will affect a film's momentum, but as the season kicks off in earnest, the field remains crowded with plenty of hopefuls.
Todd Phillips' Joker took the season's first big prize when it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in August. It's unusual for a Hollywood studio production to be lauded at the fest, which favors international auteurs, let alone a comic book movie. The victory solidified the Warner Bros. drama as an immediate contender, though it's not without controversy: When it screened at other fests ahead of its Oct. 9 release, it was met with some criticism for its violence.
Joker wasn't the only strong debut at Venice. Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story earned serious buzz, and the Netflix title was one of only a couple of films to do the four-festival tour of Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York. At Toronto, Fox Searchlight's Jojo Rabbit played especially strong and earned the audience award, often an Oscar bellwether. And several actors — including Renée Zellweger in Judy, Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes — made strong first impressions during festival season.
While many films wait to debut (some, including Sam Mendes' war drama 1917 and Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell, still haven't been seen), there are also a few trying to keep up momentum months after premiering, namely Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (it bowed in July but returned to theaters Oct. 25 with an additional 10 minutes of footage). And the Korean-language Parasite, which won the top prize in Cannes, has become a breakout in the U.S. after opening in October with the highest per-screen average of the year. Can it follow Roma's playbook to land nominations or wins in categories other than international film?
Other big questions loom. Will Netflix, with several strong contenders, including Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, have another go at best picture? Will Apple's first foray make a dent? As the race revs up, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at 42 top contenders vying for attention.