Oscars Playbook: 45 Films Kicking Off the Awards Conversation

8:55 AM 11/6/2015

by Gregg Kilday

What do the GOP presidential race and Hollywood awards fare have in common this year? The sheer number of contenders. From Steven Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies' to Ridley Scott's 'The Martian,' there's no predicting who'll end up the circuit's Ben Carson (upstart), Jeb Bush (lots of money badly spent) or smack-talking insurgent (hey, Quentin Tarantino! It's yours!).

Best_Picture_Frontrunners_2015_Split - H 2015

Best_Picture_Frontrunners_2015_Split - H 2015

In terms of sheer numbers, the current lineup of Republican presidential hopefuls has nothing on the dozens of films all vying for attention this awards season. By January, once Oscar nominations are unveiled and the Golden Globes and SAG Awards are handed out, the jostling for attention should be intense, amid sharp elbows flying and inevitable cries of foul play.

That's because, as the season began to take shape during the Venice-Telluride-Toronto rollout, no dominant frontrunner was quick to emerge. With plenty of individual performances earning applause, a few dozen films have moved forward to stake a claim for best picture and other awards. And a number of key films that could upend the competition — Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful 8, David O. Russell's Joy, Alejandro Inarritu's The Revenant — still are waiting in the wings.

Crowding further into the arena are 124 feature documentaries, submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and 81 foreign films, submitted by their respective countries, for Oscar consideration (all of which will be surveyed by THR in future issues). So, it's time to form your fantasy film leagues, get out your scorecards and start making those predictions.

  • 45 Years

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 23

    Tom Courtenay (who's earned two previous acting noms) and Charlotte Rampling (who's never been Oscar nominated) were hailed as best actor and actress at the Berlin Film Festival premiere of writer-director Andrew Haigh's portrait of a long-term marriage.

    Watch Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay discuss marriage and getting older.

  • 99 Homes

    RELEASE DATE: Sept. 25
    BOX OFFICE: $1.4 million domestic

    Writer-director Ramin Bahrani finds drama in the 2010 housing bubble by pitting Andrew Garfield, as a threatened homeowner, against Michael Shannon's rapacious foreclosure specialist.

    Listen to Ramin Bahrani and Michael Shannon on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

  • Anomalisa

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 30

    As a writer and director, Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman specializes in movies that are the very definition of offbeat, so why should his first animated outing, the R-rated tale of a one-night stand, which he co-directed with Duke Johnson, be any different?

    Watch Jennifer Jason Leigh talk about her character's role in the film.

  • Beasts of No Nation

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 16

    Writer, director and cinematographer Cary Joji Fukunaga travels into Africa's very heart of darkness to tell the story of child soldiers forced to take up arms. His tale is told through the eyes of a character played by Abraham Attah, a 15-year-old first-time actor from Ghana, with Idris Elba lending support as the fearsome Commandant.

    Watch Cary Fukunaga discuss his film and its star Idris Elba's prospect to be the new James Bond.

  • The Big Short

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 11

    The eleventh-hour entry, which will premiere at AFI Fest on Nov. 12, could shake up the race if director Adam McKay's screen adaptation of Michael Lewis' book about the financial meltdown in the the late 2000s lives up to its advance buzz. With a cast headed by Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, it'll certainly rate high on the testosterone meter.

  • Black Mass

    RELEASE DATE: Sept. 18
    BOX OFFICE: $80.4 million

    With three Oscar acting noms behind him, Johnny Depp will be reaching for the brass ring again as Boston gang leader Whitey Bulger, who faces off against Joel Edgerton's FBI handler in director Scott Cooper's real-life crime saga.

    Watch the Black Mass cast talk about what it was like working with Johnny Depp.

  • Bridge of Spies

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 16
    BOX OFFICE: $57.9 million

    Steven Spielberg's first film since 2012's Lincoln is part courtroom drama, part spy thriller, as it re-creates the Cold War paranoia of the late '50s and early '60s while offering up star turns from Tom Hanks and, especially, British actor Mark Rylance, playing a fatalistic spy.

