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It’s time again for that perennial question: Will the Oscar for best picture go to a crowd-pleasing film or a smaller, critical favorite? This season, the major studios boast bona fide blockbuster contenders, including the year’s top grosser, Top Gun: Maverick, from Paramount, plus Warner Bros.’ Elvis and Universal’s Nope. Disney looks to rule the multiplexes with November’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and December’s Avatar: The Way of Water, and Universal has a leading contender in The Fabelmans, which earned the people’s choice award at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival (and is director Steven Spielberg’s first feature to premiere in competition at a festival). The streamers once again will battle for one of the 10 best picture nominees (with Apple hoping to repeat CODA‘s history-making win with Emancipation), while the makers of artier fare like Armageddon Time, The Banshees of Inisherin, Empire of Light, Tár and Women Talking hope critical acclaim will help carry the films to the finish line. THR takes a look at the major titles vying for the Academy’s top honor.
A24, Oct. 21
Writer-director Charlotte Wells makes her feature film debut with what she has described as an “emotionally autobiographical” film about a woman who remembers a summer vacation she took as a child with her father (played by Paul Mescal).
Focus Features, Oct. 28
Writer-director James Gray’s autobiographical drama follows Paul (Banks Repeta) as he comes of age in early 1980s Queens and learns firsthand about privilege and systemic racism. Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong and Anthony Hopkins co-star as Paul’s parents and grandfather, respectively, with Jaylin Webb delivering a compassionate turn as Paul’s only and Black friend, Johnny.
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER
20th Century Studios, Dec. 18
The long-awaited follow-up to James Cameron’s groundbreaking sci-fi epic (which earned three Oscars in 2010 for art direction, cinematography and visual effects and also was nominated for best picture) brings back original stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña and Sigourney Weaver (the latter in a brand-new role). The first of four planned sequels introduces new castmembers in Edie Falco, Kate Winslet, Michelle Yeoh and Vin Diesel.
Paramount, Dec. 23
Damien Chazelle assembled an impressive array of star talent — including Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Jean Smart, Tobey Maguire, Olivia Wilde, Spike Jones and Flea — for his whirlwind tour of 1920s Hollywood as seen through the eyes of an aspiring young actor played by Diego Calva.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Searchlight, Oct. 21
Oscar-winning writer-director Martin McDonagh goes back to his roots with this darkly comic drama set on an island off the coast of his native Ireland. Reuniting with In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, McDonagh’s latest looks at a sudden rift between two long-time friends that shakes their rural village to its core.
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
Disney/Marvel, Nov. 11
Marvel hopes its latest big-budget adventure will follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and earn a best picture nom. Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke and Angela Bassett reprise their roles in director Ryan Coogler’s return to the MCU, with the kingdom of Wakanda grieving the loss of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and protecting itself against a threatening nation of underwater dwellers led by a powerful leader named Namor (Tenoch Huerta).
BONES AND ALL
MGM/United Artists, Nov. 23
Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell star as two young cannibals in love in Luca Guadagnino’s romantic and unsettling 1980s-set road trip drama, which also features Oscar winner Mark Rylance delivering a terrifying supporting performance. Its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival earned Guadagnino the Silver Lion for directing and Russell the Marcello Mastroianni Award.
Apple TV+, Nov. 4
Jennifer Lawrence produced and stars in Lila Neugebauer’s film directorial debut as an Army veteran who returns home to New Orleans after suffering a traumatic brain injury in Afghanistan. As she reluctantly settles into civilian life and must reconcile with the home she left behind, she finds a connection with another New Orleans native, played by Brian Tyree Henry.
Sony, Nov. 23
Jonathan Majors stars as real-life pilot Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator to complete the Navy’s flight training program. Set against the early days of the Korean War, director JD Dillard’s film sees Brown and his wingman, Tom Hudner (Glen Powell), forming a bond despite the underlying racism present within their own ranks.