  • Brooklyn

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 4

    Nominated as best supporting actress seven years ago for AtonementSaoirse Ronan will be courting best actress consideration for her performance as an Irish immigrant to New York who must choose between two suitors in director John Crowley's 1950s-set drama.

  • By the Sea

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 13

    Opening AFI Fest on Nov. 5, the film marks Angelina Jolie Pitt's third directorial effort and her second screenplay. Citing French and Italian films of the 1970s as her inspiration, she and husband Brad Pitt play a couple who settle into a photogenic seaside resort as they sort out the differences that are causing them to drift apart.

  • Carol

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 20

    Todd Haynes, whose 2002 Far From Heaven scored four Oscar noms, returns to the repressed '50s to tell the story, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, about two women who fall in love. Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara earned admiring reviews at Cannes, where Mara scooped up a best actress award.

    Watch Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett talk about their experience shooting the film's love scenes.

  • Concussion

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 25

    Peter Landesman's movie is guaranteed to generate plenty of controversy since it tackles the subject of football-related head injuries. The NFL insists that it's taken steps to protect players since Dr. Bennet Omalu, played in the film by Will Smith, first identified CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

  • Creed

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 25

    Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan reteam for an extension of the venerable Rocky franchise — Jordan plays the son of Apollo Creed — and, remember, Rocky was a big Oscar winner back in the day.

  • The Danish Girl

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 27

    Newly minted best actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne is back in a complete change of pace as transsexual pioneer Lili Elbe. With Oscar winner Tom Hooper (King's Speech) at the helm, and emerging star Alicia Vikander proving herself every bit Redmayne's onscreen equal, the carefully crafted pic will be making one of those all-category bids.

    Listen to Eddie Redmayne on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

    Watch Eddie Redmayne explain his approach to preparing for the film.

  • The Diary of a Teenage Girl

    RELEASE DATE: Aug. 7
    BOX OFFICE: $1.5 million domestic

    Marielle Heller's look at a young girl who has an affair with her mother's boyfriend got the ball rolling at Sundance, picked up a best first feature award in Berlin and, with four citations, led the recently announced Gotham Awards to become one of the season's indie players.

  • Ex Machina

    RELEASE DATE: April 10
    BOX OFFICE: $36.9 million

    Alex Garland's stylish sci-fi tale about a programmer (Domhnall Gleason) and a sentient android was the start of a busy onscreen year for Alicia Vikander, who plays the seductive robot.


  • Grandma

    RELEASE DATE: Aug. 21
    BOX OFFICE: $6.7 million

    Writer-director Paul Weitz's movie, first seen at Sundance, marked a resurgence for Lily Tomlin, who's also appearing in Netflix's Grace and Frankie. As an acerbic lesbian poet, she's already been nominated for a Gotham.

  • The Hateful Eight

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 25

    Following 2009's Inglorious Basterds and 2012's Django Unchained, writer-director Quentin Tarantino will be pursuing his third best picture nomination in a row. The premise of eight strangers who find themselves trapped during a Wyoming blizzard promises to harken back to the closed-room suspense of his 1992 breakthrough Reservoir Dogs.

  • I'll See You in My Dreams

    RELEASE DATE: May 15
    BOX OFFICE: $7.4 million domestic

    As a widow who gets a new lease on life in Brett Haley's second feature, Blythe Danner is among the more mature actresses who are proving to be real scene-stealers this season.

  • In the Heart of the Sea

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 11

    The story of an ill-fated 1820 whaling expedition that inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick, the latest from Ron Howard originally was scheduled for a March release, but then moved into a year-end slot in hopes of finding a wider audience for the ocean-going adventure, starring Chris Hemsworth.

  • Inside Out

    RELEASE DATE: June 19
    BOX OFFICE: $842.5 million

    Hailed as a potential best picture contender — rare for an animated movie — from its very first appearance at the Cannes Film Festival, Pixar's latest, directed by Up's Pete Docter along with Ronnie del Carmen, ricochets around inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl.