Warner Bros., June 24
Baz Luhrmann’s latest cinematic spectacle follows the life and career of the King himself, Elvis Presley. Austin Butler plays the pop culture icon from his early years as a burgeoning rock star and sex symbol to his final days as a Vegas mainstay, while Tom Hanks portrays Presley’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who controlled and manipulated the musician throughout his career.
Apple TV+, Dec. 2
Antoine Fuqua’s historical thriller stars recent Oscar winner (and current Academy persona non grata) Will Smith as Peter, who escapes from slavery in Louisiana and joins the Union Army during the Civil War. Based on a true story, the film could be Apple’s best bet at Oscar glory this season — if Smith’s association doesn’t completely turn off Academy voters.
EMPIRE OF LIGHT
Searchlight, Dec. 9
Oscar winner Olivia Colman delivers another stirring performance in writer-director Sam Mendes’ love letter to the movies. Colman stars as Hilary, a lonely middle-aged woman who sparks a surprising relationship with Stephen (Micheal Ward), a Black man decades younger than she, as they work together in an English cinema in the early 1980s.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
A24, March 25
Michelle Yeoh stars in this inventive, chaotic and absurdist sci-fi comedy as a Chinese American woman who discovers that she can connect with parallel versions of herself in the multiverse — which she must do to protect a malevolent force from destroying it all. Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis co-star in the film, written and directed by the duo known as Daniels.
Universal, Nov. 11
Steven Spielberg crafts his most personal film yet — co-written with frequent collaborator Tony Kushner — inspired by his childhood love of film and his complex family history. The drama follows the eponymous family, seen through the eyes of the eldest son and aspiring filmmaker Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle), who captures both the pleasant and bittersweet memories of his parents (played by Paul Dano and Michelle Williams) and younger sisters. (See page 36 for more.)
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
Netflix, Nov. 23
Rian Johnson’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2019 whodunit sees the return of inspector extraordinaire Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who is invited to an exclusive getaway on a private island owned by a billionaire tech mogul (Edward Norton) — and naturally has to solve a murder when one of the guests turns up dead. The sequel introduces a new ensemble of outsized characters played by Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista and Leslie Odom Jr.
THE GOOD NURSE
Netflix, Oct. 26
Oscar winners Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne star in this true-crime drama as two overburdened nurses, Amy and Charlie, who develop a strong rapport while working the night shift together in an ICU. But their friendship is put to the test when a string of mysterious sudden deaths take place in the hospital, with clues pointing to Charlie as the likely perpetrator.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO
Netflix, Dec. 9
The Mexican filmmaker hopes to earn a second consecutive best picture nomination (following 2021’s Nightmare Alley) with this stop-motion animated feature co-directed by Mark Gustafson. Set against fascist Italy in the 1930s, del Toro and Gustafson’s vision of Carlo Collodi’s timeless tale features an impressive cast of voice talents, including Ewan McGregor, Finn Wolfhard, John Turturro, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton and Cate Blanchett.
A24, Nov. 18
Inspired by writer-director Elegance Bratton’s own life story, this drama stars Jeremy Pope as a queer Black man who, after being abandoned by his mother (Gabrielle Union), enlists in the Marines. As he navigates the sadism of boot camp in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era, he finds an unlikely ally (and object of desire) in a friendly training instructor played by Raúl Castillo.
Sony Pictures Classics, Dec. 23
Director Oliver Hermanus and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro’s retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 drama Ikiru (itself adapted from Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich) stars Bill Nighy as Mr. Williams, a widowed bureaucrat who lives a joyless existence in 1950s London. But after receiving a sudden terminal cancer diagnosis, he sets out to make the most of his remaining time and find meaning in his humdrum life.
A MAN CALLED OTTO
Sony, Dec. 25
Based on Fredrik Backman’s international best-seller (previously adapted into the 2016 Oscar-nominated Swedish film A Man Named Ove), Marc Forster’s comic drama stars Oscar winner Tom Hanks as the eponymous character, a widower whose determination to end his life is frequently disrupted by his new neighbors.
Universal, July 22
Jordan Peele’s latest is a sci-fi adventure that serves as a critique of storytelling and spectacle born out of personal trauma, with Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer playing siblings who discover that an alien spaceship has parked itself above their California ranch — and embark on a mission to capture images of the flying object and achieve fame and fortune.
Universal, Nov. 18
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan star as New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, respectively, in director Maria Schrader’s dramatization of the two journalists’ dogged investigation into movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s rampant sexual harassment and abuse against women in the entertainment industry.
Focus Features, Oct. 7
Cate Blanchett won the Volpi Cup at Venice — and is aiming for her third Oscar — for her portrayal of fictional maestro Lydia Tár, one of the greatest living composers and the chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in writer-director Todd Field’s explosive drama. As she is set to debut a much-anticipated performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and awaits the publication of her upcoming memoir, Tár’s blunt and brash interpersonal habits come back to haunt her.
United Artists/Amazon, July 27
Ron Howard directs this tense drama that tells the true story of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue, in which 12 young Thai soccer players and their coach were trapped in a cave system after heavy flooding blocked their exit. Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton play three of the divers who embarked on a risky mission to save the young men from a deadly fate.
United Artists, Oct. 14
Chinonye Chukwu co-wrote and directed this portrait of Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler), who became an activist after the lynching of her 14-year-old son, Emmett. The 1955 slaying was a pivotal turning point in the civil rights movement, and Deadwyler gives a commanding performance as the woman whose grief shook the nation to its core.
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Paramount, May 27
Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to train the latest elite pilots of the Navy’s Top Gun program for a dangerous aerial mission, only to find a combative young pilot in Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick’s late wingman, Goose. The top-grossing film of the year, the sequel might be the most populist pick of the best picture contenders — and its soaring box office success helped revive the post-pandemic theatrical experience.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Neon, Oct. 7
The 2022 Palme d’Or winner — the second film from director Ruben Östlund to take the prize, after 2017’s The Square (an Oscar nominee for best international feature) — is a biting satire of class and privilege set on board a luxury cruise. A coterie of idiosyncratic characters — ranging from fashion influencers to Russian oligarchs to arms dealers — traverses choppy waters as chaos descends upon the guests and crew of the ship.
A24, Dec. 9
Brendan Fraser disappears into the role of Charlie, a 600-pound reclusive writing professor who unexpectedly reconnects with his estranged teenage daughter (Sadie Sink) and is forced to reckon with the mistakes of his past in the final days of his life. Darren Aronofsky directs this adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter’s acclaimed play, which also stars Hong Chau.
Netflix, Nov. 25
Three-time Oscar nominee Noah Baumbach finally delivers his passion project: an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s acclaimed 1985 novel. Adam Driver stars as a professor of Hitler studies at a New England liberal arts college whose life is turned upside down following an “Airborne Toxic Event” that descends upon his town after a chemical spill. Greta Gerwig and Don Cheadle co-star in the darkly comic satire.
THE WOMAN KING
Sony, Sept. 16
Oscar winner Viola Davis produced this epic and stars as Nanisca, the general of an all-female warrior unit in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the historical drama co-stars Thuso Mbedu as Nawi, a young recruit to the Agojie warriors; Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim as more seasoned fighters; and John Boyega as the Dahomey ruler King Ghezo.
United Artists, Dec. 2
Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy and Rooney Mara lead this ensemble film in which a group of Mennonite women, having discovered that sexual attacks they’ve experienced in their sleep were inflicted by the men in their community and not demons (as the male elders suggested), hold a secret meeting to discuss a plan of action — to stay and fight for themselves or to leave behind the only world they’ve ever known. Producer Frances McDormand also appears in a small supporting role. Writer-director Sarah Polley adapted the novel by Miriam Toews.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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