    Watch the Inside Out cast discuss the one thing from their childhood they wish they'd held onto.

  • Joy

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 25

    Still under wraps, the film faces its biggest challenge in living up to expectations. Since director David O. Russell guided Jennifer Lawrence to a best actress Oscar in 2012's Silver Linings Playbook, fans are rooting for lightning to strike twice with Lawrence playing a single mom who creates a business of her own.

  • The Lady in the Van

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 4

    Maggie Smith took home a best actress Olivier nomination for starring in the original 1999 stage production of Alan Bennett's play about a homeless woman who lived in his driveway for 15 years. Nicholas Hytner, who directed that production, reteamed with Bennett and Smith to bring the story to the screen.

  • Legend

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 20

    Tom Hardy works overtime in writer-director Brian Helgeland's Legend, creating not one, but two characters as twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray, gangsters who ruled London's East End during the swinging '60s.

  • Love & Mercy

    RELEASE DATE: June 5
    BOX OFFICE: $12.6 million domestic

    After bowing at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, the film from Bill Pohlad — establishing his directing bona fides after a distinguished producing career that includes Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave — has picked up lots of champions for its creative take on the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, played by both Paul Dano and John Cusack.

    Watch Paul Dano talk about how he channeled the film's subject, Brian Wilson, by learning music.

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

    RELEASE DATE: May 15
    BOX OFFICE: $374.7 million

    Action movies often get short shrift during awards season, but George Miller's first Mad Max movie in 30 years could be the exception. With an enthusiastic 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it has had critics raving at its bravura sequences with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron behind the wheel.

    Watch Courtney Eaton talk about how she was cast in Mad Max: Fury Road.

  • The Martian

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 2
    BOX OFFICE: $428.9 million

    At 77, Ridley Scott — who's yet to win an Oscar, although his 2000 Gladiator was named best pic — is riding a hit that's also earned lots of critical respect for its "sciencing the shit out of it" approach to a lost-in-space story, starring Matt Damon.

    Listen to Ridley Scott on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

    Watch Matt Damon talk about if people could survive on Mars.

  • Mr. Holmes

    RELEASE DATE: July 17
    BOX OFFICE: $17.7 million

    Director Bill Condon and actor Ian McKellen had a solid Oscar run with 1998's Gods and Monsters, for which they both were nominated. Nearly 20 years later, they've reteamed for a valedictory look at Sherlock in his fading years.

    Listen to Ian McKellen on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

  • Our Brand Is Crisis

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 30
    BOX OFFICE: $3.2 million domestic

    With Oscar winners George Clooney and Grant Heslov producing, Sandra Bullock and director David Gordon Green find the comedy in rival American political operatives trying to win an election in Bolivia.

  • The Revenant

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 25

    Because Alejandro Inarritu took writing, directing and producing Oscar honors for last year's Birdman, his follow-up film, a survivalist-slash-revenge saga based on a true story, has created lots of anticipation — amid reports of a grueling shoot and a budget that soared to as much as $135 million. A hirsute Leonardo DiCaprio — who has yet to win an Oscar — could stake a claim, too.

  • Room

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 16
    BOX OFFICE: $789,822 domestic

    It's shaping up as this awards season's little engine that could, after winning the audience award, often a harbinger of Oscar glory, at the Toronto Film Festival. Adapted by screenwriter Emma Donoghue from her own novel and directed by Lenny Abrahamson, it stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son who live in a world of their own.

    Listen to Brie Larson on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

  • Sicario

    RELEASE DATE: Sept. 18
    BOX OFFICE: $69.5 million

    With Mexican drug lord El Chapo on the run, this sun-baked thriller (with cine­matography by the esteemed Roger Deakins, who's yet to get his Oscar due) plays as if torn from the headlines. Director Denis Villeneuve orchestrates the action, with Emily Blunt headlining as an FBI agent while Benecio Del Toro contributes to the body count.

  • Son of Saul

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 18

    Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the film heralded the arrival of a new directing talent in the Hungarian Laszlo Nemes, making his feature debut. It also stunned audiences by discovering a new way to dramatize the horrors of the Holocaust through the eyes of just one man.

  • Spectre

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 6
    BOX OFFICE: $80.4 million worldwide

    Skyfall, the last Bond outing from director Sam Mendes and current 007 Daniel Craig, picked up five Oscar noms, winning a best song award for Adele's title tune. Sam Smith, with his "The Writing's on the Wall," handles the movie's big ballad this time, as the current Bond looks to equal, or outdo, its predecessor.

  • Spotlight

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 6

    Moving from Venice to Telluride to Toronto, the self-assured drama about a group of dogged Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal has been steadily building momentum. Under writer-director Tom McCarthy's guiding hand, this cast, which includes Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, is one of the season's most finely tuned ensembles.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 18

    The original Star Wars, released in 1977, collected 10 nominations and racked up four wins. Its sequels have figured mostly in the crafts categories. But if the Academy gets swept up in the nostalgic return of Luke Skywalker, J.J. Abrams' relaunch of the franchise could reverse that trend.

  • Steve Jobs

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 9
    BOX OFFICE: $14.7 million domestic

    Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin won an Oscar for penning The Social Network, and while his latest dissection of a tech genius, directed by Danny Boyle, is struggling at the box office, it was met with lots of applause when it first appeared at Telluride. Michael Fassbender heads the fast-talking (and fast-walking) cast.

    Listen to Danny Boyle, Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

  • Straight Outta Compton

    RELEASE DATE: Aug. 14
    BOX OFFICE: $199.9 million

    A chronicle of the early days of hip-hop pioneers Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E, director F. Gary Gray's propulsive treatment of the script by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff was one of the summer's surprises — a popular and critical hit that also dared to confront current racial controversies.

    Listen to F. Gary Gray, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell on THR's Awards Chatter podcast hosted by awards analyst Scott Feinberg.

  • Suffragette

    RELEASE DATE Oct. 23
    BOX OFFICE $11.6 million

    While Hollywood actresses agitate for equal pay, Sarah Gavron's historical drama, written by Abi Morgan, looks back at the sometimes violent struggle women waged for the right to vote in early 20th century Britain, with Carey Mulligan at the center of the action.

  • Tangerine

    RELEASE DATE: July 10
    BOX OFFICE: $702,354 domestic

    For a movie shot on an iPhone, Sean Baker's look at life on the streets of Hollywood has stirred up a lot of attention, capturing three Gotham noms, including noms for transgender actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor.

  • Trainwreck

    RELEASE DATE: July 17
    BOX OFFICE: $138.3 million

    Judd Apatow's breakout comedy hit provides a showcase for Amy Schumer as both screenwriter and anything-goes comedienne.

  • Trumbo

    RELEASE DATE: Nov. 6

    Bryan Cranston stars as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Jay Roach's biopic, which is assured an Academy hearing since its char­acters include Helen Mirren's Hedda Hopper and Michael Stuhlbarg's Edward G. Robinson.

  • Truth

    RELEASE DATE: Oct. 16
    BOX OFFICE: $1.1 million domestic

    Dan Rather's controversial 60 Minutes investigation into George W. Bush's military service is revisited in James Vanderbilt's drama, with Robert Redford stepping into Rather's shoes and Cate Blanchett as producer Mary Mapes.

  • The Walk

    RELEASE DATE Sept. 30
    BOX OFFICE $38.9 million

    With its vertiginous 3D views from atop the World Trade Center, Robert Zemeckis' re-creation of Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire act is a visual tour de force.

  • Woman in Gold

    RELEASE DATE: April 1
    BOX OFFICE: $59.1 million

    An indie hit, Simon Curtis' drama provides a showcase for Helen Mirren, who plays a Jewish refugee suing for artwork the Nazis stole from her family.

  • Youth

    RELEASE DATE: Dec. 4

    Italian director Paolo Sorrentino has rounded up veteran a ctors Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda for his meditation on aging.